Given the high-quality displays on modern handheld game systems and phones we stare at constantly, it can be hard to go back to using outdated tech. That can be a real shame if you have nostalgia for games that are only available--at least in their original forms--on old hardware. The Analogue Pocket offers a blanket remedy for the entire history of the Game Boy, a family of systems that featured some of the best games ever made. This Game Boy-like handheld makes each generation of Game Boy games--original, Color, and Advance--far easier on the eyes than they would be on their lovely but technologically prehistoric home devices. The Analogue Pocket is the best way to play authentic Game Boy carts, and it has more clever tricks up its sleeve that make it a handheld gamer's dream device.
I can see clearly now
The standout feature on the Analogue Pocket is the 3.5-inch LCD display. This truly marvelous screen boasts a 1600x1440 resolution, which means it has 10 times the resolution of the original Game Boy. The screen itself makes a huge difference without even tinkering with the settings, but the customization available here is what makes the Pocket truly shine. Even if you're used to the quality boost certain emulators can give you, the Analogue Pocket is worth it to play Game Boy, GBC, or GBA titles in their best forms.
The display options make the largest difference with original Game Boy games. Analogue's custom setting removes the green-tinted shaders or grainy backgrounds, replacing them with sharp palettes. By default, original Game Boy games are rendered in grayscale, but you can change the palettes to more vibrant colors like blue, green, and purple to really make them pop.
Every original Game Boy game I tested with Analogue's custom settings--Super Mario Land, Wario Land, Golf, and more--looked brilliant. But if you are nostalgic for the displays of your favorite iteration of the Game Boy, you can toggle the display on the fly. Analogue included recreations of the original Game Boy, Game Boy Pocket, and Game Boy Light, which only released in Japan. While I personally wouldn't recommend it, you can also use the "Pinball Neon Matrix" setting, which turns the screen neon red.
The GBC and GBA custom settings created by Analogue are also extremely impressive. Game Boy Color games are far more vibrant, while Game Boy Advance games look like they could be released today for a modern platform. Again, if you're nostalgic, you can render your games to look like they are being played on the actual Game Boy Color, Game Boy Advance, or Game Boy Advance SP (101 model).
I often cycled back and forth between the recreated displays and Analogue's custom settings, and I was genuinely shocked at how much of a difference it made to take full advantage of the Pocket's modern screen.
In addition to the default display settings, you can also tinker with video options such as sharpness, frame size, blending, and brightness. While I tested those settings as well, I thought the games looked best when using Analogue's default mode for each platform.
Switching between games on the Pocket is a breeze, too. Unlike actual Game Boys, you can swap carts without turning the system off. Once you hit "Play Cartridge" from the menu, the game boots almost instantly. You can even link up the Pocket with any of the three Game Boy models (or another Pocket) to play multiplayer, just like the old days.
Hey look, it's a Game Boy
While the Pocket makes Game Boy games look much better in 2021, the physical design of the handheld closely resembles the original Game Boy. In fact, it's just about exactly the same size as the original Game Boy in terms of height and width (roughly 6 x 3.5 inches). It's far less meaty though, which means that yes, you can fit the Pocket in your pocket. This is a good thing, because the only way to fit the original Game Boy in your pocket as a kid was to have some of those ridiculous jeans with giant side pockets (I had those).
The Pocket comes in either black or white with a matte finish. Overall, I love the understated look that Analogue went with here. It's slightly weird to look at face buttons that are blank rather than being marked with a letter or symbol, but it gives the Pocket a clean look and undoubtedly helps when playing games from different platforms.
All of the Pocket's buttons have a great feel to them. The D-pad is one of the best I've used in a while, as it balances clickiness with responsiveness perfectly to make a reactive and precise control experience. The four face buttons--two rounded and two concave--are also superb. The shoulder triggers, which sit on each side of your game cartridge, might feel a bit too compact if you have large fingers, but they have a nice click to them.
The power button as well as the volume controls are squeezed next to each other on the left side of the Pocket. Though the power button is out of the way so you won't inadvertently press it while playing, the volume buttons are a little bit too small. I don't have large fingers, and I accidentally turned the volume up when I meant to turn it down or vice versa numerous times.
For those who like to keep their devices smudge-free, the Pocket's matte finish, at least with the black model that I tested, tends to show fingerprints and smudges fairly easily, so you could find yourself wiping down the handheld with a microfiber cloth fairly often.
The Pocket, thankfully, doesn't have a hatch that you have to open to load AA batteries. It charges via USB-C and runs for 6-10 hours on a full charge. I've found that I've been getting close to the high-end of that scale when playing original Game Boy games and slightly less play time when playing GBC and GBA titles.
The Analogue Pocket is for creators, too
Out of the box, the Pocket supports two third-party pieces of software to dabble with when not playing games. Released in 2019, GB Studio is a drag-and-drop development tool that lets you create your own little Game Boy/GBC games. You have to create the games using a computer, but you can play them on the Pocket by storing them on a microSD card.
Meanwhile, Nanoloop is an easy-to-use synthesizer that lets you create your own retro music fit for handheld games. Before dabbling with Nanoloop, I had no idea that there is a whole subculture for Game Boy music and live performances using a Game Boy as the main instrument. Seriously, go watch some Game Boy music concerts on YouTube--they are super cool. With additional cables, you can connect your Pocket to GB/GBC/GBA handhelds to use multiple devices while making music. You can also connect the Pocket to synthesizers and MIDI-enabled devices to create elaborate tracks.
What's not here at launch
Unfortunately, not all of the Analogue Pocket's features are available at launch. Analogue will be adding a bunch of new features to the Pocket with firmware update 1.1. The "Memories" feature, which is currently grayed out, will add save states and the ability to take screenshots. Right now, the Pocket has a quick save command that lets you save exactly one game. If you create another quick save for a different cart, your previous save will be deleted. The save will also be deleted when you turn off the Pocket. I saved most of the games I tested the old-fashioned way--on the cart itself. This could be an issue if your Game Boy carts have defective save batteries (very possible, though you can replace them), but it should only be a problem until the Memories feature launches.
As of now, the Pocket's menu system is extremely minimalistic, but that will change when the Library is added. The Library will serve as a database to house information on games across entire system libraries. You'll be able to add screenshots as box art, create playlists, and share those lists with other users. Of course, to boot your games via the Library section, you'll need to own the cart, too. Developers will be able to add their own cores to customize the Library to their liking as well.
Meanwhile, the Tools section of the Pocket's OS will soon track statistics such as play time for each game you own as well as a calendar that tracks the days you played each game--and how long you played that day.
Analogue Pocket dock and add-ons
If you just buy the handheld, the Pocket is only capable of playing Game Boy, GBC, and GBA games, but Analogue is selling adapters for Neo Geo Color, Game Gear, Atari Lynx, and TurboGrafx-16. I wasn't able to test any of the adapters for this review, so I can't comment on how games from those platforms look or perform on the Pocket. The Game Gear adapter is the only one that's available at launch, while the other three are coming soon.
The other major accessory is the dock, which allows you to play the Analogue Pocket on a TV or monitor with up to four Bluetooth/2.4Ghz wireless controllers or wired USB controllers. You can remap controller inputs on the fly to find your preferred layout for each game. The dock is required to play your games on a separate display; you cannot connect it with a third-party cable.
I was pretty surprised how great Game Boy games looked on my 4K OLED TV with the dock. The Pocket mirrors the same aspect ratio frame on your TV, so you'll have black bars on each side of the screen, but there isn't a border--no need to worry about screen burn-in. When playing while docked, you can only use Analogue's default display option for each console. My guess is the recreated displays of original Game Boy hardware wouldn't look so great blown up onto a TV. However, you can adjust the sharpness and background color palette.
You also have five different resolution/refresh rate options: 1080p at 60Hz (default), 1080p at 50Hz, 720p at 60Hz, 720p at 50Hz, and 480p at 60Hz. The 480p option gives you the most screen real estate, but it's only really passable with original Game Boy games--I found that 1080p provided a pretty clear picture for all Game Boy platforms. That said, I had the most fun playing GB and GBC games docked, as the more advanced visuals on GBA games (heh) are muddy when blown up.
At $219 for the Pocket itself--the price has increased from the original $200 preorders due to supply issues--the Pocket by itself is reasonably priced considering its high-quality. The add-ons could bump up the price greatly, as the dock costs $100 and each adapter is $30. Other optional accessories such as a case, screen protector, fast-charging USB-C supply, and various cables could up your investment to more than the price of a PS5 or Xbox Series X. Not to mention the fact that Game Boy cartridges tend to fetch a pretty penny on eBay. I've already spent more than 200 bucks on games for the Pocket, so it can add up quickly.
Analogue Pocket specifications
|Dimensions||5.86 x 3.46 x .86 inches|
|Display size||3.5-inch LCD|
|Resolution||1600 x 1440|
|Battery life||6-10 hours|
|Ports||USB-C, MIDI, microSD|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, 3.5mm jack|
|Supports (out of the box)||GB, GBC, GBA|
|Supports (with adapters)||Game Gear, Lynx, Neo Geo Pocket, TurboGrafx-16|
The bottom line
The Analogue Pocket is a gorgeous ode to the Game Boy thanks to its elegant design and brilliant display. It offers the best way to play authentic Game Boy cartridges, making decades old classics look and feel new again. The Pocket is also a dream for those with nostalgia for their favorite childhood Game Boy model, as you can adjust the display to mirror the original consoles. While the Pocket's OS is minimalistic at launch, Analogue has big plans for future updates that sound pretty darn cool. Just like Analogue's home consoles, the Pocket stands out as a premium device that boasts heaps of versatility while remaining authentic to the handhelds it pays homage to.
Steven Petite tested the Analogue Pocket for roughly 30 hours and has now developed a habit of buying Game Boy games on eBay. A sample was provided by Analogue for the purpose of this review.
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