Gadget Review: Anbernic RG35XXSP

So many memories in a slick little box.

8 mins read

Now that I have a ROG Ally, my need for the kind of little emulator consoles that Anbernic, Powkiddy, and others put out is minimal. The ROG Ally is a more powerful device than any of these (effortlessly handles most PS2 games and everything), and manufactured to the standard that you’d expect from one of the world’s major PC hardware manufacturers. And yet, I did buy a Anbernic RG35XXSP. And I love it. It’s Anbernic’s finest by a long way.

Related reading: The last Anbernic I reviewed was the Nano. This too is a delightful little console.

I am perhaps biased as I do love a good clamshell format, but the RG35XXSP is a well-made device that’s lovely to look at. It’s a replica of the design of the GBA SP, though I suspect it’s a little bulkier and heavier… it has been a long time since I held an SP though. The screen flips up smoothly, with a satisfying “click” when it’s in place. It fits comfortably in my largish hands, with all buttons easy to access. Those buttons all have an exceedingly low profile and are satisfyingly resistant and “clicky” to press. We live in an era of soft buttons, and while I’m not opposed to those (the ROG Ally’s are like pressing down on a fluffy cloud and I love them), I do love the more solid quality of the RG35XXSP’s buttons too.

Even the shoulder buttons are up to par on this device. They’re large enough to comfortably reach and press individually, and also feel much more solid and resilient than the shoulder buttons feel like on many other emulation consoles.

A photo of the Anbernic RG35XXSP in action

Otherwise, the shell of the console has everything that you’d expect from a current-generation Anbernic product. There’s a headphone jack for the few headsets that still use that. Sadly it’s a bit of a tight fit and I’m not sure that’s good for the headset, but there’s also Bluetooth anyway. There are two buttons to control volume that have an impressive range. There’s a HDMI port to play your retro games on the big screen, and two SD card slots so you can hold plenty of games on the device.

Turning it on treats you to a plug-and-play boot-up menu, with the main feature being Retroarch right there and primed to go. I remember the heady early days with Anbernic where you’d need to spend hours just trying to get the games onto the console and then playable. For someone who doesn’t particularly care to mess around with computers and settings, it was an unpleasant way to spend my first few hours with my new toy on the day it was delivered. With the RG35XXSP I was playing immediately after pulling the thing out of the box.

The interface lets you set up a playlist of favourites, so you don’t need to cycle through the entire list every time you want to play something that starts with an annoying letter in the middle of the alphabet. It would have been nice if there was a touch screen and search function, but that’s about my only issue with the OS. Aesthetically it’s nowhere near as pleasant as what the “legitimate” guys make, but expecting that would be silly anyway.

A photo of the Anbernic RG35XXSP in action

Once you get into playing the games you’ll find that this console handles everything that it was designed for perfectly. Because there are no analogue sticks, your ability to play a lot of PlayStation, N64 and Dreamcast and beyond games is limited. However, for everything that can be played using a D-pad and buttons, the RG35XXSP handles them all without a problem, so for people who love their PSP, SNES and GBA games in particular, this is the console for you. The screen is nothing special compared to what some others are doing (like, it’s not OLED or of the quality of the PlayStation Portal or ROG Ally), but it’s good with colour and the perfect size for these kinds of nostalgic experiences.

Review: Looking for a non-emulation retro console? The Analogue Pocket is a masterpiece of design. Our review.

Being able to connect a Bluetooth controller to the console, and then run it through the TV, makes for a handy portable multiplayer console, especially for those SNES epics. Remember late-night Super Mario Kart sessions? You can relive that now. As a final neat feature for people who do like to mess around with it, it is possible to stream your PC games to the RG35XXSP via Moonlight. You’ll be exceedingly limited in what you can play due to the controller limitations, but at least it’s there as an option.

The single greatest feature of the RG35XXSP, which helps elevate it and means that I actually find it useful, is the battery. For so long these emulation consoles have struggled to throw up a decent battery life. A big part of the RG35XXSP’s weight seems to be that they’ve included a higher quality battery, because I can now play for several hours, or even a couple of sessions, without worrying if I was running the battery down too low.

A photo of the Anbernic RG35XXSP

Given the quality of the hardware, and the clamshell design being a natural protector for the screen, that battery life means the RG35XXSP is going to be my travel console for the near future. A lot of the steam might have been taken out of the sails of the emulation console manufacturers with the Steam Deck, ROG Ally and others, but Anbernic is proving to be crafty in finding niches where it can enjoyably different and high-quality experiences for retro fans.

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Matt S. is the Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of DDNet. He's been writing about games for over 20 years, including a book, but is perhaps best-known for being the high priest of the Church of Hatsune Miku.

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