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Analogue Pocket review: The greatest Game Boy ever made


Analogue Pocket handheld game system posed in an outdoor scene
Enlarge / Analogue Pocket, running The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening in its Game Boy Color mode.

Sam Machkovech

The Analogue Pocket is a dream of a gaming device, and it begins shipping to preorder customers this week. It’s the most powerful, beautiful, and feature-rich system to revolve around the original Game Boy—and it has earned its mountain of pre-release hype. The Pocket supports any game cartridge with the words “Game Boy” on the label (including GB Color and GB Advance games), while cartridge adapters allow it to play other companies’ portable games. That combination of features makes Analogue’s latest product a wholly unique portable retro-gaming option—and for the most part, the manufacturer has nailed its execution.

But the Pocket is also a first-generation gadget. Its makers have never released a portable system before, which means that fans of the company’s previous TV-centric retro systems (like the Super Nt and Mega Sg) might wonder what they’re in for. Is the Pocket another slam-dunk—or does it have enough issues to merit waiting for an eventual system refresh?

Having now tested the Analogue Pocket for a whopping three weeks, I can say that the answer depends. If you bought during the system’s painfully brief preorder window late last year, don’t fret: your $199 purchase is an insane value. (For all future orders, the price is now $20 higher at $219.) If you didn’t buy yet, you can soften your FOMO with the knowledge that there are a few rough edges—and that an eventual Pocket 2.0 could make a great system even better.

A primer for the uninitiated: FPGA + original hardware support

The retro-obsessed engineers at Analogue have spent years rebuilding classic game consoles from scratch. Each project has brought new life to old cartridges, cables, and controllers, offering accurate recreations of the original experience. Analogue uses Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA) motherboards—flexible boards that can be reprogrammed to fake like other systems. The result is something you might call “hardware emulation,” since these systems run older software with the same clock speeds and other hardware attributes that their original designers intended. If a game was coded for the dreadfully slow SNES CPU or the Sega Genesis’ inherently limited FM synthesizer, an accurate FPGA system can beat typical “software emulation” at recreating gameplay, visuals, and sounds.

Analogue’s FPGA systems go further by adding facsimiles of original cartridge slots and controller ports, along with modern tweaks like HDMI ports or higher rendering resolutions. Assuming your loved ones haven’t dumped your ’80s/’90s gaming collection in a donation bin, you can typically plug your original games, controllers, and accessories into an Analogue system, and they should all just work. Even better, you can plug Analogue’s newer hardware into an HDTV and expect resolutions as high as 1080p. (The results look sharper than plugging old systems’ RCA or coaxial cables into a modern TV.)

Thus far, Analogue’s output has thrilled obsessive gaming fans but left price-conscious novices confused. Why spend over $200 on an “FPGA” console, they might ask, when all-in-one boxes like the SNES Classic or Sega Genesis Mini work with HDTVs, cost less, and include bonuses like built-in games?



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