Retro(spective) 1-NeoGeo Pocket Color

The Neogeo Pocket Color in all its flavors.

I’m one of those people that shows up late to the party more often than not, so forgive me for being a little late in saying that the NeoGeo Pocket Color (NGPC) is awesome. I recently got my hands on a couple of them and have been enjoying every minute. Think a Game Boy Color but a little more sophisticated and you’re just about there. Never heard of it? No problem; neither had I, so let me tell you what you’re missing out on.

Released in 1999 by SNK, the NGPC was sold exclusively through their online store here in the US. Oriented like the first-gen Game Boy Advance, the NGPC sits horizontally with the screen in the middle and the inputs to the left and right. One of the things you’ll notice when you boot the system up for the first time is that the NGPC has not a d-pad but a clicking joy stick. The buttons are less exciting, standard “A” and “B”, but they get the job done well (and are in reverse order as compared to the Game Boy!). The screen itself is full color but not back lit, which means you’ll have to go really old school with this one and sit under a lamp at night to play it. The device shipped in an assortment of colors; Platinum Blue and Silver, Clear, Aqua Blue, Stone Blue, and Anthracite. Graphics capabilities are a notch above 8-bit, and the long battery life means you get plenty of time to soak in this scenery.

What’s really cool about the NGPC is that it has a little bit of built-in software on board. When you turn on the system without a game inserted, you pull up a basic dashboard. There’s the standard system setting options, but you’ll also find a calendar, world clock… and horoscope generator! Yes, input your date of birth and the NGPC will give you a daily update on your good (or bad) fortune! Gimmicky, but fun. The device sits comfortably in your hands, with a smooth finish and a curved underside that keeps things nice and stable while you play on the go. The games come in roughly at a size between a Game Boy and Game Boy Advance cartridge, with clear dust-proof cases to house them.

I’ve been playing with my NGPCs for a couple weeks now (I got Anthracite and a Metallic Blue) and have been really enjoying my experience with the hardware. The game selection is decidedly the main drawback to investing in this 14 year old handheld. The NGPC tragically never really took off here in the US. Despite a reasonable buy-in price of $69.95, the system didn’t garner enough interest from consumers to survive for long. Perhaps purchases being online-only made getting one a bit too difficult back then, not to mention Nintendo steamrolling anything that was a handheld and not made by themselves. That doesn’t mean there isn’t quality to be had, however.

One of the best games I’ve played so far has been Sonic Pocket Adventure. This game honestly puts the GBA Sonic Advance games to shame, to me, and I loved those titles. Play control is closer to the classic Sonic games on Genesis, with solid graphics and great level design. I had a blast playing this game. The animations are wonderful, and the soundtrack is a nice mixture of old, classic Sonic tunes. My one gripe? It’s a bit short, with only a handful of zones to go through. Besides Sonic, I’ve been playing Metal Slug: First MissionKing of Fighters R2 (which controls amazingly with the joystick), and Card Fighters’ Clash. There’s still about four or five more games I want to get my hands on, and I’m sure there are a couple more in the wings that will catch my attention. No denying it, though; you’re not in for a wealth of games like on the Game Boy. The NGPC’s middling sales wasn’t enough to lure many developers away from Nintendo, sadly.

I’ve been perusing eBay and Amazon lately looking for forgotten gaming gems, and this was the first one I decided to give a try. Anyone looking for a solid handheld can do much worse than the NeoGeo Pocket Color. While you won’t find a lot of games to play, what’s there is entertaining and worth a look. They’re pretty cheap, too, if you can live without having the original boxes. Here’s hoping SNK starts offering these old titles as downloads on the the Neogeo Gold.


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