Review: GameForce Retrogaming Handheld

Review: GameForce Retrogaming Handheld

By Greg Rodriguez, resident specialist in Android, Mac, Linux and Windows operating systems, video and audio streaming and conversion, retrogaming, and many other tech disciplines

The GameForce Retrogaming Handheld is a new device that ticks a lot of boxes on what a good retro handheld should be. It has great ergonomics in a horizontal layout, a proper 4:3 aspect ratio display, dual thumbsticks, built-in Wi-Fi, USB-C charging, and even comes with a hard shell carrying case.

Specs:

  • ROCK-CHIP RK3326 CPU (Quad-Core Cortex-A35 up to 1.5Ghz)
  • Mali-G31MP2 GPU
  • 1GB DDR3L RAM
  • 3.45-Inch TFT IPS Display (640x480 resolution, 10-15ms response Time, 85° viewing angle)
  • USB-C Charge and Data Port (Recommended charger: 5V, 2A)
  • 3000 mAh Battery
  • MicroSD/TF card (Up to 512GB)
  • 2.4Ghz Wi-Fi (Built-in)
  • LED Backlit Buttons (7 colors)
  • Dual Forward-Facing Stereo Speakers
  • Dual Thumbsticks (ALPS, same as PSVITA)
  • Dual Vibration Motors

Let’s start where the HandHeld excels most. I cannot say enough about the ergonomics of the GameForce HandHeld. In my opinion the horizontal layout is far superior to most vertical layouts, think Gameboy Advance vs. Gameboy DMG, and the HandHeld does not disappoint in this area. It’s contoured to fit in your hand and feels quite comfortable, making it perfect for those extended gaming sessions.

The display on the HandHeld is another point to marvel at. A 3.45-inch IPS display, while not the largest, fits perfectly into the silhouette of the HandHeld. I know that 640x480 may not seem “high resolution” by modern smartphone standards, but it’s plenty for PlayStation 1, N64, and older games. Colors look bright and vibrant and details in old games look crisp and sharp. Another important detail about the display is it’s 4:3 aspect ratio. We’ve gotten accustomed to 16:9 in modern televisions and handhelds. And while that works fine for them, the majority of old video games are 4:3, making this display perfect for retro gaming without any black bars, or wasted screen space. The only potential negative I could consider about the display is that it’s not OCA laminated, so there may be some glare outside or in brightly lit rooms.

Without a doubt I would say the shoulder buttons on the HandHeld are absolutely amazing. Some of the best I’ve seen on a retro handheld. The D-pad is…just okay. It’s not bad, but it’s not great either. If you’re moving in a single direction, it feels fine. But when you need to change directions quickly, or rock the D-pad back and forth it can feel a bit mushy. Another area that could use a little improvement are the ABXY buttons. My main concern is they’re just too tall. They stick out too far from the shell and that causes the occasional missed button press as your thumb catches the side of the button rather than the top.

The front-facing stereo speakers on the HandHeld sound clear and get pretty loud. If bass is your thing they won’t blow you away, but for their size I have no complaints.

One really cool and unexpected feature the HandHeld has is LED backlit buttons. That’s right, all the face buttons on the HandHeld are backlit and can be changed between 7 different colors, or turned off completely if that’s just not your thing. This is very impressive for a handheld that was independently developed.

For software the HandHeld is one of only two retrogaming handhelds officially supported by EmuELEC. This means that it uses EmulationStation as a frontend and Retroarch as the emulation backend. Both of which can be quite customizable. Due to the official support of EmuELEC, the GameForce will always receive the newest version of EmuELEC available.

I’ve found battery life with EmuELEC to be good. It will of course depend on your usage. Newer games will use more power as well as cranking the screen brightness, or turning on the backlit buttons. But I would say 4-5 hours would be a good average for mixed play.

As far as game compatibility… You should be able to play everything PlayStation 1 and older without issue. Some lighter Nintendo 64 games will also run decently, like Super Mario 64, but don’t get your hopes up. This will not run GoldenEye; it just doesn’t have the performance for that. But with your expectations tempered a little, there are still thousands of games to play. I should note that there are also ports of Batocera and ArkOS for the HandHeld that just might perform a little better with N64 and newer consoles.

The GameForce HandHeld is definitely a competitor for one of the best retro handhelds of 2021. While the RK3326 SoC might be a little long in the tooth, it’s still a decent performer. The price point is slightly higher than some other non-aluminum RK3326 devices, but those also don’t come with a rather nice hard shell carrying case. Nor are they guaranteed to have a vivid 640x480 display, excellent build quality with few faults, a truly comfortable design and built in Wi-Fi. The GameForce HandHeld is definitely a retro handheld worth owning.

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