With the October 28, 1998 release of the Neo Geo Pocket in Japan, SNK made its debut in the handheld video game market. The portable system was the company's answer to Nintendo's phenomenally successful Game Boy.
The original monochrome Neo Geo Pocket unit was released in Japan but not in the U.S. It features a liquid crystal display (LCD) screen that can produce eight shades of gray. Game data can be saved internally within the platform via its 16KB of RAM. Two AAA batteries provide approximately twenty hours of play. The entire system weighs 130 grams (or 4.5 ounces) and is also rather small at only 4.8 inches wide.
The unit comes equipped with a stereo headphone jack as well as a cable that provides linking capability. The Neo Geo Pocket also comes included with a CR2032 battery (the style found in wristwatches) to keep game data and Pocket Menu settings backed up in the system's memory.
There is a directional button located on the left side of the system, the Power and Option (which acts as "Pause") buttons are at the top, and two action buttons (A and B) are on the right side. The layout of the controls is similar to the D-pad controller used for the Neo Geo home systems. The volume and contrast controls are on the bottom of the case together with a headphone jack and an AC adapter input. There is also a finger groove indentation on the back of the unit to accommodate a more comfortable handgrip.
On the upper left corner of the system is the power button. Upon activation, a small red light will blink until the system has been turned off. When the system is initially powered, letters spelling "NEO GEO" appear on screen.
If the unit is activated with no cartridge inserted, the "Pocket Menu" appears on screen. A menu offers users the option of selecting a number of the following built-in functions: a calendar, a "world clock" (that tells users the time in major cities around the globe), an alarm clock, a horoscope generator (that generates astrological forecasts when users enter their birth dates) and a settings menu (that provides the option to choose a default language of either Japanese or English).
On the upper-right corner of the system there is an extension jack which allows two Neo Geo Pocket handhelds to be linked together for head-to-head play. This same jack also enables the Neo Geo Pocket be linked with the Dreamcast 128-bit console providing the opportunity for interaction with games that SNK releases for Sega's next-generation system.
The design of the Neo Geo Pocket is similar to the Nintendo Game Boy. There is a slot for cartridges located behind the LCD screen. Like the Game Boy, Neo Geo Pocket does not provide a backlit screen and it cannot be played in total darkness. The cartridges are also the same approximate size as the Game Paks for Game Boy. When played however, the Neo Geo Pocket is held horizontally (as opposed to vertically-held Game Boy).
At launch, the retail price of the Neo Geo Pocket was 7,800-yen, or approximately $68 U.S. Game cartridge prices ranged from 3500 to 4500 yen, or about $35 to $38 U.S. in July 1999. There were eight Neo Geo Pocket case colors and eight game cartridges available at the system's launch. Because the original, monochrome Neo Geo Pocket system was released exclusively in Japan, (Neo Geo Pocket Color was later released in the U.S.) the system manual was only printed in Japanese. ~ Dave Beuscher, All Game Guide