New Toy: Neo Geo!
Today, I fulfilled a childhood dream. I think I’d have been in around the 4th or 5th grade, and Dad had done a delivery to a paper plant of some sort. He got on well with one of the supervisors there, and they recycled magazines, so he got given a pile of computer magazines that were sent back. I can remember Dad explaining that when newsagents couldn’t sell a magazine, they would clip the title to indicate they were not for sale any more, and then send them back, and I guess they’d pull the staples out and recycle them, but this guy saved a heap for Dad and I ended up with them.
It included a mostly-complete back catalogue of Zzap!64 that I was mainly interested in, and I am gutted that of all the things my folks kept from my childhood that stuff wasn’t among them. Anyway, long story short, amongst all these magazines were some others, like CVG, a handful of comics, etc… I don’t recall the exact magazine but one of them was talking about this fancy system - the Neo Geo AES, about how you could have arcade-exact games in the comfort of your home. I’m sure I probably hit Dad up for it (indeed he says it rings a bell, but that might just be collective delusion), but given that this was the 90s and we were still rocking a C64 I knew it wasn’t on the cards.
When Samurai Shodown released, it again piqued my interest and on the rare occasions I’d spot it in the wild I had to drop a coin in (however me actually having a coin to spend on arcade machines was an exceptionally rare event), despite the fact I absolutely sucked at it. I also adored Metal Slug, and tried to get back into it on the Wii but without an arcade-style controller it’s just not the same.
So when things started going well at work, I bargained with Sabriena that in the event I get promoted again that I’d like to buy one as a reward. I tossed up between the AES (the original object of my lust, cheap enough on the hardware but the games are excruciatingly expensive, some of the Metal Slug games you would buy a modest used car for the same price!), one of the CD consoles (cheap-ish hardware, cheap games, but awfully long load times), a consolized MVS (expensive hardware for some reason, cheap-ish games) or just going whole-hog and getting a full MVS cabinet. I ended up opting for the latter, and after a couple of near misses (most of them being in capital cities, and I wanted to look at them before committing to buy, and the ones in my price range would get sold out from under me) I found one and organized to go look at it.
Dad’s place was almost exactly half way to where it was, so I took him with me for help loading it, but as it turns out I didn’t need it. It’s an LAI “lowboy” cabinet, which is smaller than the full-size “big red”, but that actually works for me considering any CRT must go in my office. It has a single-slot motherboard, which works for me as they’re JAMMA compliant so if I end up with additional arcade boards I can drop it straight in and play. It also came with a pile of carts, and just roughly eyeballing the value of them (mostly fighting games which, barring the exception above, I don’t really care about) I could liquidate most of them and probably stand a chance of the cabinet being “free”.
When we got there it was in much better shape than I thought it’d be… I’m not an arcade machine expert, but I have heard that LAI didn’t exactly make quality machines, so I was expecting a chip-board cabinet, usually in some sort of a pizza or fish and chip shop so normally has gotten wet due to proximity to a mop, but this was a plywood cabinet in really great shape. After briefly forgetting how to work it I fired up the test mode and everything looks good… after a few minutes of warming up the CRT is razor sharp with no colour issues, and apart from P1’s C button and P1 down switch, everything else worked. I didn’t bring a coin to test the coin mechanism, which turned out to be a minor mistake. Sound was dodgy, but worked for the most part and didn’t strike me as anything wrong chip wise, I thought it seemed like a dirty pot.
So I decided to buy it. I got it home and cleaned things up a bit, and managed to get all the switches working, and after cleaning up the JAMMA edge connector and the edge connector on the adaptor (this machine has the LAI 44-pin to JAMMA adaptor in it, and then the D buttons were an afterthought) the sound works flawlessly too, albeit only in mono, but I can mod that.
A few of the games didn’t work, but after cleaning them and a few insert/remove cycles they all work, which is great… I have some rather expensive ones too, some in the low-three-figures range, which if I can just get off my arse and sell them will make this a cheap purchase. It didn’t come with Metal Slug, but a trip to ebay quickly solved that and it should get here in a few days.
Back to the coin mechanism. It has an NRI g-13 rejector, configured for 20c, $1, and $2 coins… and it just doesn’t work. I followed the troubleshooting documents and checked out the multi-credit board, everything looks like it should work, it just doesn’t - it rejects every coin. Upon further reading, it looks like these things are super fragile, with six ferrite coils in them to detect coins versus slugs, and they die if you so much as slam the service door, so there’s basically zero chance they’ll still work at 25-30 years old. Bummer! I might pull it and the multi-credit board out and replace them with a pair of cheap mechanical coin mechs, just wired for 20c plays just for “the experience” but for now I’ve got it on free-play.
Edit - 2019-09-28: Metal Slug showed up yesterday. I basically paid full-retail for it, but I don’t care. \o/