April 23, 2021

Review: Neo Geo Pocket Color Selection Vol.1 – SNK’s Handheld Classics Come To Switch


You’ve got to wonder what on earth SNK is thinking, sometimes. Releasing six individual Neo Geo Pocket Color titles on the Switch eShop was a fine idea, and Samurai Shodown! 2, The Last Blade: Beyond the Destiny, SNK Gals’ Fighters, SNK vs. Capcom: Match of the Millennium, King of Fighters R-2 and Fatal Fury First Contact were – quite rightly – received with enormous warmth.

Now, though, we have the compilation release Neo Geo Pocket Color Selection Vol. 1. A fantastic idea on paper, but was it really wise to cannibalise its sales by including the previously-released six games as well as including four more that have never been re-released until now? While we’re grateful to have access to Neo Turf Masters, Dark Arms: Beast Buster 1999 and Metal Slug 1st and 2nd Mission, this is the kind of move that engenders ill-feeling; why must committed Neo Geo Pocket Color fans double-dip on six games in order to get four more that aren’t available elsewhere? Unless they are going to make the extra games available separately, in which case… announce that!

But we’re not here to complain about the circumstances of this release. We’re here to review it. And, taking aside our misgivings about its value, Neo Geo Pocket Color Selection Vol. 1 is an absolute treat, and all the better if you’ve yet to sample any of the included games.

Seeing as six of the included titles have already had the Nintendo Life review treatment, we think it’s best to focus on the four titles exclusive to this compilation and the production itself. Which, incidentally, is rather nice. There’s a degree to which it’s form over function, but you have a breezy little menu for the eight games and viewable 3D models of the game’s original clamshell cases and even the cartridges themselves.

You’re also able to view the original scanned manuals – this may sound pretty banal, but it’s worth doing as the Neo Geo Pocket Color manuals were often as characterful as the games themselves. Throw in the now-customary Rewind feature and the option to play the original (non-Color) Neo Geo Pocket games in their monochrome form, and you’ve got a fairly well-featured little package. But it’s the games we’re all really here for.

The first of the new batch is Neo Turf Masters, also known as Big Tournament Golf, a brilliant pocket version of the absolutely superb arcade golf game, which is also available in its original form as part of the Arcade Archives series. It packs in pretty much all the gameplay of its bigger brother, but scaled down to the super-deformed and hugely appealing anime presentation of the vast majority of the NGPC’s library. It’s a little redundant in a sense because (as mentioned) you can pick up the original game on Switch for a pretty low cost, but it’s still nice to have this miniature fairway classic as part of the collection, given it’s never previously seen any kind of re-release.

Next up is the oddest game in the pack, one Dark Arms: Beast Buster 1999, a follow-up of sorts to the 1989 arcade light-gun game Beast Busters, though here reimagined as a sort of cross between an RPG and SNK’s own Ikari Warriors. And while it’s really cool that obscurities like this are getting a second turn in the spotlight, we have to declare Dark Arms to the be the weak link of this set. It’s not horrible, but it is surprisingly charmless – almost an achievement, given how overtly charming the vast majority of games on SNK’s handheld system actually are. There’s a weapon evolution system that lets you change up your arsenal but it’s not enough to make this game more than a distracting curiosity, with unattractive graphics and somewhat awkward controls.

Capping off this rather lovely collection we have the absolute crown jewels and – in this writer’s humble opinion – the best games in the entire Neo Geo Pocket Color library. Metal Slug 1st and 2nd Mission are pared-down takes on the massively popular arcade run n’ gun series, but changed in a way that’s sensible and suits their handheld format.

Rather than individual lives, you have a health bar that can be replenished by collecting hidden items, but besides this change it retains everything that makes the main games so fun. Missions are bite-sized and plentiful, with more of a platforming focus than the mainline titles but in no way compromising the frantic blasting or secret-finding fun. There’s not much difference between the two games, though the use of the “Option” button – mapped to the + button on Switch with seemingly no way to redefine that specific command (?!) – switches you between bullets and grenades in 1st Mission while simply, sensibly throwing a grenade on a tap in 2nd Mission. While this control choice is faithful to the original hardware, we really can’t see a good reason why it couldn’t have been possible to remap the Options button to one of the unused face buttons, or even one of the shoulders.

Conclusion

A strong showing for the Neo Geo Pocket Color, this is an eight-game compilation with seven avowed recommendations. That’s a pretty high ratio, and that tantalising “Vol. 1” in the title makes us hope and pray that more SNK handheld goodness is to come. Now that Match of the Millennium has been accounted for, after all, there’s surely no reason to hold out on us vis-a-vis Card Fighters Clash, the absolute best game on the system. Sonic Pocket Adventure would be ace, too. But that’s all speculation – in the here and now, Neo Geo Pocket Color Selection Vol. 1 is a great little compilation and all the better if you didn’t buy all the previous standalone releases. If you did, is it worth the money? To this writer, yes, but you can quietly seethe about the financial imposition.


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