The Non-Tendo Gameboy Mini
Price: Bittboy + 8GB Micro SD Card $29.99 / €25.53 (time of writing)
We live in a golden age of retro gaming. Never has it been so easy to turn on a device and jump into one of the thousands of classic (and not so classic) video games that are laden throughout our favourite pastime’s history. Before the turn of the last decade, this was mostly relegated to using questionable means. Booting up an online sourced emulator on your PC tended to be the way to get your old school gaming fix (Check out our article on old school emulation here) which was great in its day, allowing you to connect off brand USB variants of your controllers of choice and applying various shaders and settings got you super close to the experience you remembered. The main drawback here of course being convenience.
Booting up your PC, finding an emulation thread online to direct you to the emulator of choice, installing said emulator, configuring said emulator, sourcing game files, connecting third party controllers, it was a whole thing.
Enter the 2010’s where the Asian market, in part to get around the at the time console bans in places such as China, started cranking out handhelds and consoles to play all of your totally legit acquired ROM’s. Amazing, right? This was so successful that even the big boys in the market have now jumped on board. Think of your SNES/NES mini, PlayStation Classic and many more. However, one corner of the market has not been catered to in an official sense and it happens to be the one that to me makes the most sense. The Nintendo Gameboy line.
Well my friends, as we wait for the inevitable Nintendo Gameboy mini, may I introduce to you the BittBoy V3.5. A handheld emulation system with the familiar form factor you’re used to, with all the features you could want in such a device. BittBoy are a company who have become quite recognisable in the emulation handheld market over the past few years, and for good reason. After several weeks playing with this device, I feel I am now in a good place to share my thoughts.
Its like a Gameboy you can put in your pocket… I mean easily.
At first glance its easy to see where BittBoy took the bulk of their visual inspiration. The form, button layout and colour, accents, even the plastics used to make its housing are reminiscent of the original Gameboy DMG. Holding it in the hand it is immediately noticeable that while a little on the light side, the quality of its construction feels akin to true first party mini console offerings. A feeling that often isn’t found on the plethora of cheap knock off console offerings found on the Asian market places such as Wish or Alibaba (who also stock the BittBoy).
With a total of eleven buttons on its front panel which consist of four face buttons (an extra two to allow emulating of systems such as SNES, more on this later), Start & Select, a Return button for menu navigation, a surprisingly good D-Pad and a built in headphone jack nestled perfectly in its base, you’ve got everything you need to get started on your nostalgia fuelled sugar rush!
The display on the BittBoy is immaculate, sporting an IPS screen with tempered glass which is a joy to play with. No ghosting to be found here (unless you want it via emulator settings). Which is particularly impressive given its tiny form factor, a little bigger and wider than the average smartphone these days.
Depending on what online retailer you choose to go through there are several extras can be included in your purchase. I elected to go for the 8GB model with a sturdy carry case. However, all BittBoy’s will ship with a USB cable for recharge (no data transfer) and a USB SD card reader for the transfer of ROM’s to and from your PC or MAC. All options to buy will generally have an included micro SD card, which is essential in order to store and read your game files, with the ability to support up to 32 gigabytes, however in practice 8g is more than enough given the tiny size of Gameboy, Gameboy Colour and Gameboy Advance games which is where this systems strength lies.
The good, the bad, the best forgotten
The full list of consoles supported by the console are as follows (though just because something can run an emulator that doesn’t always mean it should):
Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) Runs perfectly
Gameboy (GB) Runs perfectly
Gameboy Colour (GBC) Runs perfectly
Gameboy Advance (GBA) Runs perfectly
Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) Mixed results
Sega Mega Drive (SMD) Runs perfectly
Sega Master System (SMS) Runs perfectly
PC Engine (PCE) Mixed results
NeoGeo (NG) Mixed results
Atari 2600 (2600) Runs perfectly but are you really going to? 😊
Wonder Swan (WS) Runs perfectly (limited testing)
Arcade (ACD) Mixed results (depending on generation of arcade board)
MS Dos (MSD) Mixed results
PlayStation (PS1) Unplayable
That looks like a very enticing list, and it is, however, some of these emulators are simply too large in scope for the tiny chipset being used in this device (looking at you PS1) and it really begs the question were they really necessary? Now there is a lot of good here, especially when looking at Sega’s yesteryear consoles such as the Megadrive (or Genesis for our American friends) which rarely have a hitch on any device. However, loading up a SNES game is a throw of the dice, running well with minor screen tearing to unplayable or choppy. It’s nice to have the option to experiment but you just want something to work all the time, so when it doesn’t it’s just too painful. To me, this console was designed to revisit the Gameboy so this is where we will focus. Consider the other emulators as bonus features.
When you boot up the console you will be greeted with a quick boot up screen, followed by the BittBoy’s operating system. A clean OS for the purpose its being used for. Laid out in a tabular fashion are a surprisingly large amount of installed applications. In built audio and video players (which I have not touched because why would I?), a full suite of general system settings, included open source game titles such as Cave Story, Doom and Quake, while the emulator screen is laid out nicely with a clear icon for each system. All of which is customisable with several theme and general layout settings. An unnecessary but welcomed touch. Clicking into each of this icons will launch its own emulator, none of the included options are related in a Retroarch style shared core system but instead are each stand alone. What this means is that there are no shared configuration settings across your emulators, but rest assured, each application has access to its own suite of emulation tweaking settings. These include Borders, aspect ratios, shaders and more. Not every emulator is created equally with some offering more options than others but there is a lot to play with here should you choose to.
Trouble in paradise
Now this device isn’t perfect, outside of the various ambitious bonus emulators on offer. For example, while you can adjust the system's volume and brightness, there are no dedicated buttons or sliders to do so.Instead BittBoy have elected to go with a button combination to achieve both. Holding select and pressing either A or B will adjust volume, while holding select and pressing either of the oddly named T buttons will adjust screen brightness. More of a quirk than a complaint but is definitely something I would love to see revised in a future model
Additionally there is a very low whine that is barely audible from the built in Mono speaker when the brightness is not set to full. Again whilst not a deal breaker (and mitigated completely when earphones are in use), is definitely something BittBoy should address in any future revisions.
Lastly, and to me most egregiously, is the inclusion of a micro USB port for charging the modest 700ma battery. Now I can see a scenario where this choice was made to keep down costs, but I for one would have been happy to spend an extra tenner to have a USB-C port and a larger battery.
All that said, if the above are the biggest complaints I can put at the feet of this extremely cheap device, then I think BittBoy are to be commended for their effort.
So is the BittBoy for you?
So, who is this device for? Well it's pretty simple.
Did you grow up playing the Nintendo Gameboy, Gameboy Colour or Gameboy Advance? If yes, then this console is for you. If not there is something here for you in terms of emulating the top consoles of the 90’s however, a lack of full system compatibility leads me to recommending a device such as the RG-350 in its stead.
Should you find yourself on a train with 30 minutes to spare, the enjoyment you can find in whipping out this tiny device to play some Pokémon Blue (yes I’m a Blue man), Link’s Awakening DX or Wario Land 4 is an absolute delight! It would make an amazing stocking stuffer or small gift for the nerdier friends in your life (though maybe not for the smallies given the nature of emulation setup etc), and if you, like me, had a ongoing game of Pokémon on the go on your smartphone, this would make a tremendous replacement.
Overall, I highly recommend this device as a stop gap between now and whenever Nintendo decide it’s time to take our collective money with an official Mini and I cannot wait to see what the future holds for BittBoy as a brand
* Images referenced can be found on RetroMimi
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