Nintendo’s Game Boy was one of the most influential systems of all time. Unfortunately, it’s tough to experience its full glory as a modern gamer.
Some of the better games have gotten ports and remakes. The most recent is Link’s Awakening, a Nintendo Switch game that is actually a remake of a classic Game Boy game. However, most of the system’s library is inaccessible unless you have access to a bunch of old games and systems.
Fortunately, one company is out to change all of this. The Analogue Pocket (coming in 2020) represents your best chance to enjoy old school handheld gaming at home or on the go. Here is everything you need to know about the Analogue Pocket.
What Is FPGA?
Analogue’s specialty is FPGA retro gaming. But what, exactly, does this weird little acronym mean?
FPGA stands for Field Programmable Gate Array. This technology uses hardware to recreate classic systems exactly the way you remember them.
Most retro systems are emulation-based. This means that computer software is doing its best to mimic the classic system. With FPGA, things are hardware-based instead of software-based. That’s why Analogue advertises the Pocket and other products with two little words: “no emulation.”
What’s So Bad About Emulation?
This brings us to the obvious question. What, exactly, is so bad about emulation?
The short answer is that it does not always accurately recreate older systems and games. Games that might have had interesting glitches on the original hardware may no longer have them. And sections that may have slowed down on the original hardware may now play at full speed… and sometimes faster.
In some cases, software-based emulation has trouble getting the speed exactly right for certain systems and games. That’s one of the reasons why even really powerful PC rigs still have trouble emulating the Nintendo 64.
With FPGA, everything is recreated down to the tiniest glitch or slowdown. And while those may sound more like bugs than features, playing an old game with warts and all helps it feel more like it did to players way back when.
Who Is Analogue?
Now you know a bit more about FPGA vs. emulation. Who, though, is Analogue?
Analogue Inc. is an American company founded in 2011. They started out offering expensive, boutique versions of popular gaming systems. For example, they sold a wooden Neo Geo (the “Analogue CMVS”) for a cool $649 back in 2011. In 2014, they released the original Analogue NT. It allowed users to play NES games on modern TVs, and the actual hardware was based on scavenged NES chips.
The company realized that scavenging old chips was not a long-term strategy. What happens when they run out of old chips? This is when they pivoted to FPGA with the Analogue NT mini. It added some bells and whistles such as SD and Game Genie support. It was cast in aluminum and cost $500.
Eventually, Analogue stopped aiming for the richer gamers. They released FPGA versions of the Super Nintendo (known as the Super NT) and Sega Genesis (the Mega SG). These only cost $189 and, unlike their Neo Geo and NES products, are still widely available.
Real Cartridge Support
Another thing that makes these Analogue products feel authentic is cartridge support. You can take old cartridges and play them right away. Obviously, this makes for a great excuse to dig through those dusty old bins of games!
You might be thinking that plenty of over-the-counter products offer cartridge support. If that’s the case, we have some bad news.
The vast majority of such systems are still using software-based emulation. The hardware may let you put a cartridge in, but the software that runs it is the same kind of emulator you would use on your PC or a Raspberry Pi.
One reason gamers are so excited about the Analogue Pocket announcement is the sheer versatility of the system. Right out of the gate, it will play Game Boy, Game Boy Color, and Game Boy Advance cartridges.
And with special cartridge adapters, you can play games from other handheld systems. This includes Game Gear, Lynx, and the Neo Geo Pocket.
Don’t have a ton of old games sitting around? The Pocket, like other Analogue products, offers support for the Everdrive. These are real game cartridges that have room for a mini SD card. You can load every game for a system onto the Everdrive and then play them all on authentic hardware!
Making a Jailbreak
Many veteran Analogue fans are hoping they won’t need an Everdrive for the Pocket. That’s because of the possibility of a “jailbreak.”
Previous Analogue releases were soon “jailbroken” by third-party fans. Once jailbroken, the system can play games directly off of an SD card instead of off a cartridge.
You might think that this sounds an awful lot like emulation. Rest assured, though, that the real hardware is reading the ROM off your SD card the same way the original system read the ROM from your cartridge.
The Nintendo Switch gets its name from the fact that you can “switch” between using it as a handheld or as a home console. This works because of a dock attached to your TV… an idea that inspired Analogue for the Pocket.
Interested gamers can buy a separate dock for their Pocket. This will work much like Nintendo’s own dock: when plugged in, you can play old games via third-party controllers on your big screen at home.
So, what’s the price for the Analogue Pocket? By itself (meaning no dock), it will cost $199.99. The dock price has not been announced yet.
Admittedly, this is a lot to spend for a retro system. However, many fans think this is competitively-priced, especially if you don’t have the technical skills for vintage DIY projects.
Sure, you could get an old Game Boy. But if you want it to look good, you’d have to mod it with features like backlighting, biverting, a glass screen, etc. And then you’d have to do that for every other handheld you’re interested in.
The Pocket provides a well-lit, high-resolution picture right away. No modding required, and just one system lets you play the games from many vintage handhelds.
Goodbye, Old Tech?
One final argument for FPGA is this: it will eventually be the only way you can enjoy your old consoles.
Not to get too morbid, but eventually, the last retro system will fail. The last chips will be fried. At this point, FPGA will be the only way to recreate the original experience.
If you want retro gaming to outlive you, then it’s important to support FPGA and the companies bringing it to life.
Will you be picking up an Analogue Pocket? Let us know in the comments below!