Analogue Pocket Review – A Retro Handheld Marvel

As games industry publishers race to implement shorter loading times, ray-tracing-based rendering, and blockchain technology, retro-hardware-maker Analogue continues to celebrate video game history. With their latest release, the Analogue Pocket, the boutique manufacturer focuses on a fundamental pillar of retro gaming — handhelds. 

The Analogue Pocket is a marvel of design, setting a new standard for premium video game handhelds, retro or otherwise. Best of all, it’s completely legal since it relies on authentic cartridges.

The device features a stunning 3.5” LCD screen with configurable scaling and display modes, an HDMI dock, a popular music creation suite called Nanoloop, and GB Studio game engine compatibility. Most importantly, it plays original Game Boy, Game Boy Color, and Game Boy Advance game cartridges with zero emulation. The handheld also plays Sega Game Gear cartridges via a proprietary adapter sold separately, with Neo Geo Pocket, Atari Lynx, and TurboGrafx-16 adapters planned to release in 2022 for $29.99 each.

The Screen

Besides its library of games, the most crucial part of any handheld is the screen. The Pocket’s 3.5” LCD, which features a 1600×1440 resolution, is the sharpest I’ve seen in a handheld of its kind. Colors exude vibrancy and rich contrast, competing with — if not outperforming — the beautiful IPS displays that have become the standard in the Game Boy modding scene. The device also sports damage-resistant Gorilla Glass and a variable refresh rate display, which helps prevent screen tearing in games.

With its many picture modes, the Pocket convincingly recreates the visual artifacts that Nintendo’s handhelds were known for, including ​​backlight LCD effects and subpixel patterns. For example, you can cycle through DMG, Pocket, and Game Boy Light picture profiles while playing first-generation cartridges, all faithfully replicating the original hardware’s iconic green hues and pixel grid layouts. If you prefer a clean image, you can use Analogue’s custom profile, defaulting to a gorgeous black and white image when not playing color-enabled titles. Additionally, Analogue lets you tweak color palettes, frame blending, sharpness, desaturation, and size/position, but I mostly stuck with the default settings.

It’s truly a visual delight to play games on the Analogue Pocket. I find myself swapping cartridges often to see how the premium screen improves each title.

The Handheld Experience

The Analogue Pocket looks familiar, resembling the Gameboy’s classic form factor, albeit with a few updates. Four face buttons now accompany the D-pad, and a pair of shoulder buttons sit on opposite sides of the rear game cartridge slot. In between Start and Select is the new Analogue button that calls the OS menu and navigation options. You can remap all of these buttons to your preferred function, a great accessibility feature. 

The pastel green power button doubles as a Sleep and Wake option with a single press so that you can pick up games where you left off – effectively serving as a floating save state – vastly improving the handheld gaming experience over ones of the past. A rechargeable lithium-ion 4300mAh battery ensures six to ten hours of play-time. You can charge the battery by docking it on the optional Analogue Dock or by the Pocket’s USB-C port, which I use to connect to my MacBook Pro for a convenient power source on the go. 

While the Analogue Pocket provides an excellent experience, it’s not without flaws. After swapping games, a recurring bug presented a white error screen despite using a clean and adequately seated cartridge. A simple power cycle alleviates the issue, but I hope Analogue addresses it in a future firmware update.

Considering its name, it’s odd the Analogue Pocket doesn’t safely fit inside a standard-sized pants pocket. Instead, I recommend purchasing the Pocket Hard Case, which retails for $29.99, to store the handheld safely in a backpack or workbag. It’s a rather bare-bones accessory — the case is just two interlocking pieces of hard plastic — but it at least keeps the Pocket from being scuffed while in transit. Unfortunately, the handheld doesn’t fit inside the case if the Game Gear adapter is attached, leaving me to carry the accessory loosely in my bag.

Dock It Like It’s Hot

The Switch’s success proves that handheld gaming is better when players have options, and Analogue is smartly following suit. The optional Analogue Dock ($99.99) allows users to sit their Pocket on top to display the device’s image onto an HDMI-compatible display like a television or desktop gaming monitor. If you’re a streamer or content creator who is even mildly interested in spotlighting retro games, the Dock is a must-buy, as it works with capture cards and broadcast software like OBS with ease.

However, if you predominantly play handheld games, well, in your hands and on the go, then I’d say it’s okay to skip this purchase for now.

While it is novel to play Game Boy games on the big screen, I was disappointed by the device’s lack of features. For example, display mode switching is only available in handheld mode, and the Analogue Dock doesn’t pair with many controllers, either. The official website only lists five compatible gamepads (see below). Unfortunately, I tried to connect my Xbox Series X controller via the Xbox Wireless Adapter, but it didn’t work. While I lucked out and had a Switch Pro controller in my desk drawer, I’d like to see support for a more expansive list of controllers in the future.

Which Controllers Work with the dock at launch?

  • 8BitDo Pro 2 (Bluetooth or Wired USB)
  • 8BitDo M30 (Bluetooth or Wired USB)
  • 8BitDo Arcade Stick (Bluetooth or Wired USB)
  • Sony DualShock 4
  • Nintendo Switch Pro Controller

GB Studio – So Many Possibilities

One of the most exciting features of the Analogue Pocket is its ability to play software created in the GB Studio, a drag-and-drop retro game engine, unlocking a whole new library of games to play from indie developers. Devs are already supporting the Pocket on Itch.io, which you can find here. However, highlights like Deadeus and Opossum Country don’t yet work on the Analogue Pocket because their creators have to publish a new file type (.pocket) for the games to work on the device.

There’s also a possible workaround to create your own .pocket file if the game download includes the GB Studio project file (.gbsproj), like Gurb’s Adventure and Pushingo provide, which I’ve detailed below alongside instructions for general GB Studio use. Please know you’ll likely encounter bugs by using this workaround, but it’s fun to explore the handheld’s possibilities while we wait for official developer support.

Oh! I almost forgot. Since the Analogue Pocket recognizes GB Studio titles as proper Game Boy releases, you can swap between its display modes to see how these modern indies might’ve looked back in the 90s on original hardware. I love this thing so much.

How to download itch.io games to the analogue pocket 

  • Download a game on Itch.io made with GB Studio that includes a .pocket or .gbsproj file
  • Create a new folder at the root of a FAT32-formatted MicroSD card and name it GB Studio
  • If a .pocket file is not included with the game: Download GB Studio for free, open the game’s .gbsproj file, use the top navigation bar to select Game > Export As > Pocket File, and wait for the project to compile and export
  • Copy the .pocket file into the GB Studio folder on the MicroSD
  • Insert the MicroSD card into the Analogue Pocket
  • Power on the handheld and press the Analogue button to open the OS menu
  • Navigate to Tools > GB Studio > Play Creations and boot the game you’d’ like to play

Make Music With Nanoloop

Nanoloop is a popular music creation suite for gaming handhelds widely used since the early 2000s to make chiptune tracks, and the Analogue Pocket ships with it built-in. At first glance, the software may appear intimidating; however, its minimalistic layout is easy to learn if you have experience using digital audio workstations or midi-based sequencers. While the learning curve can be steep, I quickly started making beats by referencing the digital manual and had a blast doing so. The sequencer only has four channels (a limitation that breeds creativity), and I enjoy the process of determining which sounds should take priority in my tracks. The synths, drums, and noise tracks Nanoloop produces are pleasing to manipulate while creating sounds. Suppose you’re interested in the process of making music, even at a beginner level. In that case, Nanoloop is a great place to start, and the fact that the Analogue Pocket includes it is incredible.

The Verdict: A

The Analogue Pocket is a collector’s dream. Whether your collection is burgeoning or well-established, the handheld introduces new levels of vibrancy to a beloved era of portable gaming. Despite a few quirks, it provides unmatched convenience for fans exploring the vast library of Game Boy, Game Boy Color, Game Boy Advance, and Game Gear cartridges.

Release

December 13

Price

Analogue Pocket – $219.99

Analogue Dock – $99.99

Analogue Pocket

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