SNK Gals’ Fighters digital release on Nintendo Switch is a big deal for two reasons. First, this is the first time a Neo Geo Pocket Color title has been commercially made available since the original handheld release (King of Fighters was a pre-order bonus for Switch Samurai Showdown purchasers but that game is not available for purchase elsewhere). And second, Gals’ Fighters has become a rare and highly collectable title so having it easily available for a measly $8 is a steal.
For the unaware, the Neo Geo Pocket Color (NGPC) was a handheld system by SNK in the era of Gameboy Color and eventually Gameboy Advance. It was only available for a short time in America before fading away because everyone was too busy playing Pokemon to give this coveted handheld a chance. With a roster around 100 games, the NGPC is known for its high quality library, Gals’ Fighters being no except. In fact, the NGPC had some of the best, if not THE best, handheld fighting games of all time despite having only two buttons.
What makes Gals’ Fighter unique is the all-female roster. In typical SNK fashion, instead of hosting the King of Fighters tourney, it is the QoF here – QUEEN of Fighters. Even if you don’t recognize the character line-up, gameplay is simple enough to button mash your way through each fight and still have a blast. Combo and super moves are very easy to perform – flicking the stick and hitting some buttons is bound to make something cool happen. Once enough damage has been given/taken, a super move can be performed but simply hitting down a couple times and a button. The approachable gameplay makes it easy for players of any skill to win matches and have fun. Numerous settings can be adjusted in the options such as difficulty setting, number of rounds, and time available. It is also worth mentioning the original NGPC handheld featured a clicky analog stick, something that has not been replicated to this day. Luckily, the Switch Pro controller works just fine but fans will undoubtedly miss that satisfying feeling of the original.
GF is a light hearted approach in comparison to the more serious tone of the KoF games. Each fighter is trying to obtain a talisman that will grant one wish and each ending is more ridiculous than the last. If the writing wasn’t bubbly enough, the sprite art is what makes most of the NGPC library so great. Simple but exaggerated, each character is well animated and full of personality right down to their single pixel nose.
Thankfully, the emulation is work is great. Everything looks and sounds pretty darn close as if it was running on original hardware. Unfortunately, there are not a ton of visual customization options available. By default, the screen is overlaid with a NGPC system with all gameplay featured on the screen as if playing on actual hardware. The coolest visual feature is being able to switch between multiple console variants on the fly. It is a simple feature but this aspect alone showcases the love that went into re-releasing this product. Also, the player has the ability to adjust the zoom and even eliminate the mock console boarder. Personally, I found this option to be the most playable as it helps to fill the screen with the actual gameplay. Otherwise the screen is rather small – this was a small non-backlit console after all.
There is also a much welcomed rewind feature. Getting your ass kicked by the AI and don’t want to lose that one match lead? Then hold a button down to rewind and try again. The rewind has a limit however, only being able to go back about ten seconds or so, but it should be enough to cheat the system if you wish. It is also worth mentioning the game saves your position upon exiting and closing at the main Switch menu, and restarts at that same moment when turning back on – this is a handy feature that isn’t mentioned anywhere so I was surprised when I saw this for the first time.
One feature that is happily included is the ability to play multiplayer. On original hardware, two NGPC systems, two copies of the game, and a link cable were needed in order to take advantage of the VS mode. Here, everything is easily available right from the start screen and two players can play on the same console – no link cable or multi-carts required. For players of the original, this will most likely be the first time to experience playing against another human, which is something truly special. Since the original console only featured an analog stick and a couple buttons, split Joy-con control works like a champ here. Plus, it is rather refreshing to fight against another human since the AI has been programmed to be a little cheap sometimes, often blocking super moves and other attacks a little too conveniently.
The only feature from the original game that isn’t available here is the ability to swap items upon linking. In the original game, before taking part in multiplayer, players were giving the option to swap items. During normal gameplay, players will obtain items that can be used during the next play through. For example, defeating an opponent with a perfect will reward the player with a prize, like increasing defense or activating the super bar sooner. There are several to collect and become broken upon defeat so the player can collect multiples of each. Since everything is self-contained to one console, there is no option to swap items. However, this was probably the most underused feature of the original game any way. The GF roster isn’t exact robust but a few more characters can becoming unlocked, providing incentive to keep playing once the credits roll.
Chances are, you never played Gals’ Fighters so this is the perfect opportunity to experience one of the best hidden gems on the neglected hardware. Although a little light on features, it is a solid fighting game, the emulation is great despite not having a wealth of emulation options like recent mini consoles, and the experience is made better by having the ability to play the 2-player VS mode on one screen. At the very least, seeing the release of this single NGPC color title provides hope that more games will follow. As a huge NGPC fan, I am salivating at the thought.
I Can’t Believe: we are able to play a NGPC game on Switch, makes the 3DS VC look neglected
Better Than: the Street Fighter GB/GBC titles
Wait For It: a re-release of SNK vs. Capcom: The Match of the Millennium (NGPC)