Analogue's limited edition Pockets are delightful and frustrating

The company's dedication to retro authenticity goes far beyond creating desirable gaming hardware.

Photo by James Trew / Engadget

The life of a retro gamer is one fraught with delight and frustration. Chasing the unique feeling of waiting years while someone develops a new game for your vintage console of choice in their spare time. But the delight, when it lands, makes it all worth it. Conversely, watching someone snipe your eBay bid for a super rare game you’ve been seeking for years, that’s frustrating. No one appears to understand this yo-yo of emotions better than the team at Analogue — makers of some of the most desirable modern retro consoles around.

When I say Analogue understands this, I mean it’s perfected the art of inducing both ends of that emotional spectrum. The very existence of the company shows it understands the passion retro lovers feel about gaming history. But almost two years after the release of the (delightful) Pocket handheld, we’re still (frustrated) waiting for key accessories and consoles to reliably be in stock. Meanwhile, the company just unveiled some seriously delightful limited editions. (Good luck actually buying one — frustrating.) They really have this retro gaming thing down to a tee, and fans have noticed.

A press shot of Analogue's forthcoming transparent Pocket gaming handhelds.

When the Pocket was announced, that sent a wave of delight around the retro gaming community. That was in October 2019 with an estimated release date of “2020.” Eagle-eyed readers will have already noticed that the company missed that broad target by almost a year, though there was a pandemic going on at the time. That’s a minor frustration, but one that only served to fuel the desire for what is, arguably, Analogue’s most complicated and refined product. Almost immediately, the company reopened orders along with a mild bump in price and — depending on how quick you were — a potential two-year window for it to ship.

As of this month, most of those orders have finally been fulfilled — but not without sprawling Reddit mega-threads of people comparing shipping statuses, order numbers and total days since ordering (props to the 600+ crew). The recent glow in the dark (GITD) limited edition itself caused a bit of a stir (or, in some cases, contempt) as the lucky few who were able to secure one saw it ship out immediately with no wait at all — including the one Analogue supplied for the images in this story.

Things got a bit meta when Analogue quickly unveiled another series of limited editions, this time, the saliva-inducing transparent colors that every gaming handheld deserves. People who had jumped on the GITD Pocket found themselves with buyer’s remorse, had they known the other editions were coming, they would have rather tried for one of those. Some folks are just buying the limited editions because they simply want a Pocket, leaving fewer for those that actively wanted them. A delightfully frustrating situation for all involved.

A 'Distracted Boyfriend' meme created on the Analogue Pocket subreddit.
Reddit / MrFixter

The Glow in the Dark Analogue Pocket looks fantastic though (we’re sure the transparent ones will also). And it’s another sign of Analogue’s hard-line approach to retro purism. The Pocket, a clear reference to the Game Boy Pocket, which had one little-known, hyper rare limited edition given out at a gaming competition. You guessed it, it was glow in the dark — the only official Nintendo console ever to come in the luminous material. Cruelly, the Game Boy Pocket didn’t have a backlight, so the effect was hard to enjoy during play time.

Analogue’s version, of course, can totally be played in the dark, and it's positively encouraged. “Glow in the dark is amazing — when was the last time you've seen a proper consumer electronic fully glow in the dark?” Christopher Taber, founder and CEO of the company told Engadget. And according to Taber, the design involved creating an entirely new material. “We spent a few months getting the color and unique starry, chalky texture. Multiple different plastics to allow that to only be shown when it's glowing — when not glowing it has the perfect green, pure.” Taber’s enthusiasm appears to be matched by Pocket fans as all the units sold out in under two minutes. (Though Taber didn’t specify how many were available when asked.)

Unsurprisingly, and to the chagrin of, well, everyone, plenty of GITD editions have found their way into the hands of resellers.

Now that the shipping of actual Pockets seems to be mostly caught up, I asked whether there’d be stock for the holidays, to which Taber confirmed there would be. Which just leaves those cartridge adapters, and that’s a whole other situation, one that’s changed a fair bit since launch.

Analogue's limited edition Glow in the Dark Pocket is pictured luminating in a completely blacked out room.
Photo by James Trew / Engadget

The whole selling point of the Pocket was that it could natively play original Game Boy cartridges (including Color and Advanced titles), plus Atari Lynx and Game Gear carts via an adapter. Later, TurboGrafx-16/PC Engine and NeoGeo Pocket adapters were also confirmed to be in development. At launch, the Game Gear accessory was ready to go, but there’s been a long wait for the others.

Analogue initially communicated they should be available in Q3 this year, but Taber said they were “still on track to be shipped out by the end of the year.” (FWIW, an archived version of this page showed Q3 up until at least the day before we asked for confirmation, Google has since cached a newer version.) But the real change is that the Pocket can play games from far more systems than it could at launch, including some of the ones for which there are adapters.

The Pocket doesn’t emulate games so much as it reprograms itself to “become” the system you want to play. It does this via something called Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGA) and more specifically “cores” that, in lay terms, mimic each system — it’s what sets the Pocket apart from most other retro handhelds that emulate in software.

Since launch cores have been made available for a number of consoles, including the NES, SNES, Genesis/Megadrive, Neo Geo and TurboGrafx-16. To play games from these systems, no adapter is required, but it does mean dabbling in the murky world of ROMs. To what extent this diminishes the appetite for the adapters is unclear (the Atari Lynx and Neo Geo Pocket remain the systems with adapters that don’t have community-created cores available).

Analogue's Transparent Limited Edition Pockets go on sale today at 11AM Eastern.

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