Review: NeoPocket GameDrive 8
Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension

With less than 100 games in its library, the Neo Geo Pocket Color might not seem like a convincing candidate for a flash cart, but when you consider that a great many of its titles are incredibly hard to obtain these days on the secondary market, the existence of RetroHQ's NeoPocket GameDrive is a little more understandable.

Getting a 100 percent complete NGPC software collection is a costly affair, to say the least; the console's rather dismal commercial performance – twinned with the iconic nature of SNK, its creator – has predictably caused prices to surge in recent years as more and more of the system's top-tier titles get gobbled up by enthusiasts and collectors.

We should, therefore, be immensely thankful that British company RetroHQ has created this incredible flash cart; not only does it allow you to carry the entire NGPC library around with you, but it's easy to use and – at £100 – is reasonably priced, at least when compared to other low-production run flash carts on the market.

The NeoPocket GameDrive itself is roughly the same size as a standard NPGC cart. The MicroSD card slot is located at the top, and there's an attractive sticker on the front. To be honest, given how often you'll be removing the cart from your console (not very), it doesn't really matter what it looks like – the real concern here is how it performs.

Like all the best flash carts, NeoPocket GameDrive is a strictly drag-and-drop affair – you don't need to download any firmware or use any tools on your computer to transfer ROMs across. You just copy and paste the games (in .NGP or .NGC format) to the root of a FAT-formatted MicroSD card of up to 32GB in capacity and the Neo Geo Pocket SD will pick them up when it is inserted.

The catch here is that ROMs have to be copied over from the MicroSD card to the cart's 16MB of internal flash storage – you cannot run the games directly from the card itself. This isn't a massive issue, as 16MB still gives you enough room for five or six games – which boot almost instantly, it should be noted – but it would have been nice to access everything on the card at one time, as is the case with a great many other flash carts. It's by no means a deal-breaking issue, however.

When you fancy changing the games stored in the cart's internal flash memory, you have to either delete those already in place to free up room or transfer the game and its save data back to the MicroSD card, which allows you to restore the game and your progress at a later date.

Outside of this functionality, we're pleased to report that the NeoPocket GameDrive functions perfectly. We didn't experience any issues with ROMs not loading, and we were even able to play patched ROMs – such as SNK vs. Capcom: Card Fighter's Clash 2 Expand Edition, which was never officially released outside of Japan.

Review: NeoPocket GameDrive 8
Thanks to the NeoPocket GameDrive, it's possible to enjoy Japanese exclusives in English via patched ROMs — Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension

Applying the English-language patch to the Japanese ROM took seconds using a Mac-based application and the game runs like a dream on the NeoPocket GameDrive. This opens the door to other fan-made hacks and translations, of course, as well as homebrew projects – all of which make the NeoPocket GameDrive a very exciting piece of kit and something which is capable of breathing new life into SNK's criminally underrated handheld. The cart can also accept firmware updates via the MicroSD card, so there's an excellent chance that its features will be refined over time.

It's also worth noting that the NeoPocket GameDrive works with the Analogue Pocket's NGPC cartridge adapter, so you can happily use the flash cart with that device.

The NGPC is one of those systems which, given slightly different circumstances, could have become a market leader. It outclassed the incumbent Game Boy Color in practically every department save one: software support.

Still, SNK's line of ridiculously polished fighting games – as well as titles like Sonic the Hedgehog Pocket Adventure, Pac-Man, Metal Slug: 2nd Mission and the original SNK vs. Capcom: Card Fighter's Clash – mean that there's more than enough quality available to make this plucky little system a worthwhile purchase.

While those adorable clamshell game cases make collecting for it a complete and utter joy, this flash cart offers a perhaps less costly route into the wild and rewarding world of the Neo Geo Pocket.