Retro Gaming on a Custom Handheld

My museum is mostly focused on Apple-related items, but it’s ultimately about nostalgia. I do have a few non-Apple pieces like my collection of Intel and AMD CPUs, my large array of Palm Pilots, and even a few Windows PCs and peripherals. After a busy season acquiring phones and other items, I shifted to a different nostalgia: video games.

Like many kids of the nineties, I fondly remember the NES, Game Boy, Game Gear, and Super Nintendo. I owned all four at one point, but I was never the kid with the newest gadget and I never amassed even a tiny collection of games. Regardless I still have fond memories of playing Tetris on a green and black screen with no backlight, dying in the first world of Super Mario over and over, running out of batteries every hour on my Game Gear, and playing T2 Arcade colorized with a border on my SNES through my Super Game Boy. I own an SNES mini but I decided it would be neat to try to collect my handheld gaming systems again.

It turns out that it’s kind of expensive. The hardware goes from $30 – $100, depending on the model, and the cartridges can go from $10 – $50 a pop. That adds up quickly. As I was researching my options I came across a new category of devices I wasn’t aware of: Retro Gaming Handhelds. Think of a Retro Gaming handheld as a Nintendo Switch or PSP that runs games from all kinds of systems – arcade, NES, Super NES, Genesis, Game Gear, N64, Dreamcast, PS 1, and even DS – all on one device.

These handhelds are mostly made by Chinese companies (though some are American) and consist of low-end phone parts mixed with D-pads, shoulder buttons, and joy sticks. They usually include ARM-based CPUs with a bit of RAM, a 3 or 4 inch non-touch low-resolution display (e.g. 320 x 480), a rechargeable battery, speakers, and a memory card slot. They run some form of Linux or Android to run a slew of open source emulators for nearly every classic gaming system. Users fill them up with ROM files (copied from game cartridges) to create a handheld that acts as many systems as one. You can play a Super Nintendo game on the go, followed by a classic Game Boy game, and finish with an arcade game, all in one system.

They are an economical way for me to relive and preserve the past while also discovering systems and games I was never exposed to. Prices range anywhere from $20 to $200, form factors run the gamut from classic Game Boy to modern PSP, and emulated systems range from the 8-bit and arcade era all the way up to the first 3D consoles. I recently purchased two of these at opposing ends of the spectrum to try them out. The first was a $40 Game Boy Advance SP-inspired model called the Powkiddy V90. The second was a $90 horizontal brick style device called the Anbernic RG351P.

In the video below I walk through these devices and compare them.

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