Last month, we came across a new phone case, which combines the style of a classic Nintendo Game Boy with actual playability. It comes with a handful of classic games like Tetris, Tank, Frogger, and others, and it’s certainly aimed at a nostalgic audience. It looks like a classic Game Boy: a D-pad, a pair of A/B buttons, and buttons to turn it on, reset the gameplay, make a selection, and turn the sound on and off. And, of course, it has a square monochrome LCD display that mimics the original Game Boy’s screen. The problem is, I can’t really figure out what the point of it is, other than to play Tetris.
The case is called the Wanle Gamers Console For iPhone, designed for everything between the iPhone 6 and X. I grew up playing a Game Boy, and I’ve been on a bit of a novelty-game-device kick lately (Chris Welch’s review for The Oregon Trail handheld game convinced me to pick one up), and I ended up buying one for my iPhone 8 Plus.
The initial experience is… not great. A couple of the games are unplayable (push a button, and it’s immediately game over), while a couple of others are indecipherable. While it’s marketed as a sort of Game Boy emulator, this reminded me a bit more of the games that you might have played on a TI-83 Graphing Calculator in school, or one of those LCD handheld games. While testing this out and playing through a bunch of the games, I kept wondering why I was doing this, rather than simply downloading one of the many variations of the games from the App Store. The games here are a nostalgic gimmick, and I found myself simply flipping my phone over to go back to playing Alto’s Odyssey, which doesn’t have some of the frustrating glitches or gameplay.
There are other issues as well. As a protective case, it’s thin enough to be unobtrusive. I’m not sure I really trust the case to protect my phone in the event that I actually drop it, and it doesn’t feel all that well-constructed. The rubber buttons caught in my pocket, and feel really slow: the D-pad is never as responsive as I remembered on my original Game Boy, and I’ve lost most games because they couldn’t keep up with the speed of the game. The sounds are annoying, too: Tetris just isn’t Tetris without that iconic soundtrack.
There is a redeeming feature for this phone, however: while it doesn’t quite compare to the real thing, the case comes equipped with some neat Tetris clones. There are a bunch of variations of the game — ones that move the blocks side to side, ones that raise them up every couple of rounds, and, of course, one that emulates the classic. While it never feels quite the same as the original, the fact that the case has physical buttons to mash make it a better alternative to the various Tetris apps that I’ve tried out over the years. It’s just not a touchscreen game for me, and in the week or so that I’ve been playing with it, it has sucked me in a bunch of times while waiting in line at the store or while hanging around the house. Given that it runs off of a watch battery, it would make a nice backup if my phone were to die while away from a charger.
At the end of the day, the case is certainly not worth the $80 that it was marked down from on Wanle Case’s website, or even the $25 I spent on it. The site is currently sold out, but you can find it online at Amazon for a much more reasonable $11.55. At that price, it’s a novelty worth checking out if retro games are really your thing, but I’ll probably go back to my boring, protective case soon. If I really feel nostalgic, I can always dig out my old Game Boy and enjoy Tetris the way I remember it — soundtrack and all.
Photography by Andrew Liptak / The Verge
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