My list of gaming shames is long and well, plenty shameful, and among the many things I wish I played over the years is the NeoGeo Pocket Color. I didn’t even know about its existence until I started listening to retro gaming podcast Retronauts in the mid-2000s, and by then it was already considered to be a dead console. Everything about it sounded positively nuts to me, from its general control layout down to the insane library of fighting games, something I never fathomed doing portably up until that point outside of having played a dingy version of Mortal Kombat on my old Game Gear.
Thanks to that, games like SNK Gals’ Fighters and NeoGeo Pocket Fighters weren’t really known to me until that point, and even so, with the vast amount of games I could play then via emulators, the thought of going back and trying them out never crossed my mind. It didn’t help that the NeoGeo Pocket were never really a thing this side of the world, which is amusing considering the NeoGeo’s success against all odds over this territory — price and relative scarcity didn’t throw people off from collecting it — and it’s only recently that I’ve gotten to try out what I’ve been missing as close to the portable factor of their original hardware as possible, that is, portably on Switch.
Starting with SNK Gals’ Fighters is what I hope is a series of retro releases that encompasses the entire NeoGeo Pocket Color catalog simply because it’s one of the best retro fighters I’ve played up until now. It basically plays like a shrunken down and simplified King of Fighters game, only there’s a limited selection of characters and they’re all chibi-fied versions of some of the girl fighters you’d pick in the full console games. Fan favorites from KoF like Mai and Leona, and Samurai Shodown’s Nakoruru throw down 1 v 1 in SNK Gals’ Fighters’ arcade mode, as they eventually get a chance to fight the mysterious Miss X, none other than Iori Yagami dressed as a girl. Seriously.
I had no idea that was a thing in KoF lore until I booted this game up and got to the end of arcade mode, but it’s apparently a mainstay of the series since they even made it to SNK Heroines: Tag Team Frenzy, and the less we talk about that game, the better. SNK Gals’ Fighters is a much less sleazy game when it comes to treating its cast, dosing out a lot of humor and cuteness to every fighter instead of resorting to oversexualizing them like its later sequel that was released a couple of years ago. Sure, Mai is still very much Mai in this, but the overall innocence of the limited writing thrown in during the fight intermissions and each of the character’s arcade mode endings is a far cry from the sheer absurd and well, embarrassing sequel, coupled with the super deformed looks and exaggerated fighting animations.
Then there’s the fighting itself which is pretty damn solid. There’s a surprising level of depth in this game, for as limited as it is when it comes to movesets and the general control scheme that only uses two attack buttons along with movement and jumping. It’s incredible to think that such a game could exist on a portable with as limited resources as the NeoGeo Pocket Color, and how well it turned out. This is by no means me telling you that SNK Gals’ Fighters could rival much more mechanically complex console fighting games, but that this is surprisingly playable and loads of fun. There are combos, special move meters, and even different attack animations that play out for the same moves if they’re pulled off repeatedly, with comical results, like Leona’s arsenal that ranges from dynamite, grenades, and even some of her KoF team members. It’s a really cute looking chaotic game for sure.
In terms of port quality, SNK Gals’ Fighter is definitely up there with the SNK 40th Anniversary Collection. It lacks any sort of save state feature, but that’s not really a biggie considering that arcade mode can be beaten in mere minutes. Still, if you do require to go back on some unfortunate decisions along the way, there’s rewind. Graphical options range from the usual scaling you’d come to expect from retro releases like this, with an amusing range of special borders that mimic the numerous NeoGeo Pocket Color shells released over the years. I eventually sided with keeping the pixels as crisp as possible by blowing them up as big as they could get and play the game full screen, which makes the game look really crisp on the Switch portably, with black borders. Then again, if you want to be a purist, you can keep things small and play the game as it was played originally. Your call!
As I touched upon in G-Loc Air Battle review last week, getting to check out games that I never knew about or had the chance to play when they were new is one of the biggest draws that I find in giving these retro releases a go for the site. It’s neat to be as surprised as I was in finding that SNK Gals’ Fighters so playable twenty years after its original release. I’m looking forward to seeing what else SNK’s formerly obscure portable system has to offer on the Switch in what I hope becomes an ever-growing collection of pocket-sized takes on that company’s rich selection of “big boy” arcade to home console games.