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2, Issue 4
December 1, 1999
Full o' Love:
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
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.
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.
(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.
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.
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.
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
so let's get back to some of the really cool whiz bang features
of this thing. The built-in memory function rules. Plain and simple.
I hope Nintendo listens here, because if the GameBoy Advance (or
whatever it ends up being called) doesn't have this, I'll be very
angry. The NGPC allows you to save a game on the system.
Not the cartridge, the system itself. If you've ever had to play
a GameBoy title and been annoyed to all hell by those damn passwords,
you'll love this feature. Gone are the days of having to carry
with you a bunch of post-it notes with hundreds of random characters
on it...and the games themselves can cost less, since they don't
have to have a battery backup built-in.
the system's ability to connect to the Dreamcast, I haven't tried
it out yet, but I'm told it's pretty cool. It only works with
one title at the moment, (King of Fighters DreamMatch '99 connects
with its NGPC sibling, King of Fighters R2 to open up other
characters on both games, and upload custom characters) but there
are others coming, and there are all kinds of cool possibilities
(Internet downloads, perhaps?). You'll need to pick up a Dreamcast
connection cable for it to work, but it's cool stuff.
right now, the only way to connect for multiplayer games is a
cable not at all unlike the GameBoy's connection cable. But coming
soon (really soon, I hope) is an innovative device that will allow
for wireless connections between systems (up to 64 simultaneously!)
and even cooler, they can be 100 yards apart from each other.
Nifty stuff here, kids.
all of this is meaningless without the right games to back it
up. So how are the games so far? I'll go into more detail in the
next edition of this column, but the quick version is - pretty
good. There's a good selection of games available, which range
from the classic (Pac-Man) to some fantastic fighting games
(Samurai Showdown, King of Fighters R2) and even
a decent RPG (Bio Motor Unitron). There isn't really a
"killer app" out there yet, but if you ask me, the
game to get for the system is Bust-A-Move Pocket.
ever played Bust-A-Move (it's known as Puzzle Bobble
outside the US) on any platform, you know the drill (it's available
on the Nintendo 64, PC, Saturn, Playstation, and others). It's
a puzzle game where you (and your really cute little dinosaur
thing) have to eliminate all the bubbles at the top of the screen
by lining up three bubbles of the same color (obviously it's more
complex than this). It's very, very fun, incredibly addicting,
and there's even a "VS. CPU" mode where you can battle
against the computer. It's no Tetris, but it's one of those games
that are just made for handheld gaming.
the one thing this system doesn't have? It's got a true
16-Bit CPU, it's light, the colors are bright and plentiful...but
you know what? It's got absolutely horrendous sound. The
sound, and I kid you not here, is literally the same as the GameBoy's.
I suppose adding a more advanced sound system would add lots of
power consumption, but jeez...can someone explain to me why in
all these years of technology improvements, no handheld system
has managed to surpass the Atari Lynx in terms of sound quality?
Aaaargh. Unfortunately, with the NGPC, you're going to have to
suffer with the same annoying cheezeball MIDI music as all those
GameBoy games. I suppose it's not the worst thing in the world,
but it is a major let down for an otherwise flawless system.
you have it...my initial look at the Neo Geo Pocket Color. Is
it worth getting? Hell, yes. SNK deserves some major credit for
releasing a system this powerful for a price this low, and there
are a lot of games available (around 20) for the system already.
So if you're bored with that outdated GameBoy technology, definitely
get yourself one of these bad boys. They come in six different
styles, too. :)
Jason "loonyboi" Bergman is the editor-in-chief here
at loonygames. Yes, that's a Neo Geo in his pocket, you pervert.
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