NeoGeo Pocket Color Selection Vol.1 bundles ten of the retro portable’s titles. While the portability of the Switch offered a pleasing recreation of the original experiences, the proliferation of devices like the GPD Win 3 and Steam Deck offers another way to enjoy this pleasing compilation.
Developer: SNK, Code Mystics
Release date: September 29th, 2021
Price: $39.99 via digital download
As the SNK 40th Anniversary Collection demonstrated, the company once known as Shin Nihon Kikaku Corporation was an industry powerhouse. Beyond the two-dozen early arcade titles and console adaptations found on the anthology, SNK would later create the NeoGeo MVS and AES, a modular arcade system and a home counterpart. Each played famed franchises like Metal Slug, King of Fighters, and Samurai Shodown. But at $650 for the system and about $200 for each game, the NeoGeo was prohibitively expensive.
The more reasonable solution was SNK’s NeoGeo Pocket Color (or NGPC), a handheld system that might have lacked the power of its extravagant brethren. Yet, the affordable portable was no slouch. Beyond delivering 31 competent arcade adaptations and a few originals (80 in Japan), the hardware had a battery life that often reached 40 hours, with its clicky directional pad outperformed its competitors. Sadly, the system’s glory days were short lived. Less than a year after release, the NeoGeo Pocket Color was discontinued, leaving behind a remarkable legacy.
A Wealth of Two Button Battling
Fortunately, 37Games’ buyout of SNK Corporation has resulted in the re-release of some of the NGPC’s respected titles. From Fatal Fury: First Contact, King of Fighters R2, Samurai Shodown! 2, SNK Gal Fighters, and The Last Blade: Beyond the Destiny, we’ve covered the Switch iterations of these re-issued fighters. If you’re not interested in reading each individual review, know that each makes a capable showing on PC. They look and sound just like they did on the original system, while linked play can be accomplished on a single computer. While there’s not a wealth of supplemental material, digital manuals are a nice addition. But just like the original two-button NGPC fighters, button-holding for heavy attacks should have been optionally mapped to unused buttons.
Oddly, this iteration swapped out SNK Vs. Capcom: The Match of the Millennium for Crush Roller, a competent but unmemorable maze game. While losing one of the Neo Geo Portable’s best fighters will be disheartening for fans of the genre, the swap offers a bit more variety. NeoGeo Pocket Color Selection Vol.1 also bundles the five aforementioned fighters and Crush Roller with four additional titles: Metal Slug: 1st Mission, Metal Slug: 2nd Mission, Dark Arms: Beast Buster 1999, and Big Tournament Golf. Collectively, these flaunt both the capability of SNK’s portable hardware as well as the effort that went into these turn-of-the-millennium titles.
It’s not surprisingly that both Metal Slug games stray from their source material. The audacious NGPC just didn’t have the capacity to deliver the kind of visual fidelity and lush animation found in the original Nazca/SNK’s arcade titles. But like many of the arcade ports of the eight and sixteen-bit eras, developer Ukiyotei’s inspired adaptations deserve recognition for capturing the spirit of Peregrine Falcon Squad’s weaponized treks.
1st Mission and its follow-up follow the basic formula, sending soldiers across horizontally-scrolling battlefields brimming with opponents. The run-and-gun sections remain lively, with four-way firing and the same satisfying knifing of adjacent enemies. Enemies are mindless fodder, they’ll spring to platforms on the multi-tiered stages, toss grenades your way, spring from windows, and man tanks. You can still balance the odds by rescuing the POWs held captive across each level, who show their gratitude by providing you with augmented weaponry. But you’ll also want to nab the coins scattered about, as they contribute to the number of continues you’ll have.
The ports cleverly shift the inventory of player lives with a health meter, which is invaluable during boss encounters. The other big change is the inclusion of more vehicular sections. Beyond piloting the game’s eponymous tank, you’ll take the skies in rotund jets and subs, with play reminiscent of a shoot ‘em up. Longevity is rooted in the form of branching stages, with doors will occasionally lead to new sub-sections. Unfortunately, 1st Mission is hampered by a button-mashing rail cart-sequence and the need to press the option button to switch to grenades.
Unsurprisingly, 2nd Mission ups the ante, offering things like a second selectable character from the start of the game and a player sprite that now boosts four colors. There’s more animation, which is evident when your character grows corpulent or staggers on the edge of a platform. Another upside is the fits of slowdown in 1st Mission are diminished here, while play is generally a bit faster than its predecessor.
Guns, Golf, and other Goodness
Dark Arms: Beast Buster 1999 is the compilation’s lone action-role playing title. While it’s a bit of a relic, it’s definitely enjoyable, with a gameplay loop that has players collecting the spirits of defeated enemies to power up a weapon called “The Catcher”. Peer past the pixelated visuals and Beast Buster has some remarkable mechanics. One revolves around the evolving weapon, which uses a gauge to constrain your ammo supply. When exploring the game’s demon-filled stages, you’ll have to attack prudently. Otherwise, you’ll be surrounded by projectile-launching creature without a way to fight back. Pleasingly, Beast Buster consistently goads you into exploring deeper, with greater rewards for collecting the souls of tougher creatures that linger in dungeons. Sure, the game doesn’t explain some of its systems very well, but veteran players might appreciate the sense of discovery.
Nazca’s 1996 Neo Turf Masters demonstrated the NeoGeo’s aptitude for sports titles, exhibiting partially-digitized golfers and attractive looking courses. Again, the NGPC edition (called Big Tournament Golf after the original Japanese title) delivers a surprisingly polished adaptation. Sure, the game’s selection of six international golfers doesn’t look quite as realistic, but the super-deformed renditions convey their own charm. Three of the arcade games’ four courses made the cut and pleasing the picture-in-picture displays of overhead hole perspectives and putting shots are all intact. In some ways, the game offers a better solitaire experience, with the eliminating of CPU rivals. Stroke play pits you against the course, which is every bit as absorbing as tackling combatants in NGPC fighters.
Expectedly, Code Mystics’ emulation is flawless, offering a proficient recreation of playing on original hardware, even on a lowly, GPU-less, laptops. Unlike other compilations that haphazardly toss the titles together with a makeshift menu, NeoGeo Pocket Color Selection Vol.1 feels cohesive. All ten games are collected into a single 915MB download and the collection offers digitized versions of the original cases and cartridges that can be rotated and inspected. It’s an attractive inclusion that wasn’t part of the original Switch ports. But don’t expect many of the traditional customization options. You’ll have to manually select windowed or fullscreen output with the Alt+Enter key combo.
Undoubtedly, Vol. 1 is an impressive anthology that celebrates the all too brief legacy of SNK’s portable. Let’s hope the volume number signals the arrival of additional entries, since this collection represents only about a third of the Neo Geo Portable’s North American library. Given DotEmu’s contentious Neo Geo MVS ports, it would be thrilling to see Code Mystics honoring SNK’s mighty system as well, providing players access to lost classics like Super Baseball 2020.
NeoGeo Pocket Color Selection Vol.1 was played on
PC with review code provided by the publisher.