Neo Geo Pocket Color
Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension

The Neo Geo Pocket Color really deserved better than it got. Released at a time when the Nintendo Game Boy was the dominant force in portable gaming, SNK's mobile marvel had an awful lot going for it; it was more powerful than Nintendo's system, and it even boasted connectivity with Sega's Dreamcast console.

Initially released as a monochrome system in 1998, the Neo Geo Pocket was quickly upgraded to a colour version the following year. Unlike fellow Game Boy rival, the Bandai WonderSwan, it would get a global release, even making its way onto the store shelves of many high-profile western retailers.

Naturally, the Neo Geo Pocket Color was well supported by SNK itself, with the Japanese company porting over many of its famous properties to the console, including Metal Slug, Fatal Fury, Samurai Shodown, Neo Turf Masters and The Last Blade. Even Sonic and Mega Man appeared on the device – but sadly, it wasn't enough to put a dent in Nintendo's vice-like grip on the market.

The ailing SNK would be gobbled up by pachinko manufacturer Aruze in January 2000, and the Neo Geo Pocket Color would be discontinued in the west in the same year (it lasted until 2001 in Japan). Despite its lack of commercial success, the machine is still seen as one of the best portables of the period by fans, and while its library of just 82 games might seem small, it had a pretty good hit rate – as this list proves.

Note that the games below are not presented in any kind of order, and we've tried to include a variety of genres.

Metal Slug: 2nd Mission (NGPC)

The Neo Geo Pocket Color was lucky enough to get not one but two Metal Slug instalments, and both are worth a look. This second entry is the best of the pair, with more missions (38 compared to 17 in Metal Slug: 1st Mission), superior controls, improved visuals and two playable characters. Metal Slug: 2nd Mission and its forerunner are fairly unique in the NGPC library, as few games of this type exist on the system. For that reason, you can expect to pay a pretty penny for the game on the pre-owned market. Thankfully, both games are available in the Neo Geo Pocket Color Selection Vol. 1, and you can also buy the pair as a stand-alone download on Switch.

SNK vs. Capcom: Match of the Millennium (NGPC)

At the turn of the new millennium, it was genuinely hard to believe that Capcom and SNK had buried their differences and joined forces to create a series of games. Two Dreamcast entries (later ported to other systems) were a great start, but some would argue that this pocket-sized offering (coded by SNK) was the true highlight. Boasting amazing animation, a large roster of famous faces, some addictive mini-games and deep, rewarding gameplay, SNK vs. Capcom: Match of the Millennium lays claim to being one of the best portable fighting games of all time. Prices for the original cart are high these days, but you can download the game on Switch and PC for a more reasonable price.

SNK vs. Capcom: Card Fighter's Clash (NGPC)

When it was first announced, SNK vs. Capcom: Card Fighter's Clash felt like something of a missed opportunity; Capcom and SNK joining up was a massive event, so why waste that promise on a card-battling game? Such scepticism was entirely unfounded as Card Fighter's Clash is effortlessly one of the Neo Geo Pocket Color's stand-out releases. Published in two versions – SNK and Capcom – the game mixes RPG-style action with card-battling and features some of the most iconic characters from the histories of these esteemed companies. As you might expect, original copies are now quite expensive, but you can play the game on Neo Geo Pocket Color Selection Vol. 2.

Sonic the Hedgehog Pocket Adventure (NGPC)

Notable for being one of the first major Sonic games released on a non-Sega console, Sonic the Hedgehog Pocket Adventure was developed by SNK with input from Yuji Naka and Sonic Team and is based on Sonic the Hedgehog 2. While the visuals have been scaled back when compared to the Mega Drive / Genesis version, the gameplay remains intact – in fact, this portable offering has plenty of new ideas up its sleeve, including fresh level layouts. Sonic's incredible speed is also on display, making this one of the most enjoyable 'classic' Sonic outings.

Faselei! (NGPC)

Released in Japan and Europe but not North America, Faselei! has gone down in history as one of the more collectable titles in the Neo Geo Pocket Color library – and with good reason. It's a rewarding and challenging tactical RPG with a surprisingly decent storyline involving a mech-piloting mercenary group during a bloody civil war. It's interesting to note that Matsuzo Machida (director), Miyako Kato (art) and Yoshitaka Hirota (music) would go on to work on the Shadow Hearts series, also developed by Sacnoth.

Neo Turf Masters (NGPC)

The original Neo Turf Masters (also known as Big Tournament Golf) is one of the stand-out games for the Neo Geo system, so it's only fair that SNK would have sought to transfer it to the Neo Geo Pocket Color. This time around, Saurus was given development duties (the original was coded by Metal Slug developer Nazca), but the change in dev team certainly didn't result in a lesser product. While the visuals in Neo Turf Masters are more cartoon-like, the core gameplay remains in place, making this an utterly essential release for SNK's portable.

Ogre Battle Gaiden: Prince of Zenobia (NGPC)

While this is technically part of Quest's Ogre Battle series, it was actually developed by SNK itself. As the title suggests, it follows Prince Tristan of Zenobia as he attempts to wrestle back control of his rightful kingdom and runs alongside the events of Ogre Battle: The March of the Black Queen. Despite SNK assuming development duties, Ogre Battle Gaiden: Prince of Zenobia retains all of the elements which have made the Ogre Battle series so beloved – it's a crying shame that it was only ever released in Japan, but a fan-made translation patch exists which allows English-speaking players to enjoy it.

Pac-Man (NGPC)

While you could argue that there are far superior ways of playing Namco's pill-munching classic today, the Neo Geo Pocket Color version deserves some serious praise. This was, for a time, the closest you could get to enjoying the coin-op original in the palm of your hand, and even shipped with a special widget which attached to the Neo Geo Pocket Color's joystick and turned it into a four-way controller (rather than an eight-way one). If you're picking up a copy of Pac-Man second-hand, make sure this widget is included in the box.

King of Fighters R-2 (NGPC)

The Neo Geo Pocket Color is, as you'd expect, flooded with fighting games – after all, SNK was famous for producing them around this time. King of Fighters R-2 is the second title on the portable (following from the monochrome King of Fighters R-1) and boasts the usual selection of cute combatants taken from the mainline series of the same name. The animation is smooth and the gameplay is surprisingly deep, making this one of the highlights of the NGPC library. Using the (now very expensive) NGPC-to-Dreamcast link cable, players can exchange data between King of Fighters R-2 and King of Fighters: Dream Match 1999. King of Fighters R-2 is also available on the Nintendo Switch.

Pocket Tennis Color (NGPC)

The title of this one reveals that it's an update rather than a totally original release; the monochrome Neo Geo Pocket got Pocket Tennis, and this version adds a splash of colour. Like Nintendo's Tennis on the Game Boy, this is hardly the deepest video game of all time, but Pocket Tennis Color incredibly addictive and playable – especially if you can rope in a second player using the console's link cable.

Rockman: Battle & Fighters (NGPC)

Given the stature of the character, it's perhaps no great shock to learn that this is one of the most sought-after Neo Geo Pocket Color games – the fact that it never got released outside of Japan only adds to its allure. Based on the arcade title Mega Man: The Power Battle and Mega Man 2: The Power Fighters, Rockman: Battle & Fighters isn't an action platformer but a fighting game which sees you facing off against a series of bosses. The game finally got a western release in 2022 as Mega Man Battle & Fighters on Switch, which gives you a way to experience the game without having to shell out the high cost of the NGPC version.

Biomotor Unitron (NGPC)

This unique dungeon-crawling RPGs sees you command a robot as you clear out several locations of enemies. While your character in Biomotor Unitron gains experience points as the story progresses, they never have direct control over the titular Unitron but, instead, gain a greater degree of influence over its actions. The Unitron can also be augmented with new parts and upgrades, making this a very deep and engaging experience. A sequel called Kikou Seiki Unitron was released in Japan in 2000 but never got localised for the west. You can play the original game on the Switch.

Bust-a-Move Pocket (NGPC)

Part of the incredibly popular and long-running Puzzle Bobble series (which is an offshoot of the Bubble Bobble franchise), Bust-a-Move Pocket is one of the best puzzlers on the Neo Geo Pocket Color. The bubbles are sometimes a little hard to see, but that doesn't detract from the fact that it's a heck of a lot of fun. It's also one of the few games which haven't risen steeply in value, so it's well worth a look today.

The Last Blade: Beyond The Destiny (NGPC)

A pint-sized version of the weapons-based brawler The Last Blade, this is yet another fighting game for the Neo Geo Pocket Color – but it's of such a high standard that we can't help but recommend it. It pulls together elements from both Last Blade titles on the Neo Geo, offering the same methodical gameplay as its full-fat siblings – but with an added bonus; points are awarded for completing the game, and you can spend these on special endings, new characters and even mini-games. Like so many of the better Neo Geo Pocket Color titles, The Last Blade: Beyond The Destiny is now available for download on the Switch.

Puzzle Link 2 (NGPC)

This tile-matching puzzle game is one of the best of its kind on the Neo Geo Pocket Color. You must clear away tiles in a 9-by-10 grid by matching them – a basic premise but one that offers almost limitless appeal, especially when combined with the 'Endless' mode introduced in this sequel. Interestingly, both Puzzle Link and Puzzle Link 2 were released in 1999 in Japan; there's little reason to try out the original beyond mere curiosity, but it's still a good game.

Samurai Shodown! 2 (NGPC)

Not to be confused with the Neo Geo version of Samurai Shodown II, Samurai Shodown! 2 is, in fact, based on Samurai Shodown 64: Warriors Rage, an arcade release for the ill-fated Hyper Neo Geo 64 system. It shares the same main storyline and endings with that title but adds in the characters Charlotte Christine de Colde and Jubei Yagyu, neither of whom were in Samurai Shodown 64. The original Samurai Shodown! was released on the monochrome Neo Geo Pocket, but this sequel is a lot more refined. You can check it out on Switch if you don't fancy shelling out for the original cartridge.

SNK Gals' Fighters (NGPC)

As the name suggests, this one-on-one fighter has a cast of female combatants taken from some of SNK's most famous franchises. It plays a lot like King of Fighters R-2, boasting some smooth animation and plenty of special moves to master. Like all of SNK's brawlers on the Neo Geo Pocket Color, this one is well worth a look; you can download it on Switch, which is cheaper than buying the original cartridge. SNK Gals' Fighters would inspire the SNK HEROINES Tag Team Frenzy, which recently launched on Switch, PlayStation 4 and PC.

SNK vs. Capcom: Card Fighter's Clash 2 Expand Edition (NGPC)

Given the success of the original SNK vs. Capcom: Card Fighter's Clash, a sequel was almost inevitable. However, this time around SNK decided against releasing two variants of the game, instead allowing players to pick between SNK and Capcom when they start the adventure. 240 character cards and 60 action cards are carried over from the first game, with 124 new cards added to the mix. Sadly, SNK vs. Capcom: Card Fighter's Clash 2 Expand Edition came so late in the Neo Geo Pocket Color's lifespan that a western localisation was never a realistic proposition; mercifully, a fan-made translation patch exists.

Puyo Pop (NGPC)

Also known as Puyo Puyo 2, this puzzler is notable for being the only version of the second Puyo Puyo outing that was internationally released; previous releases in the series were rebranded as Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine and Kirby's Ghost Trap/Avalanche in the west. A brilliantly addictive puzzler that's perfect for portable play, this is one Neo Geo Pocket Color title you should make sure is in your collection.

Cotton: Fantastic Night Dreams (NGPC)

This handheld port of the 1991 arcade classic obviously isn't an exact match in terms of visuals, but the gameplay has survived the transition perfectly. You're short of luck if you're after shmup action on the Neo Geo Pocket Color, but Cotton: Fantastic Night Dreams is really special – but it's also one of the hardest games to track down, which means the price is truly eye-watering. If you're lucky enough to own a copy of this, then make sure you look after it.