The Neo Geo Pocket Color was a short-lived handheld console meant to compete with Nintendo’s Gameboy Color. In North America, it released in August 6th, 1999 and by next year, on June 13 was discontinued. This had less to do with the Pocket itself and more to do with the state of SNK at the time as arcade games simply didn’t sell anymore. For this reason, it is a relatively obscure handheld, sporting a total of 83 games across all regions. It’s a shame really as it had a ton of potential and produced some real great exclusives that can’t be had elsewhere.
The Pocket is equipped with a 2.6 inch TFT screen with a 160×152 resolution for a near exactly squared display. It does not feature either a back or front light, so you will have to play it near a light source to see what in the world is happening on the screen. On the front, you’ll find the A & B as well as the Power and Option buttons. The mechanical DPad is quite unlike anything else out there and is bar none the best DPad I have ever laid my hands on. Beneath the DPad you will find a single speaker for mono sound that gets decently loud. At the bottom of the unit lies the volume slider and an audio jack while the top features a port to connect two Neo Geo Pockets together.
It is powered via 2 AA batteries for an estimated 40 hours of usage. There is also a slot to insert a CR2032 that will keep the internal clock running. Something that is always appreciated is that the system is region free so you can import any game and play them without issues regardless of where it is from. On the backside of the device is where you will insert the cartridges and booting it up without one in will take you to the Pocket Menu. In that menu, you can view the calendar, times for places around the world, set an alarm or even enter your birth date for a horoscope. You’ll realistically rarely have a use for any of those, but it is a cool feature nonetheless.
If you are familiar with SNK, you will know they were one of the masters of the Fighting game genre, and they ported over a ton of their most beloved games over to the Pocket. Aside from the obvious power differences between their MVS arcade cabinet there lies another problem. The Pocket has only two buttons which is half of those found on the MVS these fighting games were originally designed for. One can easily assume the transition of many of their iconic franchises to the Pocket is destined for disaster but true to their talents they pulled it off incredibly well. Even with half the buttons and all the other hurdles, your favorite SNK games may be a bit dumbed down yet retain their original feel and are as fun as ever to play.
The system itself is very comfortable to hold, the buttons have a nice springy feel to them, and this eight-way mechanical DPad will have you effortlessly pulling off moves. This is easily the most comfortable, best feeling handheld I’ve ever tried to this day. It fits well in one’s pocket too. The most troublesome thing about it will be the lack of a backlit screen though on the flip side you can play it directly in the sun due to this. One particularly interesting game for the system is SNK vs Capcom: The Match of the Millennium that pits both companies characters against one another. Unlike every other Neo Geo device, buying games for the Pocket is actually affordable, allowing you to easily build a collection of games without going bankrupt in the process.
Not all games are of the Fighting genre, also on the device are Sonic the Hedgehog for your platforming needs, Metal Slug for Run & Gun action, Puzzle Bobble for a more casual experience and Pacman for that timeless old school arcade gameplay. I obviously can not name all of the 83 titles but there is a nice variety for every type of gamers, and this system is paradise for fighting game fans. It kills me that the Pocket met an untimely demise even if it was selling relatively well and it kills me even more that this amazing DPad was never used for other controllers or handhelds. They got so many things right for the system though SNK were too deeply in trouble in terms of finances, were bought out by a pachinko company and promptly died in 2001.
SNK were later on bought out again and these days only release King of Fighter games, but that is a long story that would warrant its own separate article about their history. I’d argue that the Neo Geo Pocket Color itself is still worth it today. While the overall size of the game library is not impressive, most of them are well worth your time. For other systems like the Gameboy or Game Gear you could download many of their titles off of Nintendo’s “Virtual Console” though for the Pocket your only other option is emulation. At the time of this review it is sold for around 50 bucks on Ebay and at that price it is well worth it to rediscover a nearly forgotten gem of the past.