Hardware Review: BittBoy (Portable Nintendo NES Clone)

BittBoy-ReviewThe runaway success Nintendo has enjoyed with their miniaturised NES and SNES Consoles immediately prompted vocal fans to wonder what was next? While there’s certainly lots eager for a shrunk down N64, there’s probably just as many thirsty for a tiny GameBoy. First glance at the BittBoy would make you think that someone has beaten Nintendo to the punch, but this assumption would be a mistake.

Despite the name, this is a portable Nintendo NES clone that can’t play original GameBoy titles. Given the machine's appearance this may surprise you, but it won’t be the only time you’ll be surprised by the BittBoy. Occasionally they are pleasant surprises but more frequently they’re not.

Super 50,000 in 1

To be more accurate, the BittBoy is actually a Famicom ROM player. This is painfully obvious when you notice that many of the included games are in Japanese. This makes a mockery of the packaging which claims “games are English version and no Chinese”. Indeed even this statement is contradicted by another line boasting “300 FC games pre-loaded”. At least from this you’d assume you’ll get to enjoy all your favourite 8bit Japanese Famicom (FC) games, but once again this assumption is a mistake.

As you enjoy the game selection menu's music - shamelessly taken from the first stage of Mighty Final Fight - you’ll notice something almost as strange as the decision to include random Chip & Dale art work on the home screen. Outnumbering the familiar games are far too many home-brew games, ROM hacks and almost unanimously awful knock-offs. Angry Birds2 is not an 8bit re-imagining of the mobile game that’s infuriated you for five years. On the BittBoy Angry Birds 2 is in reality New Zealand Story with a sprite swap. Equally intriguing is Street Fighter V, which isn’t Capcom’s latest brawler- it’s actually a game called Fighter 12 Peoples a terrible version of Street Fighter II, which ironically only includes six characters.

Admittedly, there are some favourite titles on the system. Super Mario Bros and Super Mario Bros 3’ feature, however, it's without a doubt that Nintendo haven't endorsed their inclusion. Double Dragon and Tetris 2 also show up, but despite a two player option sitting on their title screens, a second controller can’t be plugged in and the system lacks any form of connecting another control pad.
As we have seen with the SNES Classic Edition, systems sell based on their included games. It would be fair to say the game selection on the BittBoy is eclectic and even that’s being polite. There are no Mega Man games but there is Darkwing Duck which was built using the Rockman engine. There’s the wonderful Chip and Dale but no Duck Tales. Adventure Island makes an appearance however the only Bubble Bobble game present is the inferior sequel.

A small Micro SD sized hole at the top of the unit allowed me to forgive the handheld for not including The Legend of Zelda, Metroid or Castlevania. I loaded a card with ROM files but was alarmed at how easily the SD card fell into the BittBoy. After turning on the unit I couldn’t see new files, but I could now hear a suspicious rattling coming from the innards of the machine. Dismantling it revealed the truth; while there is an SD hole that’s literally all there is. There’s no port attached, no soldering for a dock to sit, simply a thin hole in the casing. I checked online to see if I had a defective model but it seems not. The manufacturer has stated on Twitter that an SD card port is coming, explaining the hole, but that will be in a future iteration of the console. For those buying the current offering, the games preloaded are all you have and all you can ever have.

BittBoy-Size

Audiovisual boy

This hole wasn’t the orifice that caused confusion. I presumed the port at the bottom (where headphones typically plug in) was for my headphones. Once again this was the wrong conclusion to jump to. Illogically for a hand held that you’ll be using a lot in public, there is no way to hear any sound without using the speaker. You can vary the volume with a roller that very much echoes the original GameBoy, but it’s impossible to limit the audio output to your ears only. It seems a bit of a design oversight, as I can think of few occasions when I would want to play a handheld without headphones. My train companions certainly would prefer me to be discreet. The actual function of the BittBoy’s headphone-alike port is to connect the unit to a TV via an included composite video cable. Why you would do this is beyond me. There are so many better ways to play emulated NES games on a TV, especially since the composite cable gives a fuzzy image. I also found the connection to be so loose that any sharp movements made the wire disconnect.

Back to the handheld itself, you'll find a much better picture quality present through the built in display. Crisp sprites and vibrant colours mean all the games look splendid. During my time with the machine I found no occasion when the 2.2 inch IPS screen looked blurry or lagged behind the game. Having said that a second handheld tested was said to be victim to screen tearing. Contrast stood from all angles, however despite the box curiously boasting a “360 degree full viewing angle on display” you can’t see the screen when looking at the back of the console. While there’s no brightness control, I could make out the screen even under directly sunlight. The main downside to all of this is that the display stretches all video output to a 16:9 ratio, putting the Nintendo NES library into a rather awkward widescreen mode.

BittBoy-Screen

Form factor

The buttons too are a pleasant revelation. Sufficiently spongy with a nice return, yet precise and accurate when required. Alongside each action button is a turbo fire mode to save you having to repeatedly bash a button. Weirdly though Fantasy Zone was the only game that actually benefited from this. The inclusion of these turbo buttons has meant that the typical landscape orientation for B & A has become portrait. While this initially seems irritating when playing games you’re familiar with, it’s amazing how quickly muscle memory adapts. Within no time at all I was once again racing through stages of Power Blade with reactions to be proud of.

The BittBoy charges through a micro USB port on the bottom of the unit. However presumably powering that wonderful screen takes a great deal of power and the handheld only last for around two hours. The battery is easily removable, so should you have any spares lying around that would make BittBoy a bit more useful on a long haul flight. However, with no game save-state facility you’d lose progress swapping power sources. There’s also no sleep mode, or a way to turn off the screen while leaving the system active. So don’t start imagining yourself having a quick five minute play on the tube and then picking up where you left off on a bus.

The build quality is better than expected and while it doesn’t feel like a premium product, the BittBoy still feels sturdy. My two young daughters had a great time on a car journey with it and the console stood up to the ravages of a 4 year old. Having said that they did have to play the system on mute as the mono speaker does give off some surprising volume when turned to full.

Verdict

It’s not often that I feel let down by a machines’ software rather than its hardware. The majority of the technical claims the manufacturers make are met by the BittBoy, the problem is it probably doesn’t present you with many of the games you’d want to play. If I was honest of the 300 titles there is only a small handful I’d genuinely want to play for any length of time.

It very much feels like a machine that has launched before it’s ready. Including a MicroSD port (that the hole would feed into) would solve many of these issues, but that’s just not where I wish the manufacturers would stop. With four available face buttons and a full colour fantastic screen the BittBoy portability and form factor would make for the perfect miniature GBA clone. I have no doubt that Advance Wars, Mario Advance and even the GBA’s version of Doom would look phenomenal on the BittBoy’s screen – and make better use of its resolution and aspect ratio too.

For the price the manufacturer charges, the BittBoy is a technically impressive console, albeit on a budget. You do get a lot for your money, but with minimal software changes you could be getting a much better experience.


Two BittBoys were given to RetroCollect for free. Should you wish to pick one up the BittBoy can be purchased directly from the company at https://www.bittboy.com


Last Updated ( 29 November 2017 )  

Julian Hill

Julian is the author of the popular blog Boxed Pixels, and is currently on a mission to document his thoughts as he buys boxed complete SNES Games.

Described by PlayStation Access as a "gamer, Dad and all round hero" he has been playing games since they had four colours on screen and blips for music.

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