I think I might be in love with a retro handheld I’ve never had a chance to actually play. And that’s what’s so great about the Neo Geo Pocket Color Collection Vol. 1. It lets you play these retro games without owning original hardware. Sure, it’s just not the same without holding that tiny console in your hand, feeling the clicky joystick, but if you don’t want to dish out collector money, you can play these handheld titles from yesteryear right from your computer.
NeoGeo Pocket Color Selection Vol. 1 is a collection of essential Neo Geo Pocket Color games. Now, the Neo Geo Pocket Color may not have been the most popular handheld system of its time—Nintendo handily took that crown—but it did have some of the best handheld fighting games of its time. The NeoGeo Pocket Color Selection Vol.1 has a whole bunch of great handheld version of popular fighting games, and a new addition, that sadly replaces one of my favorite NeoGeo Pocket Color games, but there is a great collection of titles here that include five fighting games, a golf game, a few shooters and a puzzle game. However, the absence of Match of the Millennium, available on the Switch version of the Pocket Color Selection Vol. 1 is definitely felt, though it has been replaced with Crush Roller—and the selection of remaining games is pretty stellar.
The five fighting games available are some of the best handheld fighting games of that era, and are handheld versions of popular fighting franchises. Despite these games being smooshed into a handheld format, many of the characteristics that defined these games remain, despite their gameplay being fit into a smaller form factor. The only exception is SNKO Gals’ Fighters which was a handheld only game that features fighters from multiple SNK fighting franchises. These fighting games might seem a little primitive to those used to modern fighting games, but they hold up shockingly well for being diminished versions of home console titles.
Also included in the NeoGeo Pocket Color Selection Vol. 1 are the handheld versions of Metal Slug, Metal Slug 1st Mission and Metal Slug 2nd Mission. These graphically toned down versions of Metal Slug don’t have the impressive visuals of the “real” thing, but are pretty good approximations of their non-handheld counterparts. Gameplay-wise, they are a little sluggish, too. But the developers did a good job inserting the staples of Metal Gear like multiple weapons, vehicles, POWs to rescue, etc.
The other titles in the NeoGeo Pocket Selection Vol. 1 were a little more obscure to me. Big Tournament Golf is a competent golf game, and one that I spent a lot of time with my first time test driving the Pocket Selection for Nintendo Switch. Dark Arms: Beast Buster 1999 is a top down action game that is a little strange. It’s a spin-off of the arcade shooter Beast Busters, but with gameplay that is like a handheld version of Zombies Ate My Neighbors—sort of. Crush Roller was another game I hadn’t heard of, and despite it replacing Match of the Millennium, I was curious—and it’s pretty good. In it, you control a monkey avoiding enemies while trying to paint the arena. It’s simple, and addictive in a Pac-Man sort of way.
One of my favorite parts of the Neo Geo Pocket Color Selection Vol. 1 is its aim towards retro preservation. It’s not just a collection of games, but also a collection of game history. Included is a 3D recreation of the game’s box art, manual, and cartridge. It has such attention to detail that it even includes the cartridge protector—an unnecessary but amusing touch. You can flip each of these objects around, and even read the fine print written on the box.
You are given a fair amount of control over how the game looks, too. You can choose to play each title with a NeoGeo Pocket Color system as a frame—there are even multiple different skins to change the look of the virtual console. You can also remove the frame and zoom in the screen to maximize play area—which is my preference. You can’t use touchscreen controls like you can in the Nintendo Switch version, but the Steam edition of NeoGeo Pocket Color Selection Vol. 1 does allow you to remap keyboard controls, or you can play with a controller. Also, you can rewind gameplay to undo the last few moments of the game. There are even some games that support a second player, so you can challenge them to a match.
I absolutely love the NeoGeo Pocket Color Selection Vol. 1, and hope SNK continues bundling their old handheld games. It’s not only a glimpse into retro history (without the price tag associated with collecting) but there are some genuinely good games in this collection, with the selection of fighting games some of the best handheld fighting games of that era.
NeoGeo Pocket Color Selection Vol. 1 Steam Edition is available now on Steam.
A Steam key was provided to us for this review.
If you like the video game, tabletop, or other technology content that Third Coast Review has to offer, consider donating to our Patreon. We are the only publication in Chicago that regularly reviews video games, and we cover lots of local Chicago-based events and more. If you want to contribute to our coverage of Chicago’s video game scene (and more) please consider becoming a patron. Your support enables us to continue to provide this type of content. Patreon.com/3CR
You can also catch us streaming games we’re reviewing and staff favorites on our Twitch channel.