Over the past decade, the interest in retro gaming has grown by leaps and bounds. It has grown from a niche hobby to a commercially viable sector. As legacy hardware continues to age, the availability of working consoles shrinks with each passing year. Couple that with increased demand, and supply dwindles further.
In addition to limited availability of hardware, there are gaps to bridge when it comes to compatibility of modern displays and retro gaming consoles. The classic yellow, red, and white RCA cables that we all grew up with leave a lot to be desired when connected to a high definition television, if the signal gets through at all. There are solutions to these issues as companies have entered the fray with modern hardware dedicated to retro gaming. Several companies exist that make modern clones of Nintendo and Sega consoles, in an attempt to cash in, like Hyperkin, Retrobit, and others. The quality varies wildly.
Analogue is one such company that is making consoles that play original game cartridges, but with modern FPGA technology and nuance. FPGA is an acronym for field programmable gate array, and this is a form of hardware emulation that is able mimic the old consoles on a hardware level, providing the closes possible experience to the original. By this point they have a track record of high quality consoles loaded with features, sold at boutique prices. If you ask any owner of their consoles and they almost unanimously agree that their products are worth the cost.
The PC Engine has the most daunting and confusing hardware history out of any gaming console. It is not hyperbole to say that one has to read several guides to figure out how to obtain a consoles that is able to play the entire library of card and CD games. To be able to play both Hu Card games and CD games, several pieces of hardware are required:
- a base unit like a Turbo Grafx-16 or PC Engine (3 variations)p
- a CD player unit (1 American version, 2 Japanese versions)
- an interface unit (different versions for US or Japan)
- a system card (at least 3 versions, depending on which CD unit you have)
- or you can get a Duo system, which combines the three hardware pieces into one (there are four versions of the Duo units - 1 American and 3 Japanese)
The Analogue Duo simplifies the hardware into one neat package capable of playing the entire library of Hu Card and CD games that is cost effective, modernized, and sleek. Considering the amount of hardware necessary to play these games, the Duo's value proposition is tremendous. Consider also that upscaling and RGB mods are not necessary, the value multiplies. While these facts may not be obvious to someone unfamiliar with the original system, anyone who has attempted to cobble together a working setup will immediately realize this.
|The back sports USB C, 2 USB A ports, HDMI, and an SD card slot
The quality of this console falls in line with it's FPGA brethren: flawless recreation of hardware operation while outputting crisp 1080p visuals. With this being Analog's fifth console hardware recreation, it is safe to say that they have mastered the art of displaying 240p resolution on HD displays. All of their consoles up until now have shown progression in the nuance and specificity of their settings for visual and audio fidelity. However, this time around there is a limitation on the amount of granular control that you have over tweaking the dials however, opting for presets and on/off type settings. This is perhaps due to the inclusion of their seemingly now standard Analogue OS, which was introduced in their last release the Analogue Pocket. The menus and options all seem to be copied straight from that. This is made obvious by the large presence on a TV screen, which is clearly out of place. It feels like more time should have been taken to dial the menu and settings for this console specifically, like was done for all other releases. This is the first time the operating system for an Analog console appears "phoned in", or copied and pasted. What happened to giving it the respect it deserves? There are a few Turbo Grafx-specific tweaks to video options, such as the composite color palate options, shader options that mimic the Turbo Express Handheld and LT (a combination PC Engine with built in screen). These are nice, but come off as a consolation prize instead of features.
|The controller port is on the side of the console
The Duo is available in two colors: USA is black, and Japan is white. The quality of plastic and moulding are excellent as always. The console sits on a large rubber foot that firmly holds it onto a surface with no chance of sliding. While the physical design and form factor are superior and of the modern era, some design choices are odd. The most egregious of which is the location of the original controller port. It is placed on the side, towards the rear. All other Analogue consoles have their controller ports front facing, why would they do this? Not only does it necessitate a wider berth in a TV stand setup, the PC Engine controller cords are among the shortest out there, exacerbating the problem.
|The 8Bitdo controller is too small
|initial list of compatible controllers
Revisiting the theme of scarcity, the games for the Turbo Grafx were not million sellers, so again, rarity factors into cost. The Japanese equivalent PC Engine fared much better in its homeland, but desired games still rank among the more expensive of the era, especially for coveted genres like shooters. While there are other ways to play Turbo and PC Engine games like emulation, anyone sold on emulation is most likely not in the market for hardware like this. Flash carts mitigate the cost of gaming on original hardware, but not all versions of the Turbo Everdrive are compatible with the Duo. This has never happened before with an Analogue console. So the Duo is LESS CAPABLE of playing flashcarts than original hardware. This is a huge problem and needs to be ironed out in a firmware update.
|The menu font is too large on an HD TV
I consider myself a hardcore PC Engine gamer, I preordered this the day it was opened. I was able to procure a collection of games prior to the great surge in prices. My assumption is that anyone purchasing the Duo most likely has a strong interest in the console with a sizable collection. I already have a dialed-in setup combination necessary to play these games on both legacy hardware on a CRT and modern methods like MISTer. I wonder how many other hardcore fans are there that will choose to buy this if they already have a setup?
For newcomers to the console, this is far from a casual purchase at this price point. With the surging price of original games, it is hard to believe that gamers new to this console and library will be eager to start collecting now. I think it is appealing only to those who already have the games to make use of it. All of Analogue's consoles to date have had unofficial firmware releases that have allowed for side loading game rom files, effectively eliminating the need to own original carts. It would be reasonable to assume the same will happen with this consoles, as this has been the case for all previous releases. I would guess many people that preordered this are expecting/hoping that to continue. Time will tell.
I am happy to have a premium (although a tad less premium than their other offerings) modern console to play my PC Engine collection on a modern TV, but I feel like this design should have been more thought out. The controller port placement is hard to get over. The lack of Everdrive compatibility is troublesome. This is a rough launch for Analogue, and hopefully some of the other issues can be resolved through firmware updates. Of all the Analogue consoles, this is the only one that I feel is half baked. It is still worth owning, but Analogue did not live up to their own standard here.