When I was a kid there were only 2 options for handheld gaming: the Game Boy and the Sega Game Gear. Well, technically only 1 but I don’t want to upset the Sega fans today. Sure, there were others in the ’90s but the market was dominated by the Game Boy by the time they showed up, and no amount of colored screens or weird layouts was going to change that. So for a lot of us the Game Boy has a special place in our hearts, it’s a system that, while not technically hard to emulate, has been difficult to replicate. Things like the Analogue Pocket, and to a much less polished extent the Retro Pixel Pocket, manage to do a great job at it. Unfortunately both of these are not exactly easy to come by, and if you do find one chances are you’re going to pay a premium.
Luckily nowadays it seems like we have an endless amount of handhelds to choose from, ranging from a $20 Data Frog to a $500 Odin 2 and beyond. Even If we only look at the budget category, we have a lot of options to choose from, but they all come with either a 4:3, 3:2, or 16:9 screen. For the majority of systems those are fine; sure you’ll have to make some compromises, but generally we’ve come to accept that this is just how things are. Unfortunately Game Boy games (and Game Gear for that matter) just never feel at home on any of these. Yes they run well but they never feel like the star of the show. That, to me, is a shame because while getting Pokemon Yellow to run full speed is not impressive or difficult, seeing a game that I spent countless nights playing with a flashlight run on a nice sharp backlit screen is still special to me.
So if you’re like me and want to see the square games of your childhood run on a beautiful screen you either have to: spend $300 on an Analogue Pocket, track down a Retro Pixel Pocket, spend almost $200 on a modded Game Boy, or get one of the many handheld options with a 4:3 screen and live with the black bars. None of these are ideal but for a long time that’s what we had. I’m not complaining, it’s seriously amazing that we have so many great options, but there’s just not a lot of love for square screens. That is until Powkiddy decided to throw darts at the wall again and ended up with the RGB30, a new $90 handheld with a beautiful 4 inch 1:1 720×720 SQUARE screen, and they put an RK3566 SoC in it.
In case you’re not familiar with the RK3566, it’s the same processor that is found in the 353V, 353P, 353M, RK2023, x55, Game Force ACE Indie; I’m sure I’m missing many more, but let’s just say it gets around. Luckily because so many handhelds use this chip we have a ton of community support for it, so you’ll have a few choices when it comes down to operating system like ARKOS, JELOS, and MinUI. Plus you’ll be able to enjoy games from the 8bit systems all the way up to N64 and Dreamcast.
Because of the screen aspect ratio and resolution, we can experience Game Boy and Game Boy Color games again in a way that gives them the spotlight they deserve. We have some minimal black bars on the top and bottom, but it’s easy to forget they’re there because of how thin the bezel is. Also, we have plenty of power in the RGB30 so you can turn on shaders and get an even more nostalgic experience. I would have never thought my favorite way to play Game Boy games was going to come from a horizontal handheld made by Powkiddy, especially considering how many vertical ones I have, but here we are. In my defense the vertical size of the RGB30 makes it feel more like a slab then a typical candy bar, almost like a smaller 2DS.
Now if the idea of beautiful Game Boy and Game Boy Color games isn’t enough to sell you, then consider the fact that the RGB30 is the best way to experience Pico-8 games. If you’re not familiar with that I’ll explain briefly: PICO 8 is a fantasy console that mimics the graphics of 8 bit systems. It has a growing library of community-made games that have a classic charm to them where you can experience a wide range of game genres from platformers and shooters to puzzle and adventure games. Most of these games are free to download once you buy the console ($15) and they run at a native 1:1 aspect ratio. That means the RGB30 is the absolute best way to play these games. Just like with Game Boy games, the simple pixel-based nature of Pico-8 games gives a distinct look that really stands out on the RGB30. Here’s a short list of some games I think you should check out:
- CELESTE classic
- PICO world race
- Low mem Sky
- HIGH STAKES
- Into Ruins
- The Lair
- PICO Driller
The screen on the RGB30 also lends itself to vertical shooters, DS games, and even SNES since a lot of games for that system actually run at a native 8:7. That means that games like Super Metroid and Super Mario World look great and can use most of the screen! Unfortunately not every SNES game looks great in 8:7, and it is a little bit of controversial topic whether these games should be played in 4:3 or 8:7. I would say give it a go and you decide, here’s a list of games and a comparison to get you started:
- A Link to the Past = 8:7
- Super Metroid = 8:7
- Super Mario World = 8:7
- Final Fantasy VI = 8:7
- Super Mario Kart = 8:7
- Secret of Mana = 8:7
- Donkey Kong Country 2 = 8:7
- Star Fox = 8:7
- Mega Man X2 = 8:7
- Final Fantasy IV = 8:7
- Yoshi’s Island = 8:7
- F-Zero = 8:7
- Super Mario RPG = 8:7
- Terrinigma = 8:71
- Turtles in Time = 8:7
- Earthbound = 8:7
As you can see some of the game elements get stretched when playing in 4:3, and it’s not clear why the developers left it that way. Maybe they didn’t care to correct it, or just felt it wasn’t important? Either way you can see how some games would look better in a square screen, especially if you’re after that pixel-perfect look. So, whether you prefer 8:7 or 4:3, the fact is games look great on this screen, and while taller content stands out the most you still get a decent amount of real-estate for all of the 4:3 systems. You basically have the same size screen as all the 3.5 inch handhelds like the Retroid Pocket 2S and Miyoo Mini +, but if you’re mostly after those systems I would recommend something like the 405V or 405M.
Making a great handheld isn’t just about power, the user experience is just as – if not more important. We’ve seen it happen with the Miyoo Mini and the RG35xx: sometimes a handheld that doesn’t make any sense at first glance turns into something great after the community embraces it. Luckily for us, it looks like the RGB30 is the next one up. Will it end up being as good as those handhelds? I honestly have no idea, but I know others share my excitement. Even if it doesn’t, I know I’ll be playing my Game Boy games on it for the foreseeable future.
If you made it here, let me just say thank you for reading this, and if you don’t have an RGB30 and are considering one here’s a link that helps support the work we do. It doesn’t cost you anything extra and it helps us keep doing what we’re doing.
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