Weathered by over 20 years of California sun, wind, and rain; a group of pallets sits innocuously, pinned under storm felled trees. Beneath the aged tarp covering a stash of printed circuit boards and plastic lies a one-of-a-kind prototype Samurai Shodown 64 cartridge for a defunct 3D arcade system that faltered under the shadow of its former glory, the Neo Geo. The Hyper Neo Geo 64 was an attempt by SNK to keep the Neo Geo arcade reputation alive and well, but unfortunately fell far short of expectations.
Fully or partly polygonal games were becoming the expected standard by the mid '90s for arcades and consoles and any publisher not pumping out 3D games was sure to be left behind. With just over half a decade behind the Neo Geo arcade and equally powerful home system, SNK established themselves as a quality supplier of sprite-based arcade hits. Moving things into the space of the Z-axis really hurt the company, however, with the Hyper Neo Geo 64 lasting only two years on the market with just seven poorly received games produced on the hardware. Competing hardware like the famous Sega Model 3 and Namco Super System 22 were already dominating arcades with hits like Virtua Fighter 3 and Time Crisis.
Extremely low sales in the video game industry means small production runs and even smaller second hand sales numbers. This has driven retro game archeology into somewhat of a legitimate study, with a scant 40 or so years of history. Rare prototype finds are becoming more common as enthusiasts scour every corner imaginable for "ancient" discoveries.
One such enthusiast named Anthony Bacon has discovered possibly the most rare find yet in Neo Geo history with the help of his friend, Craig Weiss. Craig is a pinball machine repair specialist out of Sacramento who happened to be working for a client who had purchased a very beat up pinball table. When he inquired about where the client had obtained a machine in such disrepair, she led him to a woman who was interested in getting rid of auction lots her husband, an ex-arcade operator, had purchased over 20 years ago.
An auction from an ex-SNK employee out of China was loaded onto pallets, covered with a tarp, and eventually left outside to the mercy of the elements. On one pallet, among other uncommon but finalized Hyper Neo Geo 64 hardware, was an odd-looking cartridge for Samurai Spirits 64, known as Samurai Shodown in the west. To his knowledge and with a lot of extensive research, Anthony can surmise that this cartridge is the only surviving Hyper Neo Geo 64 prototype to exist. It's a fascinating tale of video game preservation and history that is detailed in Anthony's video linked above.
If classic and retro video game preservation is an interest for you, check out my latest Cortex post on exactly that subject. For even more on this unlikely discovery, Digital Foundry has a written interview with Anthony Bacon.
Bryan Lefler posted a new article, One of a kind Hyper Neo Geo 64 prototype discovered in amazing outdoor find
It's amazing to me how this stuff just gets "Tossed" out. Great find!