Monday, October 24, 2011

Neo Geo Pocket Colour: the best handheld you’ve never played

 I’ve recently added a Neo Geo Pocket Colour (NGPC) to my collection and it has quickly become one of the best retro console purchases I’ve made. Not many people know about the NGPC because it wasn’t exactly a success and didn’t last too long at retail before SNK were sold of Azure due to financial difficulties. Azure set about recalling all unsold games and units effectively killing off the handheld console.

Metal Slug: Second Mission

The failure of the machine was down to bad marketing decisions and timing. The monochrome NGP looked archaic compared to the Gameboy Colour despite being a better machine technically. An old copy of the sadly defunct Arcade magazine sums up what went wrong with the NGPC. In a single page in the magazine some of the launch titles are reviewed; Metal Slug First Mission, Puzzle Bobble, Tennis and King of Fighters (I think, might have been Fatal Fury). All games scored 5/5 except Tennis which achieved a respectable 4/5 with the reviewer commenting on how the console had a great life ahead of it if great games like these kept getting released for it. On the same page was a review for Pokémon. The Gameboy market at the time was lagging. The NGPC had the misfortune to come out right as Poke-mania was about to take off.

SNK vs. Capcom: Match of the Millenium

 It’s a shame that the NGPC only lasted a couple of months. Despite how few titles were released on the system quite a large majority of these games are excellent.  At the time SNK was at the top of their game and one of the best game developers around. SNK’s fighters are of course the highlights of the system line up but there’s also some great RPG’s, platformers and puzzle games in the library. There was also some limited third party support from the likes of Capcom, Taito and Sega, who provided titles such as Rockman: Battle & Fighters, Densha de go 2 (which just arrived in the post as I write this!) and Sonic the Hedgehog, respectively. 

Sonic the Hedgehog Pocket Adventure

The technical specifications of the NGPC hardware are also impressive. The console is more powerful than the Gameboy colour, a true 16-bit system as opposed to the GBC’s upgraded 8-bit Gameboy chipset, meaning it can handle SNK fighting games quite well. Before the Neo Geo Pocket fighting games on handhelds had been universally awful. Battery life is excellent, clocking in at about 40 hours from just 2 AA batteries. The piece de resistance however is the joystick. It’s based on a micro switch design, it’s basically a miniature arcade stick. The result is that the NGPC has some of the best controls of any console, up there with the Japanese Saturn controller. If there’s one bad design decision, and it’s a biggie, it’s the screen. It’s one of those reflective TFT screens like in the original GBA, so if you don’t have a miniature sun shining over your shoulder to illuminate the screen it can be a bitch to see what is going on. The NGPC can be linked up to the Dreamcast to unlock secrets in certain DC games using a special link cable which could be fun to experiment with although I’ve not tried it.

Amassing a good collection of NGPC games is not too expensive either. As someone who is unemployed I’ve managed to scrap together enough for the console and practically every game I want for the system in the space of about 3 months. The console and most of the games can be bought from eBay for very reasonable prices. Be on the look-out for bundles, I managed to pick up a very reasonable bundle of 10 games, all of which I wanted, that worked out to be less than 4 euros per game including the shipping. Finding boxed games is a little more difficult and expensive but still quite affordable. I’ve found that you can snipe most auctions at the last minute because there’s really not that many people looking for NGPC games.
Proof that even the people like me on the poverty line can amass a decent collection of NGPC games!
Differences in Japanese and PAL packaging
If you are going for boxed games then you should go for PAL games. Japanese and US games came in cardboard boxes and aren’t as desirable as the PAL releases. PAL games come in miniaturised Neo Geo AES plastic clamshells and look fantastic. Be warned, there are some very expensive games out there especially if you want them boxed. The english version of Evolution and Rockman can be hard to find and very expensive so be warned if you are trying for a complete collection. Some games like Last Blade and Faselei were thought to be rare and went for crazy money but can now be found at more reasonable prices since recalled stock was put back on sale around 2003.

Gals Fighters

As for game recommendations, if you want fighting games you are spoiled for choice. SNK vs. Capcom: Match of the Millenium is considered the best but you can’t go wrong with any of the other fighters on the system. I’d also recommend Last Blade and Gals Fighters. Both Metal Slug games are pretty much essential and Sonic the Hedgehog: Pocket Adventure is a decent enough Sonic game. There’s some great puzzle games as well with the best being Puzzle Bobble Mini and Puyo Puyo, the latter of which was a nightmare to find at a decent price. You can also pick up both Puzzle Link games and Picture Puzzle, which is effectively picross, for very cheap prices. There’s plenty of RPGs on the system as well. I own Biomotor Unitron, Dark Arms, Dive Alert, Faselei! And SNK vs. Capcom: Card Fighters Clash. I’ve only dabbled in these games, other than Faselei!, but I’ve heard good things about them all, especially Card Fighters Clash. I’m currently playing Faselei! and it’s a fantastic Strategy RPG. Lastly Neo Turf Masters is a great little golf game that’s simple to pick up and hard to master.

Puzzle Bobble Mini
 I can’t recommend the NGPC enough to fellow retro game enthusiasts. It’s cheap and very easy to acquire a large collection of great games. There are emulators for the machine but they all have problems running the games at the correct speed and mess up the sound. All the footage of NGPC on YouTube is from emulators so don’t be put off by how bad it looks; the emulators are not running the games properly.
Some Neo Geo Pocket literature I found in my Densha De Go 2 box.


  1. Ah, yes, the NGPC! I've never played a real-life one, just played a few of its games via emulator, but I definitely liked what I experienced. The system design seems a bit disappointing -- kind of like one of those fan-made contraptions -- but not terrible. Anyway, you've piqued my interest in getting one of these for myself at some point. Thanks for that -- and best of luck to you in acquiring more of the system's games :)

  2. The only real problem I have with the system design is the screen because it isn't lit. Other than that it's quite a nice console if a bit boxy but it's comfortable to use and the joystick is a work of engineering genius.

    As for acquiring more games, I have pretty much everything I want on it. I'll keep an eye out for games like Neo Poke-kun, Ogre Battle and Magical Drop but I feel I've pretty much got everything I need on the system.

    I took the pictures using NeoPop, supposedly the best emulator for the NGPC but it was really slow and the sound was terribly. It's a much better experience on the actual hardware.

    Anyway as I said it's a very easy system to collect for and really cheap, I'd recommend it as an easy system to collect.

  3. The other reason the NGPC failed was that the price of game carts was too high - while the console was relatively cheap, carts were still at full-price when new (someone was saying up to £70!)

    What a shame.

  4. Didn't realise they were that expensive. That's about twice the price of Gameboy carts at the time.

  5. Well, I'm glad to hear it feels good in your hands. I don't think the boxiness of the system is a horrible thing, actually. I guess it just looks a bit ... dull? Of course, so does the original GameBoy, and I like that quite a bit. Anyway, I may have to pick one of these up at some point, esp. if they're priced as well as you say they are!

  6. Recently got an emulator in hopes i could play a fantastic mech style game i was in love with as a kid. Wasn't too hard to figure out what gae it was considering how amazing it was to me as a youngster. Certainly anyone who owned a neo must have experienced the same that I did as a child. All it took was one search and up poped up "BIOMOTOR UNITRON"! Holy hell was that easy! The android market even had a free emulator and the rom i downloaded (from phone) extracted and started the experience all over again! But i couldn't figure out how to get bigger games with more files to extract working such as samaria showdown. Anyways if someone could help that would be great. In the meantime.... BIOMOTOR !!'!