For hardcore Nintendo gamers, nothing is as exciting as the notion of a Nintendo 64 Handheld. It remains the holy grail of the worlds best retro handhelds, the epitome of gaming nostalgia and the one console that people wish that they could hold in their own two hands. Playing some of the best N64 games that we had in our childhoods or early gaming life can be a real problem in today’s modern world of 4K televisions and high-res computer monitors. The Nintendo 64 just wasn’t meant to be played on a 60-inch screen, and while you can buy upscalers to boost the output resolution, you just can’t recreate those ‘cutting edge’ graphics that were so incredible back in the day.
There have been many variations of the Nintendo 64 Handheld over the years, with quite a few of our favourite Retropie handhelds like the GameBoy 1UP emulating some of our favourite titles. The trouble is, and one that we come across all too often, is that it’s so hard to get N64 emulation right. There are so many buttons to map out, you often get a drop in frame-rate when making digital copies of games, and the end product often leaves you angry and betrayed more than anything else. Oh, and there’s also that little snag about Nintendo cracking down on downloading ROMs of their games.
The Nintendo 64 Handheld We’ve All Been Waiting For
Modifications to our favourite retro console are coming thick and fast these days, with accessories like the Hyperkin Wireless N64 Remote and the Hyperkin Ultra Retron hitting the internet with force. The first, while a great idea, is pretty cumbersome, and the latter still needs a bit of work before you start thinking about shelling out your hard-earned cash to get one for your living room. So, when I came across a video by GmanModz on YouTube about a clamshell, GameBoy SP style Nintendo 64 Handheld, I got pretty excited but was still a little sceptical. I’ve seen some attempts where the screen was built into an N64 controller and other bulky handhelds that looked as though you’d need to do a couple of workout sessions with Dwayne Johnson to be able to lift them. This latest offering, however, is streamlined, looks good, and best of all, there isn’t an ounce of emulation in sight.
First impressions – I’ll take two units, please!
How Does This Nintendo 64 Handheld Work?
Unlike other Retro gaming handhelds that rely on an android operating system like the CreoQode Lyra or a Raspberry Pie set up, this Nintendo 64 Handheld uses original cartridges from your original system. Yes, you read that right. In the same way that you slot your best GameBoy color games into your GameBoy, you can now slot your N64 classics straight into a funky-fresh beefed-up GB SP. The device itself actually uses the same hinge set-up as the SP, letting the user choose their own specific angle when knocking back Stalchilds or pumping Trevelyan full of lead.
I’m going to give you a few facts about how this thing works before I get to carried away on my favourite games. This clamshell handheld uses the same motherboard as an N64 home console, trimmed down to fit into a portable gaming device. N64 motherboard trimming is a bit of an art and something that modification fans pride themselves on. In the same way as splitting the atom and finding out if God really does exist in that hadron collider in Cern, the discovery that the chip which interfaces with controllers and cartridge security can be relocated on the motherboard was a proud day in the retro gaming world. With this crucial bit of knowledge, we’re one step closer to all having a Nintendo 64 Handheld in our back pocket.
This device that GmanModz has been working on has a 5-inch screen and is built to look like a cartridge itself. The game cart slides in the back so smoothly, and the whole thing makes me feel like it’s Christmas 1996 all over again. Rather than using batteries like the very first GBA (you can check out our best GameBoy Advance games after reading this article), this Nintendo 64 Handheld uses USB C fast charging capabilities, has a 4250MA battery, and holds around 2 hours of charge. You can even play while hooked up to a plug, something which a lot of retro handhelds just won’t allow you to do.
The screen might be small compared to what you play your favourite PS4 games on, but the sound quality in this Nintendo 64 Handheld is stellar. A built-in digital audio amp bypasses the analogue sound and gives crystal clear digital sound for all of your favourite gaming soundtracks. The Hyrule Field theme would sound amazing through this thing!
What Do The Games Look Like?
One thing that always worries me about modded consoles like this is how the games are going to look when you crank them up. The games in this handheld look super slick thanks to the backlit screen, and they play superbly without any lag or missing pieces of map. That’s one of the benefits of being able to slot your old cartridges straight into the device – the quality is exactly the same, and you can load up your original save files and carry on exactly where you left off all those years ago!
Clone consoles like this are one of the best ways of getting around Nintendo’s ‘no ROMs’ rule as the software isn’t being copied or manipulated in any way. The buttons on this handheld are all perfectly set out too. There’s no ‘claw hand’ move needed to control the character around the screen, with the analog stick, c-buttons, and shoulder pads all easily reachable. We haven’t actually tested these 3D-printed buttons out for size yet, but the clips that we have seen show no sticking and quick release, which is exactly what you need if you’re trying to take down Andros in LylatWars or trying to equip your Hookshot in Ocarina Of Time.
Emulation is great, but there’s something so satisfying about having the real thing in your hands. Being able to play the original Mario Kart on the go with proper buttons and not smudging up a screen was one of the things that kick-started my obsession with N64 Handhelds. While it might be a bit of a chore to carry a pocketful of cartridges on the tube, I would much rather have clear maps and reliable save files than a dodgy copy with even dodgier controls. The clamshell-style is a nice touch too and keeps the console relatively slimline. We’re positive that this won’t be the end of the line for Nintendo 64 handheld experimentation, but we could definitely live with this design and playing style if it was. Let us know your thoughts over on our Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram pages!
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Seb Santabarbara has bought every Nintendo console that has ever been released in his 31 years on Planet Earth. His favourite game franchise is Zelda, and he’s patiently waiting for Banjo-Kazooie to come back to the fold. When he’s not playing games, he’s travelling the world in his self-converted camper van.