Screw the Vita, Let's Talk About the Other NGP

Illustration for article titled Screw the Vita, Let's Talk About the Other NGP

The PlayStation Vita is out today in the US. Before it was known as the Vita, you may remember it was called the NGP. Which was a little awkward, since there had already been a handheld gaming system called the NGP. And it sure wasn't made by Sony.


While Sony's NGP stood for "Next Generation Portable", the one we're talking about today stood for "Neo Geo Pocket".

Throughout the 1990s, Japanese company SNK had been a lesser (in terms of market share, not quality) participant in the home console business with its Neo Geo, itself a consumer version of its popular arcade hardware.

In 1998, the company went portable for the first time, taking on Nintendo's dominance in the handheld market with the imaginatively titled Neo Geo Pocket.

It was an impressive little machine, far more capable than the competing Game Boy, as it boasted 16-bit processing power and a crisp 256x256 resolution.

Being an SNK console, first-party games dominated, and series like King of Fighters, SNK vs Capcom and Samurai Shodown would make appearances on the handheld.

Sadly, like the Lynx and Game Gear before it, superior hardware meant little in the battle against Nintendo's Game Boy, and only a year after launch - in which the Neo Geo Pocket was only released in Japan and Hong Kong - the handheld was killed off.


It was almost instantly succeeded by an improved version, the Neo Geo Pocket Color (NGPC), designed to combat Nintendo's own Game Boy Color. While a more global release was achieved this time around, with the unit hitting shelves in Japan, Europe and North America throughout 1999, the Color suffered the same swift fate of its predecessor.

The NGPC didn't just feature a colour screen, it had a neat feature where it could be hooked up to a Dreamcast. Nobody ever used it, but hey, the feature was there!


When SNK was bought out in 2000, the NGPC was withdrawn from Western markets, and in 2001 the handheld ceased distribution in Japan as well. Blame Nintendo if you want (and with Pokemon tearing it up you have every right to), but SNK was never going to get by on the strength of its own properties, and neither NGP system was able to diversify enough with quality third-party titles (though there was a pretty decent Sonic game from Sega).

The Neo Geo Pocket experiment was, in other words, a failure. Atari sold twice as many Lynx handhelds in the early 90s, while Sega's Game Gear sold over five times as many units as SNK could manage. We won't embarrass the system any further by comparing it to Game Boy sales.


But that's OK! Sales don't mean everything, and the system's relative power - not to mention great catalogue of portable SNK games - earned it a loyal following, one loyal and prominent enough today to prompt a surprising encore performance from the system.



Okay... Let's get something straightened out here: Sonic Pocket Adventure is not merely NGP's "Sonic 2". It was its own game.

Sure, the backdrops reused the familiar tropes of Emerald Hill, Chemical Plant, Casino Night Aquatic Ruins and Sky Chase, but the game was shorter, had all new level designs and boss battles, used S3K's music, while its last stage was copped from Sonic 1, and its final boss evoking S3K.

It's one of my favorite Sonic games, actually. And it was Dimps' virgin Sonic outing. Which leaves me to wonder how the heck their level design ability went completely off-the-rails after Sonic Advance 2, when they got things so right the first time.