With the release of Game Boy Color and the advent of Pokémon, Nintendo came to dominate the hand-held-gaming market. But a new lightweight gaming system is proving itself a worthy challenger to the ubiquitous Nintendo product.

And soon, SNK’s NeoGeo Pocket Color will have an MP3 player!

By a host of criteria, NeoGeo holds the advantage over Game Boy. NeoGeo has 146 simultaneous colors, versus 52 from Game Boy; up to 40 hours of uninterrupted game play (on the same batteries); built-in memory to house saved games; an interactive timekeeper, with alarm, international time and monthly calendar options (even a daily horoscope!); a TFT-format LCD screen easily visible in abnormally dim and bright lighting conditions; and, most important, an arcade-style joystick for superior handling.

Nintendo has been called out before — remember Sega’s Game Gear, which died a quick and merciful death, in part from a dearth of good games? Although SNK has yet to sign up many of the game industry’s top publishers, the developers already onboard are impressive — Capcom, Taito and Sega.

And the NeoGeo game list, while small, takes full advantage of the system’s advanced screen-display capacity. In the Match of the Millennium (Capcom; $39.95), such miniature fighters (known as chibi in Japan) as Street Fighter’s Ryu and Fatal Fury’s Terry Bogard battle for a world crown in a rainbow of color. The full force of glimmering graphics in Sega’s franchise leader, Sonic the Hedgehog, shines in Pocket Adventure (Sega; $29.99).

NeoGeo’s original offerings also do not disappoint. Metal Slug 1st Mission (SNK; $29.99) rocks the boat with an array of different combat motifs and settings: hand-to-hand, jet plane, armored tank and skydiving. A sequel is due out next month. A variety of sports and strategy games are also out, including Neo Turf Masters (SNK; $29.99), another chibi adventure, this time on a golf course/arena. It’s one in the “Pocket Sports Series,” which will also cover soccer and baseball. Bust-A-Move (Taito; $29.99) will satisfy Tetris fans, and Dark Arms Beast Busters (SNK; $29.99) supplies the ever-expanding role-playing-game (RPG) market. Two-player action is enabled by the simple Link Cable accessory.

But what will really set NeoGeo Pocket apart is the anticipated late-summer release of its MP3 player. For only $79, you’ll be able to use NeoGeo to transfer and play downloaded MP3 music files directly off your PC. The Internet-based gaming network IGN.com (https://pocket.ign.com) recently previewed SNK’s MP3 player; the audio, said IGN, was CD-quality.

With new NeoGeo games arriving each week, the system’s popularity in Japan is soaring. Because the system is bilingual, imports can be played in the U.S. Nyko, one of the largest manufacturers of game accessories, is releasing a NeoGeo line soon. No little pocket monsters, but so what?

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