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URL: http://www.loonygames.com/content/2.4/pfol/


Vol. 2, Issue 4
December 1, 1999
Pocket Full o' Love:


by Jason "loonyboi" Bergman

Believe 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.

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.

  Okay, 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.

As for 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.

As of 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.

Naturally, 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.

If you 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.

So what's 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.

So there 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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