500 Words About… the Neo Geo Pocket Color

Today’s post is a set up for the future. Despite producing the Neo Geo, the arcade in a box that was one of the most eye-wateringly expensive systems to buy for both while it was in production and even now, SNK wanted to dip their toes in a pond they hadn’t committed to: handhelds. After a few releases on Game Boy they decided to challenge the Big N with a system of their own and the topic of today’s post: the Neo Geo Pocket Color.

ngpc-logo

For most people handheld gaming in the ’90s/early ’00s revolved around one device: the Game Boy. If pushed a few people may be able to name its earlier challengers, Sega’s Game Gear or the Atari Lynx, both in colour and more powerful but battery hogs. Some may even namedrop Game Boy inventor Gunpei Yokoi’s follow-up handheld, the Japan only Bandai Wonderswan. It managed to hold its own with decent support from the likes of Squaresoft, Capcom, Namco[1] and others before the Game Boy Advance cleared everything in its path.[2]

my-ngpc

Mine lives in an OG Game Boy bag, because rivalries are for suckers.

But there was another contender to the throne. Despite its short run as SNK’s final hardware device the Neo Geo Pocket Color produced a staggeringly strong library, even moreso if the unlocalised mahjong and gambling games so common to handhelds are taken out the mix.[3]

SNK are synonymous with fighting games and that’s exactly what the NGPC has in spades. It has chibified versions of their major series on display, with the King of Fighters and Samurai Shodown receiving two games each complete with a wealth of single player collectables and unlockables. The Last Blade effectively had the 2nd game hidden away on the cart! The handheld also kicked of a joint effort with Capcom resulting in Match of the Millennium[4] and SvC Card Fighters Clash, both among the system’s high points.

Source: Tony Blundetto

But the best part is that these games all played really well, not just running smoothly and looking amazing, but thanks to the NGPC’s wonderfully clicky joystick. It’s clear that SNK wanted to take their arcade nous on the road, even bringing a double helping of their other big arcade series, Metal Slug, that like the other NGPC entries holds up well by itself and in relation to its sibling titles.

metal-slug-2nd-mission

Despite the platform differences, Metal Slug’s level of detail and animation still shines through.

But it wasn’t all fighting games and arcade ports. The NGPC got a few puzzle games[5] but housed the 1st original Sonic game on a non-Sega system[6]: Sonic Pocket Adventure. Original might be a stretch, it reimagines Sonic 2 and 3 with some lovely chiptune covers from the series as music, but the game is excellent. It’s also the origin point for the Sonic Advance games, with noticeable comparisons in UI and design. Sega even offered a Dreamcast link cable, so players could unlock goodies in certain titles. There were also RPGs like Biomotor Unitron, a (“randomly” generated) dungeon crawler with a collect-a-thon edge as you build and modify your robot, and the unique Faselei! which has a take on the strategy genre that hasn’t really been replicated.[7]

Sadly the NGPC’s short run ended when SNK pulled back from overseas operations in 2000, leaving titles like Ogre Battle and sequels to Biomotor Unitron and Card Fighters Clash locked in Japan. And yet, the system is still worth investing some time in. Its lean library is replete with gems, even with the fighting focus, that I’ll hopefully cover in more detail soon.

To round off, here’s a gallery of compatability warning messages. Enjoy: http://www.vgmuseum.com/features/warn/ngpc.htm


[1] Who you may now know as Bandai Namco. Guess who really liked the Wonderswan?

[2] So much so that Square and other companies ended up porting Wonderswan games to the device. Several Final Fantasy remakes started there and shifted over, as well as Sting’s Riviera and a few others.

[3] It was on the market for 3 years if we include the original Neo Geo Pocket that launched only in Japan in 1998. It was quickly replaced in 1999 with the Color version, and lasted in that region until 2001. The US and EU got it from late 1999 to mid 2000 for 10 and 8 months respectively.

[4] Produced by Dimps, who went on to help with Street Fighter 5.

[5] Witness Jeremy Parish’s efforts with Game Boy World to know the struggle of playing through the first few years of the Game Boy’s library. It’s full of Mahjong, bad ports and innumerable puzzle titles. (Seriously though, it and Jeremy’s other series are impressive). He also did a lengthy retrospective on the NGPC for USGamer if you want a longer read. Same with the Wonderswan.

[6] The 1st actual Sonic game on a non-Sega system also belongs to a handheld. The Game.com got a port of Sonic Jam, a compilation of the 3 Mega Drive games. It is… bad. So at least the NGPC got the 1st good Sonic game on non-Sega hardware.

[7] Both of these games are fairly hard to come by for a number of reasons. Faselei! in particular was recalled before making its US release due to the whole “retreating from markets”, but gradually popped up in the aftermarket.

[8] This isn’t attached to anything, but not sharing the NGPC’s start up jingle seemed like a poor outing.

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