There’s no getting around the fact that this is a consumerist hobby. Emulation enthusiasts have spent the last few years getting absolutely inundated with a near-infinite number of new SKUs. I love chasing the latest and greatest handheld hype as much as anyone else, but every so often it’s nice to look back on some of the handhelds that have left an impression.

36S Black light


Perhaps it’s my own nostalgia mixed with an ever-increasing age and decrepitude, but I find myself reflecting on how far this hobby has come, and appreciating just how accessible these handhelds can make reconnecting with memories. When I look at value for money, capability, and just all-around “good” in a device, I am consistently amazed by the Game Console R36S.

A Brief History

The R36S came about after Game Console previously cloned the Powkiddy RGB20S with their own R35S.  Game Console was subsequently barred from continuing to sell the knockoff on the AliExpress marketplace. This is a company that’s had a rocky quality road. Other efforts like the R33S and the R40S haven’t quite hit the mark of the devices they’re copying. Long story short, after a few minor, but ultimately important design changes, we were given the R36S.

A system just different enough from everyone else on the block that it could be sold out in the open without anyone getting into a fuss. The fact that it is manufactured on an openly available PCB and sports the RK3326 chip means that not only is it powerful enough to run a myriad of systems competently, but it has a wealth of community support behind it due to the ubiquity of its parts.

36S Comparison

The launch 36S vs a brand-new version

Since its release in 2023, the R36S has seen some minor hardware revisions. Gone is the first run misprint of the company name will forever hold a special place in my heart. Here now is a device that is largely the same, but with a slightly smaller battery. I’m sure there may be a slight difference in lifespan, but for everyday purposes, it still works just fine.

The Price

You can’t dodge what makes the R36S one of the most attractive options when getting into the hobby. When the device launched it was right around a $50 price point, which was a deal. These things are now regularly selling for under $30. Sometimes I have to take a step back to get my head around the value at hand here.

For half the price of a new AAA title, I can get a fully customizable handheld that plays a myriad of consoles well, shipped to my door directly from Shenzen, and everyone involved is happy. Where else in entertainment are you going to find a deal like this? The hours of potential fun per dollar spent here make it a no-brainer.

R36S at AliExpress

The Out-of-Box Experience

ArkOS on R36S

ArkOS 2.0 and Emulation Station come stock

I love the retro handheld hobby for the same reason that I think a lot of people in the community do – tinkering. I go from new device to new device and install the latest CFW from the amazing community devs out there, and then often move on. The common denominator, though, is that 9/10 devices just wouldn’t be at their potential without community intervention and support.

Rather arrogantly, a lot of manufacturers insist on implementing their own OS, and I just don’t know how many times when I’ve ever been tempted to keep the stock experience. With Game Console and the 36S though, they’ve just moved on to using the community option. The shiny new Ferrari red 36S that I impulse bought last week during the Ali Summer Sale shipped with the April 2024 build of ArkOS 2.0 stock and running EmulationStation. It already has one of the best options available built-in.

Booting Up the R36s

Booting up a new R36S last week was probably the first time that I haven’t immediately felt compelled to ditch the included romset for my own. These are actually smartly organized, broken up, and labeled correctly. There are sure to be some repeats in the included 64g 15,000 games, but they didn’t have to curate these lists as well as they have.

I have been hesitant to recommend retro handhelds to friends who are less technically inclined, or these days those who still want something out of the box that “just works”. For better or worse the smartphone era has made us less willing to put up with extra steps after purchase. The 36S represents one of a select few that I would have no worries recommending someone to buy themselves and feel fine about the experience they would have from the jump.

It can be improved with various community updates and tweaks, sure, but the point is, if they want something that can competently play Mario 64 out of the box, they have it. No tutorials, no videos, just play. Which brings us to…….

Who This Console Is Best Suited For

PSP on R36S

PSP is available from the jump

I am, as you probably are if you’re here, a retro handheld enthusiast. I looked at this device when it first came out as I think many people did. While certainly not flawless, It was a surprisingly capable gaming device for the price –  with decent quality all around. You can hand this to anyone who has a gaming memory over the last 40 years, straight out of the box, and chances are they will be able to find what they’re looking for and be playing in under a minute. Again, for under $30.

When looking at the insane value that this device represents, it makes me shed some of the snark we’re so often to find when comparing dozens and dozens of handheld devices. Is it the best or most powerful thing out there? The hottest thing on the block? No, but it was never really trying to be. This is how you get people to reconnect with lost gaming memories from their past, or introduce someone young to the world of retro gaming. Kid drop their 36S? They won’t even have to save allowance for long to buy themselves a new one.

Recently I picked up the new Anbernic RG Cube and while I’ve come to love the device after getting it properly set up, there’s no getting around the fact that the experience offered out of the box is downright miserable. Most normal folks don’t have the patience to sit down and iron out all the little kinks in the device to get the hardware up to snuff.

The handheld shipped in a state of jank that most consumers would blame the device for. They bought this device for entertainment and want it to work. It makes me appreciate what the R36S is offering not just to the handheld tinkering enthusiast, but to the person that just wants to play some games.

R36S at AliExpress

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