The CBOX Neo Geo Consolized MVS

The Neo Geo MVS (Multi Video System) was an arcade system developed by SNK. It was dubbed a 24-bit system, although the exact categorization of its architecture is not that simple. Regardless, its games were on par with or better than current arcade offerings at the time, and most definitely more advanced than any home console offering.
The Neo Geo MVS arcade system was hard to miss, due to its bright red cabinet

It had multiple games to choose from, thanks to its multiple internal cartridge slots. A single arcade cabinet could house up to six games for a player to chose from. When games were no longer making money, newer games could be easily swapped out at a fraction of the cost when compared to replacing an entire arcade cabinet. This versatility made it popular with arcade owners, and so arcades everywhere had the big red MVS cabinets.

An MVS 4-slot motherboard photo credit:

SNK eventually released a home console version, called the Advanced Entertainment System (AES), which was essentially the same hardware as the MVS, with a single cartridge slot. The system cost around $700 at the time and games were about $200 each!
The Neo Geo AES home console
photo credit:

Even though the console and arcade hardware were the same, the game cartridges for the home system and the arcade system were not directly compatible due to different pinouts. The MVS arcade cartridges are cheaper, as there were more of them produced than the AES home versions.

Growing up, I only knew one kid with a Neo Geo. Its price point limited the audience, which was a business decision. SNK gambled on their premier home console being so advanced and captivating, that it would attract the attention of hardcore gamers. They were mostly right, as the home console had games released until 1997, and the arcade had games being released for it up until 2004.

The Neo Geo games library was focused on 2D action games, and not capable of 3D graphics. Still, it occupied a niche market with a love of 2D sprites, and had a cult following to this day.

It never occurred to me that owning a Neo Geo system was possible. It was just as absurd as wishing for a Lamborghini; there was just no way it was going to happen. Even years after its heyday, Neo Geo systems with hookups and a controller command upwards of $400 on the secondary market. That's not even taking into account the cost of the actual games. I resigned to accept the fact that only way I would play Neo Geo games was through emulation. Metal Slug is one of my favorite games, and it is a staple of game night when friends come over. Playing on it on RetroPie is fine, I guess.

My favorite Neo Geo game

One day I was watching a YouTube channel called RetroCore. Its a fantastic channel with deep dives into hardware and game reviews. The CBox MVS system was reviewed, and I was captivated. Apparently, there was a company in China that was harvesting the motherboards from old MVS arcade cabinets, and making home consoles from them. The production was fairly well designed, with a decent attention to quality. Mark Smith from RetroCore gave it a favorable review, and my interest was piqued. The price point is spot on, with these units costing roughly $175, not including shipping. This may not seem cheap, but this is a Neo Geo we are talking about.

See the Sega Saturn controller ports?

What really attracted me to this specific console was the controller compatibility. These units are compatible with the almighty Sega Saturn controller! I am a huge fan of the Saturn pad, and this is a revelation. I don't have issues with the original Neo Geo arcade stick, but when given a choice, there's no contest. This was shaping up to be an awesome console.

There is a multicart that is widely available for the MVS, and it can even be ordered along with it in the same order, which is the route I went. It contains 161 games, but many of those are hacked versions of the games, so in reality there are about 94 games on it. That's not bad, considering it costs about $75 for the multi cart, and it sure beats taking out a second mortgage to start collecting actual games. 

The console has the Neo Geo universe bios installed, meaning extra game playing options, settings, and cheats are preinstalled. Installing this yourself would require some precision soldering, which not everyone is comfortable doing.

So I decided to liquidate a bunch or unneeded peripherals, controllers, and unwanted games through eBay. I made enough to more than cover the cost of the consolized MVS and multicart. I ordered it from aliexpress. Shipping from China is a bummer, as expected. There was a $2 difference between their standard shipping and premium shipping, so I figured why not? The estimated time for delivery was 10-15 days. I got mine in 6 days! They sent it via DHL, which is odd, since I didn't pay for the DHL delivery, so maybe they messed up?

There are three video output options: S-video, RGBs, and component. I hooked it up via component, as I don't have an MVS RGB cable at the moment. It is run through a switcher, and into the OSSC line doubler. The picture quality is everything that I hoped it would be. I applied scanlines, and playing these games on original hardware with no lag using Saturn controllers is absolute bliss.

Now, I'm totally new to the Neo Geo, and I'm sure there are hardcore fans of the system that my not be fans of this console, and that's fine. For people like me who are just happy to be able to finally have a cost effective solution and be able to play original hardware, using a Saturn controller, this is a perfect solution. Maybe more people would like to know that this exists. I highly recommend it!

Scaling Down the Collection, Again

Just because the shelves hold that many games doesn't mean it has to be full
A couple of years ago I decided to weed out some of the games that I just didn't want anymore. A lot of these were duplicates of games that I had several ports of, across several systems. I had too many versions of Mortal Kombats, Street Fighters, Sonic Collections, and so on. After doing so, the numbers crept back up eventually over the years. Hidden gems videos and posts were dangerous, as they would be the impetus for seeking out more games. After playing a lot of these "hidden gems", most of the time I didn't have the same shiny opinion of the game as various Youtubers. I'd say one out of five hidden gems were worth seeking out.

I am really starting to favor quality over quantity recently. I have decided to take a hard look at all of my collection, and finally play all the games that I own to make sure they are what I want to keep. I'm not playing through the entire game, but just enough to sense if I would come back to it, if there is some redeeming characteristic, or if its total trash. I discovered that there was a significant percentage of the games that I haven't played until now, that I don't need to have. For example, I just can't get into Decap Attack. It is generally heralded as a fun, kooky game, but it didn't do anything for me. Likewise with Kid Chameleon. Comix Zone is also well regarded for its graphical style and unique presentation, but I found it so-so. These are games that I didn't play growing up, and picked them up as an adult based on popular opinion, but I guess my taste goes against the grain. I am finding examples of these across all platforms.

Then there are the games that have lots of nostalgic value, but are terrible. Take Super Thunder Blade for instance. As a child of the 80's, I remember the Blue Thunder TV show and movie. This game was a directly inspired from those, so much so that the opening title screen is stolen straight from the movie! I wanted this game so much when I saw it in stores. When I actually got it, I was underwhelmed. The gameplay is unforgiving and simplistic. Its utter garbage, and I would have gotten rid of it sooner had it not been for nostalgia. I'm not going to play it again, so there's no need to hang on to it.

My plan is to put these up for sale. This is a huge undertaking, as it is effectively up to a third of my total collection. It's possible I may regret this decision, but I'm still keeping my favorites, so I don't think it will sting too much. I feel that if a game is just going to sit on my shelf, it should be owned by someone who wants to play it.

I have flash carts for all of my cartridge-based systems, and that allows me to play the games that I'm curious enough to try, but not serious enough to own. This allows me to thin the collection, and keep the games that I truly love or need to have for sentimental reasons. Any of my top ten games in the Shoot'em Up or Beat'em Up genres are locks to keep.

Optical Drive Emulators for disc-based consoles are just as effective and helpful as flash carts, although these don't quite exist for every disc-based system yet. For Sega Saturn, the Rhea is the best possible accessory to own, especially given the ludicrous game prices these days. The Playstation has the PSIO, which is equally as awesome. The Dreamcast has GDEMU. The Playstation 2 has FreeMcBoot in tandem with a hard disc drive adapter, although I find that not all PS2 games are able to be installed (mine won't read PS2 games that are in CD format, as opposed to DVD format).

I never had any intention of collecting entire sets for a system. I think that's foolhardy and unpractical for several reasons. I did have sub-collection goals, like all of the Shoot'em Ups for Saturn, Genesis, Super Nintendo, original Playstation, Playstation 2, Dreamcast, and PC-Engine. I actually came decently close to completing a lot of those. Eventually I got the the point where the last couple of games that I was missing were outrageously expensive because of low print runs (they were released near the end of the console's life, or they were not good enough to warrant reprints). So I decided what I had was the best there was.

Years ago I moved my dad into a retirement home, and I had to deal with clearing out his house. My dad was a librarian, and he was a bookworm. He literally had THOUSANDS of books. He was not capable of telling me which were his favorites, or which had value, or anything that would have been helpful. So my family and I sorted through everything, guessing about value and using eBay listings as a reference. We took loads to the nearby Half Price Books, and I'm sure we took a bath on the value, but we had no other choice. We had to clear out the house to be rented to help pay for caregiver bills. That experience has made me reevaluate physical possessions, and question the need to have so much. When I go, no one is going to know the good games from the bad games. It's a huge burden to put on your dependents.

So, this has led me to where I am now. When I have time to play, there's a shorter list of games that I WANT to play compared to the list of games I own. It's time to slim down, and concentrate the collection into the essentials. If I want to play Goof Troop or Grind Stormer ever again, I can do so using the Everdrive.

What do you all think? Would you ever thin out your collection? What would make you do it?

8Bitdo Bluetooth Controllers

Bluetooth controllers have been a staple since the seventh generation of video game consoles. The PS3, XBox 360, and Wii all embraced bluetooth functionality as the industry standard. We may now take this technology for granted, but prior to this, wireless controllers were hit or miss. The Nintendo Gamecube had the excellent Wavebird controller, which is considered one of the best pre-bluetooth controllers. That was the exception, not the rule. Most wireless controllers were line-of-sight infrared, so you had to have the controller pointed at the receiver constantly, or the signal would not transmit. Sega had produced some wireless controllers for the Genesis and Saturn, which are fairly rare.

OEM Sega infrared controllers. Photo credit:
Fast forward to today, and there are all kinds of new accessories produced for retro consoles. Enter 8Bitdo, a company that makes bluetooth controllers for a variety of systems. Obviously the older systems did not have onboard bluetooth capabilities, which is why they also produce bluetooth receivers, which you can plug into the controller ports.

Bluetooth receivers for original hardware

I have a couple of these controllers and receivers, and I am impressed with the overall product. The build quality is solid, the controllers feel nearly indistinguishable from originals. Third party controllers often feel too light and flimsy. One test that I use to judge the build of a controller is if you can twist it even a little bit. If so, that's not up to par. I am happy to say that these pass the twist test.
The directional pad can make or break a clone controller. It is the part of the controller that is most essential to the control. The resistance, texture, and wobble are all spot on. The button presses are nearly as similar, yet maybe with a little more "click" than the originals. Simply put, these are the best recreations of the tactility and feel that I have ever come across.

Their bluetooth controllers can also be used for modern devices, like Android, PC, Raspberry Pi, and in some cases, Nintendo Switch. This versatility is a strong selling point.

Now that TV screens are larger than they ever have been, people are sitting and gaming on their couches, instead of kneeling on the floor, tethered by a controller cord. Sitting on the floor for extended periods of time may conjure memories of being ten playing Super Mario Bros., but my body doesn't cope as well as it used to. The cords are not long enough to reach the couch, so Bluetooth is a welcome addition.

Some games are good standards to test for how impactful the lag is

Hardcore gamers may notice a tiny amount of input lag, only noticeable on games that require twitch reflexes, like some shoot'em ups or precision platformers, or Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! I am fairly sensitive to input lag, and I will say that it is pretty negligible. This issue can be confused with lag caused by TVs. To mitigate this, make sure that the TV input that the console in plugged into is set to "game" mode, so that not picture processing is occurring. I had a hard time fighting Mike Tyson, but then again, I'm not sure if I'm as good as I remember.

Different models have different features. The earlier models were fairly basic, with the button configurations to match a SNES controller. The SN30 Pro has dual analog sticks,  L2 and R2 triggers, star and home buttons for the Nintendo Switch. Analogue sticks on a SNES controller feels odd to me, but I can see how it has its appeal for use with emulation.

8Bitdo has even released modification kits that allow you to convert original controllers into bluetooth controllers. The internal guts can be easily replaced with this reversible process. It even ships with an anti-static bag for storage of the original pcb. I suppose this is for those who absolutely must have original buttons, dpad, etc. They work exactly like all of the other controllers in their lineup.
Original controllers turned bluetooth
They continue to release new models like the M30 for the Sega Genesis, yet also compatible with . Every model seems to have a selection of colors available. I'm hoping for Sega Saturn iterations and, this is a long shot, PC-Engine versions. The company has been gaining a deserving reputation, and hopefully they will be able to address all legacy consoles. Time will tell.

PSIO: Playstation Input Output Flashcart

Continuing the recent trend of optical drive emulators, or ODEs, Cybdyn Systems (aside: I keep reading that as Cyberdyne Systems from the Terminator movies) has produced the Playstation Input Output (PSIO). This is an SD card reading device that plugs into the parallel port in the rear of an original Playstation. The primary purpose is to be able to play backups of your games, should the optical drive fail or the original CD roms become unplayable.

It is important to note that not all Playstations are compatible with the PSIO. Only the earlier models that have the parallel port can connect to the PSIO. Later revisions of the console dropped that port, so if yours does not have this port you are out of luck. However, there were sooooo many Playstation consoles produced, that finding one for cheap should not be an issue.

Due to how the PSIO operates, a small pcb switch board needs to be purchased and soldered onto the motherboard. This step right here immediately raises the necessary technical knowledge of the user.
Alternatively, you can send in your console to have it soldered for you when purchasing the PSIO unit, which is what I did. This was a smart move by the sellers, as it diminishes the need for soldering skills, and widens the potential customer base.

One of the major differences between the PSIO and the Rhea, Phoebe, GDEMU, and Super SD System 3 is that the PSIO does not replace the optical drive. Since is connects through the parallel port in the rear, the optical drive is untouched, allowing for continued use. The Rhea and Phoebe for the Sega Saturn, and the GDEMU for the Dreamcast all require replacement of the optical drive, precluding the ability to switch back and forth from backup roms and original games with any kind of ease.

The PSIO accepts a standard sized SD card, both in FAT32 and EXfat formats. Larger capacity cards are compatible, but I found that FAT32 works better. The PSIO manual is quite the tome, and if you gloss over it you may miss some technical details that will make or break your experience. There are several caveats to playing your backups, format wise. The PSIO accepts bin/cue, iso, and img formats. If you use bin/cue formats, the bin file must be consolidated to a single bin file. The PSIO account that you create on Cybdyn's website (with serial number verification) allows you to download a program that will do this for you. However, I found this to be hit or miss. Compatibility is much better if you rip your games into a single bin file from the start using a program like imgburn. Also, not all cue files are compatible as well, depending on the audio configuration of the game. If the game contains redbook audio, the .cue file will definitely have to be converted to .cu2. The aforementioned program will convert your cue file into a CU2 file.

Another quirk I've found, is occasionally the PSIO will not remember the settings that were entered and I'd have to go through the initial setup again. This is especially a problem when resetting after the PSIO freezes when the rom format is incompatible.

This is the initial setup screen. If your rom files are incompatible, you'll be seeing this screen a lot.
Once up and running, with roms in the exact format that the PSIO likes, the gameplay is just as it should be. This is no surprise, as the original console is running the software, regardless of delivery method. I really like the flexibility to play backup roms or physical discs. With my Saturn Rhea ODEMU, I keep another Saturn console around when I want to play actual discs. Game compatibility is stated to be above 99%, and I haven't found a particular game that does not run.

The startup time is not necessarily faster than playing an original disc. The PSIO has to load up when powered on, which isn't exactly brisk. The Rhea on the Saturn loads way faster, but that may be attributed to the difference in how the devices operate. It's not a deal breaker, but it should be noted.

The PSIO is a unique ODEMU as it allows for original discs to be played

These can be purchased from the manufacturer's website. Cybdyn is an Australian company, so if you want to have the soldering of the pcb switch done for you, you're paying a premium for shipping.  More conveniently, Stone Age Gamer, a retail company based here in the states will offer the same package consisting of the PSIO unit, switch, and soldering. Shipping is cheaper, and turnaround is faster.

From a strictly cost perspective, the PSIO is well under the comparable rates that other ODEMUs are going for. Granted, the Rhea and Phoebe units are produced in smaller quantities and sell out immediately after being posted, which drives prices sky high on the secondary market. I get the feeling that there are many more PSIO units being made than those.

The menu is fairly basic, but at least there is a menu.

Overall, I highly recommend the PSIO if you are comfortable with the process of backing up your games and changing file and SD card formats. If not, there is a requisite learning curve. If you decide on picking this up, I urge you to read through the lengthy manual, as you will save yourself a lot of headaches.

Review: Super SD System 3 for PC Engine

Flashcarts has been around for years, allowing users to play roms on original hardware. Many find these invaluable as the rarity of certain games drives up prices to prohibitive costs. Since they play on original hardware, they function exactly as original games do. They are also a means to preserve their original games, and test other games to see if they would like to purchase them, and play rom hacks, unreleased games, and translations.

CD based systems like the Playstation, Saturn, an Dreamcast have recently been recipients of optical drive emulation, through such products like PSIO, Rhea and Phoebe, and GDEMU, respectively. These are devices that are installed in the CD system that forgoes the need for discs to play games. The use of the word emulation here is misleading, there is no emulation as far as gameplay is concerned, the method of getting game data to the console's cpu is direct and internal. In essence, these devices are like flashcarts for the CD systems.

Video output of older systems can range in quality, as most North American consoles were limited to radio frequency (RF), composite, or in some cases S-video. A recent revolution in retrogaming has been to adopt the RGB standard, which many consoles support internally, but require proper cables to coax it out of the system and or modification.

The Super SD System 3 is a modern solution for the Turbo Grafx/PC-Engine line of consoles. It also works for a Supergrafx, if you have one. It is produced by the Spanish company Terra Onion, who also make a Neo Geo flashcart. It is a hardware add-on that slides right on to the back of any TG-16 or PC-Engine. It's function is threefold: it acts as an optical disc emulator and flash cart for the CD add-on as well as for Hu-card games, it improves video output to RGB, and contains the arcade card required for some memory-demanding games like Sapphire and Strider. It is definitely a boutique item that fills a specific niche, and as such commands a premium price. If you add up the cost of these features individually, I think the price is appropriate, even at $300.

The Hucard slot can still be used to play games, but since this uses the pins at the back of the console, the CD peripheral cannot be used at the same time. So you have to be ok playing backup roms of your CD games. This introduces a little snag, as some may not be familiar with making backup images of their roms. If you search around, you can find tutorials on how to do this. It is more work than downloading roms, but you feel a little better about it. Then again, I'm never going to acquire a legitimate copy of Ginga.....Saphire due to its outlandish asking price, so this is an example of straight downloading to play.

There has been some debate as to the video quality from prominent online sources, but I honestly can't see the issue. I think mine is the revised version, which had some tweaks and improvements made in the interim. It could also be I don't have the highest end equipment to detect this. There may be an issue present, but I couldn't tell. I'm using SCART through the OSSC, and if it doesn't bother me with this setup, I think its fine for 90% of people.

An options menu allows for customization

The setup is similar to setting up a flash cart. You update the firmware via SD card, and load roms, Huard or CD, onto the SD card. You will have to obtain your own bios to run the CD games. This is not hard to find. You can customize some options, like loading the last game played, using an in-game hook to back out to menu, establish game save data for each game individually, and others. The in-game hook works on some games but not others, there's no way to tell beforehand. I found myself power cycling the system often to get out of games.

The game data saves is huge, as the original amount of space allocated on my PC-Engine Duo was miniscule. Now I don't have to worry about losing or overwriting game saves.

Being that I already have a SCART RGB setup, all I needed to do was buy another 9-pin SCART cable, like the one designed for the model 2 Sega Genesis. My SCART systems run through an OSSC and it looks fantastic to my eyes.  I also tried HD Retrovision's Genesis model 2 component cables and they work just as well as a SCART cable.

The one thing that I would have liked is for the system to have HDMI output. However, this unit is an add-on to existing hardware, not a complete overhaul of the console's processor, and thus high definition video would not be possible unless there was some external scaling taking place. Another cool addition would have been a second controller port, but given the fact that this attached to the rear, it would have been inaccessible.

So, overall I recommend this to anyone who already has a SCART-capable setup. The gameplay is still using genuine hardware, you can play backup roms of your games, and the video quality takes an huge leap forward. If you already have a CD system, the price point may be a bit too high. Given that TG/PC-Engine is notorious for escalating prices, so there is definitely a market for this.