Presented by Tyler, lisalove1, Czernobog, and Racketboy
There were many casualties to Nintendo’s dominance in the portable gaming market over the past couple of decades. While it may not have been as commercially successful as the likes of the Sega Game Gear or the Playstation Portable, SNK’s Neo Geo Pocket handhelds still have quite a hardcore following in the retro game community. (If you aren’t familiar with the Neo Geo Pocket, check out our Beginner’s Guide)
In addition to having a good lineup of games directly from SNK (including some of the best portable fighting games ever), the Neo Geo Pocket actually had a handful of quality games from third-party developers like Sega and Namco. This guide will be a solid foundation for building a collection for this gem of a handheld.
(Also, be sure to check out the rest of our Defining Games Series)
Sonic Pocket Adventure
One of the weaknesses for the Neo Geo Pocket was the third-party support. Nintendo had most of the third party developers working for the Gameboy Color and Advance during the Neo Geo Pocket’s lifetime. There was one company, however, who after getting out of the handheld race, wasn’t all for Nintendo—Sega.
Enter Sonic Pocket Adventure. Released in 1999, “Sonic Pocket Adventure” or “Sonic the Hedgehog Pocket Adventure” was the second game to be released outside of a Sega platform, and one of the defining titles for the Neo Geo Pocket Color. The graphics are crisp and comparable to the Genesis with music being taken from various Sonic games, such as “Sonic 3”, “Sonic and Knuckles”, and “Sonic Jam”.
Levels are original and take cues from previous “Sonic” games, especially “Sonic 2”. Stages vary from Neo South Island, Aquatic Relix, and Chaotic Space. Impressively, Sonic Pocket Adventure still maintains its sense of speed within the game series and doesn’t feel like it’s been cut down to fit onto the Neo Geo Pocket’s hardware. Boss fights are similar to those of earlier games with Dr. Robotnik operating different machines.
On top of a great single player mode, Sonic Pocket Adventure offers support for multiplayer with the Neo Geo Pocket’s Link Cable. There are two mode’s to the multiplayer or “Duel Mode” as the game labels it. First is “Get the Rings”, where you collect a predetermined amount of rings faster than your opponent. The other is “Sonic Rush” which races two of the players against each other to see who can finish the stage first.
Another feature is the puzzle pieces, adding great replay to the series. By collecting diamonds scattered about through the levels, one can complete pictures in the game. Collecting all the diamonds can be frustrating as well as the seven Chaos Emeralds, but with battery back up, the search can be continued from wherever you live. In closing, for me, this is one of the best Sonic games out there and competes with Sonic CD for my top choice of a Sonic game. If you own a Neo Geo Pocket Color, you owe it to yourself to get this game. Period.
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Capcom vs. SNK Card Fighter’s Clash Series
The initial two Card Fighter’s Clash games were released as the SNK (blue label) version and Capcom (yellow label) version, with each game utilizing more characters from their respective franchises than the other, at least at the start of the game. Although these games are centralized around a battle card game, at first glance the games greatly resemble the Pokemon franchise, using a top down view and similar looking sprites. This resemblance is amplified by the games utilization of the Neo Geo Pocket link cable and the release of two versions, each of which feature some exclusive cards.
Using the link cable players can battle or trade cards with other players. However, the heart of the Card Fighter’s Clash series’ gameplay, a simple battle card game, is surprisingly unique.
The player can challenge various non-playable characters throughout the game in order to advance the story. Each card battle begins with a selection screen, where the game selects which player will go first and shuffles each player’s deck. Each of the two players has a set number of hit points which must be whittled down to zero in order to win the match. When the match begins, you have five cards and another card you draw at the beginning of your turn. The cards consist of two types, known as Character Cards and Action Cards.
Character Cards consist of BP (or battle Points) and SP (or Soul Points). Soul Points are gained each time a character card is played, and can be used to activate Action Cards, which can do a variety of things such as allow you to draw more cards or directly inflict damage upon the enemy player’s hit points. Battle Points are used to buffer the players hit points and can be lowered by the enemy player’s characters attacking. Essentially, the Character Cards must battle through each other in order to damage the players. Up to three character cards can be laid out at once in order to act as buffers for the player’s hit points. Deciding whether to counter enemy characters with your own or to allow the damage in order to keep your Character Card’s Battle Points up can play a major role in battles. In addition to this, saved up Soul Points can be used to combine multiple Character Card’s Battle Points to unleash devastating combo attacks. Many Character Cards also feature special abilities which can be beneficial or detrimental depending on when the Character is played. Also, some Character Cards can be combined at no cost for increased Battle Points, but these combinations could prove difficult to uncover for a player unfamiliar with SNK or Capcom franchises.
If the Neo Geo Pocket is turned off during a battle, the battle can be resumed upon turning the handheld back on, making the game very pick up and play friendly. Upon defeating an opponent the player gains at least three cards which they can choose to add to a 50-card deck. The player can then have up to five different decks at once. As the player defeats opponents and increases the strength and strategy of their card decks, they must collect six SC Coins from certain non-playable characters in order to play in the final tournament.
A third Card Fighter’s Clash game known as SNK vs. Capcom: Card Fighters 2 Expand Edition was only released in Japan and was the last game released for the Neo Geo Pocket Color. Unlike the previous two games, this game let you choose to play with either a Capcom deck or an SNK deck at the beginning of the game, instead of being released as two separate game cartridges and featured all the cards from the original two games. The game also featured over 100 new cards, including a new type of card called a Reaction Card. These performed actions similar to Action Cards but the player could interrupt the opponents attack phase to use them, adding a new layer of surprise and strategy to the games. A fan-translation patch exists for non-Japanese literate gamers looking to get in on the action.
Additionally, a Nintendo DS game was released in December 2006 in Japan, and later released in the U.S., Europe, and Australia. However, this game was radically different than the previous entries in the series. It featured a new type of card game battle, new cards, and a bug found during the game’s second play-through which made truly beating the game an impossible task, and was widely considered a poor game.
The three Card Fighter’s Clash games found on the Neo Geo Pocket had a surprising amount of depth and strategy despite appearing quite simple at first glance. Combine this with their portability, multiplayer features, and addictive quality and you have a series of games which remains as compelling to play today as it was when it was first released.
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Magical Drop Pocket
Do not make the mistake of thinking that the Neo Geo Pocket Color was all but devoid of 3rd-party developers. The system did receive several
great games from companies other than SNK (although it is hard to argue that SNK were the main source of the NGPCÅfs game library). Similarly, the handheld was also blessed with a selection of excellent puzzle games, such as Puzzle Link 1 & 2, Bust-A-Move/Puzzle Bobble Mini, Puyo Pop, Picture Puzzle, and, of course, Magical Drop Pocket. Yes, Data East provided a rather stellar incarnation of Magical Drop for the NGPC, as well as one for the Wonderswan. The Neo Geo Pocket version is generally regarded as superior due to it being in full color, as opposed to the WonderswanÅfs monochrome version (although the Wonderswan version did play in tate mode, and had better character animation). Magical Drop Pocket is arguably the cream of the crop in terms of puzzle games on the NGPC, and possibly of the entire generation.
The most important aspect of a puzzle game is, of course, that intangible addictive quality that gives the game practically unlimited replay value. Magical Drop Pocket has this in spades. You could play the game for hours and still want more. The game has a lightning-fast pace; you can beat the story mode in a matter of minutes on easier difficulties, but matches can drag on for exponentially longer in tougher modes. Despite the game’s relative brevity, you are never left feeling disappointed after a match. In fact, part of the fun is seeing how quickly you can finish a match. It is a true arcade game in every sense of the term. The game’s graphics are relatively simplistic to keep gameplay fast and smooth, and the music follows suit. The only bad thing I can say about the game’s presentation is the hilariously awful translation typical of portable game’s of the era.
Magical Drop Pocket has a multiplayer mode that measures up quite favorably to the original Neo Geo version. The steady framerate keeps
gameplay moving at a good clip throughout the match. There is everything you came to love in the arcade game is present in the Neo Geo Pocket Color version, which is exactly what a good portable port should be; all the content condensed onto a small screen. That is why Magical Drop
Pocket is the perfect representation of the NGPC’s purpose in existence: To provide a great arcade experience on the go. By making ports of the most popular games on the Neo Geo platform, the handheld’s intent was made clear, and some high-quality ports were granted to the system in the process.
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SNK Vs. Capcom: The Match of the Millennium (& Other Pocker Fighters)
Much like the Neo-Geo console and arcade machines, the Neo Geo Pocket is filled with a wonderful collection of fighting games. Even if you aren’t entirely familiar with the Neo Geo Pocket, you may have seen screenshots of the Pocket Fighters series on occassion. If you are like most portable gamers you are probably more familiar with developers trying to fit the likes of Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat into tiny screens while maintaining the look and feel of the original. On the Neo-Geo Pocket, SNK embraced the limitations of the portable hardware and rebuiilt the games from the ground up complete with suprisingly-satisfying super-deformed character designs. The NGPC had a handful of Pocket versions of familiar fighters such as Fatal Fury: First Contact, King of Fighters: R1/R2, The Last Blade, and Samurai Shodown 1 & 2. However, the best example of a NGPC is SNK vs Capcom: Match of the Millennium.
Regarded by many as one of, if not the greatest portable fighting game of all time, SNK vs. Capcom is a fast-paced fighter with a well-defined pick up and play feel to it. Mostly consisting of a port of the Sega NAOMI arcade game Capcom Vs. SNK Millennium Fight 2000, this portable version features most of the characters of the arcade version, totaling a whopping 26 fighters (13 from both Capcom and SNK franchises). The stages are unique to the portable game, however, are unique to MotM, and feature some rather stellar animation for the time. The battle mechanics are rather bold for a portable fighter of the era. For the battles in the game, you have the choice between playing a standard, best-two-out-of-three one-on-one match, a 2-on-2 tag team match, or a King of Fighters-esque 3-on-3 team match. MotM even allows you to personalize your own character/team for a custom background theme tune and victory text, which adds a very nice touch of personality to the game’s multiplayer.
Match of the Millennium is the largest ROM ever released on a Neo Geo Pocket cartridge, weighing in at 32 Megabits; understandable for such a large game. Since the NGPC is limited to two buttons for game input [minus the Option button, which is mostly used for pausing], SNK had to get creative when fitting an arcade game into a portable. So, in lieu of just cutting out moves, SNK used the system’s pressure-sensitive buttons to substitute for the two missing buttons. This system creates enough simplicity to appeal to newcomers while maintaining To summarize, it has all the fun of a button-masher with all the strategy of a hardcore fighter.
Alongside the main game, several mini-games were added to add some extra depth. These games, such as a rhythm game featuring Felicia and a Ghosts & Goblins platformer, granted you credits that could be used to unlocknew stages and characters in the game. Match of the Millennium also supported the NGPC-Dreamcast Link Cable, which allowed you to transfer credits earned in mini-games to the Dreamcast port of SNK Vs. Capcom to unlock characters in the console version, as well. The game also allows multiplayer via the NGPC Link Cable, provided you can find another Neo Geo Pocket Color owner with the game. Overall, Match of the Millennium is often called the best NGPC game ever made, and was certainly an important part of a valiant last effort by a dying SNK, and a must-have game for ANY Neo Geo Pocket Color owner.
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Neo Turf Masters
It isn’t all that often that a sports game is among a system’s most remembered and respected games, but the Neo Geo Pocket bucked this trend with a series of stellar sports games that played in perfectly with the system’s mentality of pick-up-and-play gameplay. While most sports games have gone the way of the complex simulation, Neo Turf Masters represents the old guard ideology of sports games, that of purely fun-based arcade action. Also, the NGPC was one of the first handheld systems powerful enough to deliver a real gaming experience of an arcade. The Game Boy had done an admirable job, but there is only so much that could be done on an 8-bit processor and monochromatic screen.
Neo Turf Masters is a golf game that allows you to select between three different nine-hole golf courses and six characters to participate in different tournaments. The gameplay consists of a simple power meter and aim meter setup like the Neo-Geo AES/MVS game it is based off of. The Neo Geo Pocket Color’s powerful processor allowed for fast-paced gameplay in Neo Turf Masters, which is important when trying to mimic arcade gameplay. There is not much more to the game’s core gameplay other than those mechanics. But, the game’s beauty lies in its ease of play and quick pace. You could easily play a couple holes over the course of a coffee break, and finish later. The game works perfectly for the hardware it is made for, not only in a technical sense, but also in an aesthetic and conceptual sense. Rarely does a game come together this well for the system it is designed for. That is why it is such an
important Neo Geo Pocket Color game. SNK is brilliant at working within their limits of hardware, and it shows in games like this.
Neo Turf Masters also features a multiplayer mode that adds some replay value to the game, provided you can find another NGPC owner who has a link cable. Also, the game offers a collection element that allows you to obtain different golf clubs upon completing matches and tournaments. There are several clubs to collect, so coalitionists should find a fair bit of play time in Neo Turf Masters. Overall, there is little not to like about a tightly-crafted and well-made game like Neo Turf Masters. It is a fine sports game, and a must-have title for Neo Geo Pocket Color owners.
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The Neo Geo Pocket Color tried its hardest to put a dent in the Game Boy juggernaut’s market share, and it knew that in order to do that, it had to have diversity in its game genres. So, it needed something that was considered unthinkable to have on a Neo Geo platform: A Role-Playing Game. Luckily, NGPC-focused developer Yumekobo set out to rectify this hole in the mainly arcade-based brand with Biomotor Unitron, an RPG meant to give Neo Geo Pocket owners something to hold up to the Game Boy’s impressive RPG library. The game was released amid the Pokemon craze of the late 90’s, in which every portable RPG had to imitate it in some way. Yes, Biomotor Unitron is certainly a “Collection” RPG like the former, but not in the same way. In the game, you are given a robot with which to fight in a worldwide robot battle tournament. You can collect parts and weapons for to improve your robot, and allow you to progress through the game’s 4 dungeons, and, more importantly, the aforementioned tournament. Think of it like Armored Core: The RPG.
Most of the game is centered around this tournament, with the central town, which has shops to sell you parts, and your garage, which lets you equip and upgrade your Unitron parts. Like Pokemon, there is a lack of any deep story, but instead relies on solid, addictive gameplay that will keep you playing to the very end. One thing that I must point out, though, is the level of detail put into the game’s backgrounds. When traversing through the game’s central town, you take on a first-person perspective with a MUD-style navigation system. Whenever you get to a new part of town, you are greeted with a gorgeously-drawn and meticulously-detailed background image of the area, as well as an equally-impressive image of your conversation partner. This is something that wasn’t done on portables until the GBA, or at least the Wonderswan. Either way, it is incredible to see running on the Neo Geo Pocket Color, and adds some serious graphical flair to the game.
The inclusion of an RPG was an important step for the Neo Geo Pocket Color, and the brand as a whole. It represents SNK’s desire to move forward as a company, despite it ultimately being a case of too little, too late. There was a sequel of Biomotor Unitron released, called Kikou Seiki Unitron, but was only released in Japan, similar to Card Fighters Clash 2’s predicament. Still, Biomotor Unitron provided NGPC owners a great RPG for a system in a time when the system sorely needed some diversity in its library.
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Metal Slug: 1st Mission / 2nd Mission
There is no denying that Neo Geo systems survive almost entirely on high-quality first-party games, and that Metal Slug is among the company’s bread and butter. So, the company certainly wasn’t going to pass up the chance to bring the franchise to their handheld system. Metal Slug was given two games on the Neo Geo Pocket Color, entitled 1st and 2nd Mission, respectively. Both were created from the ground up for the NGPC, eschewing the arcade’s token-based system for a more console/handheld friendly health meter. All the weapons from the arcade games are present, along with a few new ones, such as the “Pineapple” Grenade Launcher. Even voice samples from dying enemies and the weapon upgrade announcer made it into 2nd Mission! Gameplay-wise, it is a very faithful port. Although, once again, the NGPC’s lack of many buttons presented a problem to making a portable version. So, the developers used the Option button for both grenades and pausing the game, depending on how long you hold it down for. It is still a bit of a jarring shift if you are used to the arcade games, but it is another great example of SNK being creative when bringing franchises to the NGPC.
The first Metal Slug game for the NGPC, 1st Mission, was still a good game, I am certainly not saying otherwise, but 2nd Mission just improved on it in every imaginable way, so we had to include the latter on the list instead. Also, the first game borrowed a lot of content from the original Metal Slug, including music and certain bosses, so it was more like an expanded/remixed port of the original Metal Slug. 2nd Mission was completely unique to the Neo Geo Pocket, though, and contained features like branching pathways, which added a lot of replay value if you go back and play through the stages and level segments you initially missed. This level of detail and depth in a portable game was certainly a driving force that helped re-define what experiences could be possible on a handheld game.
Metal Slug: Second Mission makes stellar use of the system’s hardware, utilizing the audio capabilities with the aforementioned voice samples, as well as some relatively high-fidelity and very catchy audio that is highly faithful to Metal Slug’s jazzy rock music style. The graphics, the backgrounds in particular, are highly-detailed and look gorgeous on the NGPC’s screen. In terms of visual quality on the system, 2nd Mission is in the top tier on the system, with fluid animation, well-drawn sprites and impressive scaling effects let you know that this is a game that pushes the hardware to its limits. 2nd Mission is exactly what the Neo Geo Pocket was designed for; to have fast-paced arcade action on the small screen, with the aid of SNK’s best franchises. If you want some Run N’ Gun action on a portable system, then you can’t do much better than Metal Slug: Second Mission.
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It was the year 2000. After just under a mere 2 years, the Neo Geo Pocket/Color was already losing ground to the Game Boy Color, and the gigantic shadow looming over the handheld gaming world that was the Game Boy Advance. SNK knew that it probably wasn’t going to make it for much
longer with the NGPC; its market share was dwindling from an already low percentage, and there wasn’t much that could be done. So, they decided to make a game that would let them go out with a bang. This game was a love letter to all of SNK’s fans out there, and took everything the company knew about portable game development, and compressed it into one game. The premise itself was 100% fanservice; something Sega also did before it went under with the game Segagaga. Yes, the war was lost, in fact, many maintain that it was a long time coming for the company, but SNK wanted to show that it appreciated its die-hard fanbase that clung to the Neo Geo brand for dear life. This game was Gals Fighters.
While Gals Fighters was not the last 1st-party game ever released for the NGPC (that honor goes to The Last Blade), it was the second-to-last, released just two months earlier. Gals Fighters was a girls-only fighting game that took SNK’s most popular females from all their franchises, and puts them together into the same roster. Even some lesser-known characters, like Shiki from Samurai Spirits 64 made the cut. The game plays like like most other Neo Geo Pocket fighters; Match of the Millennium, in particular. The best way to describe gals Fighters is simply this: Absolutely bonkers. The game takes MotM’s cartoony silliness, runs with it, and never stops. To use an analogy, Match of the Millennium is to Gals Fighters as Waku Waku 7 is to Pocket Fighter. In fact, one of the game’s main selling points is its completely off-the-wall silliness. Athena dresses in costumes (bunnygirl, maid, etc.) for her special attacks, Mai parachutes down to the ground after jumping, Shermie continuously judo-slams you across the entire battlefield with her special attack, Yuri does rock-paper-scissors uppercuts and stops to take a breather afterwards, and Iori even makes a surprise appearance as an unlockable character as “Ms. XÅh! You can’t make this stuff up.
In terms of presentation, it looks just about as good as Match of the Millennium, if not a little more smoothly animated. Everything is fast and fluid, and just feels right. The backgrounds are vibrant and detailed as always, with lots of nice touches that make the game stand out on a portable system. The sound, while not as catchy as that in Match of the Millennium, still has a whimsical and fun tone to it that makes it a joy to listen to, and that suits the game like a glove. On the gameplay side of things, Gals Fighters incorporates somewhat of an optional weapons system to liven up combat. Upon beating the game, you
are given a weapon based on the character you beat the game with. You can then use these weapons during later battles to inflict more damage or some other effect. Its inclusion in the game adds a nice extra layer of strategy to a game whose combat mechanics would not have stood out otherwise.
Overall, the main reason that Gals Fighters was an important Neo Geo Pocket Color game was that it defined the gestalt of SNK. Everything that the company had worked for for over the past decade, culminating into a single game. It was what Neo Geo fans wanted, and SNK was willing to give it to them, even while valiantly going down with their sinking ship, Shin Nihon Kikoku never, ever gave up on its fans. So the next time you are witness to Mai Shiranui’s boob jiggle, have a moment of silence for our brethren at SNK.
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Many of these are bordering on Hidden Gems (so we will save more discussion about them in another upcoming guide), but here are some other excellent and somewhat popular NGPC games that made an impact with fans, but weren’t as much of mainstream hits.
- Legend of Ogre Battle Gaiden: Prince of Zenobia – the obligatory import: Serving as a gaiden (side story) to the Ogre Battle Saga, this game follows the Prince of Zenobia on his journey through the land.Taking place during March of the Black Queen (or just Ogre Battle if you care) but through different parts of the world.The game plays exactly like the original, and if it was not for different areas I would call it a port.However it is an amazing game and well worth looking into finding if you are a fan of the series.If you are not a fan I would suggest finding a copy of the SNES or PSX version of March of the Black Queen, mainly since the game is in Japanese and fairly heavy in dialog, it is a fantasy strategy game with RPG battles
- Rockman: Battle and Fighters – Rockman: Battle and Fighters is a Neo Geo Pocket Color remix of Rockman The Power Battle, an arcade game created by Capcom in 1995. The game is essentially a Mega Man game without the levels. You choose your character (Rockman, Forte, or Blues) and proceed through a boss rush that is one part Street Fighter, one part Megaman. Rockman: Battle and Fighters borrows elements from the two arcade games and art assets from the original NES titles. This game is fairly hard to come by and collectors should expect to pay handsomely for this import title.
- Cotton Fantastic Nights Dream – the wonderful old-school shmup series gets an installment on the NGPC (eBay)
- Baseball Stars – another popular SNK sports title recieves a wonderful portable version (Amazon / eBay)
- Faselei! – a stunning tactical RPG from the development house behind Shadow Hearts (Amazon / eBay)
- Pac-Man – the arcade classic saw a wonderful port on the SNK’s portable (Amazon / eBay)
- Bust-A-Move Pocket – another favorite puzzle series (Amazon / eBay)
- Dark Arms: Beast Buster – an action RPG that has some pet-sim elements to it. The NGPC’s best alternative to Zelda (Amazon / eBay)