In the mid '90s, there was a Burger King on East Kellogg. I was 12 or 13, and although I didn’t have any great love for the food there, very often it was where I wanted to go for lunch after church. The reason was a single, red and white arcade cabinet tucked into a corner. Of course, back then you could find arcade machines in any manner of place, including gas stations and laundromats, but this machine was special.
The machine was a Neo-Geo MVS cabinet. The MVS system worked in a similar way to home video games at the time, in that games could be changed just by swapping a cartridge in. Now, these cartridges were hundreds of dollars more than home game cartridges, but the graphics and gameplay were far and away better than you could get with home games at the time. Plus, swapping out a cartridge beats moving in a whole new arcade cabinet.
The Neo-Geo was famous mostly for its long series of fighting games, like The King of Fighters and Fatal Fury, but the first Neo-Geo game that I fell in love with was called Bust-a-Move. It’s a deceptively simple puzzle game where you try to match 3 or more bubbles of the same color together by launching bubbles from the bottom of the screen. They can ricochet around, but stop and catch onto the first bubble they touch, regardless of color. I loved the gameplay, I loved the colorful characters, and I adored the happy melody the game played.
Even while other, more powerful arcade systems came and went, the Neo-Geo MVS kept going. The last game published for it was Samurai Showdown V Special in 2004, 14 years after the platform’s debut.