Retro Revolution: Hail to the NGP
Posted on Tuesday, November 8 @ 13:28:38 Eastern by KevinS
When I first heard the name "NGP" for an upcoming handheld, I honestly thought it was a joke. To me that was akin to Microsoft announcing a new "Game Boy" or Ricky Martin singing a "new" version of "She Bangs". It didn't make sense, unless Sony really wanted to channel the spirit of a classic, dead-before-its-time handheld console with some of the best portable games ever made.
Don't know the real NGP? It's the SNK Neo-Geo Pocket, of course. In the States we only saw the color version of the console (the NGPC, appropriately), but like most portables in its time, the system was universal. It could play any game designed for it from any region that produced games, which is truly great for the NGP since only about 35 games were released for it before it was panned and became a collector's item.
Released in 1998 in Japan, the NGPC went worldwide in 1999 (on August 6th, my birthday!). Meant to be a prime competitor to the Game Boy (and was in Japan), the NGP and NGPC are the greatest casualty of portable gaming and close to the Dreamcast in the race for the "Saddest Demise" prize. It had so much going for it… the battery life was good, the screen was clear, the clicky-stick was perfect, but top of the heap was the access to SNK's arcade library. I contend to this very day that because of that stick, the greatest portable fighting games of all time were all on the NGPC. Though the PSP and 3DS have had strong contenders, they just don't match up. The stick was absolutely perfect for precise movement; every one of the eight directions had their own tactile feedback, so pulling off complicated combos and special attacks was a cinch.
While the fighting games were the strongest genre on the platform, there were others too. Sonic Pocket Adventure was a re-release of Sonic 2 that handled just as well. Metal Slug had two entries, both of which were more in-depth than their arcade counterparts while the same feel of the series was left intact. Biomotor Unitron and SNK vs. Capcom: Cardfighters Clash were both excellent—albeit simplified—RPGs to suck hours and hours into without any major effort. I have probably put almost as much time into CCC as I did into Pokémon back in the day, and more than the Pokémon TCG release on GB (which is why I was so disappointed with the DS release with the same name… utter tragedy, that was).
So why did it die? SNK as a company ceased to exist in 2001 when they declared bankruptcy, and when Aruze picked up their assets, they didn't want anything to do with the system. They really tried to shit on it in Japan, making the decision to stop production of "real" games and instead pushing their gambling properties on the thing. They're not entirely terrible games in and of themselves (when you know what you're buying, that is), and it's not crazy or unexpected to have a lot of slot machine and pachinko software on a video game platform in Japan, but the abruptness of the switch essentially killed the SNK name in the process.
Some of us have fond memories of arcades filled with King of Fighters and Metal Slug machines, but after the "real" SNK went belly-up and Aruze took over things spiraled down the tubes. Eventually they sold the rights to a company founded by old SNK executives under the name Playmore, which is the current producer of the original properties.
The SNK we knew was on life support in 1999, in an acoma through 2000, and officially dead in 2001. Even throughout the troubles, the NGPC has titles like Neo Turf Masters, Puyo Pop, Bust-a-Move Pocket… it might well be that the NGPC has a higher percentage of good games to bad than any other console in history. In history. And , if you're sick of the English-language games, there were many more released in Japan; of the first titles I ever played on it, one was an easy-to-play soccer title that happened to be completely in English. Thankfully the NGPC was one of my first importing experiences, and I've picked up a number of others over the years because of it.
If you ever find yourself itching for a touch of portable nostalgia, the NGP and NGPC is the best way I know to get that feeling. It's easy too, since enough were made and produced for such low cost that a used (or even new) console can be had for only a tiny dent of the wallet; as I'm writing this, I can see a number of systems for under $35 US on eBay, some with a handful of games thrown in and individual titles between $4-10 a pop. From the line-up just about anything can be considered a must-own, but the big guns are definitely SNK vs. Capcom: Match of the Millennium (the single best fighting game experience that can be had on the go), Biomotor Unitron (the robot-building RPG), Cardfighters Clash, Puyo Pop, Puzzle Link, Gal's Fighters… hell, just buy whatever you can find. You just might like them all.
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