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The SupaBoy is a portable Super Nintendo Entertainment System that is designed to let you play SNES games on the go. The system is manufactured and distributed by Hyperkin, an emerging third party accessory developer who recently announced that they are the new owner of the Game Genie name.
In the Box
The SupaBoy comes nicely packaged in a clear box that lets you see the console from all angles (except the bottom) before purchasing it. This is a nice touch because it allows you to see the real dimensions of the unit. The SupaBoy comes with an AV cable which allows it to be hooked up to a standard television via composite input (more on that later), an AC/DC adapter, a removable battery, and a felt carrying pouch. All of these items are nicely tucked in to a cardboard box that sits under the SupaBoy in its packaging.
Aside from the above, there's a basic instruction manual and not much else.
The SupaBoy is instantly recognizable as a portable Super Nintendo Entertainment System, since it takes MANY of the styling cues from the North American SNES console, along with the North American version of the SNES controller. The SupaBoy is the same light gray color with dark gray accents as the Super NES controller, and features the same light purple and dark purple buttons, arranged in the same configuration, and appropriately convex and concave just like a Super NES controller.
L and R buttons are positioned on top of the console, and although they are in a slightly different location than on the SNES controller - more off to either side than the controller - accessing them is easy and feels natural due to the unit's size.
Start and Select buttons are positioned above the D-pad. One minor gripe here - the location of the Start and Select buttons are reversed when compared to the SNES controller. The Start button is on the left and the Select button is on the right, which is opposite of the standard controller layout. This flip-flopped configuration will potentially throw you at first, but it's a minor problem really.
In the center of the SupaBoy is a 3.5" LCD screen which is actually quite a lot sharper and clearer than I thought it would be, given the fact that the console is a third party affair. While not nearly as nice as a PSP or Nintendo 3DS screen, the LCD is much more modern than LCDs found in the Sega Game Gear or Sega Nomad, and doesn't have any of the motion blur problems of those older consoles. Brightness is nothing to write home about, but although you probably won't be able to play SupaBoy in direct sunlight it's still bright enough to play inside during the day, even in a brightly lit room. Sharpness is good but not great. I had no problem reading the top-screen stats in Super Mario World. Overall, I'm extremely pleased with the quality of the screen.
On either side of the screen are two stereo speakers. Many reviews I've read say that the speakers sound tinny and sometimes even distorted. I haven't had any of those issues with my SupaBoy, though I have noticed that volume output from the unit isn't extremely loud. The maximum volume setting is still a lot louder than I have used to play the unit, even while in a room with someone else watching TV at the same time. As always with a handheld gaming system, even PSP and 3DS included, headphones will probably be your best bet anyway.
Under the speakers are two full-sized SNES controller ports. This is an awesome addition to the system, which allows you to use real SNES accessories with the SupaBoy. For 2 player games you can plug in a second controller, much like the Sega Nomad. Other accessories, like the SNES Mouse, will function as well. More on these ports later.
Above the action buttons on the right side of the unit is a Reset button, which is used like the Reset button on the SNES console. I still have mixed feelings regarding the location of this button. Though I have yet to hit this button accidentally, it seems like it may be easy to do. Travel on the button to reset the console is extremely short, so if you bumped it, you could possibly reset your game. I think moving this button to the top of the console next to the power button would make more sense.
On top of the console is an extremely large cartridge door, which is obviously where your Super NES game carts would plug in. Due to the shape of the door, and because the SNES really has no region logout aside from cartridge shape, you can also use Super Famicom cartridges with the SupaBoy. This is a nice feature, since some other third party SNES handhelds on the market don't allow this.
Also on top of the unit is a +5V/0.3A DC input jack for supplying wall power to play games or charge the battery, along with a stereo AV composite out jack (cable included). On the back of the unit, behind where the cartridge goes is a small slider that slides from left to right. In all of the reviews I've seen nobody is really able to figure out what this does. Some people think it's an eject button, but it's not. If you hold the cartridge door on the top of the unit open and slide the slider back and forth, you will see that the only thing it does is raise a small flap that applies tension to the back of the inserted cartridge.
I am assuming Hyperkin did this to hold the game carts more firmly in the cartridge slot. If you were to play the SupaBoy on a bus or a train, where the journey wasn't extremely smooth, bumps and jars might cause the cartridge to unseat and cause game lockup or reset. This was a frequent problem with the Sega Nomad, which I think is what they were trying to avoid. The slider seems like a half-assed solution to an inevitable problem, but that being said, I really don't see how else they could have designed it.
The SupaBoy's battery is installed in the back of the unit through a door. The battery is a flat, proprietary battery that looks like a cell phone battery. The fact that they made the battery removable is nice. This means that when the battery stops holding a charge in 3-4 years, you can simply replace it instead of then having a non-portable portable game console that needs to be tied to wall power all the time. I wish Sony would have done this with the PS Vita and Nintendo 3DS, as both of those units batteries that are not designed to be user-replicable.
One thing that annoys me about the battery compartment is that a captive screw must be removed in order to remove the battery cover. This was a gripe that I had with the Coleco Sonic as well. There's a big difference here though. Unlike on the Coleco Sonic, the SupaBoy also has a thumb latch on its battery cover, so you have the option to remove the screw completely and not use it. On the Coleco Sonic, the screw is the only thing that holds the door on, so that isn't an option. Points to Hyperkin for including both options.
On the bottom of the unit is an LED marked only "LED" (more on this later), a headphone jack, and the volume adjustment dial.
On top of the SupaBoy is a stereo AV output jack. The cable for this jack is included with the SupaBoy, and it's basically a 1/8" headphone-jack-style TRS connector on one end and a stereo composite video cable (yellow, red and white RCA connectors) on the other end. The SupaBoy can be connected to a TV and played there as opposed to on the screen. When you combine this capability with the front-facing SNES controller ports on the SupaBoy, you essentially have not only a portable SNES, but a full-fledged SNES console as well!
This is a cool feature, though there are some limitations...
First, when using the SupaBoy as a standalone unit (not connected to a television), you can NOT use a controller plugged in to the 1 player port. The unit will simply fail to recognize the controller and will instead make you use the SupaBoy's face buttons as the controller. A second player controller, however, CAN be plugged in to the 2 player port and functions normally.
Second, when connected to a television through the AV port, you cannot use the SupaBoy's face buttons as a controller and you instead must use a control pad connected to the 1 player controller port. The LCD display on the unit also shuts off. It seems that when the AV cable is connected, the SupaBoy goes in to full "console" mode - so think of it as basically an SNES console at that point and ignore the fact that it has face buttons and a screen on it.
Both of these are minor annoyances. To the first point, if two people want to play on a SupaBoy, the first player is essentially holding the screen as well. If they're not holding it steady enough, this might annoy the second player. It would be nice to be able to set the unit down on a flat surface and have both people control the unit with separate controllers. To counter that argument - if you are in such an environment and you have two controllers - you might just as well attach the unit to a TV I suppose.
To the second point, this limitation is a bit more annoying. It would be nice to be able to use the SupaBoy itself as a controller when connected to a television without having to haul around a controller as well.
At this point you have to ask yourself what you'll be using the SupaBoy for though - and if either of these limitations really matter to you. Typically I'm going to use this thing to play games by myself on the couch when the TV is otherwise unavailable. If I have friends over who want to play Mario Kart, we're probably going to do it on a 70" screen instead of crowding around a 3.5" LCD.
As mentioned, the SupaBoy is compatible with both Super NES games and Super Famicom games. This compatibility is nice if you don't want to modify your North American SNES to play some Japanese Super Famicom carts and you don't want to throw down the cash to import a Super Famicom. I paid $60 for my SupaBoy at a gaming show, which is less than half of the price I paid to import my Super Famicom. With the SupaBoy, you can connect it to wall power and plug it in to the TV and essentially have a Super Famicom and a portable SNES/Super Famicom all in one. In that respect, it's a fairly good deal.
I would call the removable, rechargeable battery a nice "feature" as well. At first I was skeptical at Hyperkin's choice to go this route versus AA batteries, but after playing all the way through Super Mario World completely (all 96 stars) on one battery charge, I really can't complain. Compare that to the half-hour battery life of the Nomad, with it's much more terrible LCD and six AA's, and it's easy to see that the choice for the modern battery was a good one. The fact that it's removable is bonus as well, as the new crop of modern consumer electronics are making themselves sleeker at the cost of refusing user-replicable battery options.
The only major complaint I have with the SupaBoy is regarding the LED on the bottom of the unit. The instructions don't really mention the function or standard operation of this LED, and even the LED itself is only labeled "LED." Basically, the LED lights up green when the unit is plugged in and charging. When the unit is fully charged the LED shuts off. When the unit is being played and powered by battery power, the LED is also off. The only conclusion I can draw is that the LED is basically a charging LED, and not a status LED for power or low battery like on a Game Gear.
This seems straight forward - so how is it a notable negative? The LED is a single color LED (green), which also doesn't tell you the status of the battery. I thought that since the LED was related to battery charge it would do something to show me when my battery was about to die. Turn red, blink, take your pick. It doesn't.
Instead, the LCD screen gets fuzzy, starts getting lines in it, starts shaking, and basically looks like it's malfunctioning. Think of an old school TV without the V-hold set correctly. To be honest I freaked out when this happened, and feared that my beloved SupaBoy was on its way to paperweight land. Then it dawned on me - "This thing is rated for approximately 4 hours of battery life, and I've been using it for at least 4.5. The battery's probably just dying."
I grabbed the battery charger and plugged it in, trying to hurry before the screen shut off. When I plugged it in the green LED lit up, and the SupaBoy locked up hard. Normally, when the battery has a somewhat normal charge (ie anything above the point where the screen flickers and malfunctions), and you switch from wall to battery power by plugging in the DC adapter, the SupaBoy is fine with it. Beyond that point, however, you're done for. The only option after the lock-up is to hit the Reset button or power the unit on and back off. Either way, you're going to lose your game.
Aside from the glaring low battery issue, the SupaBoy is a great console. It's a cheap way to play Super Famicom games without modding your SNES, it doubles as a SNES console, and the form factor is hilarious. It looks like a giant SNES controller!
In reality, there are probably much better ways to play your SNES games on the go - a modded PSP or PSP Go, a Nintendo DS/3DS with an R2 card, or an emulator-capable console like the GP2X are all more reliable options with better battery life which are also MUCH more portable than lugging around a SupaBoy and a bunch of SNES carts.
There's one thing that those modern alternatives don't have though - and that's the shock and awe factor of something that looks like an enormous SNES controller with a real SNES cart sticking out of the back. Anyone who has ever played or owned a Super Nintendo will see the SupaBoy and say "No way - is that a portable Super Nintendo!?"
The SupaBoy looks almost good enough to be first party, and the build quality is way above average for a third party accessory of this type. Typical portablized consoles, like the Retro-Bit RetroGen and Hyperkin Gen Mobile for example, have horrible button layouts, feel cheap, and look ridiculous. The SupaBoy, on the other hand, looks and feels just as at-home on a shelf next to the Super NES as a real SNES controller.
For $60-$70 you can't go wrong with the SupaBoy.
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