While not nearly as impressive or robust as the amazing SNK 40th Anniversary Collection, the recently released NeoGeo Pocket Color Selection Vol. 1 is still a very worthwhile pick-up for anyone looking to dig into a somewhat unknown handheld console’s lineup.
Last year, I got a taste of what SNK’s last attempt at making a dent on the portable gaming landscape when I reviewed SNK Gals Fighter, a plucky fighting game that featured some of the coolest femme fatales from the company’s vast catalog of brawlers in a very competent but admittedly limited format. Before that release and following it, the company’s been consistently putting out re-releases of the most noteworthy NeoGeo Pocket Color titles, which without a surprise are all exclusively first-party games, and at that, mostly chibi-fied interpretations of their best fighters.
Given that for most of its vast history SNK’s been considered one of the powerhouses when it comes to one-on-one or team-based brawlers, with numerous franchises and sub franchises that are still getting new entries these days, it’s sometimes easy to forget that they’re also awesome at developing arcade style shooters. The previously mentioned Anniversary Collection showed some of the very first ones, but was conspicuously missing by far the most popular of those: the Metal Slug series.
Ah, Metal Slug. I’ve spent countless hours fighting my way through hordes of enemies and getting blown up by screen-filling bosses over the years playing the handful of Metal Slug games I’ve mostly emulated or got the chance to check out via compilations. My favorite, probably, is the only copy I own that’s actually for an SNK console, Metal Slug 2 on NeoGeo CD. Yeah, the NeoGeo CD isn’t looked nearly as fondly as the rest of SNK’s home systems, but it’s managed to earn a place in my heart since I have a soft spot for cuddly animals and I can’t think of a better one than a cartoon monkey juggling bombs.
Thanks to my general lack of knowledge about the NeoGeo Pocket or any of its iterations, I had no idea that it got its own versions of Metal Slug and was blown away at how well they turned out after playing them thanks to NeoGeo Pocket Color Selection Vol. 1. They’re by far the highlight of this pack, partly due to the fact that they’re the only games (along with the top down ghost zapping Dark Arms and the classic golfing game Neo Turf Masters) out of the 6 others featured that wasn’t re-released as standalone downloads on Switch. That’s also because of how they stick out by not being fighting nor any variation of a sport game, which are the most crowded genre of titles for that system.
Their mere existence by itself and how they’re now also available to play on another way more powerful handheld are reason enough to at least check them out, let’s be honest — with a few exceptions, SNK’s output of games has always been of very high quality. Obvious game design decisions made around hardware limitations aside, like much smaller screen space, chunkier characters and way smaller array of colors — even fewer if you decide to play in monochrome mode — Metal Slug: 1st Mission and Metal Slug: 2nd Mission are extremely playable twenty or so years after their original release.
Metal Slug: 1st Mission is as no frills as an action game can be. You only get one choice of character to play and are put into the side scrolling fray with pretty much no fanfare outside of being able to pick a difficulty option that gives you the ability to withstand some hits before biting the proverbial dust if you go with the easier ones. I wouldn’t necessarily compare Metal Slug: 2nd Mission to 1st Mission because of the way they are presented in the collection, and as such, you’d be better off thinking of them as one continuous game. The only real difference is that it gives you two warriors to pick from and you’re off to the races. Given their pedigree on arcade and on NeoGeo home machines, they’re obviously inferior experiences — war can only be as chaotic as the couple sprites on screen at once are able to provide, after all — but you have to take into account the context in which they existed. And like the many fighting games ported to NeoGeo Pocket Color, they’re very capable interpretations of their big boy versions.
The same can be said for Neo Turf Masters aka Big Tournament Golf. It’s the portable conversion of one of the best retro golf games you could ever play, and as a smaller version of the arcade classic, it’s also an example of SNK’s ability to boil down the core gameplay charm of the larger screen experience down to a much more cramped one. Will it blow you away in any particular way? Not really, but as a part of the larger collection, it’s a really good excuse to spend some time teeing off portably.
Dark Arms is another beast altogether. You wouldn’t know there’s a pun there unless you’re intimately knowledgeable of SNK’s arcade catalog, because this game is a spin-off of a somewhat obscure game called Beast Busters, an on-rails shooter where you rid the world of gun-toting zombies one screen at a time. But you wouldn’t know that from just playing Dark Arms, since it’s presented on a fairly different view angle and you don’t exactly kill your enemies in it, but capture them with your weapon. Honestly, I wasn’t nearly as excited to play this as with any of the other games in the collection, but heck, I’d rather have this and not really boot it up than not, really. Plus, there’s ought to be someone out there just hankering for a chance to do so. It’s just not really for me.
Like the standalone releases, it lacks the fluff and presentational charm that’s present in other collections. Outside some graphic filter and screen ratio/border options, there’s not much else to it other than the games themselves and the ability to rewind in case you mess up. It’s as straight to the point as it could ever be. I would’ve liked to see some extras, or at least some historical details for each release included, but them’s the breaks I suppose.
As a whole, the NeoGeo Pocket Color Selection Vol. 1 is a decent introduction to those that haven’t experienced that cooky little portable, or for anyone looking for a good selection of titles that really show off how much the NGPC had to offer back in the late 1990s and early 2000s. If you were held back by the $10 price point of the standalone NeoGeo Pocket releases on the Switch eShop, this is a very enticing package — 10 of the best games for that system for $40. Okay, Dark Arms is kinda meh, but 9 out 10 ain’t bad!
The full list of games featured in the NeoGeo Pocket Color Selection Vol. 1 is as follows: SNK Gals’ Fighters, Samurai Shodown! 2, King of Fighters R-2, The Last Blade: Beyond the Destiny, Fatal Fury First Contact, SNK vs. Capcom: The Match of the Millennium, Metal Slug: 1st Mission, Metal Slug: 2nd Mission, Dark Arms, and Neo Turf Masters (Big Tournament Golf).