Neo Geo Pocket Color Selection Volume 1 Review: Forgotten History

The Neo Geo Pocket Color Selection Volume 1 for Nintendo Switch brings a forgotten handheld to the forefront. Featuring 10 games that defined SNK's unique platform, this collection serves as a glimpse into gaming history. Six fighting games, two action games, an RPG and a sports title bring something for everyone, but has age been kind to them? This is an in-depth look into how the collection holds up over 20 years later.

Neo Geo Pocket Color Selection Volume 1 Review: Forgotten History (Nintendo Switch)

Neo Geo Pocket Color Selection Volume 1 for Nintendo Switch is a chance to relive a trailblazing handheld. When most people think of innovative portables, they might think of devices like the Game Boy Advance, a system that could link to home consoles. Or the PSP, which had a joystick for greater freedom of movement. In 1999, there was a handheld that did both years earlier that went largely unnoticed. The Neo Geo Pocket Color was ahead of its time, bringing full-fledged titles from SNK’s catalog to the small screen. In recent years, the Nintendo Switch has been home to many of the publisher’s titles both past and present.

22 years later, it makes sense that some of the platform’s defining titles have been compiled in a loving package for the platform. This selection is a fantastic tribute to this piece of history. Featuring four new games along with six previously released eShop titles, new features make them more convenient to play. As faithful ports of 90’s gamesit’s an easy bundle for those who want to own part of history. Knowing that the collection has aged, and rarely for the better. 

Neo Geo Pocket Color Selection Volume 1 is available for purchase on the Nintendo eShop.

Gameplay: Uneven Nostalgia

Neo Geo Pocket Color Selection Volume 1 compiles a total of ten games. Given that SNK’s bread and butter is its fighting games, six of the ten are games from their brawler archive. Fatal Fury First ContactKing of Fighters R-2, Samurai Shodown 2, The Last Blade: Beyond the DestinySNK vs. Capcom: The Match of the Millenium and SNK Gals’ Fighters round out the list, each with varying quality. Each game was already released on the eShop, but those who missed out can grab them all at a cheaper price. 

Given that most of the games included are fighters, you would think that they’d play similarly. That ends up not being the case for a few reasons. As the games released later in the Pocket Color’s lifespan, the performance improved. This is seen in Gals Fighters and SNK vs. Capcom especially, which have smoother framerates and easier execution. Compare this to Fatal Fury, where the buttons switch between punches and kicks at random while suffering from massive slowdown. 

Box art for each game features cartridges and manuals in English and Japanese.

Box art for each game features cartridges and manuals in English and Japanese.

For most, the draw of the set will be the unreleased games. Big Tournament GolfDark ArmsMetal Slug 1st Mission and Metal Slug 2nd Mission make their Switch debut here. The idea of more Metal Slug is especially exciting, but the other two games are surprising standouts. Meanwhile, performance issues plague the side scrolling shooters in a way that dampens the excitement. 

The Games – A Varied Set

These issues extend to some of the other games, namely the two Metal Slug titles. 1st Mission in particular will ignore inputs due to the slowdown interrupting commands. The sequel improves overall, but has its moments where crowded screens see sudden dips in framerate. This often leads to death and frustration, which can be lessened thanks to the Rewind feature. Dark Arms and Big Tournament Golf on the other hand, end up being some of the better inclusions simply because of their consistency.

The Tournament Fighters – Winners and Losers

Among the six fighting games in the collection, many of them share the same characters, models and assets. Despite that, the quality between them is surprisingly wide. Despite being launch titles, Fatal Fury First Contact and King of Fighters R-2 are drastically different. The first has a unique, comprehensive roster considering the smaller scope. Yet, the punch and kick buttons seem to swap at will. More pressing is the framerate, which slows down so badly that inputs are often dropped. It is easily the worst game of the set. 

King of Fighters holds up better than most games in the collection.

King of Fighters holds up better than most games in the collection.

Despite releasing at the same time, KOF fares much better. The game controls more smoothly, with a stable framerate that allows satisfying fights. Overall, it moves slower than it should be, but not enough to where it takes away from the fun. The roster has all the essential characters, with secret bosses to keep you playing. Unfortunately, the stages do not match. Generic, repetitive backgrounds suck some life out of the presentation. 

The Swordfighters – Sharp vs. Dull

When comparing the sword fighting games, Samurai Shodown 2 and The Last Blade could not be more differentOn the plus side, the former is the only game with all unique sprites. That is where the praise ends, since like Fatal Fury, it suffers from crippling slowdown. Since the series traditionally focuses on powerful single attacks rather than complex execution, it is not as big of a problem. Its large roster is a major plus as well, with one of the biggest in the collection. 

The latter is one of the last games released on the platform and the extra time shows. While not as well known, this portable version manages to include an insane number of features. Power and speed fighting styles can change entire move sets. Playing earns points to unlock scrolls with various rewards. From artwork to new characters and the “Part 2” versions of the base cast, there’s hours of content to uncover. Essentially squeezing both Last Blade games into one, its only drawback is how much grinding is needed for unlocks. 

The Crossovers – Best of the Best

Lastly, two sought after crossover games end up being the highlight of the fighting game selection. Starting with Gals’ Fighters, this quirky title stars an all-girl cast with a comedic twist. Each gal (and Iori) is pulled from a different SNK franchise, re-using characters from across the collection. Featuring the smoothest framerate of the collection, the difference is immediately noticeable. Fights are fast and fun but hit a bump when Super Moves come into play. Most of them are slow to start up, making them useless to perform. 

Gals Fighters brings comedy to the battlefield.

Gals Fighters brings comedy to the battlefield.

A small nitpick is that the base cast are all in other games, but some attacks have been reworked. Examples include Athena replacing her reflect with using her partner, Kensou, as a human shield. Two of the three secret characters are new to the handhelds with one of them being a debutSadly, the unlock conditions are inconsistent and grindy. You will finish the game with everyone many times over before accessing the full roster. And that is assuming they unlock at all thanks to random drops and new content simply not triggering. 

Saving the best for last, Match of the Millennium was the first fighting game in the Capcom vs. SNK franchise. The decision to debut such a monumental collaboration is just as confusing now as it was at the time. Despite that, it holds up better than anything else in the collection. Hosting a massive roster from Capcom’s franchises such as Street Fighter alongside SNK’s all-stars, it probably deserves a full review of its own. 

The short version is that it has a surprising amount of attention put into it. Unique character interactions, multiple endings and hidden characters round out a full package. Three fighting styles paying tribute to both company’s games, making it feel like three-in-one. Single fights, 3-on-3 elimination style and tag matches ala the Marvel vs. Capcom series each find their way here. Combat aside, mini games give shine to some personalities that didn’t make the cut. Again, the biggest drawback is the grind to unlock. Relying on chance, you can theoretically never unlock everything because of it. 

The New Games – Faithful to a Fault

Among the unreleased games, the highlights of those titles might not be the ones you expect. The Metal Slug games are the most disappointing because of their missed potential. Both games take a different approach from the main games, mirroring a Metroidvania-lite style. Branching paths and secret rooms fill each stage, requiring multiple plays to see everything in each game. Dying in one map might lead to a prison break level later for example. The second game in particular keeps track of all your saved prisoners, acting as something to search for. 

Metal Slug 1st Mission is a blast when it works.

Metal Slug 1st Mission is a blast when it works.

Unfortunately, the game play doesn’t match this exciting take. The first game especially suffers from horrid slowdown. At points, it’s so bad that jumps don’t register. Prepare for some cheap deaths as you walk off the stage despite pounding the jump button repeatedly. The second game is much better in this regard, but slowdown still plagues it. Most common when the added voice clips call out the weapons you pick up, boss fights are especially bad. Bullets often disappear, sucking the fun out of combat when you’re killed by a shot you can’t see. 

On the other end, Big Tournament Golf is basic and effective. The different characters have varying stats to choose fromproviding advantages across the 30 + courses. Thriving in its simplicity, this one holds up better than most due to how well it plays. There’s not much to it, but what it offers is done well. 

Dark Arms is the compilations' most hidden gem.

Dark Arms is the compilations’ most hidden gem.

Dark Arms is the hidden gem of the collection, boasting the most content in the set. As an Action RPG, the player captures monsters and converts them to upgrades. It then becomes easier to survive its increasingly challenging maps, pushing through this horror show until it reaches its conclusion. Easily the most unique game of the bundle, it stands out due to its solid gameplay and shooting mechanics. 

Graphics and Audio – Faithful, but Limited

Given the nature of this collection, each game is presented as it was originally released. Despite focusing on the Neo Geo Pocket Color, some of the games were compatible with the black-and-white version. These titles allow the option to play with either the color or monochrome display, giving a few different ways to ride the nostalgia wave. Each game pulls music from their respective franchises, which was especially cool in SNK vs. Capcom given that it’s using music from so many games. It’s too bad that the original music introduced in the set is pretty bland, especially compared to the familiar songs.

Visually, most of the games use the same sprites with slight alterations. What stands out most is the backgrounds in some of the stages. Games released late in the system’s lifespan show how the developers were able to get more out of the handheld. Gals Fighters in particular had some impressive stages with some unique lighting tricks to simulate moving stages.

Older games feature a monochrome option.

Older games feature a monochrome option.

As alluded to above, the graphics could be a detriment at times. Fatal Fury and the two Metal Slug games especially. Whenever there’s too much happening or there are a certain amount of effects on screen, they slow down to a near unplayable state. Being the newest of the three, Metal Slug 2nd Mission runs smoother for the most part, but late game boss fights can be a nightmare to play.

The Total Package – Untapped Potential

As a collection, this houses most of the must-have games on the platform. A large amount of care went into the presentation, allowing you to choose which Neo Geo Pocket design to play on. Local two-player displays two handhelds on the screen, simulating the link cable days of 1999. Offering the Japanese and English versions is a nice touch, while box art and instruction books can be accessed in the menus. Lastly, the Rewind option allows you to redo sections, making frustrating deaths less of an issue. 

Knowing that there’s more that could have been done. The lack of improvements is disappointing, especially in the titles that struggle to perform. Serving as a look into history rather than a must-own bundle, your mileage will vary depending on which games you’re looking forward to. While expected, the lack of online is a sore spot with so many fighting games included. As great as the features are overall, there’s definite room for improvement. Most of the issues with tedious unlocks were alleviated by trading with others or connecting to the Sega Dreamcast counterparts for bonus items. With no way to do so here, it leaves the player stuck.

What is most confusing is that a fun feature in the standalone games is missing. There, you could access the main menu of the handheld itself, complete with custom backgrounds. While not perfect (they were missing the horoscope feature and didn’t save your settings), removing them altogether rather than adding the missing features is unfortunate. 

Neo Geo Pocket Color Selection Volume 1 was reviewed on Nintendo Switch with a review key provided by HomeRun PR.

Neo Geo Pocket Color Selection Volume 1 is a mixed bag of nostalgia. As a groundbreaking piece of hardware at the time of release, I’d highly recommend SNK fans to check this out. As games, time has taken its toll on most of them. Ranging from solid to nearly unplayable, these games hit the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. Fighting fans or those who want to carry a fun golf title around will be satisfied with their purchase. Retro RPG players will find something to love here too. If you want that Metal Slug fix, you’re better off looking elsewhere. Overall, the selection is a strong start. With some key titles missing, a second go-around with included improvements will be a welcomed addition when it eventually releases.
  • Faithful ports of all 10 games, many of which are the platforms' best.
  • Fighting game fans have a varied selection to choose from.e Neo Geo are included.
  • Hidden gems like Dark Arms become more easily accessible.
  • Presentation lets players live the handheld's history.
  • Rewind alleviates frustration.
  • Local two-player.
  • Some games are faithful to a fault with severe performance issues.
  • The large amount of fighting games limit variety.
  • Unlocking content in some games is tedious.
  • Missing small features from the standalone releases.
  • Metal Slug and Fatal Fury are often unresponsive.
  • No online features.

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