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NeoGeo Pocket Color: Portable of the Millennium.

The people of SNK (now known as SNK Playmore) have made some truly amazing games and systems. They are best known for their Neo-Geo arcade and arcade perfect home systems. Not very many people had the Neo-Geo home system since it was far more expensive then other contemporary systems with the console at $599 and games retailing at $200. You might be surprised to learn that it wasn’t the price of the units that drove the company to bankruptcy but the slow decline of arcade culture. The much less well known Neo-Geo Pocket Color was released in 1999 when SNK was at the edge of bankruptcy. The much lower priced system at $69.95 sold surprisingly poorly, perhaps due to the fact that the system lacked the graphical panache that SNK was otherwise known for.

Neo-Geo Pocket Color may not be the most graphically powerful system or have the largest library of games, but the small library of games that is does have is one of the most excellent of any system. The best games available are not all that diverse. Outside of the isolated puzzler, such as Puzzle Bobble, the system has several very good side scrollers such as Metal Slug 2nd Mission and Sonic the Hedgehog Pocket Adventure and a fantastic selection of adaptations of classic SNK fighters including Gals' Fighters, SNK vs. Capcom: The Match of the Millennium, Samurai Shodown! 2, and King of Fighters R2.

The fighting games on the system are second to none ranking up there with the best that portable gaming has to offer such as the PSP’s Tekken: Dark Resurrection or Bleach DS on the NDS. No other portable system even comes close to having as excellent a selection of fighting games. The games are all of the “super deformed” variety with the characters having giant heads, fists, and feet on relatively small bodies. This art style helps keep the character’s personalities on the much smaller Neo-Geo Pocket Color screen. This is particularly important on the system since it is not a graphical powerhouse with a resolution of 160x152, a maximum of 146 colors on screen, and a paltry 4 colors per sprite. Add to the rather unimpressive graphical abilities, the fact that the system only has two buttons, and a joy stick for control, and the outlook looks grim. Amazingly the games play fantastically. As mentioned before all the games I’ve played on the system are perfectly suited for the system with allowances made for gameplay or graphics.

The absolute best is SNK vs. Capcom: The Match of the Millennium which puts classic SNK fighters against a partial roster of the best known Capcom brawlers. The game has a pretty strong Capcom feel with 3 levels of attack for the punch and kick attacks depending on how long the attack buttons are held down. Additionally nearly all the Capcom fighters’ moves are intact. This is amazing with only 2 attack buttons. I can’t quite put into words just how nicely the game plays. The animation is very smooth. The game can be played somewhat successfully with a bit of button mashing but you’ll find that it is much more satisfying and has greater depth once you learn a character’s move set. Better yet if you can actually find another person with a copy of the game and a link-cable you can go head to head. With the price of the system it is almost worthwhile to buy two. Being much more familiar with the Capcom fighting games, the only find fault I can find in the game is the exclusion of Blanka and Dhalsim.


Neo-Geo Pocket Color ultimately lost support from SNK in the US and European markets after SNK was bought by Aruze Corp, a Japanese manufacturer of Pachinko machines, in 2000. This probably saved it from being destroyed by the technically superior Gameboy Advance which was released in 2001. Whatever the case we undoubtedly missed out on some most excellent games that would have been released for the NeoGeo Pocket Color. Imagining the excellent ports of Ikari Warriors, Satan of Saturn, P.O.W., and King of the Monsters that might have been brings a tear to my eye.

Neo-Geo Pocket Color is truly the handheld of the millennium (last millennium), and it was released with only one year to grow into its place of honor. Just enough time to fail to live up to its promise. It is a handheld that is great despite its small library of games, questionable quality, and premature withdrawal of support. With the system still available at a relatively low price it is worth picking up even today.

Scores:

Screen: 7/10 No lighting but is still easy enough to see in moderate light. Resolution is decent but nothing to write home about.

Sound: 8/10 Has one speaker that sounds alright. System is not an audio powerhouse.

Controls: 9/10 System has one of the best feeling eight direction control sticks on a portable and A and B buttons all of which click satisfyingly when pressed. Unfortunately all of them feel a bit fragile and the Power and Option buttons are a bit mushy. All in all most excellent.

Availability: 8/10 Easy to find online new or used.

Price: 9/10 .Can be found starting at $39.99 or bundled with 19 games for $80.99

Library: 7/10 Tiny library but packed with many excellent SNK and Neo-Geo games.

Overall: 8/10 Even though the system is a bit underpowered and graphically unimpressive the games available for it are fantastic. If the system had a larger library it would be a no brainer. As is this is highly recommended for fans of classic fighting and side scrolling shooter genres.

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