Not many experienced the Neo Geo Pocket Color. Some even asked “What’s an SNK?” when Terry Bogard was first announced for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. Others, however, were lucky enough to own one, and will certainly be aware of the legendary manufacturer, their products and the whole army of fighting games they are responsible for.
While short-lived, the Neo Geo Pocket Color was a far better handheld than it was ultimately given credit for. Not only did it have a very good Sonic the Hedgehog game, but it was also home to a bunch of great chibi 2D fighters such as SNK vs Capcom: Match of the Millennium, The Last Blade: Beyond the Destiny, King of Fighters R-1 and King of Fighters R-2 among plenty of others. I have fond memories of the lovely clicky sound of the concave thumb pad, and how it worked particularly well for the type of genre thanks to the microswitches embedded underneath providing a convenient arcade stick experience on a device that had a 2.7-inch screen.
One game that was on the system that went completely under my radar back then was SNK Gals’ Fighters, an all-female 2D fighting game that’s worth a pretty penny nowadays for the original cartridge. It’s also the precursor to the more recent spiritual successor SNK Heroines: Tag Team Frenzy. While the latter experimented in making the genre more unconventional in style and gameplay, the 20-year-old SNK Gals’ Fighters stuck to the roots of staying slightly more traditional.
As with many other chibi fighters on the system, the sprites of the characters in SNK Gals’ Fighters used clever technical tricks to help the player follow the action on such a small screen. Limbs would grow bigger when swung and depending on whether you tap or press a button would determine the strength, due to there being only two action buttons on the console. The recognisably distinctive design gave the visuals far more personality than they would have if it were to try and replicate the complex cluster of pixels found in mainline SNK games. Think the original Super Mario Land on the Game Boy in comparison to the bolder, tubby sprites found in its sequel Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins.
The story of SNK Gals’ Fighters is as silly as you would expect. The femme fatales from across SNK’s back catalogue are invited to duke it out in a Queen of Fighters tournament to win a talisman that grants a single wish. Characters such as Mai Shiranui from the King of Fighters series makes an appearance, as does the eagle-welding Nakaruru from Samurai Shodown. A mixture of 11 representatives in total are in the roster including Athena Asamiya, who is more famously known as the main character in action-platformer Psycho Soldier. That was the first game to have a fully voiced soundtrack and featured in the Digital Eclipse-developed SNK 40th Anniversary Collection.
It’s a fun fighting game even by today’s standards with each character having a surprisingly fleshed out move list. The “Mighty Bop Attack” acts as a meter-burning super move, and the universal “Pretty Burst” ability contains more specialised properties such as regaining some health back or diminishing the opponent built-up meter.
SNK Gals’ Fighters’ other gimmick is the ability to earn item cards under certain gameplay conditions that can be selected before a match. While some items have no value, others do contain perks like, starting a bout with a full Gal-Gauge (super meter) or taking less damage during combat. It doesn’t come without its risks though. By selecting a card you’re initially putting it on the line to be stolen by the opponent if the fight doesn’t go your way.
There are also plenty of defensive options like air blocking and guard reversals similar to the V-Reversal in Street Fighter V, along with an evasive roll to deepen the combat much more than you would generally expect from an old portable fighting game. As a result, the combat manages to stand the test of time and works perfectly as a quick pick-up-and-play fighter when friends and family are finally allowed to visit.
Speaking of the local VS mode, the Neo Geo Pocket Color would need two consoles, two copies of the game and a link cable to make multiplayer possible back in the day. As you may imagine, that sort of luxury was hard to come by considering it wasn’t exactly the most recognisable handheld on the market at the time. Thankfully, it’s now easier than ever for both players in the same room to battle it out, and on a single screen no less. Not only that, but there’s also a rather nifty ability to play against each other with both Joy-Con attached to the console in a similar fashion to how fighting games are played on arcade cocktail tables. Both halves of the Nintendo Switch screen become separated so each player has their own screen to quite literally play head-to-head while holding one half of the Joy-Con at each end.
It’s added features like this that actually says a lot for the external interface managing this port of a long lost fighting game. Having the ability to adjust the size of the screen from the original orientation to match the larger aspects of the Nintendo Switch is another nice touch. As is the visual graphic of the Neo Geo Pocket Color itself wrapping around the border of the screen, accompanied by various interchangeable skins to toggle through. And not to mention, an optional screen filter overlay to replicate what the game looked like natively back in 2000.
What struck me as strange was the Rewind option that would usually suit platformers more than it would fighting games. It looks to me that there are bigger plans to bring more than just one or two games of the Neo Geo Pocket library to the portable home console, in the way Hamster’s Arcade Archives has ported its older siblings. It suspiciously seems to me that too much effort has been made, especially the way that a high-resolution game manual is included that looks absolutely fantastic on the screen. Which reminds me, I sure do miss a good game manual…
I was really taken by surprise at just how well SNK Gals’ Fighters has been ported to the Nintendo Switch. While I would have much rather seen a Digital Eclipse compilation of several Neo Geo Pocket games bundled together with some added historical features attached, I was still highly impressed with this rather odd but certainly necessary release. One thing for sure, It goes to show that the Nintendo Switch truly is a portable time capsule of history in being a place where both SNK Gals’ Fighters and the Neo Geo Pocket Color can join the rest of the SNK family along with many other golden oldies in one place on a single system.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by SNK