01 Jul 12 Best Retro Handhelds – Which Emulator Should You Buy?
The handheld gaming market is seriously starting to pop, but what are the best retro handhelds? This is a question we get asked a lot, so we’ve put together a list showing off our favourite consoles that fit in the palm of your hand. Now before we go anywhere, the handhelds we are talking about are emulators, handheld consoles that use ROMS to emulate old retro games, so there’s no 3DS or PSP being featured here.
Why are people interested in the best retro handhelds? Well it’s simple. Retro gaming enthusiasts want more old games in their pocket, and they don’t want the hassle of having to buy them, take extra cartridges or wait 20 minutes in a coffee shop to download them. We’ve all purchased numerous copies of Pokemon Red, so why should we buy it again? You may even still have the cartridge but don’t want to carry around your giant Gameboy DMG everywhere with you to play it!
So here is the ultimate list showcasing the top 12 best retro handhelds so that you can get your dosage of nostalgia whenever and wherever you please.
1. Retro Game 350
The Retro Game 350 is our number 1 best retro handheld for a wide number of reasons. Coming in at $79.99 it’s not the cheapest console on our list but it’s certainly worth every single dime. The RG350 was release in October 2019 and got most of its attention for the ability to play PS1 ROMs near perfectly. Most handhelds out there under the $100 cannot do this due to its processing power. But the Retro Game 350 has that power, and that’s exactly what you are paying for. Pocket sized power. Not only does it emulate incredibly well it also looks phenomenal.
The handheld feels great in the hand, comes in 3 different variants, has not one but two analogue sticks and a large 3.5″ display that’s bright, saturated and made of glass. This is the alpha male of the retro handheld world, you can just tell that experts have invested money and time into this handheld and that’s exactly what you want when you spend $80 on a chinese handheld. This product shows just how much this niche market demands a decent handheld, and their sales are going through the roof. Unfortunately they are a little tricky to get hold of at the moment, due to the high demand and the very recent release. But we can promise you, you won’t be dissapointed if you pick one of these fellas up. We love it. Their may be potential competition coming out called the Bittboy Pocket Go V2 in a couple of months, but we think this will prevail.
This is the handheld console that is very hard to get hold of. Ever since it was revealed in 2018 it seems that they only produce a small quantity every couple of months, and to get hold of one you’ll need to be fast on that buy it now button when they come back in stock. The DigiRetroBoy is number one in our best retro handhelds list for a number of reasons. Firstly, its one of the only handhelds that can play official Gameboy Advance cartridges, you may be like us who have a couple of Pokemon Cartridges and Mario games lying about your flat, now is the time to use them again, in one of the best retro handhelds on the market.
Secondly, it can emulate GBA, GBC, GB, NES, SMS, GG and PCE ROMS using its included SD card adapter that goes into a GBA cartridge that then goes into your DigiRetroBoy. It emulates your ROMS smoothly on its 3″ display, it comes with a turbo functionality, cheat support, GBA link cable support, shoulder buttons, Micro USB charging point, brightness settings and a 1,000MAH battery that will last you at least 3 – 4 hours of game time.
The only downfall is its $100 price tag. But we think it’s completely worth it, it’s comfortable, looks nostalgic, has a lovely bright screen and comes with an authentic GBA cartridge slot. It’s basically like the Metal Gameboy we recently reviewed, without the metal and the $250 price tag. The people behind this product don’t seem to exist, over the past year they have never replied to one of our emails, so I can’t imagine the support on this thing is any good, and the fact it’s always out of stock after 10 people purchases it really annoys us! This thing is great, so make more!
If you’re into the best retro handhelds then you have most likely heard of Bittboy, a small chinese company making some great handhelds and one of the only companies who create new versions on a regular basis and who are really making the competition work in terms of quality. The Bittboy Pocket Go is their latest handheld, and without doubt is worth being in our top 10 best retro handhelds list.
The Bittboy Pocket Go is an affordable handheld coming in at just $39.99, a lot cheaper than most of its competition, It’s an incredibly small handheld, and very thin too, but it has the build quality similar to that of the original Gameboys. It can play most of your ROMS perfectly, but it struggles emulating PS1 ROMS with its small 32MB of RAM.
It features a 2.4″ 240 x 320 IPS screen that screams saturation and we love it, and having such a beautiful screen on such a pocket sized retro handheld makes it a pleasure to use. It comes with replaceable buttons to spice it up a little, a 1000mah battery, SD card slot, shoulder buttons and a headphone jack (bonus points). The Bittboy Pocket Go is one of our best retro handhelds for quite simply being one of the best built handhelds in this price range. It feels like an official product, made by Nintendo themselves. All it lacks is an analogue stick, maybe in V2 Bittboy, please?
4. Retro Game 300
The Retro Game 300 is an handheld that was released in the summer of 2019, a fairly new handheld that felt like an old Gameboy and play emulators brilliantly. It is the smaller and cheaper brother of our number 1 slot, the Retro Game 350. It’s for those that prefer a vertical form factor, and don’t want PS1 emulation. If that’s you, don’t get the 350 and get this instead, it’ll save you a good $40-$50.
It can emulate Gameboy, SNES, NES, Game Gear, Sega Mega Drive Mini games, Neo Geo, GBA and a whole lot more. The only old school emulation it can’t play is, N64, PSP, PS1 and Dreamcast, because its older and less powerful than it’s bigger brother. But it comes with a very comfortable form factor, as the triggers on the back pop out of the shell which helps with long form gameplay, the screen is great, D-PAD responsive and the buttons… ok. Apart from the times new roman font inside… we hate those buttons. Worth a pick up if you have a budget of $50!
This is possibly the most expensive product on our best retro handhelds list, coming in at $150 for the ClockworkPi Gameshell. This product is for those of you that like to get your hands dirty, this is a modular retro handheld that you have to build yourself. Provided is instructions, buttons, parts, cables and more all ready for you to play with like a kid at Christmas.
Inside the ClockworkPi Gameshell you are greeted with a Quad-core Cortex-A7 CPU, Mali GPU, WI-FI & Bluetooth on-board, 1GB DDR3 Memory, 16GB MicroSD, Micro HDMI output and GPIOs. One of the main features of this product is that it’s using the Linux Mainline OS meaning it’s highly customisable and you can download and play games created by the Linux community, or if you’re techy, you can even make your own!
Hardware wise this thing is superb. You get a choice between two backshells, one with a literal lego design on the back allowing you to add shoulder buttons and you can choose between red and yellow front face plates. When assembling the unit this is when you have the most fun with what we are calling one of the best retro handhelds around. And once you’ve completed the building process this product becomes sentimental and a great addition to any retro handheld collection.
The LDK Horizontal is one of the newest handhelds in this best retro handhelds list and it’s one of the few that comes with an analogue stick. The LDK Horizontal costs approximately $70, so it’s not super cheap but it’s not going to bust the bank. A lot of you have been asking us which is better, Bittboy Pocket Go VS LDK Horizontal? That’s a tough one, both are incredibly similar in size, they play the same ROM’s and they have a similar design, but the LDK is slightly more powerful.
It comes in Yellow, Transparent and a charcoal black that is also slightly transparent. It uses the OpenDingux OS, it comes with a 2.7″ TFT screen which is probably a bit overkill, but it’s fine (the screen not the size). Build Quality wise it’s okay, it uses a very cheap plastic as a shell, and then uses a very high end screen and RAM, which confuses us as we would’ve liked them to add a well designed shell to meet its internal standards. If they did that, then we could’ve seen this at Number 3, or even 2 in our best retro handhelds list.
The LDK Horizontal can emulate Gameboy, Gameboy Color, Gameboy Advance, Famicon, Super Famicon, Sega Mega Drive, Sega Game Gear, & PS1 games. All perfectly well apart from 3D PS1 games such as Crash Bandicoot and Spyro, we wouldn’t advise downloading it, as it doesn’t even play them well when we add the frameskip option.
We here at RetroDodo have a strong love for the Gameboy Color, it was our first games console that allowed us to really share our love for gaming with friends and family, it was one of the best retro handhelds of its time and was the console that let us trade Pokemon with our friends using a link cable making the moments even more special. But the one thing that the Gameboy Color lacked was a bright screen, we all remember the classic car ride where you’d use the road lights to see what you were doing, right?
Well if you can’t afford to add a backlight to your GBC or don’t know how to install it you can now buy the GB Boy, a fake Gameboy Color with a backlight display already built in. Plus, it can play Gameboy and Gameboy Color games using its built in cartridge slot which plays those games perfectly, in full visibility. The build quality is fairly average, cheap buttons, a cheap shell but it does the job. It starts at $50 which admittedly you can get an original Gameboy Color for the same price but again the OG has no backlight screen.
And if that wasn’t enough, if you start up the GB Boy without a cartridge inside you’ll see 66 pre-loaded games. But don’t get excited, most of them are your traditional fake games, but you do get a handful of well known titles such as Mario, Tetris, Donkey Kong, Alladdin, Contra and more. Oh, and it uses x2 AA batteries, just like its older brother. This is a great handheld and gift for Gameboy Color lovers.
8. GPD XD
Do you fancy spending $250 on a wannabe Nintendo DS? Then read on. This is the GPD XD one of the most expensive handhelds of our best retro handhelds list and that’s because it can handle every ROM you chuck at it, it comes with a giant 4″ touch screen display, x2 analogue sticks, and it runs on an Android operating system allowing you to download Android apps too.
Imagine a 3DS with the ability to play any old school retro game you could ever think off, and even the latest games such as Fortnite? That’s the GPD XD. A clam shell games console built for those that want a serious handheld to chuck in their backpack. With its 4GB RAM and 2.7GHZ processor this will play most ROMS in silky smooth frame rate.
The only downfall to this handheld is the mighty price tag, which as you know is the same as a Nintendo Switch and the fact it collects every single fingerprint you could every imagine, but thats us being picky and wanting a shiny new handheld all the time.
The Gameboy Zero is a handheld you are familiar with but probably never heard of. Designed in the UK by a small business called GBZ Mods the Gameboy Zero is on our best retro handhelds list due to its nostalgic feel and modern technology that goes inside of it. This handheld is using a Raspberry Pi 3 for its internals, so you know this thing will be able to run all of your emulators and more.
It starts quite pricey coming in at $250+ but rest can be assured this unit is being built by professionals. It’s using the Kite Circuit Sword CM3 AIO, the Raspberry Pi Module (not the latest Pi 4, that has recently been revealed), 32GB Micro USB Pre-Built with the OS, a 320X240 backlight DPI LCD screen, glass lens and a 4000mah battery that’ll keep playing for hours on end.
The reason we like this is because you get modern technology built into an old nostalgic Gameboy DMG shell, which makes you feel like you’re getting the best of both worlds. With its addition of two buttons you can smash through majority of emulators, such as SNES, NES and so on. It’s a great handheld for those wanting to play any old school game on an old school console.
The RetroGame is similar to No.2 on our best retro handhelds list, which is the Bittboy Pocket Go. But this console, also known as the Revo K101 is a superb handheld that has been on the market for a few years now and it’s still going strong competing with some of the newer handhelds. It has many similar features to the Gameboy Micro, firstly the size and secondly the cartridge slot. Yep, just like to the DigiRetroBoy at No 1 this thing can play official GBA games using the cartridge on the back.,
With the cartridge slot you also get a TF Card adapter in the box, which is basically a SD card slot in a GBA cartridge that you can load up with a bunch of ROMS. While we’re on the subject of ROM’s the RetroGame can emulate Gameboy Advance, Gameboy Color, Gameboy, NES, SNES, Sega Mega Drive, Neo Geo, Game Gear and Sega Master System.
It has pretty good build quality too, the RetroGame can certainly take a beating, and it’s something we could trust giving to a child if needed. It comes with shoulder buttons, colour ABXY pads and a 3″ screen that too be honest, is nothing special but it does the job! The RetroGame is slightly overpriced seeing as its a 3 year old console, coming in at $55, we’d like to see it at $35 but hey, it’s still an ace product that will keep you coming back to play for hours on end.
This is one you’ve most likely never heard of, but now that you have, you wish you never did… because you’ll want one, really, really badly. This is the Multi Game System, a must add product to our best retro handhelds list because not only does it look incredible, but it can play a wide number of retro games in big handheld fashion. The MGS is designed and created by one guy, so getting hold of this unit it a pain in the backside, we’ve even offered to buy one mid conversation with the designer and we haven’t heard back from him in weeks, not even a reply with the cost of a unit, so if you want one, you might have to wait some time. Even his website is dead!
Moving past the problems of getting one, this unit looks superb. It’s thick, weighs the same as a Nintendo Switch, has 6 action buttons, two shoulder buttons and an analogue stick. You can play all kinds of ROMs from Neo Geo to the classic Pokemon Yellow on Gameboy. You can change button layouts, brightness, you can use headphones and even pimp the shell yourself with paint. This could be the ultimate handheld, but it’s just a shame there’s not a team of people behind it to get it into customers hands. One day, we’ll have one. One day!
We didn’t want to add two Bittboy products to our best retro handhelds list, but we did The original Bittboy which you are seeing here is very different to the Bittboy Pocket Go. This is the handheld that has really started to kick-start the market into producing higher quality products. Think of it as the King of Emulating Handhelds, the prestigious one that everyone respects. It brought quality to the market, and most importantly it brought a name that customers can trust and go to for ACTUAL support.
If the Bittboy Pocket Go is a little too big for you then the Bittboy has that old school Gameboy feel in a much more diddy package. It can play all of your ROM’s apart from PS1 and most of the time it comes with a SD card pre-built with games, even if that is a little naughty to do in this market. It has a beautiful bright 2.4″ screen, sleek gloss buttons and a sturdy well cut shell to keep it all in tact.
Bittboy has already updated this product 4 times since launch two years ago, whatever the customers want they shall receive. We remember purchasing their V1 years ago and it didn’t even have a SD card slot, then just a few months later they listened and wallah, it turned this thing into a superb console that has to be in our best retro handhelds list. It’s fun, it’s small, it’s cheap and its great to take with you on trips away, or if you want to smash out some Mario while you’re on the bus. The Bittboy brand is doing great, they’re trying hard and they are continusouly evolving. We respect that.
A 26 year old fella that’s had a Gameboy addiction ever since he was a child. Brandon is the founder of RetroDodo and has a YouTube channel with 150,000 subscribers dedicated to retro gaming products. He now wants to create the No.1 site to showcase the latest retro products from around the globe.