Now that we’ve got devices like the Steam Deck and the Ayaneo line, the cheap portable emulation consoles from Anbernic, Retroid and the like face some challenges. Yes, those other devices are more expensive, but they’re also vastly more powerful. Are people still inclined to want devices that cap out at the PlayStation 1, N64, Dreamcast and PSP?
Based on the aggressive rate that these companies continue to release their toys, it would seem like they certainly think so. And, hey, I purchased this Retroid Flip here, so it seems like there is an audience out there to at least some extent. For me, it was the form factor of this thing that got me to break out my wallet. When it comes to gaming on the go, I like the way that a clamshell console protects the screen, and it’s been a while since I’ve had one of those to carry around.
I am a person that “gives up” on a handheld the moment I detect a scratch on a screen. Call it OCD if you will (I’m pretty sure it is OCD), but when a screen gets a scratch I can do nothing but fixate on it, and it drives me to distraction. I can’t enjoy what is on the screen anymore. As such I very rarely take a console out with me that I don’t mind potentially throwing out at the end of the day. Clamshells solve that problem, and for this form factor, the Retroid Pocket Flip is effortlessly better than the Powkiddy X18S from a few years ago. This isn’t perfect, but it is overall a well-made device.
To start, onboarding is effortless. The console uses an Android operating system, but on loading it up for the first time the system gives you the opportunity to set up every major emulator. From that point, all you need to do is load up a microSD card with all the games you want to play, insert it into the machine, and then point the emulators at the right folders on the SD card. That last step might be a bit too much if you’re new to Android and computing, but a quick tutorial will get you up to speed and you’ll be playing games around 10 minutes after turning the device on. We’re a long way away from the convoluted hoops and broken English that you used to need to grapple with just to get games to work on these things.
Because it is Android-based, you can also use it for additional apps. I enjoy running NHK World on it in bed before sleep, for example, and Amazon Prime and Crunchyroll are also on it (for some reason the Netflix app does not work). Because the screen is nice and bright, it’s actually really good for entertainment apps like that. And, yes, Xbox Game Pass does work on this, making it a decent option for some AAA-streaming in a handheld format. Though with that said, the screen is a little small for some games with smaller text and finer visual details to pay attention to. MLB The Show, for example, runs great. Yakuza: Like A Dragon is hard on the eyes thanks to the tiny font.
Retroid builds are pretty reliable and the Flip is a nice device. The face buttons are a touch soft for my liking (I like clicky buttons), but the D-pad pad has some gorgeous travel and the rocker analogue sticks are as good as Nintendo’s own 3DS. The shoulder buttons are also nice, though R2 and L2 have too long pressing arcs.
While the build quality is good, I was disappointed with how poorly the console uses the space on the bottom half, where the buttons are. There’s a big empty space in the middle of the console where Nintendo would have put a second screen. I don’t necessarily expect a second screen, but rather than four face buttons, Retroid could have moved things around in order to give us six, so we could map the Nintendo 64 properly. Instead, we’re stuck using the right control stick to emulate the four “C” buttons on the original Nintendo 64, and as always that makes some games (such as Mace: The Dark Ages and any other fighting game on Switch) effectively unplayable. Most sports games are much more difficult to deal with than they would have been on a native controller too. It was just two more buttons, Retroid. You had more than enough space for it.
As far as emulation goes, the Retroid Flip handles everything you expect. All the old run fine, of course, as well as PS1. Additionally, the N64 (at least, the games that are compatible with it. No emulator’s ever been able to get Body Harvest to work), Dreamcast and PSP all run smoothly. Even the more demanding games from these consoles are fine, the lovely Dead or Alive girls are rendered and animated gorgeously, as are the substantially less attractive things in God of War.
Pushing beyond that and you’re asking for trouble. DS games run fine, but the screen is too small to display two screens at the same time. Instead, you’ll need to dedicate a button to flipping between the top and bottom screens of most DS games, which is exhausting after a while. You will be able to get some Gamecube and Some PS2 games running at half resolution, but this, unfortunately, makes text and such hard to see, and it’s not an overly pleasant experience. In short, the Flip is stuck in the same era of emulation as most of these devices have been for a few years now.
The Retroid Flip is, of course, much cheaper than the Steam Deck, and has the added advantage that the clamshell design protects the screen. It also has a vastly better battery life and you’ll get a solid day’s play before needing to recharge. This will be the last retro emulation console I buy until Retroid and Anbernic get the bulk of the GameCube and PS2’s library working on a similar form factor and for a similar price, but in the meantime I’m going to get a lot of value out travelling around with this little guy.