Read our Top 10 NGPC Article HERE.
Read our Strangest NGPC games, and worst NGPC games article HERE.
The Neo Geo Pocket Color was not by any means a bad portable gaming system. It was technically well made, with system specs that far outdid the Game Boy Color, controls that worked extremely well for a wide variety of games, several interesting and innovative features, and a game library that was of a generally high quality. It certainly didn’t deserve to be subjected to a system and software recall done with the intention of dismantling the products as scrap for repairs in the Japanese market. Still, the system’s inability to find a place in the North American gaming scene led it to exactly that fate. Despite the Neo Geo Pocket Color’s poor commercial performance, however, it earned itself enough of a dedicated and occasionally rabid fan base that the system is still worth discussing over ten years after its launch.
What Was The NGPC?
Before I go on too long about the wonders of the Neo Geo Pocket Color, or the NGPC, as it is commonly abbreviated, it’s probably best to take a moment to explain a few things about the console. The NGPC, which was SNK’s attempt at getting themselves a piece of the Nintendo-dominated handheld market, launched in the United States in the summer of 1999. SNK gave themselves what seemed to be a major advantage by starting with the system’s second generation in the U.S., leaving the monochrome Neo Geo Pocket as a Japan only product. This not only allowed SNK to start off with more of a technical advantage over the Game Boy, but also expanded the number of games available for the backwards compatible machine.
In terms of the technical aspects of the Neo Geo Pocket Color, there’s really no reason why it should have failed, especially in the face of the 8-bit Game Boy Color. Just a few of its specs include a 4,096 color display at the size of 160 by 152 pixels, allowing for bright and easy to see graphics, a 16-bit CPU, and my personal favorite specification, a 40 hour battery life that ran off of just two double As. Though the ability to drag the NGPC along on a car trip without once having to worry about killing the batteries had me sold on the system, the fact that it could run more advanced games with nicer graphics than the Game Boy Color was capable of should have been enough to sell the system. A pair of particularly potent factors kept the Neo Geo Pocket Color from success before it was even given a chance, though.
Why Did It Fail?
The first of the NGPC’s fatal flaws was, unfortunately, was that it didn’t play Pokemon. The system was capable of playing entries in several popular game series, including Sonic the Hedgehog, Pac-Man, and Bust-A-Move, and was invaluable to Neo Geo fighting game fans, as it had extremely entertaining entries in The King of Fighters, Fatal Fury, and Samurai Shodown franchises. However, no amount of arcade enthusiasts, die-hard Sonic fans, or gamers with posters of Mai Shiranui taped above their computer desks could stave off the monstrous success of Pikachu and his monster friends.
As the Neo Geo Pocket Color launched in the United States, Pokemon was at the height of its popularity. Pokemon Red and Blue had just been launched the year before, and were still selling very well, and the upcoming release of Pokemon Yellow promised not only new features that tied the game more closely to its anime counterpart, but brand new color graphics that could only be seen on the Game Boy Color, the system that the NGPC was attempting to conquer. Against the pop culture phenomenon that was Pokemon, it is entirely possible that the NGPC could have been capable of playing one of the greatest masterpieces in not only gaming’s history, but the history of human achievement, without ever being able to so much as share the market with the Game Boy family of systems. As bad as this was for the system, though, a second problem did even more harm to the system’s ability to find a place in the North American market.
In 2000, just a year after the NGPC had launched, SNK was bought out by Aruze, an international company that specialized in producing games for gambling. While it could potentially be nice for an underperforming company to be bought out by someone with more financial stability, outside of their intentions to produce some spiffy looking pachinko and slot machines based on SNK games, Aruze didn’t have much good planned for SNK. Though a discussion of all of what happened to SNK under their control could fill another article, they stopped the NGPC from any extended attempts at capturing a segment of the North American market by recalling all systems and games from store shelves in order to use them as spare parts for the system in the Japanese market. Though the system hadn’t been terribly successful before this point, the console recall stopped it from gaining momentum as its small but vocal fan base spread the word of the system’s quality. Once the machine was off store shelves, however, it was extremely evident that it was never going to be a real competitor to the Game Boy Color.
Predicting the Future
As the Neo Geo Pocket Color was not a commercial success in North America, it would be reasonable to think that writing an article about it at this point is an exercise in futility. Despite the console’s failure, however, its influence can still be seen in gaming today. Though it wasn’t exactly a major selling point of the system, if the NGPC was turned on without a game cartridge inserted, it had several features such as a calendar, an alarm clock, and a strange, if not overwhelmingly positive fortune teller, alongside the ability to customize the language and appearance of the system’s interface. What is seen when starting up a current portable gaming system, such as a Nintendo DS, is certainly more advanced than what was done by the NGPC, the similarities are strong enough to suggest that gamers were pleased enough with the NGPC’s mild multitasking abilities to warrant their inclusion in later systems.
The NGPC also had the ability to connect to home consoles long before the Game Boy Advance could be attached to the Game Cube or the PSP could connect to the PS3. With the purchase of a link cable, the Neo Geo Pocket Color was able to connect to the Dreamcast, allowing players to do things such as unlock new content on their Dreamcast games, download information to their NGPCs, and even create custom characters in the case of King of Fighters R-2. When the small game library of the NGPC was combined with the limited success of both systems involved in the connectivity, however, it’s not hard to imagine why more isn’t said about the NGPC’s ability to connect to the Dreamcast by gamers today. Still, enough developers and console manufacturers took notice of this feature for it to be a common practice now.
Even if every detail about what the Neo Geo Pocket Color brought to today’s portable game consoles and its technical quality is ignored, there’s one thing in particular that’s kept the system alive with fans today, which is the system’s game library. Although the amount of games available for the NGPC isn’t massive or made up entirely of series that are household names to North Americans, the games that do exist are generally well made and cover a wide variety of genres. Fighting games, platformers, shooters, RPGs, puzzle games, sports games, and even gambling sims all had a home on the NGPC.
One of the genres for which the NGPC is most remembered by today’s gamers is the 2D fighter. Though the more popular Game Boy had an extensive library of games that included piles of high quality titles, fans of fighting games with Game Boys didn’t have a lot of options in their genre of choice, particularly if they were partial to SNK’s titles. True, Takara-developed ports of some of their popular games, such as King of Fighters and Samurai Shodown, existed for the console, but they were often very simplified and clunky to play, leaving them with little resemblance to their Neo Geo ancestors. In contrast, one of the major draws of the Neo Geo Pocket Color was the fact that it offered plenty of well-made 2D fighters produced by SNK themselves. Gamers in the market for portable systems now had the option of getting a system that could play fun ports of franchises like the aforementioned Samurai Shodown and King of Fighters games alongside games in other series, like Fatal Fury, The Last Blade and Match of the Millennium, the system-exclusive answer to the popular Capcom vs. SNK games. Thanks to the system itself, which was equipped with a clicky joystick that was perfect for fighting games, graphics which traded strict adherence to arcade style for cute and distinct personalities, and an often bright sense of humor, 2D fighters flourished on the Neo Geo Pocket Color.
Though the NGPC was home to many good fighting games, if that had been all it had to offer, it would have been off the market at an even more startling speed than it actually was. However, several genres were well represented by quality titles. Fans of platformers had the well designed and visually impressive Sonic the Hedgehog Pocket Adventure to play, which was reminiscent of the earliest games in Sega’s series in the best way possible, while people who loved puzzle games could waste hours on the addictive Puzzle Link series or Bust-a-Move Pocket. Gamers who were simply in the mood to blow some stuff up could play either of the system’s excellent entries in the Metal Slug series. RPG gamers weren’t ignored either, with games such as Faselei!, which offered hours upon hours of turn-based strategy, and Evolution, which, despite its Zero Wing grade translation, had a lengthy set of dungeons to explore. If someone was in the mood for a less traditional RPG, they could also turn to the Legend of Zelda-esque Dark Arms: Beast Busters or the addictive, funny, and fan-service heavy Card Fighters Clash, which threw characters from SNK and Capcom games into a Pokemon-esque trading card game. Lovers of sports games were also quite lucky in regards to the Neo Geo Pocket’s game library. Baseball Stars, Neo Turf Masters, and Pocket Tennis were all fun and surprisingly deep games that sported charming and cheerful graphics.
The Neo Geo Pocket Color Today
With all the failure suffered by the Neo Geo Pocket Color, it’s a wonder that anyone still uses the system today, ten years after Aruze’s complete system recall in the North American market. There are some compelling reasons as to why the system still has an active fan base, however, even when you look beyond the fact that you can find an active fan base for everything from canned meats to sitcoms that were cancelled after one season if you look hard enough.
The first of these is that, in 2003, the NGPC mysteriously reappeared in North American stores, packaged with several games at a relatively low price. Though the NGPC certainly hadn’t seemed appreciated in life, in death, it had been mourned by gaming journalists and fans alike, leading people who’d never had the chance to own the machine during its initial run, such as myself, to wonder what it was that made the machine good enough to be worth such widespread praise.
The relaunch of the NGPC was widely unadvertised and still lacked the success to make it a serious competitor to Nintendo’s handheld systems, but the fact that it became available to more gamers who had been given years to learn about the system did nothing to hurt its reputation or reduce its number of fans.
The NGPC also remains somewhat relevant to today’s gamers in that it was the home to several games in series that continue on today. People still play things such as Sonic the Hedgehog, Fatal Fury, King of Fighters, and even the less prevalent Card Fighters‘ Clash, thanks to its sequel on the Nintendo DS, and, though I say this in an entirely self-aware fashion, there is a certain segment of fans of any game series who will buy anything in order to play every installment of their favorite game. Because of this, games exclusive to the NGPC are still discussed on message boards and fan art is still produced for them, exposing the existence of these games to more people that never played them.
It is nearly impossible to argue that the NGPC was popular with North American gamers, and it would be even harder to argue that it was a commercial success. However, thanks to the fact that it was well made, hosted several high quality games, and was an influence on the portable gaming consoles of today, it is difficult to ignore its entire existence. The NGPC may never have been the success that SNK wanted it to be, but it has managed to maintain at least some degree of relevance, both to gaming as a whole and its die-hard fans, over ten years after its release.
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