It’s become painfully clear that Nintendo has no plans to release a throwback console to celebrate the Game Boy’s 30th birthday this year. But you won’t lament the Game Boy Classic Edition not happening now that the Analogue Pocket has been revealed. It’s a portable console that flawlessly plays cartridges from almost every portable game system every made on a glorious hi-res screen: and without sloppy emulation.
We’ve shared enough words on why emulation is not the best way to replay the classic video games of your youth, which is why Analogue continues to go the FPGA route with its throwback consoles, which have so far included the Analogue Nt, the Super Nt, and the Mega Sg. An FPGA (or Field-Programmable Gate Array) is a custom chip that can be programmed to function exactly like all the silicon found inside old consoles. The result is a gameplay and sound experience that’s an exact recreation of what classic hardware offered, and occasionally even better.
In the case of the new Analogue Pocket, there are actual two FPGAs inside. One emulates classic handheld consoles including the Game Boy, Game Boy Colour, Game Boy Advance, whose cartridges can all be slotted in the back, as well as the Sega Game Gear, Atari Lynx, and the Neo Geo Pocket Colour, whose cartridges will require adapters. The other FPGA is there to allow developers to transform the Analogue Pocket into other portable devices, so it remains to be seen what other functionality it will eventually offer.
The Analogue Pocket includes a 3.5-inch backlit LCD screen with a resolution of 1600×1440 pixels, so titles from systems with wider screens, like the GBA, will require letterboxing. But Game Boy games should look unbelievable, and you won’t have to strap on some bizarre light accessory to play games in the dark.
It will also include a microSD card slot, and though not an official feature, support for games loaded via ROMs will undoubtedly be an option, as it is with the company’s hardware like the Super Nt. All that should be worth the price of entry, but Analogue has added one other excellent Nintendo-inspired feature.
Like the Switch, the Analogue Pocket will be able to dock (sold separately) and connect to a TV over HDMI so that any of the games it can play can be enjoyed on a giant screen. Yes, the idea of playing a Game Boy game, which had a resolution of 160×144 pixels, on a 4K TV with over 8.8 million pixels seems ludicrous, but imagine stacking Tetris blocks the size of your head. The dock also supports controllers, both Bluetooth wireless and USB-tethered, so you can take the overkill to a whole new level.
Portable consoles have traditionally enjoyed a much longer life than gaming systems you connect to a TV: I haven’t touched an NES in years but still have a working GBA on my desk. But in recent years the Game Boy has been especially popular amongst chiptune musicians who use the system to create electronic music. For them, the creators of the Analogue Pocket will include a popular digital synthesiser and sequencer app called Nanoloop, but given its capabilities, you can expect to see even more music creation apps brought to the new handheld once it’s available to developers.
When it launches sometime in 2020, the Analogue Pocket will sell for around $300, which seems pricey given it costs the same as the Nintendo Switch Lite. But having reviewed all of Analogue’s previous console clones, it’s proven itself a company that focuses on delivering an unparalleled gaming experience and build quality with its hardware.
So if you’re willing to splurge, you probably won’t be disappointed. Besides, the $220 Playdate, also enroute for 2020, will initially launch with a series of just 12 games released on a weekly basis, while the Analogue Pocket will be able to play over 2,780 from Nintendo alone. Aren’t you glad the Playdate hasn’t opened its pre-orders yet?