This commentary originally aired on February 23, 2017.
Nintendo has been the leader in portable video gaming ever since they basically invented the market segment with the Game Boy in 1989. That doesn’t mean they’ve been the only player, though.
Several other companies have tried to usurp Nintendo from their position. Sega had the Game Gear, which was in color and backlit, but ate batteries like candy. Atari had the Lynx, which suffered the same problems as the Game Gear, but also didn’t have many good games. The closest anyone came to having a system that could match the Game Boy was SNK, a company that was best known for their arcade games.
SNK released the Neo Geo Pocket Color in 1999. The unit was about the same size as a game boy, but was longer than it was tall, and had its screen in between the controls. Like the Game Boy, it had two action buttons. However, instead of the traditional directional pad, it had a small clicky joystick, inspired by SNK’s arcade heritage. It ran for just as long as the Game Boy Color on its batteries, had an internal real-time clock, and had a huge launch library - all while being less expensive as the Game Boy, too.
Many of the games available for the system were portable versions of SNK’s Neo Geo arcade games - games like The King of Fighters, Fatal Fury, Metal Slug, and Bust-A-Move. The arcade-style joystick helps especially for the fighting games, making for much more precise control than was possible with a directional pad. Sega also made a Sonic game for the system, years before they started making games on Nintendo systems.
Unfortunately, about a year after the Neo Geo Pocket Color was released, SNK was purchased by a pachinko company called Aruze. Aruze was uninterested in working outside of the Asian market, so the handheld was discontinued and Aruze eventually sold off SNK’s assets.
Though it had a short life, I still break out my Neo Geo Pocket Color from time to time, either for the unique Sonic game available only on that system, or for some great on-the-go fighting games that play just like they did in the arcade.