NEO GEO: Visual History review

When I was a schoolboy in the early 90s home computing truly had its feet under the table.  The sun was setting on the glorious 8-bit era which started it all, with the new 16-bit computers and consoles entering homes like rays of electronic sunshine. In this period of technological marvel, where the boundaries of gaming possibilities were being tested and anything seemed possible, there were rumors abound in the playground of a mythical games console of dazzling brilliance. 

Review by Andy Pryer - aka clammylizard

This fantastical device seemingly exceeded the limits of late 20th century scientific understanding by delivering visually astonishing graphics, sound akin to the singing of angelic choirs and granted the lucky owner home access to games only available in arcades.

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As one might expect from a machine with such fantastical capabilities, it also came with a fantastical price tag to match. The games were also befittingly but blisteringly priced so that only the most elite gamers of the world could entertain the idea of collecting them.  In an era where games for micro computers were available for £1.99 the idea of collecting games for a system which commanded several hundreds of pounds per game was simply ludacris and added to the mystique.

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It was uncertain in my mind at the time whether this incredible system existed  Nobody ever saw one in a shop, but then one could hardly expect for such a rare prize to be available in Woolworths. There was never any mention of the system in any of the many and varied gaming magazines available at the supermarket either. 

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As the rumor mill continued, there was always one member of the group who claimed to have a friend who owned one. This was tremendously exciting and initiated a impromptu interrogation: perhaps they were acquainted with an Arabian prince, or a mafioso boss.  What kind of exotic individual could own such a prized game? From the following debriefing it unsurprisingly always transpired that the owner of the system attended a different school to the rest of us oiks. It would also be very difficult to arrange an introduction, invariably due to some convoluted and difficult family circumstances.  The system seemed to be the stuff of legend, cooked up an overactive, adolescent imagination and fueled by the zeitgeist of transition in technology.

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The elusive system did have a name, although this sounded made up too so it didn't add any real credence at the time: The Neo Geo.

 As it tuned out the the system was indeed real and most of the unbelievable details about it turned out to be true.  In recognition of this legendary company, Bitmap Books have created a definitive work to celebrate all aspects of its achievements over the years and in true Bitmap fashion, the artwork takes center stage.  The 90s glory of the Neo Geo's graphics shine through thanks to Sam Dyer's exquisite design which is at it's finest here, never overdone and complimenting the source material perfectly. The official endorsement by SNK and Neo Geo has undoubtedly given the authors unique access to a wealth of artwork and ample ammunition enabling them to create one of Bitmap Books most visually striking books to date.

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At 400 full colour pages, to say this is thorough feels like an understatement.  As well as a comprehensive box art section which treats the reader to lavish full page images as well as a brief synopsis of each game, there is ample space devoted to the companies myriad other ventures. Generous space has also been given to luxurious photographs of the various Neo Geo hardware.  The intriguing character concept art section from the NEOGEO vaults covers 28 pages, and offers a rare glimpse into the creative process.

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The Pixel Art section weighs in at 100 marvelous pages and showing off what put the Neo Geo head and shoulders above the competition back in the day. The images on display are big, bold and perfectly judged. Leafing through this section is to be transported to another time and place and it serves as the ideal reminder of what made the system great. 

After all this luxurious content there is still a further 100 pages of content covering miscellaneous literature of all types, advertising campaigns from across the world, their various entertainment enterprises and promotional artwork : this is another chapter particularly worthy of savouring.  

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As if further value were needed, the tome closes with several pages of insightful interviews with SNK staffers and a complete games directory organised by system.

In conclusion then this book is a must for all videogame aficionados but a categorical, absolute must for Neo Geo / SNK enthusiasts. From the gold leaf on the cover to the lovingly presented artwork, you'll never find another book to chart the Neo Geo's story so completely and with so much reverence. Bitmap Books leads you through the history of this most illustrious videogames company the way you want to remember it. 

Review by Andy Pryer - aka clammylizard

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