The Neo Geo Pocket Color was a system I missed out on when I was younger. I didn’t really play games on handhelds back then—but I missed out on some great classics, apparently. I love game preservation, and love the fact that SNK has been bringing Neo Geo handheld games to the Switch, as it is an excellent way to play these games without being a collector. I had the opportunity to cover SNK’s latest Neo Geo Pocket Color release The Last Blade–Beyond the Destiny and I’m really glad I took the chance to play it. SNK is known for its fighting games, and the Neo Geo Pocket Color was apparently perfect for fighting games.
The Last Blade–Beyond the Destiny is a weapons-based fighting game that released back in 2000 for the Neo Geo Pocket Color—SNK’s semi-obscure handheld that was in direct competition with the Gameboy and the other less popular handheld systems of the time. The game itself is an entry in The Last Blade series, which is a spiritual successor the Samurai Shodown series of fighting games. The Last Blade series wasn’t very long-lived, with Beyond the Destiny being the third and last Western released title out of the five games in the series. I am personally unfamiliar with The Last Blade beyond knowing that it’s an SNK fighting game—and as usual, SNK does a good job here.
Handheld systems of the 90’s were pretty limited in significant ways. The Neo Geo Pocket Color seemed to be purpose built to be a good fighting game platform—and if the quality of The Last Blade is any indication, the Pocket Color was pretty impressive, because The Last Blade is impressive for what it is. It’s not up to modern fighter standards, but it gets surprisingly close. And for a game played on such a tiny system, it has a deep fighting system that centers around two modes: “speed” and “power,” each are selectable after you choose your fighter. Speed mode is about chaining together attacks, while power mode is all about doing extra damage.
Getting used to the timing is a little tricky. The game controls well, and feels mostly smooth—but there’s an undeniable “stickiness” in the movements. This is probably the result of lower frames or some other hardware limitation at the time. But once you get the feel for it, it’s a deep weapons-based fighter. I could probably play it for tens of hours and still only begin to get the feel for its deeper strategies.
The Last Blade—Beyond the Destiny touts some impressive pixel art visuals that maximize the small screen. There is some beauty in The Last Blade—Beyond the Destiny, and SNK really knew how to make a visually impressive fighting game. Animations are surprisingly fast, and mostly smooth. But they suffer from a little bit of the same “sticky” feeling the controls do.
There are a decent number of fighters to choose from in Beyond the Destiny, with nine being playable from the start, and seven hidden characters that are unlockable. Each fighter has a signature weapon, which means range is a massive consideration, as well as speed. Each fighter has their own move set, special attacks, etc. You can unlock the additional seven fighters by playing the game, earning points, and buying scrolls through the game’s gallery mode. Unfortunately, you can’t trade scrolls with other players—that feature is disabled—but you can play versus with another player on the same Nintendo Switch.
I can’t speak to the accuracy of the emulation—but it really feels like I’m playing on a late 90’s era handheld. Too bad there’s no way to recreate the Pocket Color’s clicky joystick, but it feels as authentic as you can get with software. The presentation is super cool. You can not only change the skins of the Neo Geo Pocket Color to change the appearance, but the handheld can be adjusted to be about the size of an actual Neo Geo Pocket Color. You can also zoom in on the screen and remove the Neo Geo border if you prefer to just have the gameplay displayed.
There are a number of released Neo Geo Pocket Color games on the Nintendo Switch now. The Last Blade—Beyond the Destiny is now the fourth release, and joins other classics like SNK Gal’s Fighters, Samurai Shodown! 2, and King of Fighters R-2. They’re each $8 dollars on the Nintendo eShop, and they’re surprisingly fun—and a glimpse into semi-obscure video game history. If you’re at all curious, you’ll be surprised on how well SNK did putting a fighter into such a small format—especially for twenty years ago. If you’re already aware, then The Last Blade—Beyond the Destiny is another solid revival, and worth checking out again.
The Last Blade—Beyond the Destiny is available on Nintendo eShop.
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