Hello, hello, hello, and welcome to another IDNoL. My last posting focussed on the often overlooked Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood on the Nintendo DS. This time around, I’m sticking with the handheld motif, but heading off in a different direction.
This little beauty is the 16-Bit wonder known as the Neo Geo Pocket Colour. Not heard of it? Only vaguely recall it existing, but know little of it? Well, that would be because it never really took off as well as neo Geo thought it would. The machine was released back in 1999, starting with Japan in March, moving to the US in August, and finally Europe in October. While the Japanese release saw 9 release titles, we actually fared far better in the West with an at-that-time record breaking 13 release titles. Were the titles anything to take note of? Well, there were some well-known franchises in there! Hidden among the handful of sports titles, such as baseball Stars, Pocket Tennis and Neo Geo Cup ’98, were a couple of rather popular mainstays of the beat ‘em up genre. While Fatal Fury: First Contact scored a perfectly respectable 7 out of 10 on IGN, it was King of Fighters R-2 and Samurai Showdown 2 that really shone, both scoring 9 out of 10.
After release, the system managed to gain a 2% market share (in terms of handheld gamin) in the US which, while not as massive as Nintendo’s Game Boy and Game Boy Colour, was easily enough to make a profit. As a result, other games started to roll in. Not only that, but they were actually pretty good. Maintaining their run of 9 and 10 scores, a handful of titles are of particular note: Firstly, their strong run of fighting games was added to by SNK vs Capcom. Not wanting to be seen as a one trick pony, they also managed to release two games from the ever popular Metal Slug series, a whole bunch of puzzlers, and the rarely remembered platformer, Sonic Pocket.
One of the really cool things that the system did was that it automatically translated a fair few games into English. As I understand it, this was due to the language chip on the hardware that allowed it tor recognise what language the player was likely to want to play their games in. While this is a pretty obvious feature for US and EU carts, what made this special was that it worked on a fair few Japanese import carts too (albeit not all). And you know what that means, right? No regional lock-out in a time when regional lock-out was common place.
So what happened that caused the system to be forgotten? Well, a lot of it seems like bad luck. First of all, Sega were the only third party developer to get on board with the system. While this did lead to both Sonic Pocket and a cabling system that allowed you to link the NGPC up to a Dreamcast, it did mean that they were limited in terms of what games would be getting adapted. On top of that, Nintendo were really on a role by this point. The unstoppable growth of the Pokémon franchise and the excitement surrounding the impending 32-bit Game Boy Advance.
This wasn’t all though. While the arcade style stick was perfect for fighting games, it wasn’t necessarily the best choice for all games, and those used to a D-Pad would find it to have a slight learning curve. Then there was the lack of real communication and advertising, likely caused in part due to SNK’s ongoing financial problems. These problems were then added to when the US pachinko manufacturer Aruze purchased the company and decided not to fully support their video game endeavours. In fact, it was Aruze that decided to discontinue SNK operations outside of Japan. While they did allow the release of a wireless connector to allow link up play in Japan, the strong competition from the Bandai WonderSwan led to them ceasing the development of the proposed MP3 player for the system.
In the end, October 2001 rolled around and the original SNK were declared bankrupt, with the NGPC officially being their final gaming console. The real shame here is that the system had a lot of potential, and the games that people remember tend to be remembered fondly. If they’d had better marketing, or had been bought out by a company better suited to the video game market, who knows how successful it could have been? Unfortunately, we’ll never know. It would be easy to point at 2012’s Neo Geo X from the reborn SNK Playmore, but if we’re being honest, it’s had a bit of a mixed run as systems go. In fact, since release it has been plagued with a big mix of praise for the retro feel, criticism for the screen quality and audio issues, and controversy relating to lawsuit threats and claims of underhanded tactics being employed going back and forth between SNKP and the system manufacturer Tommo. Even so, the NGPC is well worth remembering, and I cannot think of a better way to do that than with a video demonstrating some of the best games to be released in the original SNK’s dying days: