Even though it shared the same main and sub processors as the Genesis, it literally delivered the same games arcades did by building into the large flat-slab hardware the very same graphics chips as the arcade machines. The cartridges were massive too, with two PCBs inside them, each larger than the largest cartridge for any other system. It was as if the gods themselves had created a machine that brooked no compromise, and along with this beast SNK delivered the joystick.
SNK's massive black game machine could not suffer anything so pedestrian as a joypad, as standard equipment. Instead every NeoGeo came with one large black joystick (two if you bought the Gold system) featuring four buttons and a stick straight from the arcades. When everyone else rocked up to a gaming get-together with a tiny little pad, no number of coloured buttons could match the effect of pulling one of these from your duffel bag:
SNK had developed some excellent hardware (the system's longevity proves that) but they weren't subtle, not by any stretch: the NeoGeo joystick was nearly as large as the system itself.
In play, the NeoGeo stick was better than any other at the time, bettering even the Capcom Power Stick which was the mainstream king. The stick mechanism was a perfectly balanced short-throw unit with a delightful click, and it was - as required by the fighting games that dominated the platform - totally accurate.
SNK's engineers were a bit schizophrenic though, mixing every brilliant design choice with one that was just a little bit dodgy. The joystick's translucent purple knob (ooer) would cracked more often than not, and even brand new sticks would be removed from the box with cracks already present. It became a bit like ceramic glaze, as NeoGeo owners - rationalizing the extreme cost of the system - learned to deal with and later love these imperfections.
This stick was used by SNK themselves. The cracks are worse than normal. I don't know if the two facts are related.
The stick's buttons were a little less awesome than the stick. They were perfect examples of SNK's schizophrenic engineering, with every brilliant design choice matched by one of dubious merit. These buttons, which looked great and felt good, used arcade switch mechanisms, but unlike arcade buttons they were not inside a sleeve. Instead, they sat high on an internal mount, and had a great deal of horizontal movement. They worked well enough, but the overall effect was a bit cheap, and they tended to rub against the stick's shell. Right from new they tended to squeak and they were noisy and annoying to use, cheapening the whole experience.
There was also the angle of the buttons: their extremely steep inclination required some gruesome finger curling or a very nasty bending of the wrist, which quickly became exhausting and a definite enemy of players with carpal tunnel problems. SNK revised both the angle and the squeak with their second generation sticks, released with the Neo CD.
A solid performer, though the passage of time has made it less impressive than it once was. The stick is nice, and it stands up to a moderate level of abuse, but the buttons - while functional - are noisy and not very ergonomic. Overall it's solid, though I'd take the CD stick over this one if given the choice.
- The purple knob tends to be cracked. This is not a sign of abuse, and the knob can be replaced.
- The cable stress relief tends to crack and fall off. Doesn't affect performance, usually.
- The connector housing is thin and tends to crack.
- The logo is almost always faded on one side.
- The buttons squeak.
None of these things typically affect performance, only aesthetics. If you're worried about the way it works, check the stick itself. It should not hesitate at all, smoothly returning to centre from any direction. If there's any sludge or degraded lube in the stick, it can be cleaned out easily. Cable damage is likely the next thing to watch for.
For the most part these sticks never break down, and you can expect a very long life from them.
This logo is very faded on the right
This mechanism itself was not unique to SNK, and in addition to their CD sticks, they can also be found in several sticks from other manufacturers (ASCII, Micomsoft). It appears to be a Seimitsu part.
The buttons were identical to the reset button on the console itself, with the same translucent purple colour and the same switch mechanism underneath. These buttons looked really nice when illuminated from below with LEDs.
This stick is a very easy unit to mod, with no encoder to work around. Every button and stick direction is represented by one wire to the console (D-button has two for reasons unknown), and the 15-pin connector is easy to purchase for your modding pleasure.
Connector Pinout on the GameSX Wiki
Mechanism technical discussion
SNK, or the company currently calling itself SNK, has re-released this stick for the Playstation 2 and Wii, with four extra buttons for the modern consoles. It's basically identical to the old one, thought I don't know if the buttons still squeak.