Well, that didn’t take long at all… The BittBoy folks are back with another nostalgic gaming handheld, this time called the PocketGo retro console. Much like the BittBoy before it, the PocketGo is portable device running emulators of your favorite Nintendo handheld systems, like the Game Boy, Game Boy Color, and Game Boy Advance, as well as some home consoles like NES, SNES, Sega Genesis (MegaDrive), and even MAME somehow.
While the BittBoy’s form factor stuck very close to the original Game Boy & GB Pocket designs, the PocketGo is emulating the style of the first model GBA. The layout is horizontal with START & SELECT on the left, under the D-pad, and—critically important—it incorporates L&R shoulder buttons on the top. This is clearly a handheld designed primarily with GBA emulation in mind. And that’s good, because the GBA was awesome.
The PocketGo is quite small, shaped like a candy bar, and shockingly light. This time the power switch is on the lefthand side of the device, and an old-school volume roller is on the right. Nothing is on the backside of the handheld, or the bottom, but the top has all your ports for easy accessibility. There’s the SD card slot, a mini-USB port for charging, AV-out, the R menu button, and a standard headphone jack. Yes, unlike the otherwise perfect GBA SP experience, this device lets you play games using your regular headphones.
Speaking of headphones, Mike noticed that the headphone jack does not work with 4-pole jacks (i.e., phone headphones with a mic) unless you pull it out partway. This might seem like a nitpick, but heads up to anyone having trouble getting their headphones to work.
The body of the PocketGo is so small and lightweight, it might feel cheap and disposable to some players. Much like with BittBoy, it could actually be too small for some folks to play comfortably. All the buttons feel responsive and satisfyingly “clicky”, with L&R getting the job done, even if they don’t necessarily feel amazing. The D-pad again does not disappoint, feeling appropriately chunky. Though it is positioned really close to the left edge of the machine, making me almost wish they had made this device just a little bit bigger. With the slim form factor though, you really can slip this thing comfortably into your pocket.
The screen looks pretty awesome, bright and clear. There’s some light bleed on the upper edge, which you can see pretty clearly in these photos. Screen tearing is unfortunately an issue with many (if not all) games, and I’ve heard that this particular screen is only a 30hz refresh display, which might explain that.
Like the BittBoy, this device’s speaker is freaking loud. There’s also a weird omnipresent buzz noise, which is minor enough that I won’t gripe about it. Oddly enough though, of the two PocketGo’s I’ve tested, one seems to have audio problems. The speaker went from loud and clear to barely audible after about 20 minutes play time, and I haven’t gotten it back to normal since.
And hey, look at that, the PocketGo has native game saves! One aspect of the BittBoy that I heard some disappoint over was the fact that it didn’t support native game saves, meaning you had to use save states to record your progress. It seems the BittBoy team took this into consideration, because the PocketGo allows you save natively in any game’s menu, just like the original game carts. (You can still use save states too, if you like.)
Ok, so let’s sum up the PocketGo in the same three areas as before: price, ease of setup, and quality of experience.
Much like the BittBoy before it, the PocketGo is affordably priced. At $39.99, the handheld comes with a 8GB SD card with all the software pre-loaded on it. There really isn’t anything comparable out there that’s going to beat it on price.
Ease of Setup
The PocketGo is super easy to set up—even easier than the BittBoy. When you get the device with an SD card already included, everything is basically ready to go. In fact, when my PocketGo arrived, it had some games already loaded onto the SD card, which was about as convenient as it gets. Pretty much no hassle here, it’s just a matter of loading your own roms onto the SD card and customizing the emulators however you see fit, whether that’s remapping the controls or changing display options.
One super weird thing about the emulators in the PocketGo, most of them seem to have the face buttons are flipped. As in, A is B and X is Y. Additionally, while the main menu uses the A button as “confirm” and the B button as “back”, many of the emulations use the reverse. This makes it fairly disorienting to simply navigate the various emulator menus; which you’ll need to do because you have to fix the backwards button mapping.
Quality of Experience
Ok, obviously this is where the decision to buy a PocketGo really lies. And it’s oddly kind of a mixed bag. When the emulation is good, this thing is really incredible. But when it’s bad, it is genuinely disappointing.
For original Game Boy, Game Boy Color, and Game Boy Advance games, the quality of emulation is pretty damn great. Yes, you’ll still see some screen tearing here and there for nearly all scrolling titles—even old Game Boy ones like Super Mario Land 2—but it’s not a deal breaker. If you’re looking the most convenient way to play your library of GB/GBC/GBA games on the go, this is probably it.
The NES and Sega Genesis games I tested played quite well too. We have been able to crash games occasionally though, even stuff like NES Dr. Mario, so I suppose your milage may vary.
Shockingly, NeoGeo arcade titles seemed to play very well. Granted, Garou: Mark of the Wolves basically froze the device trying to load and Sengoku 3 just wouldn’t open at all, so those were no-go’s, but other games faired much better. Wind Jammers, Fatal Fury 2, Metal Slug 1 & 2, and Samurai Shodown 1-4 all ran impressively smoothly on the tiny device.
And while I didn’t expect MAME games to work at all, the titles included on the SD card actually play decently, including beat’em up gem Cadillacs and Dinosaurs. If Capcom arcade games are your thing, it looks like older CPS1 games will play, but probably not CPS2, and definitely not CPS3. My old rom of Ms. Pac-Man wouldn’t boot up either, so take what you can get, I guess.
PlayStation 1 games technically will play on the PocketGo, but this thing is so unpowered that almost all games will be unplayable. I found that 2D games faired far better on the handheld than 3D ones (if you enable frame skip), with Pocket Fighters running well enough to enjoy a few cartoony matches. That one just seemed like the most appropriate title to test.
The real mixed bag for the PocketGo is actually Super Nintendo emulation, which in many cases is just plain unusable. I do not recommend buying this device for playing SNES games, because a lot of your favorites aren’t going to work well. The default settings will render some sprites transparent, making for display problems across the board. For example, jumping piranha plants in Super Mario World will be invisible to the player. Change that transparency setting though, and the frame rate plummets, rendering many SNES games unplayable.
It really surprised me how widely the pendulum of playability swung for SNES games with this emulator. Super Mario World can’t really be played, but Donkey Country seems to do alright. TMNT IV: Turtles in Time is straight-up unplayable, but X-Men: Mutant Apocalypse runs surprisingly well. Star Fox and Yoshi’s Island run like hot garbage—which is to be expected—but the emulator can’t even handle F-Zero. Super Castlevania IV isn’t really playable either. Street Fighter II Turbo and Super Street Fighter II both run pretty darn well, and Killer Instinct also feels playable…if only just barely.
Now the SNES emulation may be spotty, but the GBA emulation works great! This means your SNES rom of Super Mario World might run like trash, but the GBA release of Super Mario World (Super Mario Advance 2) will work fine. Same thing for Super Mario Kart vs Mario Kart: Super Circuit. As long as you have the GBA rom, you should be golden. …With the exception of Yoshi’s Island, which I can’t get to run on GBA at all for some reason.
All in all, I think BittBoy’s new PocketGo is decent little handheld, well worth its price tag. It may not offer the perfect emulation—and the fact that SNES games are so unreliable is a real bummer—but it offers so much in the way of convenience and portability that it more than makes up for it. As long as your expectations of what the device can and can’t do are realistic, there’s a lot to like here. The lightweight pocketable design means you can definitely throw it your bag for quick gaming sessions on the go.
And if you lose it while road tripping across the American Midwest; don’t worry man. It was only 40 bucks.