Bringing You the Daily Dispatch

Culture Games

Review of the Analogue Duo: A Retro Console for Purists, Based on the PC Engine


A few years ago, I purchased a Japanese version of Snatcher, a cyberpunk game created by Hideo Kojima before he became known for the iconic Metal Gear Solid series. However, there were two issues with this purchase: the game was heavily reliant on text and did not have an English translation, and I did not own a PC Engine, a popular 16-bit gaming system released in Japan in 1987 that featured high-quality arcade conversions. Although there were a limited number of PC Engines imported to the UK, it was not widely popular, making it difficult and expensive to obtain one on eBay. Despite these obstacles, I was determined to own Snatcher because of its anime-inspired graphics and its significance in the early career of a renowned figure in the gaming industry. Just last week, I finally had the chance to play it for the first time thanks to the Analogue Duo.

Serious gamers who love retro games will be familiar with Analogue, a niche company that creates highly precise gaming technology that brings back feelings of nostalgia. They are recognized for creating versions of the Super Nintendo and Sega Mega Drive that do not use software emulations to run old games. This can cause delays and may not even load certain titles. Instead, they are built with programmable circuit boards called field-programmable gate arrays (FPGA), which accurately mimic the original hardware to ensure that SNES and Mega Drive cartridges can be loaded and played as intended.

Dystopian future … Snatcher by Hideo Kojima.

In a message sent to me, Christopher Taber, the founder of Analogue, described the Duo as “our most specialized product”, and he wasn’t exaggerating. Priced at $250 (£196), this item is not affordable for casual fans, and there is a mini console version released by Konami three years ago with 50 pre-installed games for those who just want to try out the PC Engine. Additionally, the Duo does not come with controllers and requires third-party peripherals like the 8BitDo Pce or original PC Engine pads, which must be purchased separately. Another drawback is that it currently does not support in-game save states like other mini consoles, but this feature will reportedly be added in a firmware update in 2024 (the Duo has an SD card slot for this purpose).

However, this device is a rare and meticulously crafted piece that accurately reproduces the various versions of the PC Engine developed over the course of a decade. It is capable of playing games on both CD-Rom and the unique HuCard format, which was considered incredibly advanced at the time. The Duo offers a high-definition 1080p display for games, but also allows for customization with scanline and scaler options to mimic the look of a traditional CRT monitor or TV. There is even a Trinitron option to replicate Sony’s top-of-the-line television technology from that era, a favorite among dedicated gamers. While I am personally using a modern 4K monitor, the default 1080p resolution is still impressive, despite not having the nostalgic fading pixels that were characteristic of old displays.

I tested the Duo with my limited selection of PC Engine games. The HuCards and CDs both functioned flawlessly, regardless of the region they were designed for (whether it be the original PC Engine, US SuperGrafx, TurboGrafx CD, PC Engine CD-ROM², or Super Arcade CD-Rom). It seems that manufacturer NEC had a penchant for hardware upgrades. Recently, I purchased the classic shooter R-Type in memory of Jason Brookes, the editor of Edge Magazine during my time there in 1995. It was his favorite game and the PC Engine had the best home translation. Consoles came and went in the Edge office, but there was always a PC Engine with a copy of R-Type ready in the drive. After Jason’s passing, I had an email exchange with his brother Matthew, who perfectly captured what the game meant to my former boss: “He appreciated the meticulous attention to detail, the creativity, the graphical capabilities of the machines, the large sprites, layered parallax, vibrant colors, and precise collision detection. I’m not sure how long he spent trying and eventually completing the game; Jason was surely a skilled gamer, but not a champion.”

Passionate attention to detail … R-Type.

I have played that game many times on emulators, but watching it in the vivid, precise detail that Jason would have experienced has been a surprisingly emotional and meaningful experience – similar to listening to a beloved relative’s favorite record on a turntable for the first time. We may try to ignore it, but the format and feeling do matter. I believe Analogue recognizes this clearly.

However, the game I really wanted to try was my beloved Snatcher. It runs perfectly, and finally, I get to see the gorgeous bitmap visuals replicating the frames of a manga novel, the retro-futuristic computer displays, and the grimy dystopian future city heavily inspired by Blade Runner. I get to hear the weird synth jazz pop soundtrack, and to see some of the early ideas that would later bloom into the Metal Gear Solid series and beyond. What a pleasure. Now I just have to find an English translation.

Ignore advertisement for newsletter

This is a unique and well-crafted product with a stylish and comprehensive design. If you own PC Engine games or plan on purchasing some, this is a better option than buying an original console, especially since NEC has released numerous incompatible versions. Take the chance and uncover a treasure trove of shoot ’em ups, beat ’em ups, RPGs, and unconventional platformers that exist outside of the popular SNES/Mega Drive lineup. It may not be the most practical purchase in 2024, but if you also become engrossed in rare Capcom, Konami, or SNK arcade ports, be prepared for a year filled with puzzlingly emotional experiences.

Source: theguardian.com