As great as mobile games look today, there’s just something about the old school games like Tetris and the original Pokémon that simply must be experienced. And when it came to original mobile gaming, Nintendo’s Game Boy was king.
Mobile games today are a very different type of fun than old school “mobile” games in the early 1990s. Fortunately the Hyperkin Smartboy can bring the fun and feel of retro Gameboy games to your smartphone!
The Game Boy was released in North America in the summer of 1989. There’s just something so darn charming about the 8-bit graphics and the catchy chip music of the Game Boy that makes those games fun to revisit today. Well, maybe not so fun when you’re staring at the faded yellow screen, trying to tilt it just right to avoid glare. Or blowing inside the old cartridges to hope they start working again (that makes it worse, by the way, but we will all keep doing it). Fortunately, your slick new smartphone can transform into an experience that sounds, and most importantly feels, like the original Game Boy, with a few modern hacks to make the experience better than the original ever was, thanks to the Hyperkin Smartboy.
Why would you want to play Game Boy games on your phone?
Umm…why wouldn’t you? Real quick (if you’re brand new to this) an emulator is any program that plays ROMs (the digital versions of games). There are specific emulators that mimic specific systems (for example the My Old Boy emulator plays ROMs of Game Boy games).
There are a few different emulators out there that will allow you to play Game Boy, Game Boy Color, and Game Boy Advance ROMs on your phone. This means you could play Game Boy games right now without every buying the Smartboy.
But, tapping along to digital buttons just doesn’t do some of those retro games justice! Sometimes, you just need a physical D-Pad to mash. Or raised A/B buttons to time your combos precisely. If you want your Game Boy ROM experience to feel like an original Game Boy, you’re gonna get that with the Smartboy.
The actual gameplay can be done with any emulator (Smartboy recommends using My Old Boy). So, the Smartboy is really just a grip or a dock that is themed to make your Game Boy experience a little more authentic.
Why would I need the Smartboy to play games?
Aside from the fact the Smartboy gives you tactile buttons to control your Game Boy games, it has one other very unique feature. The Smartboy can also load actual cartridges. It’s compatible with original Game Boy and Game Boy color games. So, if you can track down these original games at a garage sale, or your mom and dad still have them kicking around the basement from way back in the day, you can load them up using the Smartboy. And there is something very cool about the ritual of sliding a cartridge into your console and firing up a game. Plus, those old games look minty on a smartphone screen!
Will it work with my phone?
The Smartboy plugs into a USB Type-C port and fits phones from 5.2 to 6.4 inches. The sides of the Smartboy expand so you can easily load in your phone, then clamps snugly around your device. This stops your phone from wobbling during gameplay.
The Smartboy works with the latest Samsung phones from the S7 on, as well as the Google Pixel models, and several others. You can find the full compatibility list here.
Talk nerdy to me: Why should I geek out about this thing?
Here’s the super nerdy reason why you might strongly consider the Smartboy. Did you know that old video game cartridges like the ones used in the Game Boy all have tiny batteries in them? These batteries keep the cartridge’s ROM alive, and that’s where your save data exists. But those batteries will start to die after 15-20 years. This means if you were grinding away through Metroid 2: Return of Samus in the mid ’90s and always meant to come back to it, you may be too late!
To save your game progress for digital eternity, you can just slide those old cartridges into the Smartboy, load up your latest save file, then lock in a save state using your favorite emulator. Voila! Your save data will be protected on your phone or in your cloud for years to come!
How do I get it to work?
It’s pretty simple, plug-and-play stuff to get gaming on your Smartboy. You download the Smartboy Companion app as well as the My Old Boy emulator. Then slide your phone into the Smartboy and follow the on-screen prompts.
Smartboy connects through your device’s USB Type-C port, so you don’t have to mess around with Bluetooth to get going.
Check out this handy-dandy video from Hyperkin showing how to set up your Smartboy for the first time.
The gameplay experience
Initially, the Smartboy gameplay seems awesome! Your old cartridges look great as they’re upscaled to your phone’s screen. The music is spot on! And, it’s so convenient to play the ROMS you legally backed up on your phone and control them with the Game Boy-like input.
But, there are some issues:
1. Reset and changing games
You should be prepared to have to yank your phone out of the Smartboy. A lot. Basically every time you want to change a game. That’s because tapping on the emulator’s control panel brings up a menu, half of which is cut off by the Smartboy. In order to actually close or reset a cartridge, you have to pull your phone out of the Smartboy to do it.
This is more of a problem with the emulator’s menu design than the handheld, but it’s for sure a pain.
2. Latency problems
“I TOLD YOU TO JUMP!” If you’ve ever yelled this in anger at a screen while playing a video game, you’re not alone. You might find yourself yelling this at the Smartboy during certain games. Latency is the amount of time between when you push a button and then your character performs an action. Because the Smartboy connects via USB Type-C instead of wireless, this shouldn’t be an issue, but it is.
If you can play an entire level of a game by muscle memory, then you may be let down by the slight latency of the Smartboy. However, if you’re playing an unfamiliar game, or one you have haven’t played in years, you probably won’t notice it.
3. Game compatibility
In a test of about 20 available cartridges, we experienced no compatibility issues with playing popular Game Boy games like Super Mario Land, Metroid 2, and Donkey Kong. No issues with more obscure games like Battle Bull (you gotta play that one), Amazing Penguin, or Operation C, either. This could simply be an issue with the age and condition of some people’s cartridges, but consider this a warning: some people experienced issues during their favorite games.
Is it worth it?
The Hyperkin Smartboy retails for $49.99, but ocassionally you’ll find a price drop. The Smartboy is essentially a specialized grip for playing games on your phone. If you loved playing an original Nintendo Game Boy, then you’ll find the Smartboy does a great job of faithfully recreating the look and feel of playing those retro games you loved from your childhood. It also improves the gameplay experience because you get to enjoy these games on a gorgeous-looking screen and you can throw in a few save states when the levels start getting difficult. Or load in a cheat code.
The Smartboy experience could improve with a better emulator. Having to pull out the phone every time you want to play a new game takes you out of the retro gaming magic. However, it is a worthwhile compromise to be able to relive some of these Game Boy and Game Boy Color titles.
You’re not going to carry the Smartboy around town with you to whip out when you have 10 minutes to spare for some retro gaming. That’s because it’s bulky (just like the original Game Boy was). It’s more for special occasions when you have lots of time to game and you want the experience to feel authentic.
Modern games have raised our gaming expectations, so features of the original handheld consoles from the ’90s (like screens that aren’t back-lit, scarce save points, and messing around with AA batteries) are just annoying to modern gamers. The Smartboy isn’t perfect. But the downsides are much smaller than the ones you’ll have trying to enjoy the same games on an original Game Boy or Game Boy Color.
What’s the first game you would play on the Smartboy? Let us know in the comments!
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