The best of the Neo Geo Pocket Color: a guide
SNK’s Neo Geo Pocket Color is a charming handheld with a cool little click-stick and a library of games worth checking out. Want to get started on the platform? We’re here to help!
The first thing to note: don’t get an original Neo Geo Pocket. The monochrome hardware was released first and is compatible with more games than you’d expect, but you really want a Neo Geo Pocket Color, and the two look similar at first glance. Be vigilant! Besides that, find one that you like? There are many color variants and strange looks for this thing, and that’s part of its millennium-era charm. Don’t worry about region: nothing’s locked and all hardware menus are navigable.
While most revisions of portables are obvious and well-known, the Japan-only New Neo Geo Pocket Color is less publicized and distinct. There are some minor hardware differences (it’s a bit slimmer and has slightly better sound), but this isn’t the WonderSwan Crystal in terms of upgrading the experience of play enough to make it a must-have. Still, if you’re looking for one, the way to tell is to look for the New version’s script lettering of “Color” rather than the original’s blocky type.
SNK vs. Capcom: Card Fighter’s Clash
If you’ve ever played and loved Hudson’s Pokemon Trading Card Game for the Game Boy Color, you owe it to yourself to play this well-made peer that combines two universes’ IP into a tag-team fighting card game well worth playing. While the two versions, Capcom and SNK, offer different starter decks and some slightly changed content, either gives you the card-based RPG you crave.
King of Fighters R2
It wouldn’t be an SNK system without strong fighters, and the handheld’s clicking joystick was certainly designed for the task. R2 is a common title and a great representative for the system’s fighters lineup that was so special to players that it inspired the recent spiritual successor, Pocket Rumble. Simplified controls and limited rosters actually make the game shine, focusing on counters and reading the opponent more than learning button combos.
Metal Slug 2nd Mission
Perhaps the best-known Neo Geo series that wasn’t about fighting, Metal Slug‘s side-scrolling shooting was designed from the ground up for the arcade. It loses a bit, then, in the transition to a handheld, but this competent release still has a lot of the fun action that made its larger sibling special.
Sonic the Hedgehog Pocket Adventure
SNK swung hard with Sonic at its launch, trying to position itself as a Game Boy Color competitor by gathering the enemies of its enemies to help. Pocket Adventure is a classic 2D Sonic, with something of a slower, more careful pace to better fit on a smaller screen. It’s a smart choice that the Game Gear entries sadly never made.
Tactics games often offer full teams of protagonists to fight foes, but Faselei! gives players just one. It makes it worth it, though! You’ll equip chips and issue pre-programmed orders every phase, trying to predict enemy movement and make the right adjustments. In this way, it’s a lot like the tabletop classic RoboRally, but with tons of customization and progression to keep things interesting.
SNK Gals’ Fighters
If King of Fighters R2 isn’t quirky enough for you, it may be worth your while to check out the (fairly rare) Gals’ Fighters. A women-focused fighting game that definitely inspired the new SNK Heroines, it’s nevertheless a nuanced, tactical fighter with a lot of gameplay variety for so few buttons.
With the Neo Geo Pocket’s three-year period of viability being when it was, of course there were portable RPGs on the system trying to do the Pokemon thing. This is a standout one, too: you assemble mechanized fighters from various parts and use them in battle. And hey, unlike a lot of games on the list, this one’s fairly common!
Neo Turf Masters
Neo Turf Masters is an arcade classic, and this portable edition retains the gameplay that made it so great. Golf’s great on a portable and good for a change of pace between action games, so just being a solid version of that can take a release a long way. Still, the creative course design here is definitely worth a shout-out on its own; it does a lot with a little.
While the handheld did have its own port of Pac-Man, its best classic arcade release is something a bit more obscure. Crush Roller, an update of a 1981 game released in the west as Make Trax, takes the Pac-Man idea and shifts the goal toward painting the whole maze rather than collecting items. This changes things by making you fully cover paths and sometimes re-paint if hazards mess up your work, and it looks great in its vibrant handheld update. Bonus: there haven’t been newer, better versions. This is it and it’s great.
Dive Alert: Becky’s Version
Dive Alert: Matt’s Version
Two versions? Yep, it’s a Pokemon-style game, but its actual play is very different: submarine combat in a world almost entirely covered by water. You essentially do everything on sonar, moving around, firing torpedoes and avoiding enemy fire as it shows up on your scans. It’s very dry and it throws a lot of text at you, but there’s… there’s really no other game like it.
Dark Arms: Beast Buster
The closest thing the hardware really has to a Zelda competitor, Dark Arms certainly takes a more modern-day approach to combat with lots of guns and other weaponry. There’s even some Gauntlet-inspired combat with waves of foes to fend off. Still, the puzzle-solving and dungeons and towns and shops are configured in a way that’s undeniably in the same genre.
Evolution: Eternal Dungeons
This is definitely the Neo Geo Pocket Color’s most “traditional” JRPG, adapting the Dreamcast game to a much weaker handheld and retaining the attacks and numbers while leaving little of the burden on the environments and characters. The translation is really rough and the cartridge is really rare, but the way the combat still works in this reduced form is cool to see.
Puzzle Link 2
Like any good handheld, the NGPC had a solid roster of puzzle games, but Puzzle Link stands out as an original creation. In it, you, well, link pieces of the same color together by shooting link segments to clear them, removing enough pieces to expose two specific blocks and link them. The sequel refines the gameplay, and is worth a look over the original. Still, either’s worth a try in a pinch.
While the Picross series remained locked to Nintendo consoles, SNK’s handheld did get a nonogram game! It doesn’t have a lot of bells and whistles and the puzzles aren’t quite up to Jupiter’s quality standard, but it scratches that classic Mario’s Picross itch and is a great reason to spend some more time with your NGPC that’s a little more low-key.
Another late-life gem! The system’s best baseball game is import-friendly and just friendly in general. You’ll play international teams against each other, and the strengths and weaknesses of characters are exaggerated enough to make them different even within a single inning (which is a tough task for a simpler title like this). It’s not a deep team management game, but rather just a fun little title to play some ball in every once in a while.
Cool Cool Jam
As far as accessibility goes, this one isn’t exactly friendly, but the weirdness of it deserves mention. It’s a story-driven game in which you fight NPCs in rhythm battles to accomplish tasks, and it connects to an equally-weird, equally-import-only Dreamcast game called Cool Cool Toon for more goodies. It’s nonsense in the way we’d expect to see more on the WonderSwan than the Neo Geo Pocket Color.
SNK vs. Capcom: Card Fighter’s Clash 2 Expand Edition
This sequel is a lot like the Pokemon TCG GB2 of the system, a Japan-only sequel that adds so much to the base game that it feels like two sequels instead of one. There’s a robust fan community around this game that has done nice translation work, and since you’re way more likely to encounter that than the original, highly-sought-after cartridge, it’s worth mentioning.
A puzzle game in the vein of Polarium. You control a right triangle with a white side and a black side that gets around by flipping, and your goal is to be flipped to specific sides in specific locations as quickly and efficiently as possible. It takes a certain logic that you’ll need to train to see, but once you’re there, the resulting quick solutions are definitely satisfying.
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