Believe it or not, the NeoGeo AES also happened to be the first home console to implement memory card save technology. The prevailing justification for the concept was that players would become familiar with a new game on the MVS and subsequently want to continue their progress when the AES version came out. The memory card slot on the AES console was identical to the slot located on the front of every MVS cabinet. For $40, you could purchase a PCMCIA-style card that could store game saves and high scores for approximately 20 games. Unfortunately, the NeoGeo memory card never really caught on. Each card could only store roughly 2 kilobytes of data, which is pathetic even compared to the now-meager 128 kilobytes contained on a PSOne memory card, and relatively few games actually took advantage of the feature.
Soon after the NeoGeo AES was introduced, SNK launched an aggressive marketing campaign to promote the system. If you visited a video arcade or purchased an enthusiast gaming magazine back in the early 1990s, you couldn't help but notice the company's "weenie" ads, which asked prospective purchasers if they were happy playing on a plain weenie system, such as the Sega Genesis or NEC TurboGrafx, or whether they'd rather play on a full-blown hot dog with all of the trimmings, namely SNK's NeoGeo.
SNK soon followed up that campaign with its "Bigger, Badder, Better" ad blitz, which featured a menacing pitbull as its mascot. The dog, along with the words "Bigger, Badder, Better," appeared on the first page of a series of advertisements in a number of magazines. Once again, the goal of these advertisements was to convince wealthy game players that the Super NES and Genesis just weren't going to cut it anymore. Instead of comparing the competing consoles using a food analogy, as was done in the previous ad campaign, the pit bull ads simply laid out the hardware capabilities of each system in an easy-to-understand chart. The NeoGeo came out ahead in all categories.
The pit bull inserts also transformed one of SNK's game counselors into a cult celebrity. Inside the multi-page advertisements, the Game Lord (known to his friends as Chad Okada), would offer previews of upcoming games and provide tips about the games that were popular at the time. Okada soon became the company's unofficial "mascot," answering letters sent in by fans and appearing at industry trade shows such as the Consumer Electronics Show and the Electronic Entertainment Expo.
The pit bull campaign proved so popular that SNK ultimately decided to include the mascot on the quality-assurance seal that was printed on the outside of AES cartridge boxes. The company wasn't consistent in its implementation of the pit bull seal, however, and many games were released in variations with or without this "dog tag" embellishment. To compound matters, SNK dropped the pit bull altogether when the company switched to an outside PR firm with the release of Samurai Shodown II (around 1994). Today, collectors place a premium on packages that include the "dog tag" seal.
The Original Capcom vs. SNK
As popular as the NeoGeo MVS was in arcades, and as innovative as the AES was to home hobbyists, the biggest thing to happen to SNK in 1991 was Capcom's arcade release of Street Fighter II. Street Fighter II ignited the fighting game craze and once again gave people a compelling reason to shut off their home consoles and start spending their quarters at the arcade. Street Fighter II made its debut in April 1991.
SNK followed suit with a one-on-one fighting game of its own seven months later: Fatal Fury (known as Garou Densetsu in Japan) for the arcade MVS. The characters in Fatal Fury were comparable to those in Street Fighter II, as were the large sprite-based graphics. Fatal Fury even had something Capcom's game didn't: twin background planes that allowed you to take the fight into the background for dodge maneuvers and cross-screen attacks. Fatal Fury gave the NeoGeo AES console the "killer app" it needed, because while players would have to wait more than a year to play a watered-down version of Capcom's Street Fighter II on the Super NES console, they would only have to wait until December 1991 to bring home the arcade-identical AES version of Fatal Fury. Assuming that the whopper price of $250 wasn't an issue, of course.
Incidentally, many people have heard of SNK because of the popularity of the company's King of Fighters franchise, which didn't come along until 1994. What you may not realize, however, is that King of Fighters '94 technically isn't the first King of Fighters game. When Capcom introduced Street Fighter II in 1991, it was subtitled "The World Warrior." Not to be outdone, SNK gave Fatal Fury a subtitle too: "King of Fighters." SNK of Japan really loved the phrase and couldn't wait to title a game with it.