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This £30 Fake Game Boy Is Almost Better Than The Real Thing

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This £30 Fake Game Boy Is Almost Better Than The Real Thing

Despite not picking up either a PlayStation 5 or an Xbox Series X yet in 2021, I've found some creative ways to spend my money on video game purchases. I've been revisiting some PS4 classics with cheap physical pick-ups; exploring my own gaming past in greater detail with some emulator devices (including this one, that gives you 40,000 games for the price of one PS5 disc); I've pre-ordered an Evercade VS, which comes out in November; and I've been scooping up bundles of original Game Boy carts off ebay to really explore a library that I've only played the hits from, before now.

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This minor Game Boy renaissance in my non-work playtime has seen me dig out my transparent Game Boy Pocket and first-model DMG-01 console - both have seen slightly better days in terms of bumps and scrapes, but they play as well as they did when I got them. What doesn't work anymore, however, is the green-shelled Game Boy Color that my brother gave me, like, 15 years ago or so. Just won't turn on, with batteries or mains power. Which, inevitably, led me to ebay to source a replacement - and then I stumbled across something very interesting.

The original Game Boy console is a legendary piece of hardware - check out our brief history of Nintendo's handheld hit, below

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Rather than buy another genuine Game Boy Color - which you can pick up for £30 or £40 or so, just for the console; with bundles obviously coming in a little more expensive - I opted for a clone. I know, I know - here's me not giving my money directly to Nintendo. Then again, it's not like Nintendo is taking a penny from second-hand hardware sales, and the £40 I spent on a GB Boy Colour went the way of an independent British games shop that stocked the device. So, I'm content with my purchase, on a moral ground. What I received - pictured in this piece, beside two of my original Game Boys - can be bought direct from China, where it's manufactured, for less, between £25 and £30, if you shop around a bit. But there's significantly steeper postage costs to factor in there, and the risk of increased post-Brexit import fees. So again, a few extra quid to get it from a domestic supplier wasn't something I minded, at all.

The GB Boy Colour - note the British spelling, whereas the GBC proper opts for the American 'u'-less variant - looks and feels much like the system it's so clearly stealing its style from, just a little larger than its inspiration. It's not a new product - you'll find coverage of the console dating back to 2017 - but it's certainly new to me, and may well be to you, too. And having looked at several of those write-ups, and watched my share of review videos of the clone, before parting with my cash, I was confident it'd tick the boxes I'd need it to.

The GB Boy Colour next to a Pocket and original Game Boy / Credit: the author
The GB Boy Colour next to a Pocket and original Game Boy / Credit: the author
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It plays Game Boy and Game Boy Color cartridges, of which I have several. Brilliant. It runs off a pair of AAs, and has a decent battery life of between 15 and 20 hours. Again, excellent stuff. The d-pad is a little squishier, a little softer, than the one on the Game Boy Color - but it's not a problem for most games, although I wonder if it'll noticeably degrade over time faster than Nintendo's hardware. A and B have just the right amount of travel on them - and the Start and Select buttons are actually improved on the GB Boy Colour, solid plastic pieces rather than the rubbery ones on the original handheld.

Best of all, though, is the screen on this faker, this liar, this con of a console. It's crisp, bright and fantastically backlit, something that'll be an instant hit with anyone who strained their eyes as a kid, trying to navigate Super Mario Land and Link's Awakening. The aspect ratio is off, so Mario and Link will appear a little plumper than usual - but really, it's such a small wrinkle in a wonderful display you'll quickly stop noticing it. On the sides are the usual: volume, extension port for linked-up play (not tried it myself, but apparently it will work with other GB Boy Colours, and not GBCs proper), a headphone socket and DC-in. The infrared sensor on the top isn't present - but the small dark panel that covered it is, completing the replica look albeit without the functionality.

The amazing 1994 version of Donkey Kong is pre-installed / Credit: the author
The amazing 1994 version of Donkey Kong is pre-installed / Credit: the author
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Turn the GB Boy Colour on without a cartridge inserted, and there's another surprise: this thing comes pre-loaded with 66 games. Now, obviously, none of these are licensed, and the manufacturers haven't paid Nintendo or anyone else a penny for them. But this is a Chinese product and copyright law isn't quite the same there as it is in the US and UK. If you've ever played around with a China-made handheld like a Powkiddy or Anbernic, both made in China, you'll be familiar with a wealth of games out of the box, no ROM wrangling required. The GB Boy Colour only has original Game Boy games included - no Color titles, curiously - but there's a handful of genuine greats amongst a heftier slug of filler. Tetris, Donkey Kong, Super Mario Land, Duck Tales, Contra and Dr Mario are here, alongside a few old-school arcade conversions and Japanese titles that we never received officially in the West.

There are better ways to play your Game Boy and Game Boy Color cartridges. Modded Game Boy Colors with illuminated screens don't come cheap, but they'll beat the GB Boy Colour experience every day of the week. Running your carts in a Game Boy Advance SP AGS-101 model will also make them shine - but then you lose the form factor, that feeling of actually holding a GBC while you're playing a GBC title, and the cart sticks so helpless out of the bottom. Higher-end emulation handhelds like the Anbernic 351P produce a superior-quality image and have a markedly stronger build quality compared to the GB Boy Colour, but only run ROMs.

The GB Boy Colour's screen compared to the monochrome Game Boy Pocket / Credit: the author
The GB Boy Colour's screen compared to the monochrome Game Boy Pocket / Credit: the author
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Oh, the Analogue Pocket, you say? From what we've seen, it's going to be the absolute king of contemporary ways to revisit old-school Game Boy releases (and Game Gear, and Atari Lynx, and Neo Geo Pocket), no doubt about that. But such is the limited pre-order availability of the October-due console, and the eye-watering prices it's going to demand on the second-hand market once it's properly released, that it's a non-starter for most. (I mean, if Analogue wants to send us one to test at GAMINGbible, hit me up.)

Which leads us back to - which leaves me with - the GB Boy Colour. And I'm as happy as can be with it. It's a cheap and cheerful, semi-impulse purchase that's reopened a library of games for me, in a way that has them looking - and therefore playing - better than they did before. If Nintendo ever produces its own 'Classic' version of the Game Boy, in the vein of the NES and SNES mini-consoles of recent years, you'd hope it'd be something like this: a near 1:1 replica of the real deal, with a selection of built-in games and largely the same functionality of the original system. I wouldn't expect an official product to have a working cartridge slot - but if a Chinese KO company can achieve it as excellently as this, effectively beating Nintendo at their own game unless they decide to step up, what's to stop them?

GB Boy Colour, though? Stupid, stupid name, that - even with the British spelling noted, and appreciated. Game Boy Boy, Colour? Pfft.

Featured Image Credit: Nintendo, Evan Amos/Wikipedia, the author

Topics: Super Mario, Nintendo, Opinion, Retro Gaming, The Legend of Zelda

Mike Diver
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