My Custom Neo Geo Pocket Color
I recently modified a Neo Geo Pocket Color, upgrading its display and replacing the shell and buttons.
My love for the Sega Dreamcast is well-documented. The Neo Geo Pocket Color was often marketed as the Dreamcast’s handheld companion, which placed me squarely in its target demographic.
I loved playing games like Sonic Pocket Adventure, Biomotor Unitron (a Pokémon-like game where you craft robots) and, most surprisingly, fighting games like King of Fighters R-2 and Capcom vs. SNK: Match of the Millennium… the Pocket’s clicky eight-way joystick and simplified controls made the genre accessible to me in a way that their arcade and home console counterparts never could.
But eventually I found the non-backlit screen too difficult to make out in the best of conditions, so I sold the console. But I’ve always missed its form factor and that distinctive joystick.
Fast-forward to the 2020s, and sellers have started offering a backlit LCD mod kit (using reclaimed BlackBerry Q5 displays). I’ve taught myself some rudimentary electronics soldering (initially to replace my Dreamcast’s long-dead clock battery). It’s project time!
I sourced the console from a Japanese eBay seller. It was working but relatively cheap thanks to a missing battery compartment and some cosmetic imperfections. There was a dead bug inside.
From there, I mostly followed an excellent tutorial by Tito of Macho Nacho Productions, with a few of my own touches:
- I’d heard that the LCD kit’s touch sensors are really, well, touchy, so I chose to desolder them completely.
- I didn’t want to risk a crooked screen, so I used an aligning bracket from Console5 instead of the included adhesive.
- I went with a frosted transparent shell from Retro Game Repair Shop and red buttons from Retro Modding.
- Buying back my old collection today might bankrupt me, so I bought a NeoPocket GameDrive from Stone Age Gamer instead.
I was nervous about the soldering, but I shouldn’t have been: I steadied my hand, took my time, and it went fine. By contrast, disassembly and reassembly were the biggest headaches. The console’s original screws and joystick cover did not want to budge. While reassembling, the wire connecting the LCD’s battery indicator feature to the motherboard drifted into the cartridge slot, and I snapped the wire apart when inserting a game: I should have used a bit of kapton tape to secure it.
Bonus Stage: Custom Case
After enjoying the system for a few weeks, I noticed a problem: I had nowhere safe to keep it or carry it around. SNK licensed a few official cases in the late 90s, but these days they resell for quite a bit.
I noticed some generic-looking “Neo Geo Pocket” cases on eBay with visible “Amazon Basics” logos on the zipper. These were actually an external hard drive case that happened to be a perfect fit.
But I couldn’t stop there! I cut a vinyl stencil and (with Mallory’s help) painted the Neo Geo Pocket brand on the front using Angelus red leather paint and acrylic finisher. We also replaced the Amazon-branded pull tab with a keychain of Sonic hoisted up by his shoe.
I’m thrilled with the end result. It’s been a joy to revisit these games, especially with the convenience of the GameDrive. The display is crisp and clear, with no apparent artifacts or shimmering. I’m normally not a fan of scanlines or other video filters, but this display’s “retro pixel” mode is an exception. It seems to last more than ten hours of play time on a pair of rechargeable NiMH batteries (I keep it on the lowest brightness setting). I can see my handiwork through the transparent shell, and the case makes it easy to enjoy on the go.
More importantly, this project increased my confidence in electronics tinkering. I’ve always been comfortable with software mods, but hardware is a new and exciting frontier for me.