Quick Review: Portable Gaming Emulator Part 1

Advanced Windows and Linux users have been setting up emulators on their PCs for at least a decade now. Numerous articles have been piling online regarding how to set up a Raspberry Pi or a Linux/Windows PC as a standalone emulator paired with a generic USB controller. Nintendo's play at nostalgia with the NES Classic Mini is credited with this "revival" of interest in 8-bit and 16-bit games, but the truth is that interest in gaming emulators never really waned in many parts of the world, partly due to the prohibitive expense and availability of the new generation of consoles. Android and iOS emulators are plentiful online and can be side-loaded to Android devices or installed directly on iOS.

Note:  Emulators for Android, Windows,  and iOS devices are available in sites like Happy Chick, http://iemulators.com, and Byuu.org (Higan).  Moreover, almost all Linux non-free repositories have gaming platform emulators.

If you live in Asia or visiting China, you can get a portable gaming platform emulator for around 170 RMB ($25.00). The CoolBaby GamePlayer X8 I picked out comes with more than 1000 NES, GameBoy Advance, and classic Arcade games. The portable emulator uses a modified PlayStation Portable casing, with 2 triggers, a 4-directional controller pad, 3 buttons and an analog stick. It's clear the product has been around for awhile now in Asia, but I must confess it holds up pretty well and more comfortable to use than touch screens (Millenials will prefer Android or IOS however).

Note: The portable gaming platform featured in this article can be found at http://item.jd.com/11011581471.html. A slightly newer version can be found at http://item.jd.com/11050886594.html.

Unfortunately, the manufacturers intended the product for 2-button games. The emulator software on the product supports Sega games, which generally make use of 3-buttons, but you're left with using only two buttons. By changing the button settings, you can switch A, B, and C controls around, but this leaves you without at least one of the essential buttons despite having the luxury of 4 physical buttons on the device itself. The portable emulator works great with 2-button platforms such as Game Boy Advance, NES, Game Boy and some arcade games however.

There's an audio jack on the side if you're playing in public and want to listen to the excellent game soundtracks from Capcom or Tecmo. As with the original PSP, the built-in external speakers aren't meant for high-quality audio, but reproduces the background music of everything from Pac-Man to Hudson's Adventure Island really well.

There is a micro-SD card slot, audio jack, and USB power connector.
You can choose to purchase an 8 GB or 16 GB micro SD card with the portable gaming emulator, which is used for saving games and storing your own media. The emulator uses a heavily modified Linux base so it also supports videos, music, photos, preset wallpaper themes, and ebooks, although the screen is really optimized just for retro gaming. The resistive touch screen is primitive and requires pressure or a fingernail to use, but it works for basic UI navigation. The software also includes utilities for taking photos and recording audio.

The portable emulator I ordered also came with old-school Street Fighter playing cards, horrible stock headphones (which I currently use when I go jogging because I'm afraid of losing my BackBeat Go 2), a cheap micro SD card reader for transferring ROMS, and a USB Type Mini-B plug charger.

The overall build quality of the "GamePlayer" wasn't very good, but I didn't expect much for less than $30.00. It doesn't have the heft of a smartphone or even an entry-level digital camera.  The plastic cover for the connectors snapped off after a few weeks of use, but it's not really a big deal considering how much fun it was completing Ninja Gaiden III and Mega Man II again.

I popped open the case and inspected the circuit board, the fairly basic camera, micro SD card reader, and the touch screen circuit. It doesn't have moving parts so despite feeling cheap, it will probably take quite a bit of beating before it stops working.  It's easy to understand why the portable emulator is so lightweight. Unfortunately, my opening the case led to the side power switch from falling off. Again, this wasn't an issue since you actually power up the system by holding down the Start button (or even plugging the device to a power source).

Continued in Quick Review: Portable Gaming Emulator Part 2


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