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Status Symbols: Neo Geo Pocket Color

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Status Symbols are devices that transcend their specs and features, and become something beautiful and luxurious in their own right. They're things that live on after the megapixel and megahertz wars move past them, beacons of timeless design and innovation.

The handheld video game market has gone through a number of changes, but the basic formula has remained the same for some time: Nintendo dominates, while a company with more powerful hardware fights for what's left. This hasn't lead to a lot of room for companies that aren't Nintendo, Sega, or Sony. And that's something that SNK learned with its ill-fated Neo Geo Pocket line. Much like the company's overpriced console, the handhelds never quite caught on in a big way. But the devices, in particular the later Color version, did something that no other portable device could really emulate — they put an arcade in your pocket.

Fighting games and handhelds simply didn't mix

Even today controls for portable games can be tricky. Games on tablets and smartphones have to deal with the issues of a touch screen, and even Nintendo is releasing strange add-ons to improve the controls of the 3DS. In 1999 things were much more limited. You had a directional pad, two buttons, and that was pretty much it, whether you were playing a Game Gear or a Game Boy. The NGPC changed that with one important addition: a joystick. Perhaps not a surprising choice from a company known for making actual arcade hardware, the new control method opened up the device to a range of games that just didn't work on other machines. If you've ever tried to play Virtua Fighter on a Game Gear you'll know what I'm talking about. Fighting games and handhelds simply didn't mix.

The NGPC, on the other hand, felt like it was built with 2D fighters in mind, and the device was flooded with games that took advantage of that. SNK created stripped down versions of some of its more notable arcade hits, from King of Fighters to Samurai Shodown, and somehow made them work. The games weren't as complicated as their arcade counterparts — the NGPC did only have two buttons, after all — but they worked surprisingly well. And it was all thanks to that satisfying, clicky joystick.


Part of the problem though, was that if you weren't a fighting game fan, there wasn't all that much else to lure you away from Nintendo's offerings. SNK's Contra-esque shooter series Metal Slug worked well on the NGPC, and the Card Fighters series — think Pokemon but with collectible cards — was a surprise hit, but these were anomalies. The NGPC felt like a stripped down arcade unit you could stick in your pocket, and the majority of its games reflected that fact. For fighting game fans it was a dream. The joystick was responsive, and the entire device just felt made for the genre, with curves on the back perfect for gripping tightly during an intense bout of Fatal Fury. Two AA batteries got you a lot more games than a fist full of quarters ever did.

The Verge
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