An Ultimate Game Boy That Plays PS1, Dreamcast And More

If you’ve dipped a toe in the retro emulation handheld waters over the last couple of years, you already know it’s a riotous and confusing rush of ever-releasing devices, many of which seem to become outdated in a matter of weeks. From Retroid Pockets to Odin Pros via Miyoo Minis and Powkiddys, and novelty micros like the FunKey S, it’s a turbulent sea of ​​strange brand names and fiddly specs. But sailing these waves with the utmost confidence has been Anbernic, a Chinese manufacturer with a wealth of varying models on the market, ranging from the Game Boy Micro tribute that is the RG300X to a multi-iterated system that has proven incredibly popular, the RG351P /M.

Here's the RG353P beside some other, better-known handhelds
Here’s the RG353P beside some other, better-known handhelds

The new Anbernic RG353P feels like a natural successor to the RG351P, with its updated innards and chunky plastic shell reminiscent of a Super Nintendo controller (and, for that matter, another retro handheld, the PocketGo S30). And if none of these words so far make all that much sense to you, it’s fine, I’ve got you. The RG353P is an affordable handheld that can play any 8- or 16-bit games with ease, a smattering of 32- and 64- bit titles with minimal tweaking, and can even technically run GameCube, PlayStation 2 and Wii releases. Heck, making use of all its features means that modern PC and Xbox games aren’t out of the question(ish). Obviously you have to bring your own ROMs to the party, which is always a gray area (backing up, good; downloading, bad), but for just under £130 this curvaceous contraption represents a fantastic way to pick up and play 1980s and ‘ 90s 2D favorites anywhere and have access to PS1, Dreamcast, and even Nintendo DS libraries, all in a single device.

Watch a promo video for the Anbernic RG353P below

That’s right, this thing will run DS games via Android 11 thanks to a perfectly responsive touchscreen, which starts up as standard upon turning the device on unless you have a Linux (or alternative) operating system inserted via SD card, in which case it’ ll switch to that. The Linux experience on the RG353P is incredibly easy and intuitive to use, as you switch between consoles and access your games – loaded from a second SD card or via the handheld’s 32GB of storage (do note, however, that the Android OS takes up a chunk of this). You can order your games by favorites for easy access, and a number of other filters are available so as to quickly get back into your titles of choice. There are different presentation options for the games lists and console categories, and it’s all a piece of cake to use. But if you’re ever stuck, just pressing Select while on the main selection screens in Linux brings up a quick access menu from where you can launch a digital manual. Lovely stuff. (A paper manual is also included, should that be more your pace.)

A closer look beside a Switch OLED
A closer look beside a Switch OLED

Android is a bit more fiddly, with a number of emulators pre-installed on the RG353P but no guide provided on how to use them, so this is where some players may come unstuck. NGL, it’s an area I’m not especially experienced in – but dig into some YouTube how-tos and soon enough you’ll be able to get GameCube and Wii files playing via Dolphin, and even PS2 games on AetherSX2. Will you want to, though? No, not really. While the RG353P’s 2GB of RAM and RK3566 quad-core CPU is an upgrade from the prior 351 line, running at 1.8GHz rather than topping out at 1.5, this is a system that really hits its upper limit at PlayStation Portable and SEGA Dreamcast titles, which are fine in Linux and Android with a little frame-skip adjusting. You can even squeeze better performance by installing custom firmware, like JELOS, which will be essential for anyone wanting to put Saturn games on this.

The RG353P easily plays your old PS1 favorites
The RG353P easily plays your old PS1 favorites

But it’s the older-school consoles that make the RG353P so appealing – even to someone who already owns a RG351P (hi, that’s me, I’m that someone). And if it’s those games you want, you’ll be able to use this console without installing anything else. The 3.5-inch, 640×480 IPS display pops with pixel-perfect detail, making Game Boy Advance, Mega Drive and Neo Geo games sizzle with sun-kissed brilliance. Faster loading times are a plus, not that the RG351P was slow; and viewing angles are fantastic, if you’re someone who likes to lazily play these handhelds in bed (guilty). Initial booting, especially to Linux, isn’t the speediest, but once in every game fires up lickety-split.

These buttons have just the right amount of bite to them
These buttons have just the right amount of bite to them

And if it’s older-school systems – the aforementioned, plus OG Game Boy and Game Boy Color, Master System and Game Gear, MSX and PC Engine, SNES and NES, Neo Geo Pocket and PS1, N64 and Wonderswan, plus DS of course ( all out the box, as standard) – that you’re here for, the RG353P is essentially an ‘ultimate Game Boy’, giving you all of that plus any classic ’80s or ’90s coin-op you’d care to mention ( personally that’s a big draw to me, having games I only ever saw in arcades in the palms of my hands). Its stereo speakers, positioned underneath the device, pack a punch and a half, but it’s a shame that in testing across three different sets of headphones, from cheapo in-ears to fancy-pants gaming cans, there was always a crackle on the 3.5 mm socket. It’s not persistent, but it is annoying (then again, there was always a buzz to the RG351P, so I can live with it). Battery life is between four to six hours depending on what you’re running, and at what screen brightness, and the RG353P comes packed with a USB charge lead but no mains adapter.

Mega Drive runs effortlessly on the RG353P
Mega Drive runs effortlessly on the RG353P

There are a few further downers to spotlight. The shape of the device feels perfect when using the firm NES-style D-pad, as that’s where your thumb naturally rests, but the left-sided analog stick is too low to make for comfy play over prolonged sessions. I prefer a volume dial to a digital rocker, which this device has, but that’s a personal thing and your mileage may vary – I just find it hard sometimes to get the noise exactly where I want it. The somewhat bouncy-feeling shoulder buttons lack the bite of the face foursome of A, B, X and Y, but for a lot of the games that run best on this thing, you’re not going to touch them. These are, in the grand scheme, small complaints, as the RG353P makes a very positive first impression and only ends itself further the more you play around with its capabilities, especially on the Android side.

On the top you've a mini HDMI, OTG port and more
On the top you’ve a mini HDMI, OTG port and more

Other features include (mini) HDMI out, so you can play games on this handheld on your TV screen. I’m not sure why you’d want to, but it’s an option. You can also connect it to Bluetooth controllers, using its OTG port, and therefore set the console down entirely – which might explain its large non-slip pads on the rear (the RG351P had similar, but not this big). There’s 5G WiFi built in which allows you to download software directly via on-device apps and stream games to the portable device via PC. I haven’t tested this myself but I have seen other coverage of the RG353P showing it handling Xbox Cloud Gaming via Chrome just fine, if you’re desperate to take Halo Infinite for a spin on this thing. Again, I’m not sure why you would, but options are nice to have. The RG353P also comes in two color schemes: transparent black casing with colored face buttons (green, yellow, blue, red) matching those of the PAL SNES, and a grey-and-purple version that evokes the North American SNES design.

The RG353P is an improvement on the RG351P - but maybe not necessary if you have the older device
The RG353P is an improvement on the RG351P – but maybe not necessary if you have the older device

Disregarding the Android hoops you need to jump through to get that side of the RG353P set up just the way you like it, the Linux experience is effortless, making this a beautiful entry point to the world of emulation handhelds, if not an essential pick- up for anyone already carrying something of a RG351P standard around in their backpack as its improvements – better DS and Dreamcast play, faster loading, WiFi functionality – are too slight to be worthwhile. Newcomers however can be confident in getting a great experience here straight out of the box, as in its purely default state this device will play PS1 just about perfectly, N64 and Dreamcast with only a few hiccups, and anything older than that (except Saturn, which definitely requires custom firmware) is all buttery smoothness and nostalgic goodness. No need to worry about this device becoming yesterday’s news when it’s designed specifically to play the best of the past, not focus on what’s next (so, um, PS3 emulation?). It’s rather like how your misty memory remembers childhood favorites then, only exceptionally more convenient and with no blowing on carts or cleaning grimy discs required.

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