It happened! We have officially arrived at the very place I predicted in my first NeoGeo Pocket game review for the Switch back in 2020. Unsurprising as it is, one thing that is not surprising here is the quality of titles laid out before us. Featuring a total of 10 games, 6 of which have already been released (and a few we reviewed!), while there are a lot of fighters here, they’re arguably some of the major highlights of the NeoGeo Pocket’s library.
SNK figured out a way to make two-button fighters work on this handheld system beautifully… but that’s not what we’re going to focus on in this review. We’re going to look at the other 4 games here, 3 of the best games on the system, and one really unique and odd take that’s still definitely worth playing. This review will be a little off format from the rest of our typical retro excursions, but let’s dive right into things!
Neo Turf Masters (I mean, Big Tournament Golf)
Originally Big Tournament Golf in Japan, but arguably better known in the US as Neo Turf Masters, this little handheld golf game is one of the best portable, traditional presentations of video game golf out there. Featuring cartoony characters that do chibi-ly evoke their realist counterparts from the full-size Neo Geo version of the game, this title will have you wanting to break your Switch over your leg, as every good golf game should.
Big Tournament Golf uses the familiar double meter approach to swinging, one for power and one for aim. Placing your cursor is actually quite a bit easier on the Switch than using the Pocket’s original clicky thumbstick, as the joy-con stick offers a more refined control interface (in this outlying instance, anyway; honestly, the clicky stick is amazing… SNK can we get an accessory controller or something here?).
What I do appreciate most about this game is the pure fun. The music is catchy, the characters are charming, and the golf is really solid. I sometimes miss the exuberant exclamation of “ON THE GREEN” that’s missing here when compared to the arcade, but you can’t have everything all the time. Fire this one up to enjoy peak pixel portable golf. It’s definitely my most-played pocket game on my original system, and it shines here.
Metal Slug 1st Mission (and 2nd Mission)
Ok, so this is what most of you have been waiting for, what the last six month of fighters have mercilessly teased. Two fantastic original Metal Slug games, on a very inaccessible handheld, the diamonds of the library, brought to the Switch. Yes, they’re that good. I’m combining these here because they are really similar, but that will allow us to spend a little more time and dig deeper on the details.
These are both really amazing games. The original Metal Slug is arguably the most detailed, skillfully made, most beautifully animated pixel art game ever made, and while obviously the resolution here can’t match the Neo Geo prime, the vibe and feel of the original series is really retained. The characters have fantastic animation, the action is smooth and well-paced, and the controls are very good.
That’s actually where the one difference between the two games makes the Switch conversion of 2nd Mission radiate pure light… you can remap the buttons (are you listening Johnny Turbo’s Arcade? One more plea for control mapping on those Data East games!)! For context: in 1st Mission, one button jumps, and one shoots. To swap to throwing a grenade, and then back to your gun, you have to press the Option button, which is a real drag on the original handheld.
While this can be immensely mitigated by mapping Option to another face button on the Switch, in 2nd Mission, Option is a dedicated grenade button. That means, with remapping, you have a clean, familiar, 3-button control for our hero(ine). This makes a massive difference in the gameplay experience, and arguably, elevates 2nd Mission (and 1st, which is greatly helped, but just a bit less) to a superior experience on the Switch. I have both of these cartridges for the original Pocket, and I’m not sure I’ll go back after experiencing this. It’s just too good.
Beyond that, these are Metal Slug games, one of the finest game franchises in history. 2nd Mission has, across the board, pretty much double the content, as well as 2 playable characters, but both of these are really fun rides. I know I’ve said it before, but playing a NeoGeo Pocket title on my big TV is something to behold. The library is stunning and oozes that SNK flair.
Bottom line, even if you’ve been keeping up with getting the fighters over the last year or so, you’re going to pick this collection up for Metal Slug, and it’s well worth it for the experience it provides on the Switch.
Dark Arms: Beast Buster
Well, well, well, this was certainly an unexpected and deep cut. Dark Arms is an extremely unique game, not just for the Pocket Color, but for SNK in general. One of only a small number of games ever developed or published by SNK to contain any sort of RPG elements, Dark Arms is a true surprise to see in this collection.
On the surface, this fantasy/creepy/sci-fi game looks to be a fairly standard top down shooter. One could liken it to an alternate-genre Shock Troopers, but lying beneath the surface is a very interesting weapon upgrade system.
You take the role of Megan, who is tasked with defeating a scourge of demons that is terrorizing the world (hey, SNK gave us some RPG mechanics, but the story is still pretty barebones, let’s love what we can get here!). The hook is that you are given an item called the “catcher”. As you defeat enemies, you can collect their spirits or essence… and then use it to power up and evolve your weapons! Rad.
This game isn’t huge, and there’s a lot of backtracking, as was typical of portable action RPGs of the era, but it is an SNK action RPG! It’s just so awesome to have that at all, that I don’t really care about anything else. The game can be completed in about 4 hours, and while it doesn’t have the replayability of say, Metal Slug or Neo Tur… I mean, Big Tournament Golf, getting to experience this game at all is worth the price of admission. Definitely check this one out while you’re in here.
This group of games uses the same emulation engine, facilitated by the talented team at Code Mystics, as the previous fighting game releases, and, to summarize, it’s fantastic. No weird audio lag, snappy controls, great filter/border options. This iteration has added some really interesting manipulatable 3D models of the non-US region snap cases, the cartridges, and even the little clear cartridge protectors. Nice touch, and along with the digital manuals, is just icing on the proverbial cake.
I’ve gushed about some of the previous releases, and this collection, with the addition of the 4 games we focused on, really rounds things out so nicely. It’s still fighter heavy, but have you met SNK? That’s kind of their thing. And it’s a great thing. If you’ve ever liked a Neo Geo game, or have even been just curious about their library, this is an amazing place to start exploring. The NeoGeo Pocket is an often overlooked corner of gaming history, and the games here really give a perfect introduction to it. That, plus the thoughtful execution gives us a compendium that any fan or newcomer will be thrilled to own.
Charlie’s first attempts at gaming did not go well. Repeated, failed run-ins with the first Goomba in Super Mario Brothers 1 plagued his maiden gaming voyage. Undaunted, he would go on to become an avid gamer of all platforms, with Nintendo always sitting atop the highest pedestal. Except for that Halo 3 incident in 2007. We don’t talk about it. It never happened.
Currently, Charlie enjoys playing games on as many platforms as he can get his hands on, with current favorites being the Switch, 3DS and Neo Geo. When he’s not playing games, Charlie is a live sound engineer and manager for his production company, Clear Harmonies, based in Washington, D.C.
Charlie enjoys talking about games nearly as much as playing them, and loves meeting new people, so hit him up!
Plays: All of them games. Seriously.