As smartphones continue to grow larger and larger, they’re leaving less room in your pockets for other devices like handheld consoles, unless you opt for something like the Game Boy-inspired PocketStar, which measures in at just a bit taller than a Lego minifigure.
Consoles like the Nintendo Switch and Valve’s Steam Deck have vastly improved the capabilities of handheld gaming systems, but at the cost of portability. Even trying to stuff the Switch Lite into a pocket is a struggle, and as a result we’ve seen other handheld console makers make an extreme push in the opposite direction in an effort to make portables as tiny as possible. The Thumby, roughly the side of a postage stamp, takes that approach to the extreme, while the FunKey S successfully shrank the folding GBA SP into a tiny portable with a color screen that still packs a lot of horsepower under the hood. The PocketStar falls somewhere in-between the two.
As much as we were wowed by the Thumby, it was so small that we struggled to grapple with its minuscule controls, and its monochromatic OLED display limited the types of games that could be played on it. At almost two-inches tall, the PocketStar is larger, as are its D-pad and pair of action buttons, which look a little easier to press, assuming you don’t have gigantic hands.
The PocketStar also features a 0.95-inch color OLED screen with a resolution of 94x64 pixels. You’re going to see individual pixels and highly aliased graphics, but that’s just a part of its retro charm. Powered by an ESP32-C3 processor running at 160MHz, the PocketStar is even capable of rendering 3D graphics at a respectable frame rate, and in addition to custom games and ports, it’s got enough power to emulate the Game Boy and the 8-bit Sega Master System, with the ability to load ROMs from a microSD card.
What further sets the PocketStar apart from the Thumby and the FunKey S is that, despite its size, it manages to include more modern features like vibrating force feedback, a built-in accelerometer for motion-controlled gaming, and wifi and Bluetooth connectivity which will eventually facilitate both local wireless multiplayer and online play, including global scoreboards. The PocketStar creators are even working on their own online app store, and eventually the ability to download new titles directly onto the console itself.
With a price tag of $50, the PocketStar seems to check every box for retro gamers who prioritize portability over all else, but the handheld has been in development for almost four years now, and is still almost eight months away, according to the Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign that’s looking to raise a modest $10,000+ funding goal for a production run. The ongoing global pandemic has made it hard for even massive corporations like Nintendo, Sony, and Apple to get gadgets into the hands of consumers, so it’s not terribly surprising that the PocketStar’s creators would be facing similar challenges.
The usual caveats and warnings about backing crowdfunded products applies here too: there’s always the risk that nothing will ever be delivered to backers, including refunds. But the creators of the PocketStar have already successfully Kickstartered a similar product, the Pocuter, which appears to have recently started shipping out to backers, so they’re at least somewhat familiar with the challenges of bringing a device like this from concept to production.