Emulators are often avoided by purists and collectors of classic video games because the software does not deliver the same level of gameplay as the original hardware (and, in most cases, cannot even play cartridges to begin with, which renders the practice of collecting cartridges meaningless). This is a point of view that I can empathize with, and I have a lot of respect for Analogue’s non-emulation, FPGA-based consoles like the Super Nt and Mega Sg. These consoles are capable of flawlessly running Super NES and Sega Genesis cartridges, respectively, while also ensuring that the games look fantastic on a high-resolution television. Having said that, I don’t think I quite appreciated just how much of a difference this non-emulation technology could make until I actually got a chance to hold it in my hands.
The Analogue Pocket is the company’s first attempt at a handheld gaming system. It was developed to play Game Boy, Game Boy Color, and Game Boy Advance cartridges with the same level of care and precision as the company’s home consoles. Its screen has such a high resolution in comparison to the screens of the original handhelds that it can easily mimic how their LCDs seemed, and it can also make every sprite appear to be extremely sharp. Its audio reproduction is of the highest possible quality. In addition, the controls have a firmer, more responsive feel to them than those of any other emulator-based device I’ve used.
The Game Boy Pocket takes the best aspects of playing with an original Game Boy and combines them with a screen that looks significantly better than any previous Game Boy (or DS, or 3DS, and it’s even sharper than the screen on the Nintendo Switch). If that isn’t enough for you, you can also produce your own chiptunes music, design your own games and apps for it with free programming software, and connect it to your TV for a Switch-like handheld/home console experience with an optional dock. The fact that the Analogue Pocket is the only Game Boy accessory you’ll ever require justifies the Analogue Pocket‘s price tag of $219 and gets the portable our Editors’ Choice award.
A Premium, Upscale Game Boy
The original Game Boy clearly served as an inspiration for the design of the Pocket, which has a vertical form factor and positions a screen immediately above a directional pad and face buttons on the front of the device. The handheld device’s dimensions are 5.9 by 3.5 by 0.9 inches (HWD), and it features a matte black plastic chassis that gives the impression of being quite sturdy. The front of the Pocket features a 3.5-inch LCD screen with a resolution of 1,600 by 1,440 pixels, a plus-shaped direction pad, four face buttons (two concave and two convex, similar to the design of the original SNES controller), and, near the bottom, three buttons labeled Start, Select, and Menu.
The system has a microSD card port on the right edge, while its left side features a flat green power button and a tiny volume rocker. The right edge also contains the slot for the microSD card. The volume rocker is a little bit too small to be easily located with a fingertip without first checking for it. There is no chance that you will press it inadvertently, but you may need to spend an additional second adjusting the volume.
The cartridge slot on the rear of the Pocket is exposed since the top half of the back is significantly narrower than the bottom half, which has a thick and gripping bottom half. Because of this design decision, there is sufficient space surrounding the slot for left and right trigger buttons, and also ensures that subsequent cartridge adapters from Analogue will fit without any problems. Because the cartridge slot on the system is a Game Boy Advance slot, it is compatible with Game Boy and Game Boy Color cartridges in addition to those designed for the Game Boy Advance. Your Game Boy cartridges stick out on the rear instead of fitting snuggly in a recess because the slot is wide open to accommodate adapters for other systems. Additionally, there is no dust cover to protect the slot itself while a game is not in it. Although we did not experience any issues with cartridges jiggling or feeling loose in the slot, they still give the impression of being less secure than they do in the handhelds that were designed specifically for them.
The bottom portion of the Analogue Pocket does not split open like the original Game Boy and Game Boy Color did, making it impossible to place batteries within. Instead, a rechargeable battery of 4,300 mAh that is incorporated inside the device offers a play time of between six and ten hours.
The bottom edge of the Pocket contains a USB-C port for charging and connecting to the optional Analogue Dock accessory to play games on your TV, a 3.5mm headphone jack, and a Link Cable port for using Analogue’s optional Pocket to Pocket Link Cable or certain Nintendo Game Boy and Game Boy Advance Link Cables. The USB-C port can also be used to connect to the Analogue Dock accessory to play games on your TV. Even though the Analogue Pocket does not have Wi-Fi or any other form of internet connectivity, you may still use the cable to exchange Pokemon between the first three game generations and enjoy additional local multiplayer games with the cable.
The Analogue Pocket, just like most of Analogue’s other products, has a solid build quality. It has a satisfying weight in the hand, and all of the buttons and knobs have a great springiness and clickiness to them. The matte surface gives the sense of a more adult and premium version of the Game Boy, and it looks rather great to boot.
Bigger, Better Screen
The screen on the Pocket is breathtaking in its beauty. It has a resolution that is 100 times higher than the original Game Boy’s screen, which had a resolution of 160 by 144, and it has a resolution that is 60 times higher than the screen on the Game Boy Advance (total number of pixels). In point of fact, its pixel density of 615 pixels per inch is substantially sharper than even the most premium smartphones. It is the ideal canvas for taking advantage of the FPGA heart of the system and the wonderful scaling technique developed by Analogue, which makes low-resolution, traditional handheld games appear graphically authentic or razor-sharp.
In point of fact, due to the fact that the resolution is so significantly higher than that of the original handhelds, the Pocket is able to apply compelling retro filters that actually look good. This is in contrast to the generally low-quality scan line options that are available in many other retro game devices. You can choose between perfectly crisp upscaled graphics that are displayed as bright and colorful as possible, or you can have the picture emulate the original handheld that the game was made for by effectively rendering a tiny dark “frame” around each game-designated pixel to give the impression of looking at the much lower-resolution GB/GBC/GBA screens. This is done by holding down the Home button and pressing left or right on the direction pad. These filters also restrict the color range of games for the Game Boy Color and Game Boy Advance, making the colors appear more true to life. In addition, they replace the stark black-and-white of GB games with the green-tinted monochrome of the Game Boy or the gray monochrome of the Game Boy Pocket. You even have the option, when playing GBA games, of choosing between the more subdued colors of the original Game Boy Advance or the more vibrant, backlit colors of the Game Boy Advance SP AGS-101.
Everything Else That Goes With It
There are a variety of add-ons and extras that may be utilized with the Pocket, and depending on your preferences, some of these may be indispensable. The most significant one is the Analogue Dock, a dock for the Pocket that costs one hundred dollars and adds some of the flexibility of Nintendo Switch to the system. The video from the system can be transmitted to any TV through HDMI at a resolution of 1080p, and it is compatible with a number of Bluetooth gamepads, including the Pro 2 and other gamepads from 8Bitdo, as well as the Switch Pro Controller and the DualShock 4 from the PlayStation 4. The dock is a straightforward, black block that has a cutout in the center that houses a USB-C connection for the Pocket. Behind this cutout is a metal cylinder that is also black in color and serves as a support for the system. When the Pocket is docked, it is not held in place in a slot that precisely fits it; rather, it is supported by the USB-C plug and the metal tube that is located behind it. To reiterate, the Pocket wasn’t knocked out of the dock by accident; rather, a more substantial recess or some kind of supporting side pieces would have given it the impression that it was more secure.
An HDMI port, a USB-C port for the cable and wall adapter that are supplied, and two USB-A ports that can be used for wired controllers or to update the dock’s firmware using a USB drive are located on the back panel of the dock.
In addition, Analogue has plans to create four adapters, each priced at $30, that will extend the capabilities of the Pocket beyond those of the Game Boy. At this time, just the Game Gear converter is available, but in 2019, gamers will be able to purchase adapters for titles compatible with the Atari Lynx, Neo Geo Pocket Color, and TurboGrafx-16. Other accessories include a screen protector made of toughened glass that costs $16, as well as a hard case that costs $30 and can be used for both storage and display (the Pocket is not usable while inside it). The accessories are completed by a variety of cables that range in price from $16 to $20. These cables include a sync cable that can be used to connect the Pocket to other Pockets or original Game Boy systems (with the exception of the first Game Boy), as well as USB/MIDI cables that can be used to use the music sequencing features of the Pocket with computers or audio gear.
Along with the Pocket device itself, Analogue also provided us with a number of the available peripherals, such as the Analogue Dock and the Game Gear adaptor, for evaluation.
Performs Impeccably in All Games
I put the Analogue Pocket through its paces by playing over a dozen distinct Game Boy, Game Boy Color, and Game Boy Advance titles, using cartridges originating in Japan as well as in North America. The only game that would not load properly on the Pocket was a reproduction cart of Final Fantasy V Advance that I had purchased from eBay and had the “Sound Restoration” hack added to it. This could be due to inconsistencies in the manufacturing process of reproduction cartridges as the cartridge in question did not load at all. In order to study the issue and find a solution, Analog is now testing reproduction carts that are very comparable to the originals. The Castlevania Double Pack was yet another reproduction cart, and it functioned admirably on the Pocket.
In addition, I used the Game Gear converter to play a couple Game Gear games, and I did not encounter any problems with any of them. The adapter covers up the shoulder buttons on the Pocket, but since the adapters aren’t designed to work with systems that have shoulder buttons, it shouldn’t be an issue while playing games designed for such systems.
The gameplay of each and every game is, for lack of a better description, excellent. The sound is spot on, and the graphics are correct in terms of sharpness, brightness, and color (or accurately muted, coloured, and textured to reflect the screens of the original handhelds). Simply hearing the music for the first time when I started playing Tetris on the Analogue Pocket transported me back to 1989. The games for the Game Boy Advance have a larger aspect ratio, so when they are displayed on a screen with a 4:3 aspect ratio, they appear letterboxed. Despite this, the games still look great, and the active screen size is roughly the same as it was on the original Game Boy Advance.
Control regularly has an even higher-quality feel when played on the Pocket. The control pad’s direction buttons and face buttons have just the right amount of clickiness and springiness, and their inputs are processed immediately. The responsiveness of the Pocket feels superior to that of every other emulation-based gaming device that I’ve used, despite the fact that I’m very tolerant of the peculiarities that come with using emulators to play older games and that I typically don’t pay attention to even the tiniest amounts of lag. It’s a difference that, up until this point, I hadn’t fully noticed or appreciated, but you can definitely tell when using the Pocket.
Graphics, sound, and control all feel exactly the same on a TV in comparison to the Analogue Dock; the only difference is a little visual one. Because the LCD-emulating filters that are available on the screen of the Pocket are not available when the video is sent over HDMI at 1080p, you will not be able to enjoy the wonderful effect that was available on the displays of the original handheld devices when you watch them on your television. To be fair, the lower output resolution definitely places a minor restriction on how good the look of that texturing filter can be, and the effect may just not translate to a larger screen if you are sitting several feet away from it rather than holding a smaller screen in your hand. Emulation-based retro gaming systems are my preferred method for playing vintage games because they produce the output that I desire, which is for every game to look clear and crisp on the television. When playing monochrome Game Boy games, you have the option of tinting the screen a pale mint green, blue, green, or purple by toggling between a few light color filters. While this is an option, I find myself wishing that the green-brown hues of the first Game Boy and the darker grayscale of the Game Boy Pocket were also available.
Both the FPGA-driven nature of the system, which eliminates the need for software emulation, and the excellent upscaling technology employed by Analogue contribute to the exceptional performance of the Pocket. Because it does not employ emulation, it does not have many of the tricks that emulators have, such as the ability to reverse time or apply cheats or hacks. On the other hand, Analogue has included save states for the Pocket, which stores the current state of a game in memory so that it may be accessed with the push of a button. The state of your game can be saved by holding down the Analogue button and pressing up on the direction pad. The state may be loaded back into memory by pressing down on the direction pad. This function currently only offers a single save state slot because it is in the beta testing phase. Having said that, those features will be expanded in a future software update, which will also include the ability to capture screenshots.
Tools for Programming and Music, as Additional Features
The Analogue Pocket is capable of playing traditional cartridge-based handheld games, in addition to having other functions that I am unable to test nearly as completely. GB Studio is an application that may run on Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux. It offers a reasonably straightforward and graphic toolbox for the creation of applications and games on a Game Boy level. After that, projects created in GB Studio can be saved as.pocket files, which the Pocket is able to read (or as Game Boy ROM files, which it cannot, but which can be run in an emulator).
It appears to be a reasonably straightforward and adaptable application that gives programmers the ability to develop games in a number of genres almost solely via the use of visual elements as opposed to coding that is focused on text. I’m afraid that my capabilities don’t quite stretch that far. When I tried to compile several sample projects with the software, it caused my computer’s antivirus program to go into a state of alert. This suggests that the software is careless with the temporary files it creates, even though it probably does not actually pose a threat to the system.
The Pocket has a second FPGA core that is specifically designed for the development of additional system cores to run software designed for even more devices. This core is intended for even more dedicated programmers who want to dig deeper into the technology that is behind the Pocket (and other devices made by Analogue). Analogue has introduced a new FPGA developer program, and the company will make its superior graphical scalers accessible via the processor.
At long last, the Pocket gets the music-sequencing app known as Nanoloop. It is a combo synthesizer and sequencer that provides you with a startling level of control over the music that you create with it. Creating synthesized patterns in 16-note blocks is supported, and there are three tonal channels and one noise channel available. Adjustments can be made to the notes using a variety of tools and parameters, including attack, decay, delay, cutoff, highpass and bandpass filters, length, and others. Patterns can be saved into sound banks with up to 15 slots dedicated to each channel, and then those slots can be connected together to create songs. Even though each song can only employ the patterns from a single sound bank, there is adequate storage space to accommodate a total of 120 sound banks. It is comparable to the Pocket Operator devices developed by Teenage Engineering, except it has a greater number of channels, larger storage space, and does not include any audio sampling functions.
You can sync your projects with digital audio workstation (DAW) software that can handle MIDI data, external MIDI devices like keyboards, analog instruments, or other Analogue Pockets by connecting the Pocket to a computer using accessory cables that are available as an option. These cables can be purchased separately. It appears to be a potent small toolbox that can be used to create chiptunes.
The Highest Quality Game Boy
The Analogue Pocket is widely regarded as the best Game Boy accessory ever developed, despite the fact that Nintendo was not responsible for its development. It plays games for the Game Boy, Game Boy Color, and Game Boy Advance flawlessly, accurately recreating the graphics and sound of each respective system while simultaneously providing a picture that is noticeably clearer and brighter as a result. It is the one and only device that a Game Boy, Game Boy Color, or Game Boy Advance cartridge collector could ever require, even without any additional capabilities. Because of it, I had to give up my painstakingly refurbished Game Boy Advance SP AGS-101 in lieu of it (and go on the hunt for new Game Boy cartridges to add to my collection).
If you add in all of the different adapters, it will be able to play Game Gear games as well as (in the future) Atari Lynx, Neo Geo Pocket Color, and TurboGrafx-16 games. With the addition of GB Studio, it becomes a platform on which you may create and test your own Game Boy games. When Nanoloop is added, the instrument transforms into a chiptunes instrument. It’s amazing to think about.
Although the Pocket is a little bit pricey, the performance and craftsmanship more than make up for the cost. Emulation-based handhelds like the Anbernic RG351P can hold thousands of games at once (and come with thousands of games, if you don’t care where they got them), and they can emulate the majority of game systems up to the fifth console generation. If you value convenience more than pristine reproduction, you should consider purchasing one of these handhelds. Even the Nintendo Switch is capable of storing a large library of retro games from a variety of platforms (though, perplexingly, it lacks Game Boy and Game Boy Advance games). However, for the most authentic experience, nothing can compare to the Analogue Pocket‘s cartridges in terms of how well they look and how they play.
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Zephyr Lee, a writer with a deep passion for science and a talent for explaining complex ideas in an accessible and engaging way. I believe that writing is not just about expressing oneself, but about educating and enlightening others. I strive to create stories that are both informative and engaging, that educate readers and inspire them to think differently about the world around them. I believe that writing has the power to change the way we see the world, and I am honored to be a part of that tradition.