The update brings some much appreciated/needed additions to the console, but doesn’t fix some of the most glaring issues. The most noticeable addition is game saving. There’s now a virtual memory card built in that allows progress to be saved in many games. While only a few games make note or special use of the memory card (such as Magician Lord and Baseball Stars 2), having this feature enabled allows level saving in the majority. Dying in Metal Slug 2, for instance, will allow you to save your progress so that any completed level can be played with a full amount of credits on the next try. It’s actually a really nifty feature that has yet to be implemented in other ports of the games and even CMVS and also helps curtail the issue many have with not being able to continue games after the preset amount of credits are depleted. Of course, not adding the unlimited continues feature in the firmware was a huge oversight and will continue to turn casual players off.
Probably the most noticeable addition outside of game saving is improved audio. Audio across the board now sounds clearer, more precise and balanced; sound is surprisingly loud and crisp even coming out of the handheld. There have also been improvements with video output, with image quality being slightly improved to bleed less, fill the TV automatically and better responsiveness for the arcade stick. While all of the improvements are noticeable, none are partically drastic and probably won’t do much to convert those already against it. Unfortunately, the most crucial visual fix was overlooked, with is the lack of Vsync. This means that there will still be noticeable screen tearing in many games, which although isn’t too bad on the handheld, certainly is problematic on a TV and is a constant reminder you’re not playing with original hardware. Additional changes include the game selection menu being updated to allow for easier scrolling and higher res logos, the load bar upgraded (although I still have yet to notice how) and aspect ratio preference is now remembered (which is nice as it got annoying to constantly have to hit L1 or L2 every time a new game was started for those who preferred 4:3).
Of course, the main draw to the pack is the games and there’s a nice range included. There’s perhaps too many fighting games (eight), but I’m one of those few who prefers games in the other genres and it’s likely many would prefer every game to be fighting, so it’s an acceptable balance. Fighting-wise, highlights include The Last Blade, Samurai Showdown III and, of course, Garou: Mark of the Wolves. In other genres, standouts are Top Hunter, Shock Troopers (which never got an AES release and will hopefully pave the way for more CD/MVS exclusives like Bust-a-Move), Metal Slug 2 and Blazing Star. While there’s notable omissions (why King of Fighters ’96 but not ’98?), it’s a solid collection that unlike the twenty pack-ins, doesn’t have any clear duds.
Quite frankly, it’s a minor miracle that the Neo Geo X even exists, let alone the Mega Pack. So while there’s been issues in practically every conceivable area of its release, sometimes it’s important to take a step back and appreciate that Tommo went through with its release and remains supporting it in spite of the fact that it clearly wasn’t the runaway success they hoped. While eighty dollars is a lot of clams, it gets you fifteen games ($5.33 a piece, which is about the lowest they’ve been legally outside of the SNK Arcade Classics Vol. 1), a cable and a nice case and manual. It’s not exactly a good value ($60 seems just about right), but it’s not absurd. With just minor improvements in video out and failing to fix the Vsync issues, however, it’s time to let hopes go that it will be a viable AES/MVS replacement. The Neo Geo X Gold and Mega Pack run $280 retail, while a CMVS, 161 in 1 cartridge and controller can be had for just shy of $600. While it’s a bigger investment, it’s original hardware and a lot more games — something that would likely run the Neo Geo X near the same price after all the collections are released — and is the closest you’ll get to the original experience without investing in actual MVS games. At this point, it’s best to think of the Neo Geo X as strictly a handheld, and in that sense it succeeds. There’s no better way to experience these games on the go (let alone legally) and even though I own a large chunk of the library on MVS, I like the idea of kicking back with the X and watching TV or bringing it with me on a business trip. It’s unfortunate that the firmware update process (something that should be free) is such a nightmare and doesn’t include a few crucial fixes, but at the end of the day, those who remain loyal to the console and can afford it should grab the Mega Pack if they can swallow the fact that its price tag isn’t representative of the effort put forth here by Tommo.