Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom - Arcade original (left) vs. NES port (right)
I have held off purchasing a Neo Geo AES for several years. The temptation was too great, however, and I gave in. When I showed the system to my brother, his reaction was amusing: "What the hell .. everything about this system is big." This is true; I've included several photos of the console, a game, and the controller. For size comparison, the photos show a SNES console and game. The AES console itself is larger than an XBOX (though not as thick).
AES controllers feature the same layout as their arcade counterparts - a stick and four buttons labelled A, B, C, and D, positioned in a circular arc. Cartridges are almost as large as a SNES, and they have two edge connectors.
The cartridges are my favourite. When you first pick up a boxed game, you realize that it weighs about a pound. I guess they truly are jam-packed with chips. One nice feature of most AES games is that the "meg count", that is, how many megabits the game data uses is written on the box. SNES cartridges go up to 48 megabits (the largest SNES game). While I do not know what the AES maximum is, I know that there are games over 700 megabits.
The older AES game boxes feature hand-drawn pictures, as can be seen in the third photo, on the King of Fighters '94 box. They also seem to have a specific smell. I can't tell if it's the solder inside the cartridge, or the plastic of the game box, but I can definitely claim that I can recognize AES cartridges by their smell.
The manuals are not too thick, and also feature hand-drawn graphics, sometimes even little comic strip panels. The fact that my AES game manuals are all in Japanese only adds to the charm. The only things I can read are words like "Super" or "Mega", and of course, the arrows indicating how to pull off special moves.
The library of games is of decent size, at around 150 games. A vast majority of them are fighting games. Many of them feature combatants from different geographical locations, such as the World Heroes series, which features stereotypical fighters from all over the world, including Rasputin, a Hulk Hogan clone, Captain Kidd, etc. Yes, they are cheesy, but also great!
The most recognizable games (surprisingly not fighters) are probably Bust-a-Move (also known as Puzzle Bobble) and Metal Slug. Bust-a-Move is the wonderfully addictive coloured-bubbles puzzle featuring the adorable dinosaurs Bub and Bob. Metal Slug games are known to push the rendering capabilities of the system to the limit with an insane number of on-screen sprites, detailed animations, and sometimes heavy lag.
Today, the Neo Geo scene is vibrant with collectors. The console, games, and even accessories have all maintained their value. As of 2010, the console still goes for about $300. Games start at around $30 for the more common (and mostly older) ones, climbing up to $2,000 for the rare ones. They usually come in two versions, Japanese and English. The English versions tend to be significantly more expensive, possibly because of lower production amounts. Popular series increase in price chronologically. For example, King of Fighters '94 (J), the first of its series can be obtained for about $40. King of Fighters 2002 (J), the last of its series goes for $140 or more.
The two rarest Neo Geo games are Kizuna Encounter (Eng), and Ultimate 11 (Eng). Both have been known to sell on online auction sites sometimes in excess of $10,000.
Neo Geo online communities can be described as elitist. Topics such as conversion of MVS (significantly cheaper) to AES, MVS arcade cabinets, etc. are popular on forums such as neo-geo.com, and very often result in drama. It is customary for some forums users to include as their forum signature the serial number(s) of the pieces of hardware they own. While this can be seen as boasting, it can be forgiven, as it stems from an intense passion for the system.
The serial of my AES is 135756.
Below are some screenshots of representative Neo Geo games.