- For about $US100 ($AU136), you can buy a handheld game console on Amazon that looks like a modern Game Boy.
- It comes with dozens of games pre-loaded, including Nintendo classics like “Super Mario World.”
- The handheld is made by a Chinese firm that isn’t associated with Nintendo.
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For just shy of $US120 ($AU163), you can buy a gaming handheld on Amazon that looks suspiciously like Nintendo’s classic Game Boy gaming handheld.
Included in the price is a massive suite of games, including some you’ve assuredly heard of: “Super Mario World” for the Super Nintendo, “Mario Kart 64” for the Nintendo 64, and dozens of other gaming classics created by Nintendo’s legendary in-house game development teams.
I’m not talking about a discounted Nintendo Switch, but a device made by a Chinese company named Anbernic that isn’t associated with the Japanese gaming giant.
Nintendo didn’t license its games, and many of the other dozens of major game publishers whose games are included on the device likely didn’t either.
The vast majority of the games on the handheld are pirated.
Representatives for Nintendo and Anbernic didn’t respond to a request for comment as of publishing. An Amazon representative issued the following statement to Insider:
“Amazon relentlessly innovates to allow only genuine products in our store and to product the IP of brands. In 2020, Amazon invested more than $US700 ($AU954) million and employed more than 10,000 people to protect our store from fraud and abuse. Bad actors that attempt to abuse our system make up a tiny fraction of activity on our site and we use sophisticated tools to combat them and we make it increasingly difficult for them to hide. We continuously monitor our store and take swift action on bad actors that attempt to evade our systems, including removing the item, permanently removing the bad actor, withholding funds, pursuing legal action, or referring them to law enforcement. The appropriate enforcement actions have been taken.”
Soon after we reached out, the page for one such Anbernic console was removed from the marketplace. Many others still remain.
I used the Anbernic RG351V pictured above.
When it first boots up, the handheld displays a splash screen for one of several game consoles it’s able to emulate: the Nintendo Entertainment System, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, the Nintendo 64, Game Boy, Nintendo DS, and several others.
That alone isn’t piracy.
Technically speaking, game console emulators – software applications that replicate the functionality of physical gaming hardware – aren’t illegal. Anbernic’s handheld uses Emuelec, an open-source emulation tool that can be downloaded legally.
It’s the games themselves, shared through various online channels that are illegal.
A “ROM” of “Super Mario Bros” for the NES, for instance, is a version of the game that can be played entirely in an NES emulator. (It’s been copied from a “read-only memory” chip to a shareable format, thus the name.) You don’t need the cartridge, or to prove that you paid for the game in any way. Nintendo has repeatedly threatened or taken legal action to shut down websites and services offering ROMs of its games for download.
The Anbernic RG351V I used, ordered through Amazon, was absolutely rife with pirated ROMs of classic games.
I was able to select a console and wade through a lengthy list of games already pre-loaded onto the device via microSD card, from “The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time” to “Street Fighter 2.” I swerved around corners in “F-Zero” from SNES and “Mario Kart 64” from Nintendo 64. I leapt on the heads of Mario’s many foes in “Super Mario World.”
Though it allows users to load their own ROMs, a major selling point of the RG351V is that it comes out of the box “with 2521 classic games pre-installed.” The Amazon listing for the device doesn’t explicitly say what those games are, but the listing does explicitly list which game consoles the device emulates.
The devices are popular enough on Amazon that they have dozens of positive reviews, and the handheld I used was one of several such devices featured as “sponsored” listings – meaning the company that makes them paid Amazon to be featured in the search results.
For all intents and purposes, Anbernic’s handheld functioned exactly as well as you might hope.
I pushed the button, and Mario jumped. It didn’t feel like a cheap knockoff, despite being literally that. The build quality of the device was solid, like a grown-up Game Boy Color, and it even has a rechargeable battery that plugs into USB-C.
It’s not quite as nice as a Nintendo Switch, but it’s also less than half the price. And hey, if it breaks, you can always get in touch with Amazon customer support for a refund.
Got a tip? Contact Insider senior correspondent Ben Gilbert via email ([email protected]), or Twitter DM (@realbengilbert). We can keep sources anonymous. Use a non-work device to reach out. PR pitches by email only, please.