I Desperately Wanted to Love This Game Boy Micro Clone

I Desperately Wanted to Love This Game Boy Micro Clone
Photo: Andrew Liszewski - Gizmodo

Instead of just letting you play the retro games of your youth, what if a handheld emulator also recreated the look and feel of the consoles you remember? On paper the new Anbernic Retro Game 300X seems like it takes everything that made the Game Boy Micro great and upgrades it.

Note: A sample of the Retro Game 300X was provided to Gizmodo by online retailer KeepRetro.

It’s not the most well known of Nintendo’s handhelds, but the Game Boy Micro has a near cult following today, and I’ll admit I unabashedly love the tiny console. It took my favourite platform, the Game Boy Advance, and squeezed it into an incredibly small and easily pocketable handheld that was still very much playable, even if its tiny screen now seriously challenges my ageing eyes. I can vividly remember the Electronics Boutique cashier trying to talk me out of buying one (“the screen is so tiny!”) but the Game Boy Micro is still one of my favourite gadgets of all time, so I had high hopes for the Anbernic RG300X.

Anbernic Retro Game 300X

WHAT IS IT?

A Game Boy Micro-inspired handheld gaming console capable of playing countless retro titles through emulation, from the Nintendo Game Boy to the original Sony PlayStation.

PRICE

$US80 ($109)

LIKE

Reminiscent of the Game Boy Micro. Slightly more comfortable to play than the Anbernic RG280V if you have larger hands.

DISLIKE

Much larger than the Game Boy Micro. The screen has a weird colour tint and doesn't go as bright as the one on the Anbernic RG280V.

The Game Boy Micro Without the Micro Part

Photo: Andrew Liszewski - Gizmodo Photo: Andrew Liszewski – Gizmodo

Based on the handful of photos I’d seen of the RG300X before it arrived, I was hopeful that it wouldn’t be much larger than the Game Boy Micro. But with a 3-inch 640×480-pixel screen, I was definitely being over-optimistic about its size. The RG300X is much larger than the Game Boy Micro, and that turns out to be both a good and bad thing.

Photo: Andrew Liszewski - Gizmodo Photo: Andrew Liszewski – Gizmodo

When the retro gaming craving hits there are two handhelds I currently reach for: the RG350P and its dual analogue joysticks, which make playing PlayStation games easier, or the smaller RG280V for when I’m sticking to 16-bit titles. The new RG300X falls somewhere between the two, but closer in size to the larger RG350P, despite having a screen that’s about a half-inch smaller. If you’re going to design a modern console that looks nearly identical to the Game Boy Micro, it really should be a lot smaller than the RG300X. But the new console does offer some advantages over the compact RG280V, which isn’t the most comfortable device to play with if you’ve got larger hands.

Comfortable Gaming for Giant Hands

I love the size of the Anbernic RG280V; its Game Boy-inspired layout is just barely larger than the handheld’s almost 3-inch screen making it very easy to travel with. But it doesn’t take long for the layout and spacing of its controls to start to feel cramped while you play. The controls on the new RG300X could have been tightened up to produce a much smaller console, but the generous spacing does feel much better for longer play sessions.

Photo: Andrew Liszewski - Gizmodo Photo: Andrew Liszewski – Gizmodo

The RG300X uses the same tiered shoulder buttons as the RG280V so you can differentiate the two by feel, but both are longer and easier to press with your index fingers. I’m not a fan of the fake silver finish on plastic parts, but it’s part of the Game Boy Micro-inspired design here.

Photo: Andrew Liszewski - Gizmodo Photo: Andrew Liszewski – Gizmodo

The four-way directional pad is the same one Anbernic has included on countless handhelds to date, and it feels as good as Nintendo’s original hardware. The action buttons on the new RG300X are more spaced out than the ones on the RG280V and feel much better, but I do miss the added texture of the embossed letters on the smaller console.

Photo: Andrew Liszewski - Gizmodo Photo: Andrew Liszewski – Gizmodo

The Game Boy Micro’s glowing Select and Start buttons have been perfectly recreated on the RG300X and are used to indicate the console’s power status, as well as serve as a charge-level indicator for its 2,500 mAh battery. I can’t find any way to turn them off, and I’ve already seen other users cracking open the RG300X to find ways to physically disable these glowing LEDs because they find them distracting.

None of the current crop of handheld emulators we’ve reviewed include Bluetooth or support for wireless headphones, but at least the RG300X positions the headphone jack on the underside of the console where it should be.

A Tale of Two Screens

Photo: Andrew Liszewski - Gizmodo Photo: Andrew Liszewski – Gizmodo

The biggest disappointment of the RG300X isn’t its size, however, but the quality of the screen used. Over the past couple of years, Anbernic has been slowly upgrading the quality of the screens used in its handhelds, and they now feature fully laminated screens with excellent contrast, brightness, and colour reproduction. The LCD screen on the 16-year-old Game Boy Micro looks downright awful when compared to the RG300X’s, which comes as no surprise. But sitting side-by-side with the slightly older RG280V, the screen Anbernic has used for the RG300X is a complete disappointment. Its colour profile is not just cooler, but almost seems green, and at maximum brightness it’s noticeably darker than the RG280V’s display. I’m not sure what happened here, but it feels like a step back for a device that’s more expensive than the RG280V.

Not as Easy to Use as a Game Boy

Anbernic continues to power its handheld emulators with the dual-core 1.0GHz JZ4770 processor it’s been using for quite some time now. You’ll also find it inside the new RG300X, which means that while the new console can emulate consoles like the N64 and the PlayStation, performance varies wildly from game to game. Paired with a lack of analogue joysticks, that means while you can probably get away with playing a handful of fully 3D games, you’ll mostly want to stick to your 16-bit favourites from the SNES and Sega Genesis era, or older games.

Instead of physical cartridges, the RG300X loads games through ROM files, but as with all of Anbernic’s devices, you can simply fill a microSD card with the files (be sure to keep them organised into properly named folders for your own sanity) and then pop the memory card into a dedicated slot on the bottom of the handheld. It doesn’t come with any games, and it’s important to remember that playing games using ROM files and not the original cartridges or discs is a legal grey area which can also make it hard to source these types of files.

Photo: Andrew Liszewski - Gizmodo Photo: Andrew Liszewski – Gizmodo

A basic level of competency with using a computer to copy files to a memory card is required to use a device like this, as well as sufficient patience to learn to navigate the OpenDingux Linux-based operating system that Anbernic’s handhelds run on. It’s ugly, occasionally confusing, and often requires you to memorise a series of button combos to hop in and out of games without power cycling the RG300X to get back to the main menu. Software and firmware upgrades are no picnic either, but rarely mandatory, and there are plenty of detailed guides on the internet should you want to tinker with it. A general lack of polish with user-friendliness is the trade-off for an $US80 ($109) console that can play thousands of different games.

Should You Buy It?

Photo: Andrew Liszewski - Gizmodo Photo: Andrew Liszewski – Gizmodo

If you skipped the Game Boy Micro 16 years ago because of its size but were head over heels in love with its design, then the RG300X might be for you, because in every way it’s an upgrade to Nintendo’s smallest handheld. But for $US80 ($109) your money is better spent on either the RG350P, which includes a brighter, larger screen plus a pair of analogue joysticks, or the cheaper $US66 ($90) RG280V, which, hand cramps aside, still packs an incredible amount of value and playability into a very small handheld with a beautiful screen. Even if your hands are larger than Bigfoot’s, the smaller RG280V is still the better way to go.