I’ve always been a fan of Neo Geo products, hardware, arcade units and even the ported versions of their games. The later two being my only hands on experience due to the hefty price tag of the Neo Geo AES
system and even today nearly two decades later the system is still fetching high prices on ebay auctions. Sure I didn’t mind playing watered down versions of SNK games that made their way to other platforms back then, or even playing the true to original SNK games that are trickling their way onto the Virtual Console but I still desired a piece of original Neo Geo hardware to call my own. It wasn’t just the cost that was holding me back it was the general availability of the Neo Geo AVS and even the lesser Neo Geo CD are getting pretty hard to come by. So option B for me was to source out cheaper alternative which is the Neo Geo Pocket. A compact portable gaming system stamped with the SNK Neo Geo name. My initial impressions were good I liked the overall construction of it and even though this is at the cheaper end of the SNK catalogue it still screamed quality. So since this system has recently captured my interest I thought it would be fitting to take an even closer look.
Neo Geo Pocket
SNK was well known for its upper market home gaming consoles and popular arcade units but back in 1998 SNK decided to take a stab at the portable gaming market with the release of the Neo Geo Pocket. This featured a Toshiba 16bit processor with a monochromatic display, two action buttons and a counter sunk joystick controller. Nintendo at this point dominated this market thanks to the run away success of the Game Boy crushed all of it's competitors regardless of how superior their technology was. For SNK to step up to the plate against Nintendo with a system that had similar aspects it was a pretty big gamble on their behalf. Unfortunately it was a gamble that didn’t work in their favour as the Neo Geo Pocked was quickly discontinued the following year. The NGP (Neo Geo Pocket) was first released in Japan and due to its poor initial sales it never made it past the Japanese shore lines.
Even though the NGP didn’t fair well in the portable gaming market it was still a respectable product and had a number of features that made it stand out from its competition. Firstly, as mentioned earlier it was powered by a 16bit processor which was a step up from the 8bit processors featured in the Atari Lynx, Sega Game Gear and the Nintendo Game Boy. Controlwise the NGP has all the basics cover with two solid action buttons along with a power and option buttons. The standout control feature is the counter sunk joystick which is basically a joystick that sits in its own cavity and protrudes at the same height as the action buttons, keeping it out of harms way when the unit is shoved into a pocket. This joystick was well suited for the more arcade orientated games that SNK specialized in. Volume and contrast can be adjusted via some dials at the base of the system. Sitting between the two dials are two plugs, one for headphones and the other for an external power source like an AC adaptor. On top of the unit a serial port was present which was used for linking multiple NGP’s together and connection with Sega Dream Cast. Flip the NGP over and two battery compartments a revealed. Two AAA batteries power the system for a good 20 hours of gameplay and a second battery is a CR2032 wrist watch type battery used for data and settings backup.
In its very short life span the NGP did manage to get a handful of titles on the shelves before it was discontinued which included the following; Melan Chan's Growth Diary, Puzzle Link, Pocket Tennis, Neo Cup 98, Neo Cup 98 plus, King of Fighters, Samurai Shodown, Master of Syougi, Neo Cherry Master and Baseball Stars.
King of Fighters and Samurai Shodown were the more note worthy titles of bunch. If no cartridge was inserted into the NGP a PDA style interface appears called the Pocket Menu which displays the current time, world time, an alarm clock, language selection and even a Horoscope. By entering you birth date the NGP will determine your star sign and then give your prediction on money, health, romance and general.
Neo Geo Pocket Color
Technically there was nothing wrong with the NGP, it was a compact light weight durable system, with a cleaver menu system, good battery life and the promise of SNK’s impressive back catalogue of arcade titles making the transition over to the system. This however was not enough to drive the systems popularity and factor in the dominating force of the Nintendo Game Boy and the recently released Game Boy Color, SNK had no choice but to scrap the monochrome system in favour of an updated colour one. The NGPC (Neo Geo Pocket Color) was first released in March 1999 to the Japanese public and unlike its predecessor the NGPC was released to the rest of the world a few months later. The NGPC shares the same traits as the NGP but this time round its sporting a backlit 4K colour TFT display and a battery life of approximately 40 hours which is double that of the NGP. A slight increase in body weight of 35 grams, barely noticeable to most people is the only trade off made by having a colour display rather than a monochrome display. Since there was no major difference in hardware between the two systems nearly all games for the NGPC is forwards compatible with the NGP and vice versa. Only a very small number of NGPC titles were not compatible with the NGP. SNK launched the NGPC with the game King of Fighters R-2 which demonstrated a cleaver feature that allowed the NGP/NGPC to be linked with the Sega Dream Cast to unlock hidden features.
Neo Geo Pocket to Dream Cast Games
- King of Fighters R-2 - links with King of Fighters '99 Dream Match and King of Fighters Evolution
- SNK vs Capcom Match of the Millennium - links with Capcom vs SNK 2
- SNK vs Capcom Card Fighters' Clash - links with King of Fighters Evolution
- SNK vs Capcom Card Fighters' Clash Expand Edition - links with Capcom vs SNK 2
- Cool Cool Jam - links with Cool Cool Toon
Neo Geo Pocket was available in multiple coloured cases
The NGPC had a similar fate to the original NGP and didn’t take off as well as SNK would have hoped. Having said that the NGPC still had moderate success but still paled in comparison to the Nintendo Game Boy series. This was mainly due poor marketing and bad communication with third party developers which SNK have been notorious for in the past. Nintendo invested a lot of time and money into promoting the Game Boy Color which easily out shined the NGPC. In 2000 SNK was bought out by the Japanese Pachinko manufacturer Aruze. After the buyout all NGPC units and software were recalled from the European and US markets which were then flashed, repackaged and resold in the Asian market. Aruze then restructured SNK by dividing SNK employees in various sections. The majority were designated to Pachinko machine development and Pachinko simulation games for the NGPC. At this time it was common to see a NGPC as a prize in a Pachinko machine. A small number of SNK employees continued with software development for home consoles. In 2001 Eikichi Kawasaki founder of SNK purchased the rights to the older titles such as Metal Slug and King of Fighters, and then formed his own company called Playmore. A year later a legal battle between the newly formed Playmore and Aruze began due to Aruze using unauthorized SNK properties in pachinko machines. The outcome of the legal battle resulted in Playmore walking away with a win.
Overall the Neo Geo Pocket Color was and still is a great hand held gaming device and to this day has a strong cult following. Back in its time it provided an alternative to the Game Boy and was blessed with a good “awesome title to crap title” ratio with a large number of games being SNK arcade 2D classics. Now days the NGPC can still be purchased from auction sites and certain niche sites for a good price. Some of which are sold as package deals including a NGPC unit plus a number of games. For a videogame collector the NGP and NGPC is quite appealing due to the small library of games which makes building a complete collection a little easier. Games that come complete with box and instructions are very hard to come by so prices will be much higher than a game pack on its own. If you interested in simply playing some great games then just go for the game packs with box and instructions to save your money. Like most people I’ve grown accustomed to what is available in the current gen line up of portables. The Nintendo DS backed with a touch screen interface and massive library of games, the Sony PSP featuring impressive processing power and multimedia functions but even compared to that the NGPC still can hold its own. Sure a dimension in graphics is not present but it’s the 2D classics that SNK have specialized in for so many years being available on this system that justifies sourcing out one of these little units. There just something a little special about playing a Neo Geo game on a Neo Geo system.
- CPUs:Toshiba TLCS900H core (16-bit), 6.144 MHz, Z80 at 3.072 MHz for sound.
- RAM: 12 k for 900H, 4k for Z80 (also accessible by the 900H)
- ROM: 64 k boot ROM
- Interfaces: SIO 1 channel 19200 bit/s, 5-pin serial port
- Resolution: 160x152
- Colours: 16 palettes per plane, 48 palettes. 146 colours on screen out of 4096 (or 20 colours out of 4096 in monochrome mode).
- Sprites: 64 sprites per frame, 4 colours per sprite.
- Scrolling: 2 scrolling planes, 8x8 character tiles, 4 colours each.
- Sound: SN76489 equivalent (3 square wave tone generators + 1 white noise generator + direct access to the 2 Digital-to-analogue converters).
- Cartridges: Maximum 4 MB (32 Mbit) with 4-16 Mbit flash memory.
- Batteries: 40 hours on 2 AA batteries. Lithium CR2032 battery backs up memory and clock.
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Written by: Matthew Armitage