If you’ve been holding your breath for a Game Boy Classic, you’re not alone. Fortunately, Analogue — makers of the hyper-accurate Super Nt and Mega Sg — are planning something way better.
Meet the Analogue Pocket. Announced today and coming next year, the $200 Pocket can be described most simply as an FPGA Game Boy — meaning it’s powered by a chip programmed to behave just like the one in the original hardware. Because of that, Analogue’s little portable can play Game Boy, Game Boy Color and Game Boy Advance titles natively. However, the Pocket can actually do much, much more than that.
A 6-in-1 handheld with an exquisite display
The Analogue Pocket actually supports three other handheld systems in addition to Nintendo’s — the Sega Game Gear, Neo Geo Pocket Color and Atari Lynx — through adapters that will be sold separately. But unlike Analogue’s previous hardware, which only packed one Field Programmable Gate Array (basically a configurable chip), the Pocket has two.
It’s that second FPGA that unlocks a lot of potential, because Analogue says developers can use it to run their own cores. Theoretically, that would enable emulation for a number of platforms the hardware isn’t built for out of the box.
Speaking of the hardware, it’s quintessentially Analogue. The name is probably less than coincidental, given how the Pocket shares the vague proportions of Nintendo’s own Game Boy Pocket from the mid-’90s. There are four face buttons opposite a plus-shaped D-pad, as well as three additional buttons for start, select and another that we can only assume leads to the system’s home screen. There are tiny shoulder buttons on the back, nestled right up against the cartridge slot.
But it’s the Pocket’s 3.5-inch LTPS LCD display that Analogue CEO Christopher Taber tells us he’s really excited about. This is a 1600x1440 display — that’s ten times the resolution of the original Game Boy — with “Pro level” color accuracy, dynamic range and brightness. At 615 pixels per inch, the density of the Pocket’s panel crushes that of the 458-ppi iPhone 11 Pro. We haven’t seen it in action yet of course, but the numbers suggest it’s surely one of, if not the sharpest-ever display in a handheld gaming device.
A microSD slot on the side allows for some expandability (and perhaps, even the option to store game backups, though Analogue stipulates the system isn't designed to play ROMs out of the box). There’s a conventional 3.5-millimeter headphone jack on board, and the Pocket’s lithium-ion rechargeable battery juices up over USB Type-C.
Much more than a Game Boy
All told, the Pocket is shaping up to be an exciting piece of premium retro-gaming hardware, the likes of which there’s never been on the go. But Analogue’s gone above and beyond with two more unexpected, yet tremendously clever features.
The first is an audio workstation built right into the software called Nanoloop, intended for musicians creating or performing live. I’m not a musician myself, but the fact that Nanoloop comes pre-loaded on the Pocket is brilliant, and displays some wicked foresight on Analogue’s part. Chiptune musicians have been relying on Game Boys and Game Boy emulators to produce these sounds for years, but the Pocket incorporates that all into a slick, modern package that’s designed to be tinkered with.
The second is an optional accessory that’s coming sometime after the Pocket’s release. Called the Analogue Dock, it allows you to extend the Pocket’s display onto a TV, and also accepts wired USB controllers, as well as 8BitDo’s own Bluetooth pads. The Analogue Dock doesn’t have a price yet, but it’s expected to arrive alongside the Pocket next year.
History suggests it’ll be a bit of a wait before we get to see the Analogue Pocket in the flesh, as the company has a routine of announcing new products around the holidays, then shipping them mid-spring the following year.
Still, we’re enormously excited to go hands-on with what Analogue’s been cooking. The Super Nt and Mega Sg were very much enthusiast machines that commanded high prices on the basis of doing one thing really well, yet had limited mass appeal. The Pocket, conversely, is equipped to run titles from a multitude of portable systems in the palm of your hand, with a mesmerizing screen and FPGA-class accuracy. Oh, and you can make music with it, too.
For $200, it actually sounds like a more compelling value than you'd expect from Analogue, which typically deals in high-end, luxury retro machines. The Pocket isn't available for preorder quite yet, though you can sign up to Analogue's mailing list on the company's website to know as soon as it's available.