Analogue, the company that’s helped to turn retro gaming into a premium affair in the past few years, is taking on the portable market for the first time.
On Wednesday, the firm is announcing its first-ever handheld device, the $199 Analogue Pocket. Like its predecessors for the home market—the NES-honoring Nt Mini, the Super Nintendo-riffing Super Nt, and the Sega-honoring Mega Sg—the company is bringing an as-perfect-as-possible approach to retro home consoles like the Game Boy and Game Boy Advance, and is doing so with a maximalist feel.
Like the prior consoles, the Analogue Pocket will rely on Field-Programmable Gate Array (FPGA) technology, which allows for near-perfect recreation of the underlying hardware through programmable cores. Unlike the prior consoles, it comes packed with a screen, and a pretty good one at that. With a resolution of 1600x1440—10 times the original Game Boy—the Pocket’s Low Temperature Polycrystalline Silicon (LTPS) LCD screen, similar to the “Molecular Display” technology offered on Google’s recent high-end Chromebooks, can compete with a high-end smartphone for sheer amount of detail. (And yes, it’s backlit—another distinct advantage it has over the early Game Boy generations.)
“We're more excited about Pocket than any other product we have made in Analogue's nearly 10-year history,” noted the company’s founder, Christopher Taber, in an email.
In terms of the device’s design, it plays against the broader horizontal trend that has defined portables over the last 15 years, somewhat similarly to another high-profile portable announced in recent months, the PlayDate. Taber noted that the company teamed with the British design studio Kenyon Weston, which also worked on the Mega Sg and Super Nt, to build the design, which (like those consoles) mixes in modern touches to go with the retro design.
“We wanted to bring back the portrait style handheld versus a landscape device,” Taber noted. “Everything else is Analogue DNA.”
Much like the prior Analogue systems, the games are the center of attention, with a cartridge slot that is designed to display the full label. Out of the box, the device will support Game Boy, Game Boy Color, and Game Boy Advance games, and like the Mega Sg, will offer add-on cartridge-based adapters to support additional consoles, in this case the Sega Game Gear, the Neo Geo Pocket Color, and the Atari Lynx. (The Mega Sg also supported the Game Gear with an add-on, but it’s also not particularly portable.)
Another add-on that modern gamers are likely to be psyched about: A dock, price to be determined, will be coming out for the Pocket, allowing for the games to be played on a HDMI-enabled modern TV with all the creature comforts that entails, something that has become a hot commodity in recent years among retro gamers with elaborate mods such as the GBA Consolizer being developed for that purpose. The dock will support both Bluetooth and USB controllers.
(And if you want to play on a CRT, Analogue announced a $79.99 digital-to-analog converter earlier this year.)
But while the device maintains its game-first focus, Analogue has clearly been keeping an eye on what’s been happening in the enthusiast space, with two additions to the device that aren’t necessarily pure gamer plays but speak to the kind of high-end fandom that an enthusiast willing to spend $199 on a portable retro console would care about.
The first is the decision to open the console up to developers who wish to build additional cores for different systems that Analogue hasn’t already thought of. Past Analogue consoles have had unofficial “jailbreaks” that offer up similar functionality, but the move to create an official channel comes at a time when a Raspberry Pi-like open-source FPGA console, the MiSTER, has gained popularity within some parts of the retro gaming community. To cater to them, Analogue added an additional FPGA that they can program on.
Taber admits the community of FPGA enthusiasts is small, but that Analogue sees an opportunity to give them access to some powerful hardware for tinkering purposes.
“We want to encourage other developers to help preserve video game history, too,” he says. “With access to Analogue's proprietary hardware and scalers, we think developers are going to do some amazing things.”
The other key feature is the addition of Nanoloop, a popular digital audio sequencer originally designed for the Game Boy that recently saw a successful Kickstarter for a physical version of the tool.
Taber noted that, considering the physical cartridge version of Nanoloop generally costs upwards of 50 Euros plus shipping, it’s a huge discount to get it installed directly on the Pocket.
“I'm personally extremely excited about the inclusion of Nanoloop—I’m even more of a music guy than a video game guy, if you can believe it,” he added.
A console like this is all about the added touches—the existence of a Game Boy link plug, for example, opens the device up to accessories—and when it hits next year, it’s likely to create a splash among gamers in much the same way as the company’s prior consoles have.
“We approached Pocket the same way we approach all of our products,” Taber said. “We're here to redefine an entire category—to offer a conclusion of sorts, to raise the bar to the ultimate height.”