Chasing the tail of Nintendo’s Color Game Boy system, which has sold 1.5 million units since its launch in November 1998, San José, California-based cyberco SNK is gearing up to roll out its own color portable at retail in the U.S. this September. Sporting a 16-bit graphics processor, the Neo Geo Pocket Color can display 146 colors at one time, drawn from a 4,096-color spectrum (a favorable comparison to the Color Game Boy’s 56-at-a-time color capability). Neo Geo is smaller and lighter than the CGB, and it has a smaller screen. Although both portables run on two AA batteries, Neo Geo Pocket Color offers double the playtime value, at 40 continuous hours, as opposed to CGB’s 20-hour maximum.
While the U.S. launch is still three months away, SNK is selling Neo Geo directly to consumers via its Web site (www.snkusa.com) at a price of US$79.99. Since the portable hit the Japanese market on March 19, North American gamers have been going to great lengths to get their hot little hands on the new vidgame player, including negotiating costly arrangements to have them shipped overseas; SNK implemented the e-tailing venture to accommodate these eager beavers.
Ten English-language games will be available when the system debuts at retail this fall, including King of Fighters-R2, Puzzle Bobble Mini (Bust-A-Move), Samurai Shodown, Baseball Stars Pocket, Pocket Tennis, Neo Cherry Master, Neo Dragon’s Wild, Neo Mystery Bonus, Crush Roller Pocket and Neo Geo Cup `98. Ten more titles, currently in development, are slated to hit shelves before the year’s end, and game prices will undercut the average Color Game Boy software price of US$25.
Neo Geo is available in six colors, including Platinum Silver and Anthracite. Color choice is a personalizing option that Nintendo’s Color Game Boy also picked up last month, when it introduced four new fashion color housings-Dandelion, Berry, Kiwi and Teal. SNK’s portable model also features a built-in pocket menu that offers options like an alarm, a calendar, an international clock and even a horoscope reader.
Greek gods-in-training lead vid game-based licensing bonanza
The houses of Zeus and Hades get ready to rumble again in Young Olympians, a teen-targeted video game being developed for the Nintendo 64 console by Pleasant Grove, Utah-based Saffire Corp. Starring five offspring of ancient Greek mythological heroes, the game’s story line follows the quintet to contemporary Earth, where they must vanquish a band of henchmen, led by the son of Hades, who plot to take over the world. The Greek godlets use their inherited super powers to drive the villains back to the Underworld.
Young Olympians is the first property that Saffire has developed under its own label (games the cyberco has spawned for other distributors like Electronic Arts and GT Interactive include Rampage, Bio FREAKS and James Bond 007), and it’s pulling out all the stops to ensure the title’s success. The plan is for the vid game’s summer 2000 release to be supported by a hype-generating multimedia licensing scheme Saffire is in the process of hammering out.
On the publishing side of things, the company is negotiating a deal for a five-title young adult book series penned by New York Times best-selling author Dave Wolverton, who is currently putting the finishing touches on a novel series for Scholastic, based on the Star Wars saga. The Young Olympians teen novel series is slated to launch at retail simultaneously with a comic book series, which will be published by either DC Comics or Image Comics, in early 2000. Designed by Matt Broome, who has worked on comic book hits like X-Men and Batman, the series will be completed by July 1999, in time to be shown at the Comic Book Expo in Chicago. ‘We look at the novels and comic book series as advance underground advertising for the video game,’ says Saffire CEO Les Pardew. ‘It’s crucial that kids be familiar with and excited about the Young Olympians story before the game launches.’
The buzz seems to have trickled into Hollywood as well, where studio ears have pricked up at the prospect of another licensing-ready TV concept aimed at teens. According to Pardew, Saffire is currently finessing a production deal for the development of Young Olympians into a live-action, half-hour series that’s tentatively skedded to debut on the tube in fall 2000. He says preliminary discussions for feature film and music album agreements are also underway.
To pump up interest in the game on the Net, Saffire has launched a Web site (www.young-olympians.com) that offers teen surfers a sneak peek of the video game’s characters. The site will also feature free downloads, contests and news about upcoming products. Saffire eventually hopes to grow the site into an e-commerce hub offering the full Young Olympians product line. JL