A very long time ago (to our impatient souls), the maker of the boutique, analog console, teased something exciting. A handheld device that emulates several classic systems, including: All the Game Boys, Sega Game Gear, Neo Geo Pocket and Atari Lynx. Oh and recently announced: TurboExpress too. In other good news, Analogue also announced that Pocket Orders will open again on December 14th (tomorrow). The less good news is that at $220, it will cost $20 more than originally planned, but you can blame the virus for that and its impact on supply chains.
Finally, it’s here… still just as exciting. So much so that the short time I spent with Pocket isn’t enough to give it the in-depth review it deserves. You have to remember that this thing doesn’t just play old games from original cartridges. It does this using a group trick called Field Programmable Gate Arrays (or FPGA). All you need to know is that FPGAs effectively emulate legacy consoles at the hardware level. When you plug in a game, it thinks it’s in the original Game Boy (or whatever related adapter system you might be using). Add to that a screen specifically designed to replicate older screens and quirks and all, and this has all the ingredients to be the most authentic handheld device you can find. Our early tests with Game Boy (original) and Game Boy Advance games indicate that this truly is one of the most authentic experiences you can find.
Pretty much the moment you pick this thing up, you know you’re going to enjoy it. If the original Game Boy were released today with a Scandinavian design, this is what it would look like. Clean lines and a monochromatic aesthetic tell you that this is all about the game; There are no flashy colors of tacky nods to the ’90s here. Just one dash of color on the left side of the power button and that glimmers like things.
The overall design largely matches the color of the first generation and that of the Game Boy, with the screen on top and the controls below. Although there are four thumb buttons instead of two, you will be able to create games for this yourself either using GB Studio or via the additional FPGA core Analogue that has been added for developers only. There are shoulder buttons, too, according to Game Boy Advance.
Fortunately, the screen is quite modern and not like the narrow, if lovable, screen from back in 1989. It’s also 10x the resolution on both axes, so it can deliver pixel-perfect reproductions of your favorite original Game Boy titles. The way it reproduces the original Game Boy games is absolutely amazing.
Launch Pocket and its simplified interface directs you straight to the good stuff: playing games.
I won’t lie, launching Tetris for the first time and changing the Pockets Show mode to the original green and black gameboy mode was a dash of nostalgia. I’ve played Game Boy games on many “modern” mobile devices and none of them have looked like this. Even the original pixel grid here, motion blur (if you want it), audio. I felt everything as it happened all those years ago.
The same goes for Game Boy Advance games. If you own a Model 1 GBA, you’ll remember (painfully) that it still doesn’t have a backlit screen. The pocket works, but everything else matches, including the preset for this light, dull look that comes with only colors on the unlit LCD screen. You can of course opt for a more modern display mode if you like, but purists will love the attention to detail here.
Authenticity doesn’t stop at gaming accuracy. The “Link” port on the Pocket happens to be the same as on Game Boy Color and later. This means that if you have the original device (or other pocket) you can play with friends just like you would back on the same day. I Act You have the original hardware, and we’re testing these features right now which you’ll see in our full review.
In terms of compatibility, the only flaw we’ve encountered so far is with the highly unofficial Game Boy Advance multiplayer, everything else had a charm – including the financial stuff like the Game Boy Camera. The same goes for Game Gear titles, which is the only other platform we can try right now.
There’s so much to cover here that we can’t wait to show you everything. There’s a dock extension to play on a TV with real consoles, there’s the aforementioned music making app, there’s Analogue’s OS which hides more than a few perks and then there’s adapters for all the other consoles.
For now, we’re happy to say that Pocket appears to be delivering on its major promises. The device looks great and we keep coming back for more Tetris even when our bedtime has passed. Just wait a few more days for the comprehensive review.
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