I never wanted a Nintendo Game Boy as a kid. (I was, of course, an idiot.) The screen looked dull. The games, black and white. Tetris? Boooring! But in the years to come, I recognized the error of my ways. The Game Boy was a breakthrough gaming machine that predated the iPhone era by decades, complete with a roster of games still worth visiting. Now, at last, I have the chance to make things right—without settling for Nintendo’s charming (but now 30 years old) hardware.
Because the Analogue Pocket, priced at $199 and out next year, is like a Game Boy for the year 2020.
The device was designed in partnership with the English studio Kenyon Weston, and released under the name Analogue. You probably haven’t heard of Analogue before, but the label is behind some of the best retro gaming hardware on the market, from flawless Super Nintendo controllers to new Sega Genesis systems. (After patents ran out on these old products, many small startups have rereleased classic consoles on their own, treading carefully by copyrights completely legally.)
The Analogue Pocket is different than any of those projects, however. Because rather than copying any retro design language, the Pocket is its own thing. Sure, it has the standard buttons of the Game Boy and a slot for its cartridges (the Pocket also plays Game Boy Color and Game Boy Advance cartridges, too). But it’s sleek, black, and as minimal as can be. There are no labels on the device. It’s almost like a stealth-mode gaming system.
“The video game industry is largely homogenous, from games to hardware design. Compared to other industries, the video game industry is quite immature in terms of diversity in concept exploration when it comes to design,” says Christopher Taber, CEO of Analogue. “We’re interested in pushing that boundary in every way we can, or it’s just not interesting to us.”
Taber quotes a philosophy of famous graphic designer and filmmaker Saul Bass: “I want everything we do to be beautiful. I don’t give a damn whether the client understands that that’s worth anything, or that the client thinks it’s worth anything, or whether it is worth anything. It’s worth it to me. It’s the way I want to live my life. I want to make beautiful things, even if nobody cares.”
Of course, a lot of people will care about the Analogue Pocket. As Taber rightly points out, it’s a rare gaming device built in portrait mode, so you hold it like a calculator or smartphone, rather than the landscape-oriented Nintendo Switch. As a result, I imagine it feels more comfortable, and casual, to play than most modern machines. There’s just something so physically odd about holding a small device in landscape mode—which is why, I suspect, nobody takes photos in landscape mode on their phones anymore.
The Pocket system also takes some of the best ideas of Nintendo’s latest console, the Switch, and translates them back to 1989. The device has rechargeable batteries, and docks via HDMI so you can play the device on your television with Bluetooth controllers. Its 3.5-inch LCD screen boasts a 1600 x 1440 resolution, which sounds ridiculously sharp despite its diminutive size. “This display outclasses any display in a dedicated portable gaming device by a long shot,” says Taber. “It’s stunning.”
The Pocket isn’t just for gaming. It also has a built-in Nanoloop app, which is a popular synthesizer for making music based upon the Game Boy’s original sound chip. But most people will surely use it to play their favorite old Game Boy games. Of course, you could download an emulator instead and just play these games on your phone or laptop. But then you’d miss out on this love letter to retro gaming, composed in a language your grownup self will appreciate.