It feels like ancient history now, but you might remember that Sony’s last dedicated handheld gaming machine went by the codename NGP – or Next-Gen Portable. I don’t know if it was intentional or not, but it always felt to me like a little nod to that other handheld NGP that launched just over ten years prior. SNK’s Neo Geo Pocket was handheld royalty, a brilliantly sturdy little thing defined as much by its limitations as anything else, and complete with a microswitched stick that felt like the best thing in directional control since the d-pad. It was somehow fitting that Sony’s Vita would end up joining the Neo Geo Pocket in the handheld elite.
And it seems sort of fitting too that the Neo Geo Pocket is being kept alive on Nintendo’s Switch, which took handheld hardware in a new direction. SNK Gals’ Fighters came out a while back, and last week it was joined by Samurai Shodown! 2 and King of Fighters R-2. Forgive me for lumping them all together – they’re all worth checking out individually, and all boast their own unique charms – but they’re all very much of a type, and all at the very heart of what made the Neo Geo Pocket special.
Back when the Neo Geo Pocket was first released – and more specifically the Neo Geo Pocket Color, a hardware revision made a year after the handheld’s initial release in 1998 – SNK’s reputation had been forged in the arcades of the 90s, which were so often about technical muscle and dazzle. The Neo Geo Pocket, though, was a relatively humble thing – with its initial monochrome screen it wasn’t that far removed from Game Boy, which released some ten years prior, SNK’s screen offering some 160×152 pixels of real estate while Nintendo had offered 160×144.