Retro gaming is undoubtedly big business these days. Esteemed companies like Capcom, Namco and Midway are busily pillaging their back catalogues for games they can repackage and sell at a premium, and all three current-generation consoles offer downloadable retro content of some description via their burgeoning online services.
Of course, it's always nice to revisit an old classic, but one thing that has always irked us here at Pocket Gamer is not being able to cherry pick which titles are contained in these aforementioned compilations.
If you share similar feelings of exasperation then it might be worth taking a look at GamePark Holdings' shiny new GP2X F-200 console. A revision of the cult classic F100, this updated edition showcases a new eight-way D-pad, touchscreen support and a tasteful pearl white exterior.
Looking at the list of improved specifications, you might expect the touchscreen to be the most significant addition, but GP2X fans are making a lot more noise about the new D-pad. It could be argued that the stick found on the F100 was the only thing that let the system down – it had a massive 'dead zone' and was disappointingly unresponsive as a result.
But while the D-pad found on the F-200 is certainly a step forward, it's sadly far from perfect. Instead of being a complete disc of plastic – as is the case with the pads found on the PSP and DS – the directional controller on the F200 is actually made up of four separate buttons. Games that rely predominantly on horizontal and vertical movement are a joy to play – even diagonal movement is vastly improved – however, for titles that require motion commands (such as beat-'em-up Street Fighter II) the pad is less ideal.
See, the D-pad buttons themselves press too far into the casing and this means your thumb is often bashed against the side of the adjacent button. It's disappointing to realise that this much-lauded modification isn't as overwhelmingly comprehensive as GamePark Holdings' press release would have you believe.
As for the touchscreen, at present it offers little more than an alternative for scrolling through the F200's menu system. Software will undoubtedly appear that supports the interface but for the time being it's merely a distracting curiosity and feels like something of an afterthought – the F200 doesn't even feature a docking port for the stylus so it has to secured via a lanyard at the bottom of the machine, leaving it free to swing around precariously during play – hardly the ideal solution.
Billed as a 'personal entertainment player', the F200 can effortlessly handle photos, videos and MP3s. But what interests us most, like its predecessor, is the fact the machine is 'open-source', which basically means anyone can create programs for it. Unsurprisingly, this freedom has resulted in many bedroom coders creating emulators that transform the unassuming GP2X into a mobile video game library of truly epic proportions.
For example, it's quite possible to carry around the complete Mega Drive, SNES and PC Engine back catalogue in your pocket when you possess such a machine. The quality of the emulation is nothing short of stunning. In the case of the Mega Drive, for instance, games run at full speed with sound and compatibility is remarkable; the emulator we used (PicoDrive) was able to handle any title we threw at it.
Unfortunately, some of the other more dependable F100 emulators aren't functioning properly on the F200 at present, but this situation is likely to change over time as amateur developers familiarise themselves with the new handheld.
Installing emulators is a blissfully pain-free experience, too. The console connects to your PC via USB and acts like a card reader (you'll need an SD card to run anything, by the way), so all that's required is a simple 'drag and drop' affair in order to get things working. Loading MP3s, videos and ROMs is done in the same manner. If you want an indication of how easy it is to use, we had the Mega Drive emulator running within five minutes of feverishly tearing open the packaging.
Lamentably, unlike the DS and PSP, the F200 doesn't have its own built-in rechargeable power source. As such, separately purchased high-capacity rechargeable batteries are the only option and these take quite some time to recharge fully. This is an unfortunate oversight as even on a full charge, a pair of 2700mAh Ni-MH cells will only grant you a meagre three to four hours' worth of gameplay – well short of the optimistic 'five to ten' hours boasted by the handheld's marketing bumf. (Traditional alkaline batteries aren't a realistic option either as they last for as little as ten minutes in some cases.)
Any other criticisms? Well, the most obvious is that the GP2X-F200 is unlikely to attract much support when it comes to dedicated commercial releases – if any, for that matter. But that'd be missing the point. The sheer potential such a machine possesses makes this largely irrelevant and, after all, it's hardly trying to muscle in on Sony and Nintendo's markets.
Instead, it's a specialised offering that will appeal to those wishing to relive (or discover) gaming's past. True, it's quite possible, with a bit of tinkering, to get emulators running on a PSP or DS but neither machine was built for this purpose. The GP2X-F200, on the other hand, was created solely to nurture this kind of video gaming diversity. And it's something it does unquestionably well.Given the nature of the device, you won't find the GP2X-F200 at your local Dixons. Anyone interested in purchasing one should therefore visit the official GP2X UK site.