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Vol. 2, Issue 4
December 1, 1999

Pocket Full o' Love:


by Jason "loonyboi" Bergman




elieve it or not, there hasn't been a real handheld system released in the US since Sega's GameGear all those years ago. Sure, there's been the Game.com, but that was so limited, I can't even call that a "console". The Neo Geo Pocket Color isn't just a new system - it's (finally!) a step up from the quickly aging GameBoy technology.

For roughly the same price as a GameBoy Color (in some places the NGPC is cheaper, in others it's the opposite) you get a true 16-bit CPU capable of displaying 146 colors simultaneously (compare that to the GBC's maximum of 56 - if you're lucky) an internal memory backup system (cool feature here kids, more on this in a bit), a calendar with horoscope, an alarm, the ability to connect to the Dreamcast, and hey! It even plays games, too.

click to enlarge!

Woo...dig that design. (30k).

First things first: the system itself is just about the same size as a GameBoy Color, although it's significantly lighter. The cartridges, which are the smallest to date for any system (even the venerable HuCard can't touch these - they're only slightly larger than a book of matches) fit snugly into the system, and have a curved top so as to make the back a seamless curve. Swanky stuff.

The joystick (and unlike every other system to date, it is an actual joystick, not a gamepad) is a little odd...there's a depression around it, and so it only barely sticks out (don't worry, you can throw it in your bag and not worry about it being broken off). At first glance it sort of resembles the stick on the N64 controller. This is not an analog stick, however. It is a nice addition to the system, no question about it, but it's not entirely necessary. Some 2D games (Pac-Man being a notable example) are greatly hindered by the stick, as making simple "left" and "right" movements can be a bit of a hassle. There are two buttons, labeled "A" and "B", and one labeled "Option" above them. Sadly, the system looses some major points here.

While I applaud SNK for their forward thinking in implementing a 3D control stick, the fact that there's only three buttons is a bit puzzling. All I can guess is that there was a lack of space in the design for other buttons. The end result of there only being three buttons, is that in some games (Metal Slug: 1st Mission being the one that comes to mind immediately) you can't pause the game. Ack! The system does have a built-in shutdown mode that can be turned on in most games, although be warned, if it turns off, your game is lost.

The power button is pretty nifty. Instead of a switch to turn on the power (like every other handheld system to date) it's a simple button, not unlike the start button on a GBC (although, like the "Option" button, it's rubberized). You turn the system on by pressing and holding the button for two seconds or so. This is cool, because it means the odds of the system being inadvertently turned on inside your travel bag are pretty slim. If you've never had this happen to you with an older system, believe me - nothing sucks more than taking out a system on an airplane and discovering that your batteries have died while you were waiting.

The battery power on the system is fantastic. For your two AA batteries, you get whopping 40+ hours of gameplay. There's a separate watch battery in place to keep the clock and memory functions from being unaffected if the regular batteries die (a very cool thing indeed).
The screen itself is not at all unlike the GameBoy Color's. It uses the same low-power consuming reflective LCD technology, which means that instead of having a backlight for the system, it uses whatever light is available around it. It works a lot better than it sounds, believe me, and it accounts for the incredible battery life. The screen is slightly larger than the GameBoy Color's. It runs at a 160x152 resolution, as opposed to the 160x144 resolution of the GBC. Those few pixels do make a difference, although the less congested layout around the screen of the NGPC doesn't hurt either.

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Credits: Illustration © 1999 Dan Zalkus. Pocket Full o' Love is © 1999 Jason Bergman. All other content is © 1999 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited, you weirdo.