Posted on June 10, 2009,

Pocket Retro Gaming on the Cheap

Pocket Retro Gaming

While browsing a particular gaming forum that I’m a regular of, a fellow forum goer posted a link to a pocket emulator device that caught my eye. While I’ve dabbled with classic emulation within Windows Mobile powered cell phones in the past, my experience with those setups always left me wanting. Too small, too annoying, and half the time, too slow. Basically, cell phones and classic emulators are a match made in hell. Cool to show off to your friends, but a nightmare in comfort. So what are the present alternatives?

Anyone who has done their homework will attest that a Nintendo DS Lite ($130 USD) with an M3 Perfect ($30-40 USD) is a decent choice for the money. The R4DS adapter for the DS, while a little harder to find, would shave off a few more dollars while equaling the M3 in capability. With that particular setup you get NES, SNES, GBA, and, of course, DS capabilities. Best of all, no hacking required for this setup.

The old school PSP ($150 USD), technically the more powerful alternative, can net you NES, SNES, GBA, all the old Sega consoles, and of course arcade via MAME. And it remains to be seen if the upcoming and more pricey PSP Go! will even let you run anything homebrewed on it. Thus, it seems classic emulation fans will be scrambling to buy up the old PSP stock until they stop showing up on shelves (of course there’s always E-bay). Then there’s the whole PSP hacking procedure required to even get your foot in the door for such emulation potential – by far the biggest hurdle going the PSP route, period.

So how about a no frills handheld device that plays your favorite classics without requiring organs or offspring in trade?

Enter the Pocket Retro Gaming Emulator (aka Chinavision CVFH-N03-4G, aka Dingoo A320). While the device itself is not necessarily new (Endgadget covered it back in April), getting a hold of one (at least in the U.S.) has been somewhat of an adventure.

As of late, the ThinkGeek store has been offering this neat little device for the modest price of $99.99 (plus shipping). While I’m told if you shop around, you can potentially find the same device (likely rebadged) for $20 cheaper, ThinkGeek is, as far as this editor is concerned, a reputable wholesaler. The shame is that the device is out of stock as of this writing. However, I somehow doubt that status will remain for long.

So what do you get for $100? Game-wise you get: NES, SNES, Sega Genesis, Game Boy Advance, SNK Neo-Geo and Capcom arcade systems CPS1 and CPS2 capability. As a multimedia device, it can play FLV, WMV, ASF, RM, AVI, MPEG, MP4, RMVB, SWF video formats as well as MP3, WMA, APE, FLAC audio formats. Other knicknacks are the device’s ability to function as an e-book reader with text to speech capabilities, built-in fm radio, voice recorder (MP3, WAV), and image viewer (JPG, BMP, GIF, PNG). Hardware-wise, you’re going to be staring at a 2.8-inch QVGA LCD, 4GB internal memory, Mini-SD card slot (SDHC), stereo speakers, earphone jack and AV out for hooking the device up to a television.

The control scheme (shown in the photo above) is self-explanatory. You navigate the device using said controls. Launching a game is as simple as highlighting a file and pressing a button. Getting ROMs onto the device is fairly easy as well. The device comes packaged with a USB cable you can plug into your PC. Just drag and drop your ROMs as if the device were removable storage. Everything about this device shouts ‘easy’.

Despite the device’s impressive specs, all is not perfect. Reports are in from owners of this particular model complaining of speed problems with certain games (F-Zero is obvious in the video below). So, YMMV.

Which brings us to the device’s more seedy repertoire: ROMs. The legality of dumping, much less possessing, ROMs remains a hot topic of debate still. While you can hide behind your country’s laws and legal stance, if you delve deep into the reality of ROM possession, you’ll find no real immunity there regardless if you own an original or not.

As a fellow forum member reminded: Atari vs. JS&A ruled that you cannot back up or archive a ROM. Sega vs. Accolade does allowing dumping for development purposes, but how many does that apply to? Nintendo of America, Inc. vs. Bung Enterprises and Carl Industries and Nintendo vs. Games City specifically say dumping is illegal. The list goes on and on, but when it comes down to it “there is no fair use or anything else when it comes to ROMs.”

And then we could get into the multimedia formats and how the MPAA/RIAA looooove it when these little devices pop up.

I somehow doubt this will stop most from purchasing this handheld device despite its obvious dependence on its user’s ability to obtain files via otherwise legal means. To be fair, the DS Lite + M3 (mostly) and PSP are under the same microscope in this respect.

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3 Comments on Pocket Retro Gaming on the Cheap


On June 11, 2009 at 12:14 pm

If F-Zero lagged this makes me wonder if every game with MODE7 would lag?


On June 12, 2009 at 10:25 am

Saw this the other day @ Think Geek when i was looking to buy their NES/SNES combo system. The device is great for the price imho.

Would like to see more/better emulation for Android devices.


On July 6, 2009 at 3:10 pm

I got one of these from ThinkGeek about a month ago and returned it. Any GBA games with Mode 7 style graphics were unplayably slow. Some GBA titles worked great, but too many of them suffered from horrible slowdown or frameskipping for my taste.

The CPS1 emulation was good. The CPS2 and NeoGeo emulation suffered some slowdown.

The SNES and Genesis (a.k.a. MegaDrive) emulators both have serious problems. If you google a few forums, you’ll find a lot of complaints about slowness or corrupt graphics.

For all that it *can* do, this thing is amazing for its price. But the things it can’t do (or doesn’t do well) annoyed the bejesus out of me. I’ll wait until better, faster hardware comes along. Maybe in another couple of years…