If you’ve found yourself wishing for a Nintendo 64 Handheld or searching through scores of Retropie handhelds for a machine that can play the best Dreamcast games with ease, then the PiBoy DMG will make you feel as though Christmas has come early. Retro gaming might be all about playing classic titles, but the technology that goes into getting the best N64 games, the best SEGA CD games, and the best Master System games into portable devices is far from ‘old-school’. New advancements are constantly being brought to the fold, and devices such as the Raspberry Pi have revolutionised how we access the games of yesteryear.
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I know that there are a few grey areas surrounding the world of ROMs (you can check out more on this topic in our ‘purely scientific’ article on How To Install ROMs), but the market for handheld emulators and clone consoles is thriving and is bigger now than it has ever been. We’ve seen lots of fake consoles that don’t quite cut the mustard, but there are some that stand out as looking and playing like a well-oiled machine.
Handheld gaming shot to the forefront of the console world with the original GameBoy DMG, the famous grey power-brick with the green-tinted screen. The history of the GameBoy is a topic that is dear to our hearts, and the shape of the first major Nintendo handheld console brings back many a memory of playing Pokemon Red and dying constantly on Super Mario World. It’s an iconic design, and when developers integrate it into their retro gaming systems, we can’t help but get excited. First, there was the Retroflag GPi Case, and now the PiBoy DMG is heading into the fray.
Meet The PiBoy DMG – The Ultimate Blast From The Past
We should probably start by giving you a bit of a rundown of what the PiBoy DMG is and what it does. This console is a complete handheld gaming experience with a Raspberry Pi computer at its core. For those who don’t know, a Raspberry Pi computer unit is a low-cost unit around the size of a credit card and can be easily integrated into a multitude of systems or creations. There have been various upgrades over the years so far, with the ‘Raspberry Pi 4’ being the latest device on the scene. It’s powerful enough to cope with bigger games for systems such as the N64 and the Dreamcast, meaning you can get back into titles like Donkey Kong 64 and Skies of Arcadia without the whole thing glitching like a cat in the Matrix.
What Separates The PiBoy DMG From Other Consoles
Unlike consoles like the Retro Game 350 or the upcoming Super Retro Champ, the PiBoy DMG takes the original style and shape of our beloved grey GameBoy and kicks it up a notch, adding four new buttons to the front-facing and an analog stick for greater control. There are shoulder buttons on the back for N64 gaming, and it even has the original battery compartment too. Luckily for you, you won’t have to carry around a pocketful of AA batteries or steal them out of the TV remote halfway through a level, as the PiBoy DMG comes with a 4500mAh LiPo Battery that can be charged up via a Micro USB cable. Hallelujah!
The system itself is pretty special too. Instead of having a bog-standard Android operating system, this DMG uses the DPI mode of the Raspberry Pi. For gaming virgins, that means it can run frame rates up to 60-frames-per-second, a feat that the original GameBoy could have only dreamed of achieving. It comes with active cooling and safe-shut down modes to keep both you and your device safe while playing for long periods of time, and a lot of the original GameBoy DMG features such as the power switch, brightness control, and speaker ports feature on the new build.
Let’s Look At The Features
The PiBoy DMG has every detail nailed down. I like the fact that the original handgrip lines are still present on the back, as is the same sliding volume control, power LED, and headphone jack. The handheld has a 3.5″ backlit LCD screen that looks super crisp, and the new additions such as the Raspberry Pi ports and Micro SD port all fit into the case without being too apparent or inhibiting gameplay. The console can pump out 640×480 resolution, which puts it in line with the GameCube and original XBOX. I’m gonna be honest, devices like this are now the best way to play your favourite games for consoles like the SNES and the PS1. HD TVs make games like Goldeneye unbearable to play, and who has room for one of those small ‘army-command-tent’ style TVs in their set up?
One of the things that I love about this handheld is that the L and R buttons are non-invasive while you’re playing. I’ve been testing out the GameBoy 1 Up recently, another of our favourite Retropie handhelds, and the back Z/shoulder button set up is had to use and confusing. The PiBoy DMG simplifies things with two low-profile buttons that are pretty much flush to the back of the handheld and don’t detract from the overall appeal of the device, The same can be said for the joystick – it’s not huge, sits close to the faceplate, and doesn’t make you run a mile as though you’ve come into contact with a zombie horde the first time you see it.
Let’s talk about those front buttons too. I like the fact that they’re in the same pantone colour as the original DMG, and while there are 6 instead of the original 2, it doesn’t look like a cheap knock-off or overly complicated. It actually makes use of some wasted space without seeming overcrowded, something that the GPD XD team should take onboard with future consoles.
Does The Handheld Come Ready To Roll?
The PiBoy DMG comes with a full assembly kit, meaning that like the ODROID GO and the ODROID GO Advance, this is a handheld that you need to put together before using. You can buy a pre-assembled unit for around $60 more, but the idea is that this is a console for modification fans that like to see how their devices work. There’s no soldering required, but you will need to buy your choice of Raspberry Pi system to make this thing work before you start playing. If you’re into computer building or techy stuff, then this will undoubtedly be a fun exercise. It’s easy enough for anyone who doesn’t have much experience with putting consoles together, but you should definitely do a little bit of research first before you dive in with your screwdriver. As for choosing the right Raspberry Pi system, you’re going to want to go for Raspberry Pi 4 every time to get seamless gameplay and that coveted 60fps framerate.
We haven’t actually had a chance to sit down for a long period of time with this thing yet, but you can be assured that a full review will be coming very soon. What we can say is that we’re big fans of the design (it kind of reminds me of this Lego Gameboy) and from what we’ve seen, the gameplay is sturdy and reliable. The real test will be how easy it is to play N64 and Dreamcast titles, the two features that ExperimentalPi are using to sell their new handheld. Mapping buttons can be tricky, and games like Banjo Kazooie that need multiple C-button variations can often catch developers out. Don’t worry though; the bird ‘n’ bear duo will be our first port of call when we put this thing through its paces.
As for the cost, this thing is priced pretty well. You can get the whole assembly kit for just under $120, although that doesn’t include the Raspberry Pi computer itself. An assembled PiBoy DMG will set you back just under $180 and might be a better buy for any gamers who don’t feel comfortable performing open-handheld-surgery. You can find out more about the PiBoy DMG and make a purchase by visiting ExperiementalPi.
Keep your eyes peeled for more info on the PiBoy DMG and look out for our official Retro Dodo review coming soon. Let us know your thoughts on the design over on our Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram pages!