A fun, if somewhat redundant, collection of NeoGeo Pocket Color games.
I was pretty excited when SNK started porting NeoGeo Pocket Color games to the Switch, starting with fan favorite SNK Gals Fighter, because this was a system I completely missed. I imagine that’s the case with many of you, as the NeoGeo Pocket and Pocket Color couldn’t compete with Nintendo’s Game Boy juggernaut. The little rectangular handheld was known for its surprisingly adept handheld versions of SNK’s arcade fighting games, and in fact for a while, that’s all SNK was porting to the eShop. We’ve already reviewed many of them (see below), and I must admit I was getting tired of fighting games. They’re all good, quality handheld fighters, but do start to blend together. Surely the NeoGeo Pocket Color had more to offer?
Well, SNK just published the NeoGeo Pocket Color Selection Vol. 1, a compilation of ten NGPC games—which unfortunately includes all six of the fighting games you might have already paid $8 a pop for over the last year. The remaining four titles run the gamut from just plain bad to very enjoyable. You can check out our reviews for Fatal Fury: First Contact, King of Fighters R-2, SNK Gals Fighter, The Last Blade: Beyond the Destiny, and SNK vs. Capcom: Match of the Millennium for the verdicts on those—I’ll just touch on the games that are new to me and the added bonus features of this collection.
Samurai Shodown! 2 is, like the other fighters, a surprisingly competent portable version of an arcade series that, unfortunately, never really clicked with me. This game has one of the biggest casts of the NGPC fighters, and like Gals Fighter and The Last Blade, SS!2 has a strong grinding-for-collectibles aspect: you can earn what are essentially trading cards featuring character art, and these can be equipped to character to give them specific buffs or new attacks. Unlike the more freeform style of King of Fighters, SS!2 is more of an offense/defense dance, looking for opportunities to strike and deal as much damage as you can while rebuffing your opponents. It’s more methodical, but not really my thing.
Metal Slug: 1st Mission is incredibly fun, arguably moreso than it has any right to be. Missions are short, and you’ll spend a good amount of time in the Metal Slug itself, along with its air-based counterpart (which I refer to as the Sky Pop, don’t @ me). The two Metal Slug games benefit greatly from the rewind feature that’s standard to all of these ports. I found the Metal Slug itself difficult to control, as it was weirdly difficult to get the canon back to a forward direction after shooting up or behind me. Due to the limited number of buttons, there’s some awkwardness in swapping from your gun to grenades with the “+” button, but otherwise there’s not much to bag on here.
Metal Slug: 2nd Mission, which might be the most unimaginative sequel title I’ve ever seen, is even better than the first. The backgrounds are more vibrant and detailed, there are more enemy types, and individual stages are longer and, often, more complex. SNK must have realized that people didn’t like switching attack types with the “+” button, because here they’ve just made the “+” button for throwing a grenade; it’s a surprisingly elegant solution. In addition to the tank and Sky Pop, you’ll also take command of a submarine (which I refer to as the Marine Pop, don’t @ me), which launches depth charges upward instead of firing torpedoes forward. The Marine Pop stages aren’t great, though, as they rely heavily on ocean currents to force you around. The Metal Slug is still awkward to control, but they’ve made its segments a little more forgiving, with more health pickups to grab. Again, that rewind feature will get a workout here.
Dark Arms is just a bad game. Nothing is really explained (even the instruction manual is frustratingly cryptic), and I had to use a FAQ to understand what I was supposed to be doing. Basically, you are trying to find, upgrade, and level up various weapons by running around killing monsters. Unfortunately, this just amounts to traversing small areas filled with enemies and using your weapons to kill them, then applying the enemy’s “soul” (or something) to the weapons to level them up and, eventually, evolve them. There’s a threadbare story, but Dark Arms is a chore to play through. While there are some interesting ideas here, it’s just not worth the frustration, and definitely the low point in this collection.
Big Tournament Golf is basically the handheld version of the excellent 1996 SNK arcade title of the same name (or this slightly different name). I’m never able to resist the siren song of video game golf, and was pleasantly surprised by this handheld adaptation, even though it’s about as bare-bones as you can get (Mario Golf for the Game Boy Color, it ain’t). I also take some issue with your overhead field of view, which can be hard to read because it’s so brutally pixelated. I did appreciate being able to choose my shot type, which helps as many of these courses have unusually sinuous layouts. Apart from the green, holes lack any sort of topography, which takes some enjoyment out of the driving game. Perhaps because of this, Big Tournament Golf relies on ambient wind and an overabundance of sand traps to slow your progression. This is another game that benefits enormously from the rewind feature: if your shot isn’t going where you want, you can generally rewind just enough to get back to aiming, before you take a swing. I’ve never hit so many birdies in my life.
The usual features from the solo releases are retained here—digitized instruction manuals, multiple NeoGeo Pocket Color skins to choose from, and the glorious rewind feature. A few new wrinkles are added as well: a few of the NGPC skins are of the original, non-colorized, Pocket, which gives some of these games an interesting look (although not available for every game). You can also see 3D models of the games’ boxes, cases, and even cartridges, which I was quite taken by. Alas, my usual complaints are unaddressed—still no system-level moves list to display during the fighting games, and, related to that, instruction manuals don’t save where you left off. If I’m playing as Mai Shiranui and can’t access a moves list, at least let me go right to her page in the instruction manual! I also maintain that the Joy-Con and Pro Controller’s stick is not a great replacement for the NGPC’s clicky stick for pulling off special moves with any consistency in the fighters.
Two-player local play is still a blast, but some multiplayer features are necessarily left out of the collection, including card-trading in Samurai Shodown and a player-vs-player mode in Dark Arms.
You’re getting a lot of good games in this collection—Dark Arms seems to be the edge case here—and if you don’t have any experience with the NeoGeo Pocket Color, this is probably the next-best way to experience its library. I’m still a little annoyed that it’s so fighter-heavy but that arguably tracks with SNK’s arcade output. Assuming we get a Volume 2, I’d love to see Rockman Battle & Fighters (an NGPC version of Mega Man: The Power Battle and Mega Man 2: The Power Fighters) and SNK vs. Capcom: Card Fighters’ Clash, a digital card game that predates Match of the Millenium. Since I assume somebody had to get a signature from Capcom to include Match of the Millenium in this collection, I’m hoping they’d be open to ports of those other two games in the future. Even if you’ve already bought some of the NGPC fighters by themselves for Switch, I’d recommend this package to have everything in one place, and you’ll get a couple of excellent Metal Slug games and a surprisingly fun little golf game.
Best part is that I don’t have to try and find a working NGPC in good condition anymore.