Hey, I’m new to RGB — this is a cool forum, but there’s nowhere to talk about the Neo Geo Pocket… Even the WonderSwan has a thread!
So, SNK released a monochrome handheld on October 28, 1998 to minimal fanfare. The Game Boy was dominant and Pokémon was taking over the world. In fact, the Game Boy Color had just launched the previous week! The NGP was pretty powerful but the black and white screen was unappealing to the masses at the time.
I was happy to move on from black and white back then too. However, I’ve come to appreciate the aesthetic later in life. Baseball Stars is my favourite game for the original NGP — the sprites are charming and the gameplay is tight. It was among the games colourised and rereleased for the Neo Geo Pocket Color, though I never felt any desire to try that version.
Anyway, SNK went back to the drawing board and released the NGPC on March 16, 1999. It’s widely known that the company was struggling, but I love that they fully committed to one last hurrah. The specs are solid:
- CPUs: Toshiba TLCS-900/H core (16/32-bit CISC based on Z80), up to 6.144 MHz, Z80 at 3.072 MHz dedicated to sound
- RAM: 12 k for 900/H, 4 k for Z80 (shared with the 900/H), 4 k of tilemap RAM, 8 k of character RAM
- ROM: 64 k BIOS
- Interfaces: SIO 1 channel 19200 bit/s, 5-pin serial port
- Resolution: 160x152 (256x256 virtual screen)
- DMA: 4 channels, integrated in TLCS-900/H core
- Colors: 146 (or 20 in monochrome mode) on-screen out of 4096
- Palettes: 16 for sprites, 16 per scrolling plane, additional 8 sets of 8 colors each assigned to the 6 monochrome-mode palettes (2 for sprites, 2 per scrolling plane), backdrop, and window
- Characters: 512 8x8 characters, transparency + 3 colors per character
- Sprites: 64 8x8 sprites, each can be placed behind, in-between, or above the scrolling planes, no arbitrary scanline limitation
- Scrolling: 2 scrolling planes, 32x32 tilemaps with 8x8 character tiles
- Special effects: Character flipping, sprite chaining, sprite coordinate offsetting, windowing, color inversion
- Sound: T6W28 (enhanced SN76489 with 3 square-wave tone generators + 1 noise generator, stereo capability), dual 8-bit digital-to-analog converters
- Cartridges: Maximum 4 MB (32 Mbit) with 4 to 16 Mbit flash memory
Oh, and it lasts for 40 hours on two AA batteries. People mod them with backlit displays and heftier speakers nowadays, and the battery life takes a major hit as a result. There’s no need to mod the NGPC — it has an exceptionally clear screen that is highly visible in daylight and looks good under a lamp as well. The stock speaker is also excellent! One thing to bear in mind is that you need a lithium battery (CR2032) for system functions like the clock.
Another game that SNK masterfully shrunk down into portable form is Neo Turf Masters. I think it’s missing a course from its MVS/AES counterpart but the game plays the same way! Here it is running on an NGPC:
Right, so this thing bombed too because the Game Boy Advance launched and SNK just wasn’t great at selling stuff. They supported the handheld for over two years and its small library of around 80 games is high in quality. There is a nice list of every game available for the platform over at neo geo dot com: Neo Geo Pocket Masterlist
I don’t have many games for mine but I can vouch for four of the fighters. Fatal Fury, King of Fighters R-2, Match of the Millennium and The Last Blade all play brilliantly with that little digital stick, made for this genre. The stick moves in eight directions and makes a satisfying click sound. The feedback you get from it makes fighters a joy to play. SNK never had a problem with a limited number of face buttons and these games play smoothly with only two of them! The buttons are pressure sensitive so multiple moves can be executed on each one. Another thing these fighters have in common is the chibi art style, which totally suits the device. The Last Blade is my favourite — it is as fun to play as its bigger siblings.
This post only scratches the surface of what the Neo Geo Pocket is all about. I’ll update it in time. Let’s hear what everyone thinks of it… Thanks for reading!