The Neo Geo has three gaming systems: the arcade Multi Video System (MVS), the cartridge-based home console Advanced Entertainment System (AES), and the CD-based home console Neo Geo CD.
The Neo Geo was the most powerful gaming system at the time of its release, hence, it has been difficult to emulate. But today, that is not the case anymore due to the maturity of the emulators and modern hardware just powering through it. Below are the best Neo Geo emulators for you to scratch that gaming itch.
Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator (MAME) is a multi-platform, open-source, multi-system emulator written in C++. MAME is massive, with thousands of machines and ROM sets supported; however, what is supported is not always what is playable; and your mileage may vary. MAME is not the go-to emulator most of the time because it is not just beginner friendly, especially for casual emulation of traditional video game consoles. But for the arcade machines, specifically Neo Geo MVS, nothing is better than MAME.
If you don’t like MAME’s default interface, there are a slew of alternatives, including Retroarch. Retroarch is the second recommendation on this list, despite the fact that it is not an emulator per se. Besides, MAME is Retroarch’s core for the Neo Geo. The reason for not outright recommending Retroarch as it is much better in terms of usability is that the MAME standalone emulator will receive the updates immediately.
The major purpose of MAME is to save decades of arcade, computer, and console history. MAME prevents these vital retro systems from being lost and forgotten as technology evolves. MAME is all about accuracy.
- In (very) active development
- No standalone port for ARM / mobile devices
Retroarch is a multi-platform front-end, not a standalone emulator. It is a lightweight and fast front end that can run on any hardware. What distinguishes Retroarch from standalone emulators is the ability to swap systems within the software, eliminating the need to close and reopen programs.
Retroarch’s settings and customizations are great. The user interface can be scaled to fit the size of the screen, whether it’s small like a smartphone, or large like a television. Searching for those options can be tedious, but they do exist. Because core performance is based on the power of your hardware, the UI experience should be consistent regardless of your hardware.
Retroarch’s remarkable feature is how it decreases input lag. This is especially vital in emulated games in Neo Geo systems. Neo Geo games are notoriously known for their speed problems. The archaic emulators go around this issue by employing speedhacks, but that is not necessary anymore when emulating Neo Geo systems through Retroarch’s cores. Depending on the game, you can fiddle with the VSync, Hard GPU sync, and Runahead options. To acquire what you want, you must read about it on message boards and play with these settings. Setting things up requires some effort, but the granular setup is available for the daring.
Another noteworthy component of Retroarch is the accomplishments obtained through Retroachievements. It gives gamers the ability to gain achievements by playing emulated games. While Neo Geo games inherently are all about the high/top score in their design, it still nice to have a modern touch on games of the past.
- Highly configurable
- Miraculous input lag reduction
- Available in a surprisingly broad range of gaming hardware including the PSP and the 3DS
- Not beginner friendly
- Menu digging
3. FinalBurn Neo
FinalBurn Neo is a multi-arcade emulator. Although it is not an open-source emulator, it is source-available. Source-available software is software that is distributed using a source code distribution model that includes facilities for viewing and, in some circumstances, modification of the source code but does not necessarily meet the criteria for being dubbed open-source.
FinalBurn Neo is an active fork of FinalBurn Alpha. As expected with the emulation community, developers of the main emulator had a falling off hence their relationships had severed. Nevertheless, FinalBurn Neo is an emulator which is in active development.
FinalBurn Neo is a core for Retroarch, and there are no other reasons not just to use Retroarch for its use. Yes, Retroarch is not beginner-friendly for casual gaming, but those who are literally looking for a NeoGeo emulator know that emulating arcade games have with it tinkering and searching for specific things just to run games. Setting up Retroarch is just way easier for this use case.
- Not that accurate as compared to MAME
At this stage, the only thing significant about Raine is the “EmuDX” support, which was an early graphic/sound replacement project for select games. It’s archaic, and even the recreated art is a low resolution by modern standards. As an emulator for anything else, there are no practical advantages to using this emulator, and even from a coding standpoint, some things like the static recompiled protection cores are legally problematic.
The other reason for using Raine for Neo Geo CD emulation is because of the disc drive read speed hack. Of course, this means there will be imperfections in terms of accuracy. The loading times will be shortened though. Still, other modern emulators like FinalBurn Neo above offer this particular feature.
- Good for Neo Geo CD
5. Virtual Console
The Virtual Console is Nintendo’s solution for supporting retro games on their hardware. It allows gamers to purchase and emulate games of not just older Nintendo hardware to their current hardware but also video game consoles like Sega’s Master System and Genesis, and other gaming systems like the Neo Geo. The Virtual Console emulator is extremely basic in comparison to unofficial emulators.
The Wii Digital Store is already gone. So the only console you can play Neo Geo games is the Nintendo Switch. The overwhelming number of Neo Geo titles for the Switch is priced at $7.99, and that is actually cheap. Neo Geo cartridges have high prices right now, and even then when they were widely available during the 90s.
- Free of accuracy issues
- The games are cheap compared to current market Neo Geo cartridges