SNK Neo-Geo Pocket: A Beginner’s Guide

Neo Geo Pocket 101

Presented by Fastbilly1, pullmyfinger, Flake, GSZX1337, and Racketboy

The RetroGaming 101 series is aimed at gamers who are just starting out in the classic gaming scene or are curious about an older console that they don’t know much about yet. Those of you that are especially knowledgeable about the featured console, I encourage you to add any information that you think would be beneficial into the comments section.

 

Photo by Shawn Liu


Background Info

  • Two versions: Neo Geo Pocket and Neo Geo Pocket Color (abbreviated to NGP and NGPC respectively.)
  • The original Neo Geo Pocket was released in late 1998 in Japan.
  • After slow sales of the original, the Neo Geo Pocket Color was released onMarch 16, 1999.
  • The U.S. version of the Neo Geo Pocket Color had an exclusive launch on the website eToys
  • The system debuted in the United States with six launch titles (20 promised by end of year) and retail price of $69.95.
  • Six different unit colors were available: Camouflage Blue, Carbon Black, Crystal White, Platinum Blue, Platinum Silver, and Stone Blue.
  • Before SNK was bought out, the Neo Geo Pocket Color was being advertised on US television and units were being sold nationally in Wal-Mart, Best Buy, Toys “R” Us (and their online partner, Amazon.com)
  • Once SNK was bought out by the Aruze group, remaining inventory was bought back by SNK for repackaging in Asia, where the handheld would still be supported with games.

Historical Impact

  • Forward-Compatible: One of the only systems in which the earlier form (NGP) could play the majority of the new games for the new system (NGPC)
  • SNK’s First Hardware Since the Neo-Geo:And although it carries the trademark Neo Geo name it has few true arcade ports (for obvious reasons).
  • Hurt SNK’s Bottom Line: NGP is blamed as one of the reasons that SNK had to close their doors, other reasons cited were the decline of the American and European Arcades during the late 90s and the ease of playing backup copies of the MVS software on your home computer.
  • Bringing The Arcade To The Road: While not true Arcade ports, the NGPC was blessed with a wide array of games based on its older brothers games – Metal Slug 1st Mission, King of Fighters R-1, and Bust a Move Pocket for example – a first for the company and a defining point for arcade to handheld ports for the future.
  • Put Up A Good Fight Against Nintendo: The one of the few significant handheld competitors to the Gameboy, the Gamegear is the obvious first.
  • Portable Controls: One of the first handheld consoles to feature a Joystick as its primary mode of input.Another system that utilized a similar joystick would be the GP32, both are known for making a unique clickty-clack sound.
  • Battery Backup: To my knowledge it is the first handheld to utilize a second internal battery to backup the memory and clock.The battery is a CR2032, well know to Saturn fans, and sold here by Racketboy.
  • Linking With Console: Before Nintendo had their GBA-to-Gamecube linking, the Neo-Geo Pocket Color actually linked with the Sega Dreamcast for unlockable game features

Neo-Geo Pocket Color Screen by Andrew Murray

Screen & Color Capabilities

  • The screen is high quality,160×152 display
  • Had a “virtual screen” that allowed for 256×256 resolutions, 16 palettes per plane, and 64 sprites per frame
  • No form of internal lighting it does need to be played in well-lit conditions.
  • The Neo-Geo Pocket Color can put out 146 colors at once out of a possible 4096 colors
  • This compares to the Wonderswan Color & Crystal’s 241 colors on screen out of 4096 and the Gameboy Color’s 56 simultaneously on screen out of 32,768

Hardware Variations

  • In addition to a handful of standard color variations of the standard Grey,  Crystal Yellow and Crystal Turquoise, you can also find Neo-Geo Pockets in Crystal [transparent]Camo, and a Hanshin Tigers Limited Edition Version.
  • There is also a slim version of the Neo Geo Pocket Color. Here is a video detailing the differences between the two versions. Bit of warning: You might want to keep the video on mute until the guy gets the ruler out. He moves the camera around a bit and creates a lot of noise.

Accessories

  • Shock n’ Rock by Nyko: Provides Stereo sound, audio-based rumble, rechargeable battery, and some rubber grips that unlike all other grips for portables, feel comfortable and don’t add that much bulk to the console.
  • Link Cable: Fighting games are always better with friends. The link cable connection is very simple, just link up, select vs and fight away, no loadings, no lags, just fun. This is a third party cable can be hard to find, however, and can go for $30+..
  • Wireless Link: There was a wireless connector released in Japan that allowed several players in proximity to play together, with some cartridge moulding reshaped to hold it.
  • Official Carry Case: Pretty small and easy to carry and even comes with two straps, both of which are way too big for my taste. It has space for the console, and an extra pocket for games and accessories, pretty useful and easy to get, they are all over eBay for $15 a piece.

One of the Color Variations of the NGP - photo by Jason OConnell

Strengths

  • Big-Name Backing: SNK had one of the best development houses in the world at that time.
  • Amazing Game Catalogue: From Last Blade to Densha De Go!, all major genres and most SNK series are represented (albeit in “petite” form)
  • Decent US and Europe support/naturalization: Quite surprising for a limited release outside of Japan. This also brought aplethora of multilanguage carts
  • Forward Compatibility: Early adopters were not overly screwed when the new version came out
  • Durable Hardware: Not quite Gameboy durable, but better than previous competitors
  • Sega Partnership: Resulted in a Sonic game and a Dreamcast to NGPC cable that allowed some neat unlockables in games such as Capcom vs SNK 2
  • Comfortable & Tactile Controls: The joystick is absolutely amazing for fighting and puzzle games, which thankfully there are a lot of on the system.
  • High Quality Screen: 160×152 resolution
  • Amazing Battery Life: Roughly 30 to 40 hours with two AA batteries (compared to the Wonderswan Color’s otherwise impressive10+ hours on a single AA battery)
  • Inexpensive Aftermarket Price: Can pick up a handheld and a bundle of games on eBay for about $60 in all.

Weaknesses

  • Difficult Living Up To SNK’s High Standards: Technical limitations in some games, several of the more intense action games suffered some pretty bad slowdown.
  • Timing: Originally released in 1998, in the midst of “Pokemania” and slowed even more by the 1999 rumors of a 32-bit Gameboy successory (the Gameboy Advance)
  • Very Little Third Party Support: SNK had Sega on board, but that was just about it.
  • Game Cases: American releases were boxed in cardboard boxes, instead of the hard cases that the rest of the world had (while I do not agree with this others do so I thought it should be mentioned)
  • No Backlight: Don’t plan on playing in the dark with the Pocket

Neo-Geo Pocket Game Cartridge by Andrea Vail


Notable Games & Imports

  • Games The Defined the Neo Geo PocketIf you want to read up on the the essentails of the Neo Geo Pocket library, this guide should be your first stop.  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.
  • Neo Geo Fighters – Last Blade, Samurai Shodown, King of Fighters, Capcom vs SNK – Card Fighter Clash, etc: Unlike their arcade counterparts, the portable titles adopted a super deformed graphic style but animated almost as smoothly with all the same moves and combos. Even with its diminutive two button control scheme and an amazing joystick these games are simply the best portable fighting games of their time.I would say of all time, but I feel that Street Fighter Alpha 3 on the GBA has finally surpassed them.The controls do take a little getting use to, but soon you will realize that they took a four button game and made a faithful two button version.I know I sound crazy but I believe most fighting game fans can agree on this.
  • Metal Slug 1st and 2nd Missions: While I am a huge fan of the original Metal Slug (I have owned it several times in almost every format imaginable) these games are far from the intense run and gun action of it.These are slower paced (for an arcade styled game), uniquely controlled, and feature a health bar.So yeah it is kind of a downgrade from the arcade version, but they are still excellent games and set the standard for handheld run and guns (see CT Special Forces series on the GBA).
  • Sonic Pocket Adventure – As part of the partnership between Sega and SNK, a Sonic game was produced for the system in 1999. Developed by Sonic Team and Dimps (a full 2 years before Sonic Advance), Sonic the Hedgehog Pocket Adventure is essentially a re-telling of Sonic the Hedgehog 2 with elements of Sonic CD and Sonic 3 sprinkled in with the final result being Sonic’s first true game on a non-Sega platform.
  • Dark Arms Beast Buster: Sequel to the arcade lightgun game Beast Buster, Dark Arms is an action adventure rpg, in the vein of Zelda 2, Crystalis, or Magic Knight Rayearth on the Saturn.So you have an isometric viewpoint and you do some fetch quest, but the mechanics are sound and the game is very unique for its time.When you kill monsters you can gather their “remains” for lack of a better word, and forge newer weapons based on what you are using.So if you kill a lot of fire badguys you can upgrade your gun to shoot fire bullets.With a decent bit of depth, fitting dialogue, and spot on controls, Dark Arms is by far my favorite original game on the system.It may have been surpassed by games like Boktai, Ghost Trap, and The Sound of Thunder, but I think it still has a lot of charm, besides who doesn’t like to kill zombies on the go every once and a while.
  • 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.

NGPC-to-Dreamcast Linking

  • King of Fighters R-2 (links with King of Fighters ’99 Dream Match and King of Fighters Evolution)
  • SNK vs Capcom – Match of the Millenium (links with Capcom vs SNK 2)
  • SNK vs Capcom – Card Fighters’ Clash (links with King of Fighters Evolution)ngpc-ebay.jpg
  • SNK vs Capcom – Card Fighters’ Clash Expand Edition (links with Capcom vs SNK 2)
  • Cool Cool Jam (links with Cool Cool Toon).

Emulation

  • Neopop – One of the few emulators that is actually updated.The best compatibility and a built in debugger makes this easily the best emulator.
  • Koyote – Many still use this older emulator, even thought the compatibility is not near Neopop’s, it does have TCP/IP enabled multiplayer that is smoother (on a whole) than Neopop’s.

Affordability

  • Possibly the best part about the system is that for about $60 you can pick up a good chunk of the good games in a bundle.
  • For sometime they were sold in packs of the system and six games at gamestores for $60-70.
  • The packs I saw the most often had Metal Slug 1st mission, Samurai Shodown, King of Fighters R-1, Pacman and two various games (sometimes Metal Slug 2nd Mission or Samurai Shodown II).
  • You can easily find a majority of titles at or below the below $20 mark (many at $5) and a bundle of the system with 10 games can be obtained for around $100.
  • Find Handheld & Games on Amazon.com
  • Find Handheld & Games on eBay

33 Comments

  1. executioner says:

    Fun hand held with good selection of games. The official carry case is a nice addition with great quality, specially if you purchased your unit like me in a bundle with games. Bought one on e-bay and it came with a nice neck strap. The screen is hard to see without direct light and trying to find a light accessory similar to what was available for gameboy is difficult (if you see one tell me please!)

  2. Marurun says:

    One of only two handhelds to compete with the Gameboy? Man, you all were smoking some kinda crazy revisionist history. Besides the handheld versions of the TG-16 and Genesis (Turbo Express and Nomad, respectively), there was the Atari Lynx, which, while not incredibly popular, likely sold about as well as all the NGP incarnations did in the US. Then there’s the notorious Game.com, but we won’t go there because it hurts.

  3. Lando says:

    Well I think they’re accurate in depicting the console as one of the only two to come close to affecting Nintendo’s dominance of the handheld market at the time of the Gameboy. I think of all the handhelds you mentioned I’ve known 3 people who owned the NGP personally, myself included, while I’ve never met a single person who has owned the others. Until the PSP nothing has come close to Nintendo in the handheld market and even then the margin is still rather wide.

  4. jon says:

    Good article. But a few niggling points –

    I seem to recall the NGPC having a couple years on the gameboy advance. At the very least, we weren’t talking about a 32 bit architecture, but 16 bit.

    The comparison between simultaneous on-screen colors is a little misleading, and this leads to one of the most glaring weaknesses of the NGPC: sprites were limited to four colors. So, while the GBA may not be able to display as many colors at once (that number still seems low to me), its sprites are vastly more vibrant.

    One of the things that surprises me about the NGPC, even today, is how immensely nice the screen is despite any backlighting. I thought I would be spoiled, and I guess I am, by the display of the PSP, DS, SP, et al. — but the NGPC without internal illumination still looks great.

    Great little system. Almost everything, as the article says, was first party — but there was alot of it, and at a very high caliber. If nothing else, I think the NGPC was the first real handheld that was genuinely fun.

    Turbografix portable aside — I don’t even count that.

  5. gnome says:

    Another excellent aticle dear Racketboy and also your first one to shock me… No, backlight? I never knew that and I am thus now shocked. Yes.

    Oh, and guess Sonic’s Pocket Adventure (in essence a Sonic 2 port) is worth a mention…

    Cheers!

  6. caleb says:

    I really want one of these now…

  7. thesimplicity says:

    You forgot to mention the coolest part: the crazy horoscope and calender system built into the hardware itself. I saw one of these at a used bookstore a while back and was delighted to find that, upon flipping the power switch, there was actually software embedded into it so I could test the unit before i bought it. I’m guessing that was quite the novelty when the system originally came out.

    I’ve owned the system for a few years now but haven’t actually picked up any games for it yet. The fighting titles never interested me, but reading the description of Dark Arms Beast Buster has me intrigued. Great article!

  8. Curlypaul says:

    Excellent, I’ve been looking at these on ebay because the prices are so actractive, I know that my money wont be wasted now

  9. fastbilly1 says:

    Forgive me, I have not been near the internet recently. And since the site is giving me trouble with an invisible post limit. To address the points brought up in multiple post format:

  10. fastbilly1 says:

    Marurun – Like Lando has already stated, yes there are tons of handhelds that have competed, but really only two came close. We could go into even more obscure handhelds and talk about the R-Zone, Barcode Battler, Microvision, well that really ends out the list. But they never made a huge push into Nintendo’s dominion. I do not have the sales figures handy, so there is a good chance that I may be wrong, so point taken.

  11. fastbilly1 says:

    Jon – It did have several years on the GBA (98-March of 01), however at that time Pokemania was still at its height, and the rumors of the GBA were really tempting (though the rumors of full 3d games at early N64 level were quite obviously false…). The NGPC had an awesome amount of power, but as we all well know Pokemania was a force that was untouchable for many years. As for the colour comparisons, I believe you have mistaken my comment about the Gameboy Color for the Gameboy Advance. The Gameboy Color is a bit of a mixed bag on its games. Some were downright amazing, Bionic Commando Special Forces, others were just laughable, Austin Powers…Underground Lair. Like you know the NGPC could only display 4 colours per sprite and some 64 sprites on the screen at once. But I see how that was confusing in how it was worded, Ill get racket on it, thanks for the headsup.

  12. durkada says:

    Fastbilly1 –

    Its fairly obvious that your memory of that time is far clearer than my own. And like a beacon, it illuminates the way 🙂

    I bought my NGPC to make the long flights from Atlanta to San Jose a little more bearable. And your history lesson reminded me of the time I found a bunch of strange models in the SJC Mediaplay. They were of Japanese origin, and were atrociously ugly. They were cheap and weird, so I bought a couple — Psyduck and Bulbosaur. It wasn’t until I learned what Pokemon was, that I grew to dislike and loathe them. It all comes back to me.

    You are probably right — either the article has been corrected, or it was always clearly speaking of the GBC. I was certainly thinking of the Advance when I wrote.

    Not that the article has to be definitive, but, even at the time of release, the 4 color sprite limitation was lambasted. Should there be some editor on high wanting to make a tweak, that really should be one of the most glaring issues in the “Weaknesses” section.

    Anyway, great article. NGPC is a superb little system, and its great to hear people get on the pulpit and preach its glory. The joystick on that thing, alone, makes it a favorite of mine. I love the little microswitches clicking.

    Just as an aside, did you ever try or see one of the little light worms that could be attached to it? Given that the screen has a great contrast, I’m wondering if that makes playing it the dark acceptable — or if its merely a bandage.

    Take care,
    Jon

  13. durkada says:

    thesimplicity –

    Yes, the built-in software was novel and cool. The horoscope was a nice touch, and, as mentioned above, because I often took trips, the alarm clock function also rocked. The article points out how far you could get with the batteries — and I can attest I never missed a NGPC wakeup call due to battery drain.

    The music that accompanies the built-in software was also infectiously perky. To illustrate what a nerd I am, I totally enjoyed hooking that up to my car stereo and letting it play in the background. It tempered my ire just enough, when sitting in traffic, that I didn’t partake in road-rage.

  14. durkada says:

    One last note…

    Mednafen also emulates the NGPC, and seems to do it very well — its also receiving regular updates, and has the advantage of emulating a few other systems as well (GBA, NES, etc.).

  15. Fpcreator 2000 says:

    UPDATE ON THE LINKING ABILITIES OF NGPC and DC
    * SNK vs Capcom (links with King of Fighters ‘99 Dream Match)
    * SNK vs Capcom – Match of the Millenium (links with Capcom vs SNK)
    * SNK vs Capcom – Card Fighters’ Clash Expand Edition (links with Capcom vs SNK 2 (JAP VERSION))

  16. nardich says:

    Just to note that there was (is) a third version of the neo pocket, the slim (color) one. It was the last released one. I personally prefer it in hand.
    Best handeld gaming system (for me). If only it had some retro-light…

  17. atari_afternoon says:

    Thank you very much for this artcle – it was what made me want to get a NGPC in May.

    The fighting games are great but you do not need to get them all, they tend to become monotonous to me when you play more than one at the same gaming session.

    Discovered Metal Slug through this, both parts play fantastic!

    Not my cup of tea, unfortunately, were the Card Fighters Clash games.

    I appear to enjoy most, after half a year of steady playing, the puzzle titles, especially the detailed highscore tables on Puzzle Bobble!

    Also Sonic is a fantastic version if you like the old Gamegear ones to compare with. And the golf game is by far my favourite on any handheld.

    The only disappointment for me was Pac-Man. While I absolutely love the joystick for the fighters and puzzlers, I just cannot get along with steering Pac-Man by it.

    Last, let me add, if you ever need a new clock battery, they are extremely affordable, I needed to buy one a week ago and got them, after a recommendation, 3 for a Euro from a Euro shop 😀

    All in all I´m quite happy with the NGPC 🙂 among the English games there are really very few duds. I´d just recommend, of all the many fighers, get Match of the Millennium first!

  18. Patrick BBE says:

    Just dissapointed with the graphics. I was hoping that the games would look like the arcade versions. bummer.

  19. The lack of back lighting hurts but this is a fun little handheld. They also made portable versions of Baseball Stars and Neo Turf Masters, which are solid.

    Metal Slug is awesome on the NGPC!

  20. Eskil says:

    What about region protection tho?

  21. Kbuzz says:

    “Another system that utilized a similar joystick would be the GP32, both are known for making a unique clickty-clack sound”

    This is false. The GP32 did not have a joystick. The GP2X did, but it didn’t use microswitches. Just poorly placed copper pads.

    The NGPC is the only handheld that uses a joystick with microswitches.

    The NGPC has the best controls I’ve ever used. The GP2X has the worst.

  22. moggiecatmog says:

    Ive got one of the worm light for the consol and the clip on light with magnification.They work ok but not good.The problem is they get in the way.Ive looked into moding the system with a back light but came to the problem of power for the light.But it can be done.BEST GAME ONE THE SYSTEM IS GOLF.Got a promo copy of 1945 plus on ps1 anyone know how much its worth. Had the game for about 8 years.Its been buggin me thats all.CHEERS.

  23. Kbuzz says:

    may seem funny, but there are book lights that go around your neck for reading while camping or whatever. I’ve used these for playing NGPC/GBA/GBC with favourable results. Many are LED based and will last longer than your handheld’s batteries.

  24. Rurouni_Fencer says:

    Should be noted – Neo Geo Pocket Color is region free, meaning you can definitely import Japanese and European games for NA systems, and vice-versa..

    Also of note: some games will play in whatever language the system is configured for, regardless of where the cart originated. For example – I have a Japanese import of Neo Turf Masters (called ‘Big Tournament Golf’ in Japan,) and it plays in perfect English. I’ve heard that not all games have the different language sets within the cart, though.

  25. ecco6t9 says:

    When I had my Neo Geo Pocket, I used a slightly older version of this light that I found at Toys R Us.
    It worked real well.

    http://www.mylight.com/flexiclip-light-p-221.html

  26. Flavor says:

    The GP32 did have a similar click-stick, but it isn’t as good as the NGPC’s.

    As far as emulation goes, Neopop is the most well-known. It was the first open-source one, and thus got ported a lot. Before that, there was stuff like RAPE?, MHE, NeoPocott, and NGPocket.

    Koyote was nice, but it wasn’t real well known.

    There is also one called “RACE!” that’s open-source. It’s not as easily portable as Neopop, but it’s faster. The PSP version is quite nice, IMHO. http://psp.akop.org/race
    RACE has been ported to other handhelds, too, so if you want to emulate on a handheld, look for it.

  27. moggiecatmog says:

    I do use emulation on the gp2x f200 but still like the feal of the original.SNK was one hell of a company.

  28. ecco6t9 says:

    One crazy thought, would it be possible to replace the screens in Neo Geo Pockets with ones from Razr phones?

  29. Koropo says:

    I received my pearl blue slim NGPC and I’m in love with it. I recently also bought SwanCrystal, which I thought is pretty neat and got addicted to Gunpey, but NGPC is fighting on completely different level. NGPC has perfect type of games for portable gaming and every single one has been very fun so far, but I haven’t tried many. SwanCrystal gave me very toy-ish first impression, which I don’t mind, but NGPC feels like legit games machines. The stick is godly and buttons feel responsive and solid. Everyting about it feels so well designed and pleasant. I actually kind of prefer the screen to be lightless, it’s much more eye-friendly. Backlighting messes with eyes especially in dark. Haven’t used frontlit device in long time, so don’t know about that.

    It’s truly a shame GBC won over this things, but what can you do about Nintendo.

  30. Patrick BBE says:

    My cousin is hardcore Neo Geo gamer…

  31. Famicom88 says:

    this is one of my all time favorite hand helds ever,it had alot of great games on it and i kinda wish the Gameboy color and the Neo Geo pocket color could have co existed insted of the laiter getting rid of the NGPC all together,to bad SNK wont make a NGPC 2 or at least put games on the 3DS virtual console

  32. fpcreator2000 says:

    A little known fact: the Neo Geo Pocket Color had a slim version that was released in limited number (due to the company collapsing). It was still called a Neo Geo Pocket Color, but it was significantly thinner.