VG Pocket Max Review

    I'm an old school gamer and once in a while like to look at retro stuff.  I stumbled on this thing on the internet.  The VG Pocket series comes in three versions varying in game content and screen size: the VG Pocket Max (75 games-2.5" screen), VG Pocket (50 games-2.0" screen), and VG Pocket Mini (30 games-1.5" screen). All three versions come in a multitude of colors.  The screens on all the units are color TFT screens. 

For more info on the units goto the manufacturer's website

    The Max version sells for around $39.99 to $49.99  but I got mine new off shipped for $35.  When it came, I saw a price tag on it that said "Walmart $15".  DOHH! I got ripped off, ohh well that's capitalism for ya. (But I did hear Walmart had a sale on this. I guess I missed it) I checked the walmart site and it didn't even list this, probably out of stock.


First Impression:
    The entire packing and actual unit is pretty small.  Take a look at the pictures below.

Here the entire size of the packing. rather small :)  Contents of the package. (the screen have the cover protector still attached)

    I was surprised how small the entire packing was.  It comes with the following: VG Pocket max unit, 3x AAA battery, A/V cable to the TV,  lanyard strap and a manual.  Surprisingly the manual is pretty good with the entire listing of games and descriptions.   Kind of sad when a $35 video game comes with a better manual than a $300 video card :P


The good (hardware):
    I like the fact that the unit runs on standard AAA unit.  Battery life seems to last pretty long, supposedly last 10-15 hours (I have yet to test this).  The screen is EXCELLENT!.  Overall the unit weight feels about right and have the look and button layout of a mini PSP.  The A/V cable to connect to the TV is of good length about 6 feet. (I read somewhere that the cable is very short, only 2 feet.  That might be for the cheaper version of the VG pocket).   As for the TV output, it's satisfactory and remind of the original NES console in video and audio quality. (Audio is mono tho)
    Considering there are other "Retro game system in a controller" type products that cost about the same amount, the VG Pocket have an integrated screen and it's totally portable.   That's a BIG plus in my book.  And did I tell you how nice the screen is?  It's bright, fast refresh and good contrast.  The screen really do have a lot of potential and seems a wasted on such simple graphic games.  (There's no brightness/contrast adjustment to the LCD)
    I don't know about other handhelds, but the VG Pocket boots up in about 1 second and in less than 3 seconds you can be playing a game.   

VG Pocket vs soda can Starcraft shooter running unit off


The bad (hardware):
    When I initially held the unit it feel like a cheap toy.  It is a sturdy unit but the silver D-Pad and buttons feels cheap.
    The action buttons are perfectly but the D-pad is not that good.  It's not "exact" sometimes when I try to press say Right I end up pressing Down.  It's more an issue of the D-pad being a tad bit small than a defect.  Sometimes the d-pad get stuck a little bit,  when u tap a direction and it sticks for a split second.  In overall d-pad annoyance only affect puzzle type games where you tap directions often. (It's not really that bad).  In games where your hand is constantly on the dpad (like playing shooters) it is fine.
    The volume control is a pain in the ass to use!  When I first played with the unit I didn't even know there was a volume control till I read the manual.  It is located on the top right corner (where the PSP R button is),  and it's this LITTLE wheel that is flushed into the body of the unit.  You pretty much have to use your nail to dig into the grooves in the wheel to turn it.
    The resolution on the screen is too high.  (yes you read it right, the resolution is too high).   I will discuss more about it later. 

Unit layout from manual scans. Yes all the games u see in the picture is in the system.


The ugly (hardware):
    There is NO PAUSE BUTTON! Considering the quick play nature of the games, some might argue about the need it.  Personally I would rather have it than not.  Most of the games have a time limit (say racing, or moves) and when my phone rings or I have to pee I'm force to decide to abandon the current game or pick up the phone (or go to the bathroom). 


Overview of the games:
Considering the other "game system in a controller" thingys out there in the market, the VG Pocket MAX is more superior in graphics and audio.  Most of the other gadgets have Atari style graphics and bleeps and tones.  The VG Pocket on the other hand, have full color NES quality graphics and sound.
    In fact a lot of the games in the unit FEELS and LOOK like first generation NES games.  There are some clear rip off of old NES games with sprites changed to avoid law suits.  If I hook this thing up to my TV and an old school gamer come over he wouldn't even doubt or suspect me of lying if I told him I'm playing a NES.  There are rumors on the internet that this thing is based on a "Nintendo on a Chip".  I wouldn't know if I see the chip but some of you more technical people might be able to tell.  Take a look at the high resolution pictures below. 

Close up of unit chips exposed.  Can anyone tell if this is a NOAC ? (Nintendo-on-a-Chip)?

Here's the complete breakdown of the games:

==== ACTION ====

Balloon Catcher
Get it Right
Night Monster
Penguin Island - Not bad 5 mini games
Quick Match
Road Works - Great Puzzle Game
Sea Voyage
Smash Ball
Worm Catcher

==== RACING ====

Bandit Racer
Bridge Driver
Motor Rally
Race and Ram
Road Ace
Road Race
Road Rally
Street Bike Racing
World Racing

==== SHOOTING ====

Air War - A bit like 1941
Earth's Star Fighter - Shooter with both air and ground targets
Mutant Hunt - Shooter with both air and ground targets
Quick Shot - Space Invaders Clone
Sky Fighter - Galaxian / Galaga clone
Starcraft Attack - Galaxian / Galaga clone
Boat Racer
Bulls-eye - Weird target shooting / dart like game
Free Throws
Knockem Down
Surfs Up
Target Shoot

==== WITS ====

Bird Craze
Bird Droppings
Butterfly Catch
Cats and Dogs
Chuck Holes
Dragon's Tail
Drop and Stock
Egg Catcher
Fire Fight
Flying Fish
Fungi - A bit like Pac Man
Fun Moves - Neat line 3 up puzzle game like Bejeweled
Go Ball
Go Bang - Go puzzle gang
Grow and Mow
Jewels - very fun puzzle game kinda like Tetris
Marble Max
Matching Diamonds
Paddle Ball
Patch n Go
Pool Pro - Decent pool sim for a handheld
Pop the Lop - whack a mole based game
Puzzle Box - neat maze / puzzle game
Rocochet - Breakout clone
Risk It - A Donkey Kong style game
River Racing
Sea Destroyer
Sea World
Sky Mission
Smart Monkey
Spin Ball - Neat maze puzzle game
Table Ball - Ping Pong style game
Tile Tizzle - Neat tile matching game
Wake the Baby


The Good (games):
    With a total of 75 games in this thing there's bound to be some games that everyone will find fun to play.   There are some nice fun and addictive games in the collection.  There are games that are rip offs of classics like  Space invader, columns, bejeweled,  balloon fight, boxy.   There are a lot more fun games than other "retro console in a controller" products 
    My list of recommended games and what they are a clone/variant/similar to:
- Road Works (pipe dream variant)
- Smash ball (Penguin wars)
- Worm catcher (cute defender type gameplay)
- Quick Shot (Space Invader variant with powerups)
- Starcraft Attack  (Starforce with better weapons)
- Target Shop (Similiar to clay shooter  from the Duck Hunt game on NES but more hectic)
- Bird Crazy (duckhunt)
- Cat and Dogs (scorch earth)
- Firefight (arkanoid and early Fire LCD games mix)
- Fun Moves (bejeweled clone)
- Jewels (columns clone)
- Marble Max (Zuma clone)
- Paddle Ball.. (can't think of anything similar but it's fun and hectic puzzle.. reverse pinball?)
- Paint (Pac man variant)
- Pool Pro..
- Pop a Loc  (Whack a mole)
- Puzzle box (boxy)
- Richochet (arkanoid clone)
- Sea Wars (sub attack  for the palm pilot)
- Sky mission (balloon fight)
- Smart Monkey (forgot the name but there's a NES game that's exactally like that with different sprites)
- Tile Tizzel (shanghi w time limite)

The Bad (games):
    I won't lie to you all the games in the unit are pretty simple games.  So don't expect anything with the depth of play such as Super Mario Bros, or Zelda.  They are all quick pickup games.  But that doesn't mean they are bad games just simple fun.  
    Some of the games are just crap.  Especially those racing ones.  All you do is move left/right  (depending on game up/down)  and accelerate/break all in 2D while avoiding obstacles on the road. (What kind of city transit authority put giant boulders in the middle of a freeway $#$#%#$%).  Some games I find crappy but it's more of my opinion. 
    If you are into simple type games or really like the gameplay of  those 1980s b&w handheld LCD games and into puzzle games, you will find a lot more enjoyable games in the list than me.  
    The music in the game is very... how should I say it repetitive.  The same type or variant of tunes pretty much play on all the games.  And I have yet to find any tunes in there that are memorable. 

The Ugly (games):
    There's no way to save high scores on any game.  When you shut the thing off or reset to another game all the high scores are gone :(. 
    The resolution of the screen is too high.  If you look at the Vg Pocket Max as a handheld portable unit then you will find the Screen a problem .   Most of the games are designed to use resolution of a NES (or at least higher resolution than the Gameboy).  So some games you can't really see too well because the fonts or enemies are too small.   In some of the shooter games it's hard to see the bullets coming because it's so tiny and blend in with the background.  I would hate see how the people that got the Vg Pocket Mini play on a postage stamp size 1.5" screen ...
    Nintendo's original GameBoys have the same size screen and I never have any problems with it  because the resolution is lower and thus everything appears bigger and easier on the eyes.  If you want to see the problem in another way you can also say the VG Pocket Max's screen is too small to show all the details.  In that case then you can always plug the unit into a TV :) problem solved but then it's not portable anymore.  (I have to use my TV to play some of the shooters)  


Performance and Usability:
    My 5 hours using this thing, I have yet to run into any problem beside the minor d-pad sticking issue which is a pretty minor issue.  I've dropped it a few times and opened it up to takes those mobo pictures and it still runs fine.   I do find the unit alittle bit too small for me and my thumb kinda cramp up after long play but that might be the way  I hold it.  (I got small hands also).


Things sure have changed,  I remember when I was 8 or 9 years in NYC in the 1980s.  They use to sell those Nintendo Game & Watch   b&w LCD games for around $15-$20 each.  (heck companies like Tiger are STILL selling b&w LCD games for around the same price).  They only have one game and have jerky "pre designed" animations. 
    Considering the feature lists, quality and cost of the VG Pocket Max, this is a very good buy at $35.  Lots of pretty fun games and much more games than the competitor.  If you are a classic or retro gamer I highly recommend this unit.  (I would have give higher score if only it have a PAUSE button :(

Score:  9.0 out of 10

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