Neo Geo Pocket Color: 20 years of quality over quantity
SNK's diminutive marvel made small feel big
Has there ever been a more undervalued handheld than the humble Neo Geo Pocket Color? Released into an uncaring world, bombarded with absolutely superb games, then seemingly the entire lot recalled and hurled overarm into the entire sea. Of course, a goodly number of units and software were recovered by an enterprising ocean salvage firm and distributed around the UK, where I happened across a pre-owned unit and purchased it for thirty pounds. After replacing its internal battery (a standard wristwatch battery did the job) I dug into the game that I got with the system, a wonderful port of Pac-Man.
Spiritually, I found myself extremely drawn in by this beautiful handheld. Sure, no backlight, but the Neo Geo Pocket Color was a games machine first, foremost and exclusively - when even the Game Boy was embracing utility to extent with its Camera and Printer peripherals, SNK's little bundle of joy was content with a simple built-in clock and er, horoscopes. And that's the extent of the non-game content. Everything else is pure play.
The Pocket Color's library was small - a scant 44 titles hit my beloved UK - but the quality level is consistently high. I hungrily snapped up everything I could find at the time – Sonic the Hedgehog Pocket Adventure (a truly excellent handheld hedgehog experience), Puzzle Bobble Mini (exactly what it sounds like; an efficient, beautifully simple version of Taito's timeless puzzler), SNK vs. Capcom: Match of the Millennium (an absurdly full-featured crossover fighting game). Everything on the shelves at the time, reduced in price as they were. But the real find was SNK vs. Capcom: Card Fighters Clash. A game so brilliant I wore out the cartridge and had to buy another copy, this card battling game was the very epitome of that gamer's cliché - easy to play, hard to master. Its between-bouts RPG naturally called the Game Boy Color's Pokémon Trading Card Game to mind, but Card Fighters Clash was better. Bouts were shorter, more compulsive, the systems less abstract.
As quickly as it appeared, the Pocket Color seemed to vanish. It disappeared from shelves long before the bow of Nintendo's Game Boy Advance, as though embarrassed to show its face. My local specialist store still had some imports, which I eagerly nabbed in order to get my Neo Geo fix; arcade port Rockman Battle & Fighters, cute-'em-up Fantastic Night Dreams: Cotton. Fabulous all. But then, it was gone. Gone and forgotten.
Flash forward to years later. I'm unemployed and spend most of my days aimlessly roaming. Checking in at Gamestation (a defunct UK high street games retailer), I take a look at their retro stock. Reams of Neo Geo Pocket Color games, boxed and with complete instructions. Metal Slug 1st and 2nd Mission, King of Fighters R-2, Neo Turf Masters, Baseball Stars Pocket... the list goes on. I was a collector back then, and it was a treat even to see cult classic games in condition that good, though I knew I wouldn't be able to afford them. I checked the price stickers anyway, curious.
And marked "Buy One Get One Free".
I left with the entire shelf.
Again - has there ever been a more undervalued handheld than the Neo Geo Pocket Color?