Developed By: Code Mystics Published By: SNK Categories: Retro Compilation Release Date: 03.17.21
I have always been fascinated by the NeoGeo Pocket Color. From my adolescence when I would read about it’s games in magazines all the way to my adult life, who would be nostalgic about those memories. Now lamenting how it’s not exactly convenient to play a handheld without a backlight anymore. Recently, SNK has started re-releasing games from the NeoGeo Pocket Color onto the eshop. While these ports started as preorder bonuses, they eventually would get wider releases for anyone to buy. Even more recently SNK announced a collection , but with no release date or game list.
On March 17, 2021, it would stealth drop on the eshop, not only holding the already ported games, but both Metal Slug titles, Dark Arms: Beast Buster, and Big Tournament Golf AKA Neo Turf Masters. The initial ports were all fighting games, but now with ten games as opposed to the original six, we have quite the diverse lineup. Six fighters, two shooters, and RPG, and a golf game. It should also be said, a handful of games collected here are not cheap or easy to come by with Metal Slug: 2nd Mission going for at least $100 LOOSE. Majority of these games aren’t much cheaper, with most sitting around $60 loose. Retro Compilations that include games that are rare or expensive are always going to get into my good graces.
To discuss the games, we must discuss the NeoGeo Pocket and it’s follow up, the Pocket Color first. Released in 1998 (the Color the following year), the NGP was SNK’s answer to the Gameboy. It’s stronger, it was cheap, and it had fighting games that didn’t feel compromised. While the standard NGP didn’t have very much, the Color was where it was at. Support from Sega, from Capcom, Namco ,and Taito. It had more colors than you’d ever see on the Gameboy Color. Some games had voice acting, CLEAR voice acting. The animations were amazing for a handheld. Unfortunately, there’s just no stopping Nintendo in the handheld market and the NGPC failed to really take off. This doesn’t detract from the quality of it’s small library however.
While Selection Volume 1 has ten games, I’m going to mostly focus on the four new games, not otherwise released on the eShop. Infact, The Switch Effect has their own review of SNK vs Capcom Match of Millennium, which I’ll link here. A general taste of the fighting games should be shown with SvC, which people consider a crown jewel of the genre on the NGPC. But to be thorough, you have handheld versions of Fatal Fury, Samurai Shodown, King of Fighters, Last Blade, SvC, and an original title, SNK Gals’ Fighter. While, yes, it is apparent these are cut back versions of the arcade games, it’s not quite as cut as one would think. These games are deeper and more technical than a handheld fighter from 20 years ago has any right being.
First is Metal Slug 1st Mission. As a first attempt for a handheld, 8bit Metal Slug, it’s admirable. There’s some compromise, especially with the NGP having all of two buttons in addition to the Option button. Jumping, moving, and shooting is fine, but to throw a grenade, you’ll need to press the Option button to toggle between your grenade and gun. A change I’m quite fond of however is that there’s lots of stages, and some can even be missed depending on how you play. A favorite of mine is the mission that can be trigger if you fail in one of the game’s few airplane shmup levels. You’re escaping from a prison, armed only with your knife.
1st Mission may be a good game, if not a little obvious it’s a handheld little brother kind of game, 2nd Mission says to hell with that and goes no holds barred. Multiple characters and paths. Rescuing the POWs means something. Beautiful, colorful pixel art in cutscenes and menus. Picking up weapons even has voice acting, just like the arcade games. You could say 1st Mission feels like a watered down Metal Slug for developers to get a feel for the NGPC, but 2nd Mission feels like what they could really do with it and there is zero doubt in my mind 2nd Mission is a must play for *anyone* interested in the NGPC. With Selection Volume 1, it’s much more affordable now as well.
Big Tournament Golf, also known as Neo Turf Masters is the cartoony, handheld version of the strikingly beautiful golf game. I can’t say it’s even remotely close in graphics, but it’s still a good looking game for the hardware, now going from realistic to chibi. It’s a golf game, there isn’t much to really explain. It’s rather simple and easy to get into though, much like a golf game developed by Camelot. Golf games like this are great for beginners to the genre, but might need a slight interest in golf to grab players.
The final new game to the collection is Dark Arms: Beast Buster. This RPG is a spinoff of an earlier SNK rail shooter, Beast Busters. If you can’t properly transition a shooter to a handheld, why not try something different? In Dark Arms, your main weapon is The Catcher. Finish off a demon with The Catcher to receive it’s soul. The souls can be fed into weapons one have to level up and evolve them. Guns, giant arms, tentacles. Feeding certain enemies can even put elemental attacks to each weapon.
The Catcher is incredibly weak and you’re going to need a lot of souls to evolve weapons, making the game feel a tad grindy, but at least it’s a fun action RPG instead of a slow turn based game. Dark Arms is fun, but definitely feels like it could be played on another console if it wasn’t an SNK property. Another expensive game to get a cart for, another welcome inclusion.
NeoGeo Pocket Color Selection has a very empty and bland main menu, displaying each of the ten games. Fret not, each game has options that completely make up for the boring main menu. Want to look at the box and cartridge with a 3D model of each? The cathartic feeling of opening the box and protective case for the cartridge. Lets read the manuals the games came with. Everything can be played with it’s Japanese version, which also changes the box art, cart art, and manual!
You’re given the option to choose which model of the NeoGeo Pocket you want to use too, from the Black and white, to Color and New Color models. This isn’t just an overlay difference however. Certain games are compatible with the original monochrome model, and some aren’t. For the games not compatible, you get the cute error screens that the games would have when attempting to do the same in real life. This is an awesome touch to the collection I’d never expect to see.
Discussing those overlays though. Each model of the NeoGeo Pocket has it’s own set, a cute touch, but I found myself always using the New Color model for the cool translucent plastic cases. I was always the Atomic Purple Gameboy Color kid. These overlays have another purpose however. If you’re a madperson, you can play the games using said overlay on the Switch’s touch screen. Those hate overlays and borders can just turn them off and if a small screen surrounded by black bothers you, you can always zoom in to your liking. Other emulation options include the option to rewind frame by frame. This can be super helpful if you make a mistake. There’s an odd absence of save states however.
NeoGeo Pocket Color Selection Volume 1 is a fantastic compilation. I want to see more of these releases from SNK and Code Mystics. Lets have a collection with the Card Fighters games, with Rockman Battle and Fighters, Sonic Pocket Adventure. I’m also beyond excited for the physical release coming soon.
Buy Now: $39.99 (Physical Release to be announced soon)
*Game Download Code supplied for review purposes