Ugh. That spelling of color.

Any gamer worth their bits is aware of the clone console market. While many gamers will never look twice at these dirty, back alley gaming experiences a lot of us find them interesting for a myriad of reasons. It’s certainly true that the vast majority of clone or pirate consoles and games are far inferior to the real thing but what happens when one turns out to be better than its basis? Can a clone system that’s got a backlit screen and built in games for $40 actually be good? Enter the GB Boy Colour from KongFeng, the finest Game Boy clone ever.

It looks like every Chinese knockoff product box ever.

It looks like every Chinese knockoff product box ever.  Enjoy the photo in Ashensvision.

As the picture above demonstrates – and the name for that matter – it’s quite easy to tell what the GB Boy is ripping off. It’s actually a bit bigger than a Game Boy Color, which suits my larger hands quite well. The buttons are a mixed bag: the start & select are actual buttons, which is nice, but the D-Pad is not as responsive as the Game Boy’s. It’s not a bad one by any means, just not as good. If you didn’t notice these small differences from one image that’s okay but the main selling point is one you shouldn’t have missed. The GB Boy Colour has a brilliant, backlit color display.

While frontlight or backlight mods have been a thing for a while for all manner of Game Boy, this one has it right out of the box. Not only is the screen properly backlit – Game Boy Colors can only be frontlit – but the screen is just gorgeous. There is, of course, a catch. The screen isn’t the same ratio as the GBC though it is the same size. Sprites get squished a bit on the GB Boy, but honestly I never noticed it much and it never interfered with my gameplay.

A big selling point for this console is also that it sports 66 built in games. Some boxes claim 180 but it’s the same 66 repeated three times. If you start the GB Boy without a cartridge it loads the built in games, and there’s actually a pretty good selection. Interestingly, the entire lineup is original GB but there’s some solid titles. Super Mario Land, Donkey Kong and DuckTales make their presence known and they’re 100% accurate ROMs. The console cleverly uses a small switch that’s hit by an inserted cartridge to turn off the built in games. It’s not exactly a deal maker for me, but it’s a very nice addition.

One of the 18 pages of built in games. Yes, 2/3 of them are the same.

One of the 18 pages of built in games. Yes, 2/3 of them are the same.

If you want to skip ahead I’ll go ahead and state this console is fantastic. In fact, I like this console so much that it’s now my go-to for GB/GBC playing. It’s that good. Let’s go a bit more in depth.

SCREEN

This is very likely the main selling point of the console. The screen is a modern, backlit LCD that can show 50 colors and does so well. While it is slightly larger than the Game Boy Color screen, the aforementioned ratio can make pixels a bit squashed. I honestly think this problem is often overstated, but your mileage may vary. I highly suggest if you think this might be a problem to watch a Youtube video showing the console in action. Beyond the aspect ratio, the screen is freaking great. Only the most current generation of handhelds – especially the gen 1 PS Vita – have better screens than this cheap Chinese knock off.  Yes, I feel safe calling a device I bought from mainland China for $35 a cheap Chinese knock off product. The box proudly states, in its Engrish glory, that the screen is “MUCH MORE BETTER.” I find this hilarious.

Industrial strength Engrish.

Industrial strength Engrish.

BUILD QUALITY

This is likely a question many of you have. After all, we’ve all seen knock off items that were apparently built by drunken idiots. This is an exception. The plastic feels strong and there’s a fine heft to it; you don’t get the feeling you can break it with a few bad thoughts. The console feels solid, and it’s comfortable even for marathon sessions. The only downside, if I can call it that, is the “IR Sensor.” In their effort to clone the GBC, Kongfeng even added an IR sensor window near the upper right corner. Hilariously, that’s the only thing in that spot as there is no IR transmitter/receiver there. Granted, the IR capability was a gimmick but it’s still rather amusing.

I mentioned the buttons earlier but I want to go into more detail. They are clickier than the standard GB/GBC buttons which I happen to like. The D-Pad isn’t as good, but it’s still very solid.  Changing Start & Select to actual buttons instead of mushy pads was a great idea and is very well executed. While the buttons can’t match my favorite handheld controls – the absolute glory that is the NeoGeo Pocket – they’re still very good. I doubt anyone will have significant complaints on this front.

COMPATIBILITY

This is where the GB Boy Colour truly shines. Not one single game I threw at the system failed. I did notice some slight audio weirdness on a few games, but it was never enough to make me quit playing. The first one I noticed was on Super Mario Land after getting invincibility as the music was somewhat off but returned to normal after the effect wore off. I can’t say that’s the only audio weirdness but it’s honestly the only one I can remember. It even ran my Everdrive GB flawlessly, including hacks and translations. Some online have mentioned it has trouble with Pokemon games but my copy of Pokemon Blue ran just fine. Apparently there’s more than one model of GB Boy so that could be the culprit.

Alright, let’s get to what you want to see. Here’s a selection of pics comparing the same game on the GB Boy, a frontlight modded GB Color – yes, I know I left bubbles in there and I’ve got spidering because I’m an idiot – and if possible a backlight/biverted DMG. Let’s get to it.

Comparing Super Mario Land on GBC with frontlight mod/LOCA, DMG Gameboy with backlight and bivert and GB Boy Colour. Gameboys are using carts, GB Boy is using built in rom.

Comparing Super Mario Land on GBC with frontlight mod/LOCA, DMG Game Boy with backlight and bivert* and GB Boy Colour. Game Boys are using carts, GB Boy is using built in rom.

As you can see the GB Boy’s screen looks fantastic. The GBC suffers from washout a bit due to how a frontlight works. Sadly, there is no way to mod a backlight onto a GBC short of replacing the whole screen.  I actually wish you could have the GBC or GB Boy Colour default to not add color to original Game Boy games, but that’s a personal preference.

I wanna be the very best.

I wanna be the very best. Doduo needs to lay off the meth.

I honestly think that a DMG Game Boy with bivert/backlight is the best looking overall of the Game Boy handhelds but the GB Boy Colour screen beats it handily. Obviously the palette is bit more expanded on the GB Boy Colour but both do a fine job. Let’s look at the GBC comparison

Backlight wins. Flawless victory.

Backlight wins. Flawless victory.

The lack of any washing out obviously improves the backlight, but I’m rather surprised at how much better it is.  I didn’t take any videos as this is already eating bandwidth but even the response time on the GB Boy screen is faster.  Alright, but how does it handle actual GB Color games?

The console she tells you not to worry about versus you.

The console she tells you not to worry about versus you.

Another one sided victory. It’s almost unfair to compare two screens that are literally two decades apart. Let’s have a bit of fun. Sure, the GB Boy screen can beat older models. What about a top of the line LCD screen?

20161217_173137_hdr

A new challenger appears!

In my opinion the OLED screen of the first model PS Vita is one of the finest screens in consumer products.  The GB Boy is nearly comparable in terms of GB/GBC color games.  I freely admit I thought of doing this comparison just to be funny but I was happily wrong.  The GB Boy looks almost as good as the Vita and yet only costs $40.

CONCLUSION

This is a fantastic item for any Game Boy collector. For the $40 price tag you get a gorgeous screen on a system that does a top tier job of playing GB/GBC games. The slightly off aspect ratio and occasional sound errors may turn some off, but I think they’re quite minor. While I certainly understand purists who only want to play on the original hardware, this is a fine compromise that has become my go-to for Game Boy playing. You honestly will pay not much less for a good quality GBC or DMG online at current prices so I think the value is very good. The buttons are actually a bit better to my hands than the originals, with the less solid but still quite serviceable D-Pad.

If you want to pick up your own you can sometimes see them on ebay but the most reliable source is AliExpress. I will caution the reader to only buy from sellers with high ratings to ensure timely delivery. You are getting a product shipped from China so do not expect overnight delivery. That said, I ordered mine and received it within two calendar weeks. Just do your homework.

I hope you enjoyed the inaugral edition of Handheld Havoc. If you have any thoughts please add them below in the comments or you can catch me on twitter @ithinkibrokeit.

*Quick reference: GBC = Game Boy Color. DMG Game Boy = Original Game Boy as the model is called “Dot Matrix Game Boy.” Front/back light refers to a mod that installs a light for the screen. It can either be in front or in the back of the screen. A backlight tends to work much better as a frontlight will always be washed out. LOCA is “Liquid Optically Clear Adhesive” and makes any frontlight look better. A bivert module switches the pixels on a screen so that off pixels are on and vice versa. This allows for much greater contrast that even a backlight can produce.