Retro-Bit Go Retro! Portable
Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension

We've seen plenty of home console revivals recently, like the NES Classic, SNES Classic, Neo Geo Mini and – coming later this year – the Sega Mega Drive Mini, but veteran peddler of vintage systems Retro-Bit has decided that the future is portable with its latest offering. The Go Retro! Potable (yes, the exclamation mark is intentional) packs over 260 games into a small, pocket-sized console with its own 2.8-inch illuminated LCD display and is noteworthy for featuring several officially-licenced NES classics from companies like Capcom and Data East. It's a slightly different take on the company's previous efforts, and one that has its fair share of shortcomings to balance out those positive points.

Let's keep things upbeat for a moment, though. As you can see from the photos on this very page, the Go Retro! Portable is about the same size as a Game Boy Color (in fact, the shell appears to be the same as the one used on the unreleased Super Retro Boy) and comes with a very similar control layout – although there are four buttons instead of the usual two ('TA' and 'TB' are turbo controls, which come in handy for shooters). Start and Select buttons are also included, as is a 'Reset' key which drops you back to the console's main menu. On the left-hand side is the power switch, while on the right you'll find the volume dial. A red LED on the top of the unit tells you when it's switched on.

The Go Retro! Portable doesn't have a built-in rechargeable battery and instead requires four AAAs (not included). You can also use the Micro-USB cable (also not included) to power the unit – the port is located on the bottom of the console, sandwiched between an AV-out socket to play on your TV with the appropriate cable (again, not included) and a 3.5mm headphone jack. Battery life is rated for 'up to' 10 hours, although this will obviously depend on the quality of the batteries used.

Thanks to deals signed with Capcom and G-Mode – the latter being the owner of much of Data East's IP – the Go Retro! Portable comes pre-loaded with a selection of notable NES hits. These include BurgerTime, Mega Man 2 and 3, Mighty Final Fight, Strider, Section-Z, Bad Dudes, Ghosts 'n Goblins and 1943. These are accompanied by a selection of games from Piko Interactive, such as Target Renegade, Noah's Ark and Motor City. These titles sit under the 'Featured' section of the console's menu system, with 'Extra Games' being the other category; here, you'll find a flood of mostly terrible clones which appear to be lifted from the many unlicensed 'Famiclone' consoles that still get sold in parts of the Far East. With titles like Airial Hero (sic), Breast Stroke, Blobman, Greedy, Mad Xmas and Man in Red, many of these are barely complete games at best, and borderline unplayable at worst.

So, despite the packaging claiming a library of over 260 titles, you'll be spending the majority of your time with the 37 'genuine' NES games. These are decent offerings, and the officially-licenced version of Tetris included with the system is superb, boasting smooth animation, excellent audio and brilliant playability. Despite this, there are serious issues with the Go Retro! Portable hardware which may well put you off playing, the most obvious being the way in which NES games are presented on the LCD screen. It has a 16:9 aspect ratio which means things look stretched – to make matters worse, there's a terrible tearing effect when the action scrolls. In some games, like Data East's Dark Lord, part of the screen noticeably 'shimmers' even when nothing is moving. It's not a great look and makes the console feel even cheaper than it actually is (the plastic is nasty and the whole thing feels like it's full of empty space, despite its small size).

Even if you look past the poor display, things don't really improve. You'd assume that in 2018, it would be possible for pretty much any company to create a D-Pad that works as designed, but we're obviously hopelessly naive as the Go Retro! Portable ships with a mostly terrible directional pad. At first, everything seems fine – ideal, even; it's the same basic shape as the 'classic' Nintendo cross pad seen on the Game Boy, after all. However, you soon notice that certain inputs get missed and – most worrying of all – 'up' is often mistaken for 'left'. We assumed this might be an issue with our unit, but we had the chance to play another Go Retro! Portable console and the same issue exists. Sometimes, 'up' isn't registered at all; it really is pot luck and sucks away any potential enjoyment that might have otherwise existed. Nothing destroys a game more effectively than faulty input, and we lost count of the number of times we were cursing the Go Retro! Portable's D-Pad.

It's a real shame that these issues exist because there's certainly room in the world for a pocket-sized console that runs perfectly-emulated NES games, and there are some solid-gold classics included on this system, despite the large amount of filler. Sadly, despite some bright moments, the Go Retro! Portable is yet another disappointment in a sector of the market which is fast becoming filled with also-rans.

This article was originally published by on Fri 14th September, 2018.