In the last few years, we’ve witnessed SNK shove some of their finest coin-op classics into collectable hardware. We have seen them celebrate 40 years in the industry with several game compilations across multiple platforms and even watched their most cherished intellectual properties collide with the cast of Soul Calibur and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.
It seems SNK has resurrected like a phoenix fueled by the flames of the past, which is a rather fine achievement considering that the Japanese company once fell into depths of bankruptcy not long after the dawn of a new millennium. Yet, SNK’s biggest achievement of all is in somehow providing a potent kick of nostalgia to an audience who more than likely once thought the mythical Neo Geo to be the unicorn of video game systems.
Outside the odd chance of stumbling across an arcade cabinet packed with the likes of Metal Slug or Ikari Warriors, most gamers of the ’90s had very little opportunity to ever experience a Neo Geo AES home console due to its incredibly high price point. The truth of the matter is that many adoring older fans of today probably didn’t build a bond with SNK until the Dreamcast years, and even then that was generally through bootlegged copies due to the Dreamcast’s awful defence against piracy.
When the far more affordable, yet ill-fated Neo Geo Pocket was released just a year before SEGA’s compromisable box of arcade-perfect tricks, not many gamers were swayed away from the more familiar and dominating forces of Nintendo’s colour variant of the Game Boy. However, skip 20 years ahead, and Nintendo now plays host to a portable abode of SNK software.
Ever since Hamster’s Arcade Archives supported the Nintendo Switch from day one, there has been tremendous support from SNK towards the hybrid system. More recently, the latest slice of SNK history has been drip-fed onto the Nintendo eShop with several fighting games from the almost forgotten Neo Geo Pocket library. Neo Geo Pocket Color Selection Vol. 1 essentially bundles together all six-pocket fighting games that have been previously released on the system, along with four extra titles bound exclusively within this very collection. The complete list of 10 games are as follows:
- Big Tournament Golf
- Dark Arms: Beast Buster 1999
- Fatal Fury: First Contact
- King of Fighters R-2
- Metal Slug: 1st Mission
- Metal Slug: 2nd Mission
- Samurai Shodown! 2
- SNK Gals’ Fighters
- SNK vs. Capcom: The Match of the Millennium
- The Last Blade: Beyond the Destiny
While the Neo Geo Pocket Color Selection Vol. 1 could have been a simple gathering of fighting games, the decision to add another four exclusive titles of the mixed genre will please some fans while leaving others somewhat disgruntled. The obvious reason being the fact that loyal fans already committed to individual purchases will have no other choice but to double-dip if they want to keep their collection up to date. And for the price (£35.99) of what this particular collection is going for, a fairly expensive commitment at that.
Out of the four previously unreleased additions to the collection, two of them are easily the most recognisable as they are the portable, albeit much more condensed variants of the more famous Metal Slug franchise. Metal Slug: 1st Mission faithfully keeps in tone with its arcade counterpart while introducing a health meter (no coin-chomping one-hit kills found here), while Metal Slug: 2nd Mission extends the overall experience further with slightly better visuals, and, as far as I am aware, one of the only games on the Neo Geo handheld system to use voice samples.
With the hindsight of reviewing SNK vs. Capcom: The Match of the Millennium, the lack of a voicebank did make sense for that particular entry, as the gameplay in Metal Slug: 2nd Mission slows down to a crawl every time the announcer shouts “HEAVY MACHINE GUN!” Regardless of hardware limitations though, these were, and both still are, great games in their own right. By providing enough familiar charm in similar essence to how the limitations of the Game Boy would take the likes of Super Mario or The Legend of Zelda and spin them with their own unique portable identity.
The more obscure game in the collection has to be Dark Arms: Beast Buster. Oddly based around a 1989 light gun game, this top-down action RPG has the main protagonist feeding weapons to make them more powerful by using the spirits of gunned-down demons as chow. It’s an enjoyable enough little XP grinder that has a day and night cycle which affects the type of enemies prowling around.
The final game of the exclusive four goes by the way of Big Tournament Golf – a rather basic, yet addictive little golf sim that, again, is modelled after its bigger Neo Geo brother, Neo Turf Masters. Being the only sports title in the collection may see it as the oddball, but don’t disregard it too soon as it could very well be the one out of the pack that you may find yourself going back to more often.
Considering that 60 percent of the collection has been recently released and looked upon in detail already, I would much rather focus less on the games themselves and more on the digital wrapping that binds them all together as a collection. One of the more interesting features is the library interface despite being rather plain with no background music or any form of fancy celebratory animated intro leading up to it. Yet, dig a little deeper within the seemingly barren hub menu and there are still some rather snazzy features present.
Each game on display has a 3D model of the box with high-res artwork splashed across the plastic case. Inside the box, the cartridge can then be pulled out and rotated with the nice little touch of being contained within a hard plastic wallet faithful to how they were originally packaged back in the day. Once popped out of the wallet, the label art plastered to the cart can be observed cleanly up close and rotated further to expose the pin connectors underneath the shell, along with a single dome-head security bolt screwed into the back of the cartridge.
Furthermore, each game comes with digital manuals to skim through as well as the ability to play the Japanese versions of each title. My favourite pinch of detail surrounds the option to play some of the games in the inky black and white format of the original Neo Geo Pocket. Selecting this mode with the games that came out after the Neo Geo Pocket Color was released, little easter-egg style warning screens flash up informing of its incompatibility just like how the original colour exclusive games would have done when stuffed into an older system.
As for the rest of the features, they pretty much mirror the interface of what has been previously released with the individual fighting games. This includes the option of an authentic screen filter, rewind features and several two-player options for the games that allow them – a feature that would once require two systems, two copies of the game and a link cable. The several Neo Geo Pocket bezels reflecting the handheld console are here too, but depending on the device option chosen on the main menu will determine which Neo Geo Pocket variant is displayed. This includes the original device, the colour-based successor and the Japan-exclusive slimmer rendition of the “new Color” Neo Geo Pocket.
On the whole, the Neo Geo Pocket Color Selection Vol. 1 is a tidy and important package of gaming history that really should have been released as a self-contained bundle in the first place. It’s worth bearing in mind that a physical release is promised a little later on down the line, and with this particular collection labelled as a first in a series, it will surely be interesting to see whether or not the next entry in the Neo Geo Pocket Color line-up will skip directly towards a second volume.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by SNK