Get ready for a rare article. Why rare? Because it contains one single criticism. Just one. Ready?
Sometimes the Dpad on the Analogue Pocket registers ‘down’ when you were sure you only meant ‘right’. It’s a little imprecise in that respect. But that’s it.
Everything else about this all-new retro machine is utterly fantastic and it absolutely revitalises your favourite retro racing games. So first a little explanation of what you’re looking at, and then let’s see some examples.
Analogue Pocket is an unofficial, yet joyously authentic Game Boy-alike that plays actual cartridges from the late ’80s, ’90s and ’00s.
Out of the box, you can insert Game Boy, Game Boy Color and Game Boy Advance games and they all play perfectly. Better than perfect, in fact, thanks to the addition of modern functionality like screenshot capture and emulator-style save states. You need a memory card for these, otherwise, it works just like an original Game Boy.
You can also buy adapters to play Atari Lynx, Neo Geo Pocket and Sega Game Gear cartridges. We’ve got the Game Gear adaptor and it’s so authentic, you can even plug in an original Game Gear’s Master System converter and play Master System games on the Analogue Pocket. They’ve never looked better.
The reason they look so good is the screen. The screen resolution is 1600×1440, which is denser even than modern iPhones. That might sound like overkill for games that natively render at 160 x 144, as there are 23.104 million pixels available to display just 23,104 drawn by the game, but look: it’s exactly 10x the resolution on each axis.
This enables the Analogue Pocket to not just draw the game in perfect clarity, but to simulate each pixel of the original Dot Matrix display. Switching on the Analogue Pocket with an original Game Boy game inserted feels like you’re playing a brand new Game Boy in 1989.
It’s so authentic, although there’s no blurriness and it’s brightly backlit so you can play it in the dark. It’s absolutely stunning.
The hardware also offers simulations of various hardware iterations, so you can play Game Gear games as though they’re running on the original Sega version, or Majesco’s later upgrade. Whatever you choose, it makes playing old games a new joy.
And there’s no need to write down passwords any more: when playing genuine original cartridges you can just make a save state on your MicroSD card and pick up exactly where you left off later. The colours absolutely pop, and if you think they’re too rich, there’s even an option to desaturate the display. But who wouldn’t want the 8-bit version of Road Rash looking like this?
Then there’s the sound. Some modern plug-and-play versions of old consoles, such as ATGames’ Mega Drive offerings sound abysmal, like broken, out-of-tune rip-offs, even while playing original carts. That’s simply not the case here. It sounds just like a Game Gear or a Game Boy.
Of course, GBA games still sound a little tinny – they always did and always will do. But the crucial takeaway is that the experience is so rich, for the first time ever, Analogue Pocket provides a superior way to play old handheld games over the hardware you grew up with.
Since getting it, we haven’t touched the vintage hardware, even though its all-timer brilliance is the reason this article is being written now. Game Boy and Game Gear are both incredible machines, but the Analogue Pocket is objectively better, without losing that crucial feeling of authenticity.
But there’s more. All of this is out-of-the-box functionality, yet the firmware can be updated to allow openFPGA applications to be installed.
This changes everything, as it allows you to install ‘cores’ of other systems. Immediately, SNES and Mega Drive cores were developed by ‘the community’ (suspiciously quickly), allowing you to install ROMS onto a Micro-SD card and play games from other consoles.
Quite how far this will go remains to be seen (could it possibly play PSone titles, for instance?), and of course, downloading copyrighted ROMS is illegal, but some devices like the Retrode II allow you to make legal backups of cartridges you own. The Genesis Core even supports battery backup saves so dead batteries in carts are no longer an issue.
As a bonus, some PAL games run faster on the Pocket if you change the region to an NTSC territory, bringing the games up to the way US gamers enjoyed their Genesis games in the 1990s. Very, very cool. The games look super sharp, though you don’t get the screen simulation effects of cartridge-run games.
So what racing games should you try out on an Analogue Pocket if you decide to take the plunge? Well, the following show off its features very nicely:
Ayrton Senna’s Super Monaco GP II on Mega Drive
You do need a ROM and the freely available Genesis Core to do this, but my goodness what a revelation. The Super Monaco GP games never get released on official collections because the Senna license is currently with Gran Turismo and Horizon Chase, of all things.
But the game runs beautifully on the Analogue Pocket, speeding up the PAL cartridge thanks to its NTSC modes and still providing a thrill as you thunder through the Monaco tunnel. A forgotten gem, no question.
GP Rider on Game Gear
This is a Japanese cartridge but the Pocket is region-free (well, actually you can select which region you want it to be), which means you can play the only contemporaneous handheld conversion of Super Hang On on your Analogue Pocket.
Just select ‘World Tour’ mode from the main menu and there are all four levels of Super Hang-On in all but name. Marvelous.
Wave Race on Game Boy
The N64 classic’s 2D predecessor looks alarmingly basic when you look at screenshots, and you wonder how any top-down 8-bit racer can really be worth playing today.
But then, of course, you remember this is a Nintendo game and that timeless quality of design still shines through with challenging and complex handling physics and just the right amount of challenge to keep you playing.
The fact the Pocket’s screen makes it look absolutely brand spanking new is a big part of its charm. It really is like the original Game Boy is new again.
Skitchin’ on Mega Drive
This one just never gets talked about these days, but it’s basically Road Rash on rollerblades, only with a pretty complex trick system on top.
If you have an original cartridge and the means to extract it, then it’s a perfect fit for the Analogue Pocket. And what actually looked pretty scrappy on its release in 1994 now looks rather endearing and it still plays very well.
These are just a brief pick of the possibilities for Analogue Pocket. Suffice to say if you’re serious about retro games and wish the licensed games that just never get re-released were available on more modern hardware, this is arguably better than OG hardware in most ways.
Very, very impressive. Slight shame about that d-pad, though…