While you guys are furiously gripping your fat, 4″ screened Anbernic donkers, another very worthy contender is up to bat for the Thor’s hammer of Best Affordable Low End to Mid-range Chinese Handheld Emulator™. This time around, let’s roll out the red carpet for the new (but not new) and improved (yes, very) RP2S!
Come on over here sit down on papa Joe’s lap and let me tell you a tale of the harrowing Wild West of cheap plastic rom emulators from China. Back in the olden days when Anbernic still liked Taki Udon, and the Retro Game Corps was too busy being an actual war hero to the American military to tell us about the poor button quality of the RK2020 (it was very bad). The time where the Facebook group Retro Handheld Paradise earned the “most popular retro emulation” moniker before it ultimately lost to bots and… other legally questionable things.
And one day a new kid came out of the woods and completely ripped off the design of the Powkiddy a19 and vastly improved it, calling it the Retroid Pocket. Complete with an extremely outdated version of Android and the absolute worst front end that I will not name in fear that it might come back to haunt me in my sleep and ultimately kill me, it also just kind of sucked (mind you, this is still an improvement over the Powkiddy… anything pre-2023.)
Everybody reviewed it, everybody liked it, then everybody dropped it. Damning it to the abyss. Nice. Good job everybody. Hmm.
Then one day out of the blue, something actually worth getting excited about was announced: a stupid yellow Stan Smith chin looking, Gameboy Advance POS called the Retroid Pocket *2*. You’d think we’d be on topic by now but nope. Sorry. This was… 3 years ago? Ouch.
Retroid Pocket 2, In all it’s yellow glory (2020)
I fell in love at first sight. It was landscape, it ran a shit-bunch of the video games, it had two speakers, stacked shoulder buttons, it had the headphone jack, the analog stick, uhhh it was yellow I guess. As well as a shitty 3ds slider, no touch screen, and the buttons were ass which was… Meh. I was young, naïve, stupid, and not only bought it, but messaged Retroid directly and paid an extra $20 to expedite that shit. Who cares though, the RP2 (imo) brought what was the most comprehensive hardware configuration that just… well… looked good, as well as helped establish a core fan base of adults with disposable income looking to scratch their nostalgia itch. This of course leading to the infamously cursed RP2 community group which hosted every post from “Shipping yet?” to Morrowind tutorials, to arguments about N64 emulation (it’s still the bane of my existence), to arguments about d-pad bindings that lead to one-sided heated hate messages from dudes with joint smoking pfps.
Hate messages over Dpad mapping in N64 Emulation (2020)
That group doesn’t exist anymore, since it became Retro Handhelds (this very community!).
I am a simp. I was wafted just about every fart Retroid popped out and enjoyed it like an uncivilized troglodyte. The build quality and designs are always pushing the market forward, and never stagnating. When Anbernic releases a handheld, you generally know exactly what to expect (for better or worse). When Powkiddy releases another mediocre handheld designed by Chat GPT, only to be improved with clones, we all laugh (alot of Powkiddy W’s lately though). When Retroid releases a handheld, we stare, we point, we open our wallets, we complain about shipping time, and wonder what they will do next (or at least I do.)
RP2+? Owned it, hated the buttons, returned it same day. RP3? Owned it, loved it, sold it. RP3+? Owned it, kinda liked it, sold it. RP Flip? Skipped it. Is it me? Probably. But there was always something setting me back, maybe it’s just my *sips tea* ever-growing standards of quality. I like Retroid, but my standards are increasing. I need a semi-competent, comfortable to touch & sniff, pocketable handheld that I could carry with me and play 2D games to compliment my chonky Steam Deck. Something that has stereo audio, Android (I will not debate this, but feel free to leave me a hate comment), and at least one analog stick, that is powerful enough to be able to run games with enough leeway to use filters and latency reduction.
In case you didn’t get the impression already, I think this console is the beeziest of the kneeziest; and I’m not saying that because I’m in a honeymoon phase. I spent $130 total to get the bare minimum experience with a grip because that is all I require, and my financial advisor said this handheld won’t make or break me financially, so my engagement is safe (for now). So my configuration is 3 GB by 64 GB and a 256 GB SD card in black. I wanted to give an accurate representation for potential viewers in showing them what their $100 get-… Okay for real though? I emailed Retroid and asked which ones they had in stock ready to ship and bought that lol.
Retroid Pocket 2S, In all it’s Sleek Black glory (2023)
Sound test @ half volume (2023)
Congrats if you made it this far because this is actually where the review starts. But good news: with all this context, that’s actually 60% written already. This console is, at its core, a rehash of what they already did in 2020 but with improvements… but it actually isn’t. Basically, what you’re getting here is the latest Retroid buttons and analog sticks as well as analog triggers, a better screen and just enough processing power to do mid to low range GameCube and PS2 with a lot of headroom for 2D (filters and hard gpu syncs baybeeee), and a big fat smooch from the loving person that boxed it.
I found the ABXY buttons, analog sticks, and L&R triggers to be absolutely sublime.
To start with the ABXY, I was led to believe that they were using the same rubber membranes and buttons as the RP2 Plus, which were very stiff, but oh my, was I wrong. The actuation force of these buttons is about half of the RP2 Plus and pretty comparable to the likes of Anbernic. A slight downside is that they are a little noisy, kind of like an Xbox One controller. If you don’t mind the noise, they are very satisfying to use. My fiancée unfortunately does not like the noise.
The L&R triggers aren’t really that special, which in this case is good because we know that they were good on the RP Flip. I’ve taken apart Retroid devices before and I personally find that they assemble their shoulder buttons with care and padding to assure that it won’t break over time and so that the click is satisfying.
The analog sticks are where the real fun begins, because as far as I know these are pretty new to these handhelds and this is the first implementation. They are absolutely *slurps tea* e x q u i s i t e. The concave design is a perfect complement to the Steam Deck’s and is a definite step up over the Nintendo Switch style with the bumper around the sticks. It makes turning in circles a very smooth endeavor without grinding away at the stem. Sticks are the perfect size for this device and in a placement that is surprisingly optimal for a handheld this size and pocketable.
Now. Let’s get into our favorite subject. The one we’ve all been waiting for. What Daddy Stubbs has been waiting with bated breath to bare witness to. The Start and Select buttons. Yeah, they suck. They’re stiff, which sucks. 5/10. Just map them to the buttons below the screen and you’re fine. That’s it. Let’s move on.
The screen is… fine. Won’t waste your precious bad-handheld-review-reading time on that. Touch screen is good, it’s 3.5″ and 480p. Apparently, that’s too small now since Anbernic collectively rose our standard with a 4 incher. Remember gamers, it’s not the size that counts but how good it feels when you turn it on and play it, and it has just enough color accuracy and deep blacks to be above mediocre. 480p and integer scaling sucks, but the extra power here allows for a 4x filter and bilinear filtering. Thanks Russ, now my gamer brain isn’t satisfied unless Mega Man’s health bar has near PERFECT pixels (I actually use Mother 3 for scaling testing lol). I am actually okay with the bezel, as it is integrated into the design of the handheld instead of just thrown out there like some D-007 fluffernutter. Again, I bought the black one so I’m good.
D-pad, the most important part of the device. So important that the placement on the face emphasizes the d-pad more than the analog stick. It’s okay. Same dome style they’ve used since the RP3 and it’s fine for me, since I place more value in actuation force, which the domes here require minimal.
Lastly lemme give you an early Christmas bonus. A blessing from ye olde SantaJoe to all the good boys and girls of Retro Handheldia. Let’s talk about the Retroid official grip. It hasn’t left my handheld since I put that sucker on. The plastic feel is smooth, sturdy, yet forgiving and flexible and provides the perfect palm feel to reach the analog stick or the d-pad. It also has a pretty good screen/body ratio unlike the kind of grips you’d find on Etsy.
The current state of etsy grips (2023)
The current state of my love life, after my fiancée of course (2023)
Honestly, I’m always impressed with Retroid’s quality control and making sure that their handhelds hold up well and aren’t doomed to fail in some aspects *cough* KTR1. Build quality is very toy-like, but sturdy enough. Let’s be honest, these are toys, and no 300g aluminum brick with shotty wifi will change that. (Also, Retroids QA team made sure the wifi worked properly out the gate with their first metal handheld.) The RP2S is no different here, sharing most of the RP2’s plastic and screw quality. It’s good, you can trust it enough to take it to the park and not be laughed at by children and have stale bread thrown at you.
Now I am an adult man, with adult responsibilities and stress. A lot of stress. And angst. And you know these handhelds more than anything right now give me angst. I fell asleep. Was I bored? No, wasn’t bored you trog. For the first time in about 2 years of buying crappy Chinese handhelds, I felt what was known to some as relief. I was enjoying myself and was relaxed and knowing that I made a satisfying purchase for once. I eased up and took a nap. For 9 hours. I took a sleep, really. I took a sleep on the bed. I slept the bed. It was nice.
If you had noticed at this point in the review, this is super non-objective and a little self-indulgent. The intent here is to give a raw and uncompromised perspective of how I feel rather than giving a one-size-fits-most approach. Did I like the heralded and infinitely popular 405M? Yes-ish. Did I keep it? No. Metal devices suck, and those L&R buttons got me feeling a certain way between sad and angry, kind of like John Wick but with .0000002% of the wrath. You get what I mean. This review was long winded and gave much more than what the handheld alone deserves, so think of it as a pseudo retrospective / Retroid company review / therapy session with Joe. But for real, context here matters, as Retroid continues to find new ways and approaches to make their consoles better, and this one is a pretty good leap. Not perfect, but it hits a lot of nice pressure points for me.
Pick one up at GoRetroid.com
I don’t have anything left to end this with so here is a recipe for burgers I made the other day (and started a small kitchen fire over):
- Add 80% lean ground beef to a large bowl.
- Add Worcestershire sauce, seasoning salt, garlic powder, and pepper.
- Mix with your hands until well combined.
- Divide the beef into fourths.
- Use your hands to form 4 hamburger patties ¾ inch thick.
- Use your thumbs to make an indention in the middle of the patties.
- Grill over medium-high heat for about 4 minutes on each side.
- Serve on hamburger buns.
Top with your favorite traditional burger toppings (lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles, ketchup, etc.)
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