1998. Google was founded, Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time was released, and I still wasn’t a thought to be born. Regardless of these successes, and soon-to-be disappointments, the handheld scene was about to see its next popular child: the Game Boy Color. Positive feelings, a new color screen, backward compatibility, and Pokemon Gold and Silver have carried this handheld for decades since, with many people still reminiscing on their childhood.

Hooking up the worm light just so they can see the screen, or barely catching glimpses in the backseat of the car. Or if you’re me, stealing your brother’s Game Boy Color, and questioning the things written in Princess Peach’s note during the opening of Super Mario Bros. Deluxe. 

Regardless, decades of positivity, and popularity led to a catalog of colorful color clones. Should you upgrade from the original? Or should you just upgrade the original? With a few options now in my possession, I’m going to share my thoughts on them, from what I feel is the worst experience, to the best experience. 

A fearsome GBC foursome

And as always with the disclaimers. The ESP32, and GB Boy Colour were purchased from other users in the RH Discord, the FunnyPlaying FPGBC was purchased by me from FunnyPlaying, and the Game Boy Color was “borrowed” from my brother 8 years ago. All of my (likely poor) opinions are my own though. 

4: The Gameboy ESP32

First up is what I’d consider my least favorite Game Boy Color recreation of the bunch. The Gameboy ESP32. Originally released in 2021, this was a handheld powered by the ESP32, 520kb of RAM, and ran the RetroESP32 firmware. Compared to the Game Boy Color’s non-backlit 2.3-inch display, the ESP32’s 2.8-inch backlit TFT display felt like a major upgrade.

However, at a resolution of 320×240, with an aspect ratio of 4:3, you’re either going to run into scaling issues to fill your screen, or you’re just gonna get black borders making your game smaller. Though anyone who owns a 4:3, 3.5” handheld will likely know these woes as well.

The ESP32 is super low powered, I found the OS to be quite laggy (though similar to the Odroid-Go, which I adore as a device), and overall did GBC quite fine in fact. The buttons on this one are pretty loose but with a good bit of action. With most options in this list being used, this is likely what you’d find as well if you bought a Gameboy ESP32. If there’s one thing I’d have to say, make sure you get a charger for this one.

Its battery situation is certainly odd.

It doesn’t use Micro, Mini, or USB-C. It doesn’t take AA batteries. You can either charge it through the barrel plug or recharge the dual 900mAh, 14500 cell batteries in a separate charger. Though, battery life is absolutely a strong suit for this device as I haven’t had to charge it yet. If you get it for $45 like I did, I think it’s a good starting point, but there are better options than this one. 

3: The GB Boy Colour

Alright, next up is the definition of a clone handheld. The Kongfeng GB Boy Colour is a clone of the Game Boy Color released quite a ways back. It’s about the same size, it’s got a similar-sized screen, and it’s got buttons that are slightly firmer than the Game Boy Color, but less firm than the Funnyplaying FPGBC. So really- these are my favorite buttons of the bunch. Just like the original it runs off of 2 AA batteries, the ones I’ve got are some high-quality IKEA Laddas. But there are definitely some stand-out features of this clone.

BUILT-IN GAMES. That’s right you don’t need a flash cart. The GB Boy Colour comes with 188 games that you’re absolutely going to play right? Mostly right at least. There are some good games in their picks but there’s definitely not 188. But even then, I’d rather put in my actual knockoff flash cart, or a normal cartridge into my GB Boy. Only to be met with this surprisingly nice backlit display.

That display looks good, and it performs just as well. Playing everything I needed as I would have wanted when I was younger. However, if you’ve got a 2021 revision or later there’s a chance it runs at 30hz rather than the 59/60hz of the older models. There’s no scaling. Just good old 10:9. Except it’s not. The GB Boy Colour uses a slightly squished aspect ratio meaning everything is going to be stretched horizontally a bit. Hope you’re okay with a wider Pikachu than before.

Aside from the aspect ratio woes, if you can get an older GB Boy for $55 as I did, I honestly think this could cover a lot of your needs if this is the only system you want. Though in my opinion, you’ll see later there are better options. 

2: The OG Game Boy Color

Ignore the sad looks of this one.

The original. The Game Boy Color of 1998. With its 2.3” non-backlit screen and 32kb of RAM. All powering a staggering 160×144 resolution and a classic 10:9 aspect ratio, this one had it all. Its 2 AA batteries last a long time, performance is perfect because it’s a Game Boy, and its super loose and honestly mushy buttons were underwhelming but tolerable.

If you want the authentic experience, grab a 26-year-old beat-up and bruised handheld (or steal one from a sibling), because this is the most accurate experience. But you could do better.

Improve the speaker, get a new shell to hide your crusty musty built-up gunk on your Game Boy Color, new buttons, new membranes, and of course, a new screen. Funnyplaying is the way to go and you can get the whole new setup for a Game Boy Color for around $70 depending on how you do it. For the price, it’s a good value, and if you know how to solder you can get it all put together nice and quickly.

Though personally I’ll be asking Dyl from the RH Discord to help mod mine, and future Game Boys as well (Hi Dyl!!). Stock experience? Yeah, get something else honestly. Upgraded though? That pushes the Game Boy Color way up in experience and makes it my second favorite way to play Harvest Moon GBC. But not my favorite. 

1: The FunnyPlaying FPGBC (With some Caveats)

Finally, my favorite of the bunch is the FunnyPlaying FPGBC. Just like it may sound, this one is powered by an FPGA, aka a Field-Programmable Gate Array. I’m not going to bore you with the details, since there are numerous options out there, but that’s definitely a good thing.

Unlike every other option, unless you count upgrading the GBC, this one comes completely as a kit. My experience with it was complicated. Small ribbon cables and battery connectors made it a challenge for my sausage fingers, and a lack of proper documentation meant that it felt like I was going in blind. However, after an hour or so of blindly stumbling my way through, I had a fully working FBGBC, and I love it. Mostly.

The bright IPS display? Love it. The 1800mAh battery that can be charged over USB-C? Love it. The fact that I can just put a game cartridge in and it just works? Yeah, that’s good. But it’s not all good, and some of those might just be the way I chose to put the device together.

The buttons on mine are stiff. Like seriously. I assume it’s just the new membranes, but I’m not the biggest fan of these buttons. I’ll be trying to break them in over time, but if it doesn’t get better I’d recommend finding some original GBC membranes and substituting them in. Really, it makes playing my Rosy Retrospection a bit more difficult than I’d like.

Multi-Cart support. Krikzz Everdrives? Those work fine! EZ Flash Junior? No dice for now. The random $20 EZ Flash knockoff I found on AliExpress? Works! If you want a bunch of GBC games in one cartridge, I haven’t had any issues with it, and I’d go that way.

Playability. It works really well and looks really nice. The screen upscales well and performs as I’d want. Not everything is perfect software-wise, but Funnyplaying is putting out updates for this device, and I think it can really only get better from here. Outside of getting old, dirty, and probably dropping down the car seat cartridges to work, everything just goes, and I love it.

If I could only have one Game Boy Color device, it’d be this one. Its newer build and customization are a great pair of features. For the $85 I spent getting it all together, it’s going to be the Game Boy I carry with me. When I’m not carrying my Odroid-Go, because that thing is just cool. 

Closing Thoughts

If you’re wondering where the Analogue Pocket is. Don’t. It’s not GBC-shaped, it’s priced way higher than all of these options, and it does way more. If you have the money, you can probably get it and be happy! But these are all pretty cheap ways to play only GBC in the correct form factor. While I have my preference, I don’t think you’ll have any issues with any of these.

After you mod your GBC of course. Now go out there and play your Tetris DXs and Shantaes. And Pokemons. Bomberman too. Oh! And Carmageddon of course. I think that’s all the Game Boy Color games. Don’t ask me, I was born after it was released.

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