The Pocket arrived. It can play original GameBoy cartridges, and it has the ability to add software “cores” that can play ROMs from assorted platforms.

I ordered this thing a while back, and didn’t realize how badly backlogged they were, which makes this a weird combination of impulse buy and delayed gratification. There are much less expensive retro handhelds that would probably work fine, and my understanding is that the hardware layer is what makes this thing unique: It’s not emulating the hardware in software. Serious classic gamers say this removes a lot of clock issues that make some games unplayable due to timing problems when they’re running on emulated hardware. I would probably never run into this problem, and if I did I would delete the ROM and move on.

Anyhow, the other thing I believe makes it stand out compared to the many other classic game handhelds is that it is not at all fussy or weird to add a core and sideload ROMS for it. I just find the core I want on GitHub, install it to a microSD card, and then add ROMs for that core to the card as well. It took about 15 minutes to go from “empty” to “several dozen classic GameBoy and GameBoy Advance” games. I also found a number of indy games and demakes for it, similarly easy to add. I’ve owned two other retro game consoles/handhelds, and the UI has been pretty atrocious. The Analogue benefits from the Apple-like marriage of software and hardware, and the UI is clean and simple.

For the cost, I’d suggest a few other alternatives if you’re wanting a classic gaming experience:

First are the aforementioned “others,” made by companies like Ambernic. The UI can be bad, but they come preloaded with a ton of games and they’re capable of emulating all the way up to PlayStation 1-era games, and sometimes beyond, for much less money. They’ve been hard to buy because of supply chain issues β€” that’s partially why I ordered a Pocket β€”Β but I think that is loosening up.

The other option is to buy a refurbed original, like a late model Nintendo 2DS or 3DS. They have massive libraries available if you don’t mind collecting physical cartridges, the batteries are replaceable, and the 2DS is built like a tank. Ben had one and I wish I knew where it was. I don’t know how they are for sideloading, so you might end up more out-of-pocket on those, but there are plenty of cartridges out there.

And there’s always the ever-expanding library of ports for the Nintendo Switch. I happen to really, really like the Pocket’s old-school, OG Gameboy design/formfactor, and I’m pretty excited about getting the Atari Lynx cartridge adapter for it at some point, but if you have a Switch and don’t want to spend money on more hardware, it’s there for you.

Finally, the GameBoy Advance library has been a pleasant surprise. I just Googled “best GBA games,” read through the resulting listicles, and built a nice library of stuff that’s pretty high quality. Core Nintendo games and franchises have a way of being reincarnated for every generation of hardware, and there’s something to be said for the simplicity of pre-Switch stuff. The constraints on screen size, hardware, and memory resulted in more pared-down ports, or fairly faithful recreations of stuff from even more constrained times. The classic Atari console and arcade port collections available for the GBA create a sort of Inception-like “retro inside a retro” experience for stuff like Joust, Galaga, Gyruss, Elevator Action, Time Pilot, Pitfall, Enduro, Laser Blast, etc.

So now I’m sitting here weighing whether to start with:

  • Fire Emblem
  • Final Fantasy I & II Dawn of Souls
  • Final Fantasy VI
  • Harvest Moon Friends of Mineral Town
  • Advance Wars