A Quick Look At The NeoGeo Pocket Link Cable

I recently picked up a NeoGeo Pocket Link Cable for the very reasonable price of £30. That may seem expensive for what is essentially a bit of wire, but these things seem to be getting rarer all the time and so for that price I snapped it up sharpish. The only other one I've seen for sale recently was around £50 and they regularly go for upwards of that on eBay. Before I get ahead of myself, I should probably explain what the NeoGeo Pocket actually is - I sometimes forget that not everyone is as au fait with antiquated gaming technology as I am, and in turn I know there are people with far greater knowledge than I possess...so I'll try not to get anything wrong!
The NeoGeo Pocket was a handheld console released in 1998 by SNK that initially featured a monochrome screen but was later re-released with a colour screen and rebranded as the NeoGeoPocket Color (I'll overlook the missing 'u' on this occasion). It's a nifty little piece of tech and has a rather lovely clicky microswitch thumbstick like most other NeoGeo consoles do. The system's library isn't very large and the screen can be a bit hard to see sometimes due to it's lack of either a front or back light, but it does hold a certain charm and the library is brimming with cool portable versions of popular SNK franchises like The King Of Fighters and Samurai Shodown et al.
What's also quite intriguing is that Sega and SNK collaborated in order to add Dreamcast compatibility to the system and a select number of Dreamcast and NeoGeo Pocket titles are able to communicate and allow various items to be unlocked or data to be swapped between the two systems. Obviously, both the Dreamcast and the NGP come from a pre-WiFi or NFC era (although apparently there is a wireless connector for linking NGPs), so the only way it was really feasible for these two units to connect was via a link cable. And that's exactly what this little post is all about.
Not to be confused with the NeoGeo Pocket system link cable (pictured above, NEOP-10021), the Dreamcast link cable (NEOP-22020) allows you to connect your NGP/NGPC to the Sega system via the serial port on the rear of the console and the Ext. port on the top of the handheld, but vitally only a handful of games actually make use of this function. According to Racketboy.com the full list is:
  • King of Fighters R-2 (links with King of Fighters ’99 Dream Match and Evolution)
  • SNK vs Capcom – Match of the Millenium (links with Capcom vs SNK 2)
  • SNK vs Capcom – Card Fighter's Clash (links with King of Fighters Evolution)
  • SNK vs Capcom – Card Fighter's Clash Expand Edition (links with Capcom vs SNK 2)
  • Cool Cool Jam (links with Cool Cool Toon)
I own four of the titles listed (KoF R-2, KoF '99, KoF Evo and Card Fighter's Clash) and so I set about trying to get my Dreamcast to communicate with my NeoGeo Pocket. As a side note, I own the original NeoGeo Pocket and not the Color variant and so I rarely play on it due to the difficulty I regularly encounter trying to see the screen. 
The monochrome version does have some 'ghosting' issues, especially in fighting games (which sadly make up most of my library), but the screen is nowhere near as bad as something like the Tiger Gamecom. The reason I mention this is because most of the downloadable and uploadable things in both KoF R-2 and the two Dreamcast titles are things that you must earn points to unlock. And as I've barely played R-2, I didn't have much in the way of spendable currency.
From what I could tell though, the vast majority of items are artwork images and the like, so while it's a nice little extra feature, you aren't missing much if you don't happen to own a link cable. What's interesting is that the link cable works with both the NTSC-J and NTSC-U King of Fighters games, with a Japanese NeoGeo Pocket, while all being connected through a PAL Dreamcast using a boot disc to play imports. Just thought that was worth sharing, although it's common knowledge that the NGP is region free. When it comes to ascertaining what the uses are when linking Card Clash to Evolution...well, I have no clue to be perfectly honest. I couldn't actually tell if it was even doing anything when it was linked so I'm none the wiser. If you know better, enlighten us in the comments!
In summary then, the link cable is a nice little oddity to own - especially as it was relatively inexpensive and they are now quite rare. As for usefulness? I'm not sure I can recommend that you go out and spend a small fortune on one. There's no real benefit as far as I can see other than it's a cool item to have in your collection. The build quality is very nice and the little box halfway down the cable has a nice chunky SNK logo on it...but that's about all there is to it. I did read in an old Dreamcast magazine that Sonic's Pocket Adventure was going to have some sort of connectivity with Sonic Adventure 2, but I guess that never materialised.
As a footnote, I guess it's quite apt that these two systems have intertwined lifespans. They do have certain similarities in that they were both the plucky underdog and both lived relatively short lifespans. Happily though, they've now found each other again in the great Dreamcast Junkyard in the sky and the link cable is the tie that binds them.


DCGX said...

Cool overview! I have one of these myself (got it for $20 years ago on GameTZ). I agree there isn't much use for the cable, but one way to look at it is the cable provides an early cloud feature of sorts.

Since you can transfer game credit/currency between the fighting games, it's like leveling up in the portable version and then using that experience on the console version as well, and vice versa. In that sense it can be handy as you can unlock characters etc. much faster, especially in Capcom vs. SNK on Dreamcast.

Tom Charnock said...

Thanks for reading! Yeah, It's a cool thing to have - I just wish the library for the NGP was a bit more diverse and the features were a bit more useful. Am I being harsh on it?!

DCGX said...

No you aren't. I wish the NGPC library was more diverse too, but at least the games it did get were amazing. I don't think I can pick any out any inherently bad games (though I don't enjoy either Dive Alert personally). For the short life span the NGPC had decent third party support, but SNK is mostly a fighting dev after all. Their purchase by Aruze definitely hurt the platform too.

I'm a huge NGPC fan, but thankfully started collecting when the system was on its way out. I have all the US releases plus Evolution (EU), Cotton (EU), Dynamite Slugger (EU), Rockman, KOF: Battle de Paradise, and Cardfighters Clash 2 (and a couple other obscure EU releases cart only. I haven't been able to find complete versions).

Marcone Antelius said...

I was lucky enough to get a boxed NGPC from an Amazon seller. Awesome little thing. The link cable seems like a nice thing for a collector but I couldn't see myself getting one, not since some of them are going for upwards of $100 on eBay, and because none of the games I have for either system are compatible.
(I just turned on my NGPC after a long while and the watch battery is already dead. Are you kidding me? It didn't even last 4 years!)

Tom Charnock said...

I'd expect at least 5 years from a watch battery or I'd be demanding a refund and compensation for the emotional trauma of having to search through a drawer of random odds and ends for another! :D

Robert Jones said...

Good piece Tom. I still don't think I'll pick one up though unless I can get it for a decent price. Cool piece of curiosity tech.