Sega and SNK tie the knot

Probably regarded as the most successful series in video games, Nintendo’s Pokemon series brought to the market a sudden demand mobile gaming and a slew of companies rushing to the handheld market to capitalize on the trend. Not wanting to miss out, the big console makers of the time, Sega, Sony and Nintendo were also looking at ways to percolate some of this success to their home systems.


Pokemon was a licence to print money in the 90's

Meanwhile, faced with financial difficulty and the burden of covering the huge losses incurred by the failure of the Saturn, Sega of Japan were looking for possible merging partners. Various names were mentioned but ultimately, in 1997 Sega struck a billion dollar deal to acquire Japan's largest toy company, Bandai. Bandai is mostly known outside of Japan for the Power Rangers and Tamagotchi series’ but domestically has a huge portfolio of characters and series’ which Sega believed they could use to become into an international multimedia powerhouse on the scale of Disney.


Sega-Bandai, could the subsequent success of the Tamagotchi saved Sega?



Yet, as negotiations tend to be between such huge multinational corporations, the discussions became drawn out and full of bickering, and despite claims from both sides that the deal would go through, it was eventually called off. The reason? Well Bandai claimed that sections of its middle management were afraid that the merger would mean the company losing its corporate identity. More cynically however, industry insiders claimed that Bandai were actually more concerned about the financial state of Sega and whether they had the funds to complete and back such a deal. Bandai instead went on to make a deal with Namco and it’s interesting to note that Bandai went on to release a relatively successful handheld system while Sega pushed into the toy market with their Sega Toys range in Japan.



The original touch screen system but 99% of its games were crap!


After SEGA retired their own handheld system, the Game Gear in 1997, they suddenly found themselves on the market for a new handheld to support. Burnt by the deal with Bandai, and reluctant to support their rivals Nintendo, Sega had few options. Initially, and misguidedly they decided to support Tiger’s Game.com, offering them the licenses to several of its franchises, including Sonic. Again, this proved to be just one of a number of costly mistakes Sega made during this era as all of the games that Tiger produced were absolute monstrosities and as the Game.com quickly dropped dead out of sight, Sega looked for another partner.



Sega would join forces with a company in similar dire-straits



In 1999, Sega announced that they would be supporting Osaka based SNK (Shin Nihon Kikaku)  and its Neo Geo Pocket Color system with a number of exclusive titles. SNK had been a keen supporter of the Sega Saturn which had received numerous ports of its arcade classics such as The King of Fighters and Metal Slug games and SNK now needed similar third-party support for its own system. The Neo Geo Pocket Color (NGPC) system was a 16-Bit handheld colour gaming system designed to be a direct competitor to the Game Boy Color (GBC). It was  technically superior to the GBC and had some unique features like a calendar and horoscope and a stunningly low price point of 5,900 yen (£35). SNK also announced that they would be publishing a link cable to allow users with a Neo Geo Pocket to connect their system to Sega's new Dreamcast system to receive exclusive content for games. Interestingly, SCE (Sony Computer Entertainment) were also initially planning to support the Neo Geo Pocket Color but later canceled to proceed with development of the PSP.


The NGPC add campaign was notoriously provocative

Sega released 4 titles for the Neo Geo Pocket; the biggest and most significant was Sonic the Hedgehog Pocket Adventure, a miraculous coup for SNK as it was the first time a Sega made Sonic title had appeared on a non-Sega console. The game was a critical and commercial success for the company and went on to become the biggest selling title on the Neo Geo Pocket Color. It is a fitting tribute to Sega fans as the last hurrah of the old Sonic, before the character jumped headfirst into the art style and world we know today. Highly recommended to all Sonic fans. 


Sonic on the Neo Geo Pocket is a classic!

 
Sega also published a spin off to the surprise Dreamcast hit Bikkuriman, in the form of Bikkuriman 2000 Viva! Pocket Festival! The game was handled by Sega’s sub-company, Sega Toys, and featured full connectivity between the Dreamcast version and the Neo Geo Pocket Color game which allowed you to unlock secrets mini-games in both versions. Sega also licensed a version of the popular Dreamcast RPG Evolution for the Neo Geo Pocket Color although the game was published by SNK, and a version of Puyo Puyo Tsu which was again published by SNK.


Puyo Puyo Tsu is undoubtedly the best incarnation in the series


Additionally, through the combined efforts of Sega, SNK and Capcom there were also a fair few titles which featured Dreamcast – Neo Geo Pocket Color compatibility; they are.


Capcom vs. SNK: Millennium Fight 2000 - SNK vs. Capcom: Match of the Millennium 
Linking the game up will unlock all characters in SNK vs. Capcom: Match of the Millennium and Olympic Mode points from NGPC can be used to unlock items in the Dreamcast game. 
 
Capcom vs. SNK 2: Millionaire Fighting 2001- SNK vs. Capcom: Card Fighters 2 Expand Edition 
If the Card Fighters 2 game is completed, linking up will unlock everything on the Dreamcast game fighter (although this is easier said than done due to the rarity of the NGPC title). 

Cool Cool Toon- Cool Cool Jam 
Linking up will upload character data to NGPC and allow you download joke data to the Dreamcast game. 

The King of Fighters: Evolution - King of Fighters: Battle de Paradise 
Linking up will upload ability points earned in KOF: Evolution to the NGPC. You can also download striker data and levels from NGPC to the Dreamcast. 

The King of Fighters Dream Match '99 - King of Fighters R-2/ SNK vs. Capcom: Match of the Millennium 
Linking will upload Making Mode attributes to NGPC and you can download points earned in R-2 to King of Fighters Dream Match ‘99. It also links up to SNK vs. Capcom: Match of the Millennium and again, you can upload points for Olympic Mode to the NGPC.


Packaging for the cable is very typical of SNK's simple design

As with most SNK products the Dreamcast-Neo Geo Pocket Color cable is easy to set-up and use. You simply plug the cable into the back of the Dreamcast above the power plug and A/V plug, and then connect the other end into the external port on the top of the Neo Geo Pocket Color. Once both games are started you just need go to the Link Cable Option in each game, and that's it. It is yet another example of yet another Dreamcast innovation like online gaming and high definition display with the system being ahead of its time. The trend would be repeated when Nintendo launched the GameCube-Game Boy Advance link cable and Sony with Remote Play inter-connectivity between the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Portable.

The design is reminiscent of other Dreamcast peripherals

Despite its rarity, the cable can be picked up for a relatively affordable price. You shouldn’t be looking to spend more than £20- £30 for a boxed cable, instead it will be some of the games such as SNK vs. Capcom: Card Fighters 2 Expand Edition which will require you to have deep pockets to acquire.Looking back it is hard to see how SNK or Dreamcast really thought this deal could work. Two companies in dire straights could hardly hope to dent the cash cow of Pokemon or the commercial success of Sony's Playstation, no matter the quality of the software. Yet, in typical Sega fashion during the Dreamcast era it really seems like they wanted to go out guns blazing, no matter the cost, and for that you have to take your hat off to them.

Comments

  1. I loved this article! Sega and SNK, along with Capcom and Treasure, are my favorite developers of all time. People are just not aware of their contributions to the industry. Thank you for this.

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