Just like everyone else who’s likely reading this, gaming has been a big part of my life since I was young. Unlike most of you reading this. I wasn’t old enough to really start with an SNES, Genesis, or Atari 2600. The first home console my family had was a PlayStation 2. A device I poured hours into over the Buster Brothers Collection, and ATV Offroad Fury freeplay mode. But that, and the Wii, no matter how good Wii Sports Bowling was, never held my attention in the long run. That title fell to the handhelds, and the handhelds hold me, even to this day. 

A Ban’s First Experience

My first handheld as a whole was the Gameboy Advance SP, specifically the AGS-101. I played on that constantly. From the back of our Ford Windstar, to under the covers after bed, if I could play on the SP I was already there. Despite being a wee child, I cared for that thing better than some parents cared for their kids; not you Mom and Dad you did well. And it lasted me all the way until 2010 when I got a DSi XL. It and the 3DS carried me all the way into 2019 when I finally got a Switch. From there it was basically over for me with Corpo consoles. I tried a PSP, but I didn’t like it. I held an N-Gage, but I didn’t like it. I’ve recently gotten a PS Vita for 2024, let’s see how that goes.

Nintendo handhelds were king, and honestly, they still kinda are for me at least. At least, they were, until I started exploring the landscape of emulation in handhelds.

What Hooks You Makes You

2017, my lull from playing on handhelds and gaming in general really. Browsing YouTube and I see it. Bright Blue. The GPD XD. I had to know what this wack-looking 3DS was and I had to know now. Open the Lon.TV review and I was instantly hooked. Emulation on a handheld? I can play Buster Brothers on the go? It was a whole new world to me, before I knew it I was looking up every review, I was trying to learn what the community had been doing for more than just my lifetime because buying one of these things was absolutely what I wanted.

And then I didn’t.

I didn’t really have the money. I was barely working at the time, so I sat and waited. At least until 2018, when Odroid announced their 10th anniversary handheld; the Odroid-Go. A transparent DIY handheld that was only $32? SOLD! Well- I bought it off Ameridroid, and after shipping and taxes it was around $50… but still SOLD!

It arrived after a bit of delay and then I had it, the Odroid Go Kit. Having not built too many electronic devices by then I was kinda nervous. My purchase that I didn’t want to be broken. So I spent longer than I’m willing to admit, carefully putting this thing together until it was all a single piece. And then opened it again when I realized the battery wasn’t plugged in. 

I had an absolute powerhouse in my hands. An ESP32, 4 MB of RAM, a 2.4 inch 320×240 display, and the ability to play up to Gameboy Colour? This was truly what I was looking at in 2017.

The Experience

That’s a little bit of a lie. It wasn’t running Android. I couldn’t play Buster Brothers on it. But dang it, I stole the 4 GB microSD card out of my dad’s old phone (sorry Dad), and loaded it up with a bunch of games I thought I’d want to play. I was off to college and Retro ESP32 was my OS of choice. It was slow, clunky, lacked box art, and was generally not a great experience compared to today, but it worked. The battery life on it lasted way longer than I would have expected. When stuck on campus between classes, I could whip it out and play one of my favorite games: Tetris DX. It was my game of choice, I booted up the Odroid-Go, hit play, and off I went.

I’m not giving this Micro SD card back.

So if you want to know the real experience of a budget handheld from 2018 that played games. Sluggish, tiny, and bad screen, NES to GBC performance, but it had legs that would keep running and a system that worked.

Even after receiving the Go, building it, and using it, I still watched retro handheld videos. ETA Prime talked about the Odroid Go a few more times, The Retro Future and This Does Not Compute both had some videos on the Go as well, but after exhausting that well. I went quiet on handhelds again. I somehow managed to be content for an entire year. At least until 2020, when I happened to stumble upon this video about Pico-8 on the Anbernic 350 from some channel called Retro Game… Corpse? Retro Game Corps. This channel basically only had videos about the Anbernic 350 and I was hooked again. I later bought a 350M from DroiX, and that was really when my handheld addiction started.

Metal is the way

The After-Effect

The after-effect of the Odroid-Go came with more handhelds. OpenDinux, RG350M, PocketGo Max. Great channels that I kept going back to, and this weird podcast that I found when looking for something to listen to when driving home from College… something called “BRB Gaming”. “Bears are not your Friends?” what are you supposed to mean by that? What’s a Stubborn Pixel? Oh, and 351? RK3326? Yeah, I’ll pass on that for now. 

I found the Retro Handhelds community through their podcast, and that team quickly became the thing I listened to when driving between home and college for the next few years. Quietly following Retro Handhelds, occasionally buying something new, but mostly just listening for news and new handhelds. Until 2023 at least. 

The After-After Effect

I listened to the podcast, I joined the Discord in January of 2022, and I kept my quiet cool. At least until this Stubbs guy started talking about good marketplace deals if you join their Patreon; and so I did. In March 2023, I joined their marketplace and found really good deals (that I didn’t buy), I started talking to the community, posting news I would find in case anyone else missed it. I even realized “Oh. These guys have a YouTube channel! Wait, what’s a Zu and what did he get from the dollar store?”.

These guys were great, and according to them apparently so was I. In July, Stubbs, that poor naive soul, reached out and invited me to just use their Twitter account to post news and deals. Of course, I said yes, and I became that guy who shared all the promos that you might see today. 

From there it was all said and done. My small collection of an Odroid Go and RG350M, has ballooned to over 50 handhelds. I’ve continued to do the Twitter things, but also appear on the RH Podcast from time to time, and I do this thing called “Writing” for the website wherever that goes.

I don’t have a problem. YOU have a problem.

So really I just want to finish this off by saying thanks. Thanks to the Retro Handhelds team for dealing with my and my idiocy. The RH community for listening to my random pings and tweets, and to the Odroid Go for getting me started in this ridiculous wild ride that is emulation. And thanks to those content creators that have been covering this stuff from the start, and those that shared about handhelds that we shouldn’t really care about, like the Win600.

It doesn’t matter what you start with in the handheld scene, if it does what you want, and you love the thing, why change from there? Well- I guess I can now say why.

If you want to check out any other First Handheld stories, make sure to check out JaLanimal’s and his experience with the Anbernic RG351V

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