While the Sega Game Gear and Nintendo Game Boy preceded it by several years, SNK’s Neo Geo Pocket was in a league of its own. It was the first handheld console equipped with the right control layout and joystick to enjoy fighting games on the go. Besides, you didn’t have much of a choice, since fighting games constitute a majority of the game library for the Neo Geo Pocket.
The games on this little console look better than the games on Game Boy or Game Gear. That’s because of its newer, more powerful hardware (after all, the Neo Geo Pocket was released in 1998). It also had a color version, called the Neo Geo Pocket Color- but this one still didn’t have a backlight.
What’s interesting about the two Neo Geo Pocket models is that their software is both forward and backward-compatible. If you played a Neo Geo Pocket Color game on the base model, it would still work, only with monochrome colors. All that being said, let’s now look at the 30 best Neo Geo Pocket games of all time that you must play.
Rockman Battle & Fighters
You may recognize the character on the box art as Mega Man, but he started as Rockman in Japan. Battle & Fighters is a combination of two different arcade games- Mega Man: The Power Battle, and Mega Man 2: The Power Fighters. It plays like a boss rush, and you can select one out of four different playable characters at the start.
SNK vs. Capcom: Card Fighters Clash
Think of what the ideal handheld fighter game would be like. Simple, yet inspired character art that carries the spirit of a full arcade game but with a lot less graphical overhead. An intuitive control layout that is optimized for handheld gaming, so you don’t feel sore after just 20 minutes of gaming.
Maybe throw in unique quirks and features that are exclusive to the handheld version. Now, take all of the aforementioned points and use them to create one excellent crossover fighting game featuring characters from SNK and Capcom. But there’s a twist- fighters are chosen with cards like it is Magic: The Gathering, and you have an entire deck of them for each match.
Bust A Move Pocket
Also known as Puzzle Bobble Mini, this is a nice little puzzle game you can play during your free time while relaxing on the couch. It is easy to learn for beginners and has a cute aesthetic with some nice sound design. An excellent choice for kids, as well as adults who just want something basic to chill out with.
Despite its simple mechanics, Bust A Move Pocket can provide a decent challenge to those who want one. The faster you complete a level, the higher your score. There’s a survivor mode in which you have to prevent incoming bubbles from reaching the bottom line, for as long as you can (it gets progressively harder).
SNK vs. Capcom: Match of the Millennium
Everyone likes crossover fighting games featuring popular characters from different universes. In this case, it’s SNK vs Capcom, similar to Card Fighters Clash. However, it’s the real deal- no cards involved.
There are 1 v 1 matches, 2 v 2 matches, and 3 v 3 matches. The gameplay can be tuned to fit your liking, using game mechanics from both Capcom and SNK games. You can have a level gauge, similar to Capcom games.
With a level-based gauge, you’re restricted from performing certain hyper combos and special moves unless your it goes to a higher level. Or, you can have a charge gauge like in SNK fighting games. With this, you manually charge your power gauge using carefully timed button prompts during which your character assumes a certain pose.
Metal Slug 2nd Mission
The Neo Geo Pocket doesn’t have many traditional scrolling shooters, but it does have the excellency that is Metal Slug. Big guns, macho men, and lots of bad guys- that’s all you need to have some old-fashioned fun. And the best part is that you can play this fast-paced action shooter on the go (this was back in 2000).
This game doesn’t have a deep plot (not like it needs one). Instead, it has a sequence of carefully choreographed action set pieces that are superficially strung together with some dialogue and cutscenes. Much like its predecessor, 2nd Mission has a forked progression system in which you can choose between different paths to get to the same boss.
Depending on the path you take, you’ll encounter different enemies, obstacles, and items. The narratives of the two main characters are interconnected. And there are over twice as many missions as Metal Slug 1st Mission (38 vs 17).
The Last Blade: Beyond the Destiny
Beyond the Destiny is an adaptation of The Last Blade 1 and 2 for the Neo Geo Pocket Color. The two games are combined into one, and you start with The Last Blade 1 as the narrative unfolds. Finishing a character’s story for that part will give you points that can be used to unlock endings and minigames.
You can also use points to unlock new characters and experience the events of the second Last Blade game. The gameplay is similar to the arcade versions of The Last Blade, i.e. you have a 2D weapons-based fighting game. The Last Blade is set during the Bakumatsu era in Japan, featuring a dark theme and complex storyline (most fighter games back then had basic stories).
King of Fighters: R2
The original Neo Geo Pocket came and disappeared, going out of production with a tiny library of games. One of these games was King of Fighters: R1, which was a handheld version of KoF ’97. It even had the same story as KoF ’97, with a smaller character roster.
King of Fighters: R2 is a successor to R1, made for the Neo Geo Pocket Color- the successor to the original Neo Geo Pocket. It is based on KoF ’98 (the arcade game) and copies most of the game mechanics. Compared to R1, some new characters have been added.
Samurai Shodown! 2
Do not mistake this with Samurai Showdown II, which was released in 1994 on arcades and Neo Geo. Instead, Samurai Shodown! 2 is a handheld version of Samurai Shodown 64: Warriors Rage. The plot, characters, moves, mechanics, etc. have all been lifted from that game.
Charlotte and Jubei have been added to the roster, they were not present in the original arcade version. Slash and Bust from Samurai Shodown! (the first handheld SS game) make a return.
You collect virtual cards within the game by finishing storylines for characters. And these cards can be traded with other Neo Geo Pocket owners by physically linking up both your systems using a link cable.
Fatal Fury: First Contact
Based on the 1998 arcade game Real Bout Fatal Fury 2, First Contact makes some changes to play well on handhelds. The graphics and art style have been simplified, along with the streamlining of stages to reduce memory consumption. Lao, a new character, has been added to the game (only available in versus mode).
Magical Drop Pocket
Magical Drop is a puzzle game in which colored bubbles gradually descend from the top of your screen, along columns. Your player character must prevent them from reaching the base of the screen. Magical Drop Pocket is a handheld port based on the arcade game Magical Drop III.
It has six columns on the screen, instead of seven. And there are fewer characters. Each character has a different backstory and personality, and they all have unique attack patterns.
Metal Slug 1st Mission
The gameplay in 1st Mission is similar to that of home console Metal Slug games, but there are more missions and a forked narrative system. Each mission has multiple paths, and you might complete certain missions in a way that bypasses the boss fight. You can operate two different Metal Slug designs, and these are available during select missions only.
The forked narrative system means that playthroughs can be completed without exploring every mission or scenario. This makes for some exciting choice-based gameplay and adds replayability as players go back to take different paths.
It is Pac-Man, and nearly every gamer who grew up in the 80s and 90s has played is familiar with it. For the Neo Geo Pocket, some cosmetic changes have been made. But overall gameplay largely remains the same.
You control the eponymous Pac-Man who navigates a maze, eating little dots while avoiding ghosts. Four ghosts chase you around the maze, and each of them has a different AI. If you come across a power pill, you temporarily gain a buff that allows you to eat the ghosts.
Sonic the Hedgehog: Pocket Adventure
Well, this one must be quite surprising because for you Sonic fans. You probably didn’t know that SNK and Sega collaborated to make a handheld Sonic game in the 1990s. Pocket Adventure is based on Sonic the Hedgehog 2, which many people consider an improvement over the first Sonic game.
The overall visual theme and game mechanics are retained, but stage layouts are unique to this handheld port. Some bonus stages have also been added, along with game modes that are exclusive to this version of Sonic.
The game was designed to support the Neo Geo Pocket’s link system. So two players could link their handheld consoles with a cable and play local multiplayer.
Dark Arms: Beast Buster
An action RPG based on the shooter game Beast Busters. The protagonist is a girl called Meghan Loughlin, and she can collect demon souls. She uses a gun called The Catcher to collect these souls, and her job is to contain a demonic outbreak that threatens our realm.
Meghan can use the spirits of demons to boost the power of her weapons. Weapons can evolve into different forms. Like the pistol, which transforms into a shotgun after being fed with enough spirit energy.
A tactical RPG, in which you control a mercenary group. There are three primary game modes- campaign, battle, and multiplayer. Within battle mode, you can earn the currency needed to purchase items.
The game features mech combat, with your protagonist controlling one robot while he is assisted by an AI partner in another robot. The camera is top-down, and combat is turn-based. Instead of direct commands, you use preprogrammed task modules called “Chips”.
These make your mech automatically execute different types of functions. Which include moving, scanning an area, examining the enemy, etc.
Sometimes, you can interrupt your mech in the middle of a task and cancel the instruction. An upgraded mech with more Chips can execute multiple functions per turn.
This is a Neo Geo Pocket Color port of Puyo Puyo 2, which was released on arcades in 1994. Colored Puyo falls from the top of your screen, and you can rotate them by 90° in either direction. You can also move them along the horizontal axis.
There are columns on your screen, and if the 3rd one from the left fills up, you lose. Certain game rules have been modified from the first Puyo Puyo game to increase the average match time.
Neo Turf Masters
The Neo Geo Pocket didn’t get many sports games, unlike the Game Boy. However, the few that it did get were pretty good. This is one of them- a golf game that was originally released on the Neo Geo AES home console, getting a handheld port sometime later.
Turf Masters is an arcade-themed golf game, focused on action rather than realism. Well, about as much action as you can get from a golf game. The controls are simplified, so you choose the power and shot height with just two buttons.
Hook and slice are selected with two more buttons. Each shot is made in multiple stages, giving you plenty of time to get the power and angle just right. There are four golf courses in the game, and six different golfers with varying stats for attributes like drive, precision, stamina, etc.
A dungeon crawler RPG in which you control a robot fighter who pummels his way through wave after wave of enemies. Each dungeon layout is somewhat randomized, and you get different item drops along the way. You use the money gained from defeating enemies to purchase new parts and upgrades for your robot.
Using tools and raw materials, you can also craft parts for your robot. The world of Biomotor is divided into two parts- dungeons and city hubs. You can talk to NPCs in the city hub, and they will provide you with stat boosts or valuable information on item locations.
SNK Gals’ Fighters
A 1 v 1 fighting game featuring heroines (as well as villains) from SNK fighting game franchises. The tournament you compete in is called Queen of Fighters, an analog to King of Fighters- which has its separate game series. The organizer of this tournament is Miss X, a shadowy figure who doesn’t reveal herself until the end of the game.
If you make it to the final stage, you get to fight Miss X. Winning against Miss X grants you the K talisman which can fulfill any wish.
Densetsu no Ogre Battle Gaiden: Zenobia no Ouji
Also known as Legend of Ogre Battle Gaiden: Prince of Zenobia in English. This is a tactical RPG, similar to other Ogre Battle games. It’s a spinoff and not part of the mainline series.
Events in Zenobia no Ouji take place in the same timeline as The March of the Black Queen. You control a small army group, moving them around the map to complete quests and collect money. There are multiple endings, and you can make choices along the way that decide which one you get.
Baseball Stars Color
An excellent baseball game and it has some cool gameplay mechanics despite being designed with a handheld console in mind. Baseball Stars is a franchise that started on the NES and quickly spread to multiple platforms. This particular version was created for the Neo Geo Pocket Color (it is backward compatible with the regular model).
In North America, this game was released under the title “Make Trax” on arcades in 1981. Later, it got a Neo Geo Pocket Color port. It is one of many Pac-Man clones that came out during the 1980s.
Much like Pac-Man, your character moves inside a maze while trying to avoid enemies who are chasing you. But instead of eating pills, your goal is to paint the entire level with your brush so you can advance to the next one. There are two rollers on each level that can be used to attack your pursuers.
A roleplaying game set in an alternate timeline. The Earth has been flooded by a catastrophic event, and only a few places remain above water. Your character is on a ship, searching for any remaining human colonies.
Along the way, you shall encounter pirates, monsters, and underwater enemies. There are two versions of this game, one featuring a guy called Matt and the other featuring a girl called Becky. Both are identical, except for cutscenes, dialogue, ship types, and upgrades.
Cotton: Fantastic Night Dreams
The only scrolling shooter game available for the Neo Geo Pocket Color, which makes it a rarity. Plus, it’s pretty good so you should give it a try. You play Cotton, a young witch who flies on a broomstick, accompanied by Silk (a fairy).
Enemies approach in waves, and you can shoot energy balls at them. You can also use a variety of magic spells, for which magic crystals must be collected first. Bombs can be used to wipe out large groups of enemies.
Evolution: Eternal Dungeons
This is a roleplaying game, and your character is Mag Launcher- an adventurer searching for a legendary artifact called Evolutia. The gameplay is similar to most dungeon crawlers of the era.
Combat is turn-based, and you have a part of three (two mates accompanying your main character). Each party member can be equipped with a device that allows them to perform special attacks.
Pocket Tennis Color
A basic tennis game, with easy controls and decent graphics. Pretty much all you need from a handheld tennis game if you want to relax and kill some time. You can select one out of several characters, but the differences are mostly cosmetic.
There are two primary game modes- exhibition (quick match), and tournament (series of matches against various AI opponents). You have limited control over the ball, with two moves- driving shot and lob.
Puzzle Link 2
A tile-matching puzzler in which your goal is to clear blocks from a 9 x 10 grid. Blocks come in many shapes and colors. You can arrange them in adjacent sections that contain matching block types, which will clear out the identical blocks.
New blocks automatically get added from the top, and you must prevent these from reaching the bottom of your screen. There are a total of five stages, each containing 10 rounds. You get collectible virtual cards as you progress through the game (these cards can be used to play a minigame).
Ganbare Neo Poke-Kun
Possibly the weirdest game on Neo Geo Pocket, but quite fun once you understand the rules. Neo Poke-Kun is a nerdy kid living in a single-room studio apartment. He is an indie game developer and wants to create some games.
However, Poke-Kun is having issues with staying motivated. And that’s where you come in. Ganbare Neo Poke-Kun contains plenty of references to many popular video game franchises.
A baseball game featuring 12 countries and multiplayer (enabled with Neo Geo Pocket link cables). Compared to most other handheld sports games, this one is slightly more complex. For instance, it has mechanics like wind speed and direction that vary from one stadium to another.
Each international team has a unique roster of players. And each player has their stats. You can also create your team, which is one of the best parts of this game.
Big Bang Pro Wrestling
If you like pro wrestling and games based on pro wrestling, definitely give this one a try. It has a roster of wrestlers with larger-than-life personalities and each one of them has unique moves. You can pin an opponent, throw them, or climb over the ropes to execute special moves.
There is a championship mode in which you go through seven wrestlers before facing the champion. There is also a single-match mode. Finally, there is a custom tournament mode in which you can set the rules, difficulty, length, etc.
Being able to play Samurai Shodown and King of Fighters on a flight is pretty neat. And while these ports of arcade/ home console games used Chibi character art, the graphical fidelity was nothing to scoff at. Using its 16-bit Toshiba processor, the Neo Geo Pocket could handle a resolution of 256 x 256 with 16 palettes in each plane and 64 sprites per frame.
For comparison, the Nintendo Game Boy had a resolution of 160 x 144, while the Sega Game Gear could do 160 x 144. The Neo Geo Pocket Color had a lower resolution, but it also supported way more colors on screen than the Game Boy Color. However, the Neo Geo Pocket was a commercial failure despite its impressive technical specifications.
That’s because it suffered from a limited game library, the majority of which were fighting games. On the Game Boy, you had a plethora of choices- sports, shooting, RPG, platformer, etc. And it already had a huge market footprint, combined with superior marketing.