At a certain point in the late 2000s, it seemed that we had largely moved beyond handheld gaming. While there were certainly still some popular portable gaming devices, Game Boy and Sega handheld consoles were past their heyday, and mobile gaming at the time was fairly limited. Over the course of the 2010s though, handheld gaming made a significant comeback — thanks almost entirely to the improvements of smartphones.
Mobile phones have in fact become the preeminent gaming devices of our time. We’ve explored “Why the Mobile Gaming Sector Is Outperforming Consoles” and noted factors like improving phone power, an incredible variety of titles, and convenience — all of which have helped to resurrect handheld gaming and then some. What doesn’t get discussed as often, though, is that the popularity of smartphone gaming appears to have helped give rise to resurgence in portable consoles as well.
Nintendo has expanded its handheld product line with the 3DS XL; the Etpark Handheld Gaming Console is essentially a new-age Game Boy with hundreds of games built into it; and sales of the Nintendo Switch remain so strong that it’s beginning to look like one of the company’s best ever products. All of these make for excellent gaming options on the go. However, if handheld gaming interests you, there are also some fun options that are a little bit more unorthodox. And it’s those that we want to focus on in this piece.
GPD XD Plus Emulator
In a certain sense, the GPD XD Plus it the most interesting handheld gaming device you can find today. That’s because it more or less blurs the lines between old-school consoles and smartphone gaming. Basically, the GPD XD Plus is a flip-open handheld device featuring both a touchscreen and button controls, and designed as an Android system that can download games.
To be clear though, that doesn’t mean that this is just a different device that can access an Android gaming library. Rather, the GPD XD Plus is an emulator that can tap into a variety of games from past systems such as Nintendo 64, Game Boy Advance, and more. Some of the beloved games people may enjoy seeing available for this device, for instance, include The Legend Of Zelda, Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time, Super Metroid, Tomb Raider, and various instalments from series like Donkey Kong, Crash Bandicoot, and Super Mario. In other words, this is basically a perfect handheld console for retro gamers.
The idea of building your own handheld console might once have sounded borderline insane, or at least very difficult. It does demand some patience and skill, to be sure. But thanks to various design techniques becoming more accessible in recent years, it’s also doable.
The two skills you’ll really need to get the job done are 3D printing and basic electrical engineering. 3D printing is simply the easiest way to design the actual casing for your device. Electrical engineering, however, comes into play in designing the components that will power the device and communicate button signals to gameplay. One option in this regard is to teach yourself how to make printed circuit boards, and create one of your own that can perform as needed. Altium’s post about free PCB design software lays out some ways to go about this, conveying that you can design basic schematics via free programs, and then add tools and features as needed to bring about more complex designs. Alternatively, you can also take a similar step by investing in an Arduino — which is more of a ready-made programming option for beginners, and one from which you can build a simple console relatively easily.
There’s still some part collection, design, and engineering to be done beyond 3D printing a casing and designing electronics. But you can find DIY guides for the general process, and in the end you can have a playable handheld device.
We’ve covered an emulator for retro gaming and a DIY option for those interested in such projects. By contrast, the Analogue Pocket is a sleek, modern alternative designed by all appearances to represent a sort of new pinnacle of sophisticated handheld gaming.
To be clear, the Analogue Pocket is not actually available yet. But it’s set to be released in the spring of 2021, and Polygon’s preview of the handheld device characterizes it as a “luxury Game Boy.” Looking at some of its features and designs, that’s a perfectly apt description. The Analogue Pocket looks just like a modernized Game Boy — a classic handheld build with a sleeker, almost Apple-like refinement. It is also compatible with Game Boy titles. However, the Analogue Pocket also comes with a charging port, a game editor feature, screen options (which enable it to mimic screens from past Game Boy consoles), and even an ability to stream content to larger displays (making it somewhat Switch-like).
We can’t review the Analogue Pocket just yet, but if the device is anything like what it appears to be, it may set a new standard for standalone handheld gaming.
The bottom line is that there are a lot of fun options out there for handheld gaming. Even beyond smartphones and tablets, there’s been a resurgence of consoles — as well as fun options like those discussed above — that can help you take your gaming on the go.