Review: GP2X Wiz runs retrogaming rings around mainstream rivals

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Photos: Heather Beschizza

In Brief: GamePark's GPX2 Wiz is the best portable yet for retrogamers, but the high price argues against upgrading if you already own something similar. Near-perfect Amiga gaming kicks ass. It sets a high bar for imminent rival Pandora.

GP2X Wiz, available from ThinkGeek, is a handheld gaming console about the size of a pack of slim cigarettes. It has a 533/800MHz processor, a 320x240 2.8" AMOLED touchscreen display, 1GB of internal storage and an SD card slot. A tailored cut of the Linux operating system boots in about 15 seconds.

The latest in a series of handheld gaming consoles made by Korea's GamePark, the GP2X Wiz differs sharply from mainstream competitors like the Nintendo DS and Sony PSP. Whereas those machines incorporate strenuous measures to stop people writing their own software, the Wiz is completely open: anyone can write new applications and software, either in the machine's native code or using Adobe Flash.

While the open architecture means that the GP2X Wiz is unlikely to see official ports of leading titles, GamePark says it plans to release new games at a regular clip. Its heart, however, is in being a perfect platform for playing homebrew games and emulated classics. At $180, however, the latest model is very expensive. Is it worth it?

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• Other hardware features include a condenser mic, a stylus, volume control keys and a standard headphone socket. On the right is a Kensington lock, on the left the power switch. Two of the eight buttons are triggers; two are reserved for select and start. It has stereo speakers and hardware-accelerated OpenGL support.

• It doesn't come with the emulators built-in, but they're free of charge to download. Those available for the Wiz are well-tailored to the platform and mostly need no configuration.

• Emulators are available for arcade games (MAME and FinalBurn); consoles including the NES, SNES, Gameboy, Megadrive/Genesis, PC Engine, Vectrex and SMS; and computers including Commodore Amiga, C64 and Atari ST. Interpreters are offered for ScummVM games and Quake packs. The developer scene is busy and growing fast

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• Apart from the included set of free titles--Boomshine2x is particularly good, and you can't go far wrong with Tower Defence--finding the games you want is a matter for your own conscience. You'll probably be visiting sites like Romkeeper and The Pirate Bay to get it up and running in the manner it is obviously intended for.

• Performance is great: arcade games released prior to the 1990s run smoothly, and the CPU can be overclocked right from MAME's main menu for those that don't.

• The Commodore Amiga, a legendary emulation challenge due to its complex and unusual architecture, runs a smidgin choppier than the real thing. That said, it's nothing short of amazing to have a playable Amiga barely larger than a deck of cards.

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• SNES performance is similarly good. Mode 7 titles such as Mario Cart don't have perfect frame rates. Megadrive games were also smooth, and earlier systems impeccable.

• At 4.8" long, 0.7" thick, and 2.4" wide, the Wiz is even smaller than the Nintendo DS, but not so small that it becomes hard to use.

• It runs Flash 8; this could make portable game programming much more accessible to amateur developers. Supported media codecs include DivX/XviD, MP3, Ogg Vorbis, WAV and AVI. You'll want to transcode stuff down to an appropriate resolution before moving it over.

• Despite the smallness of the unit, the screen doesn't feel small. It's colorful and very bright. General build quality is fine. The ambidextrous d-pad stylings of the buttons aren't a problem.

I love it, but $180 ain't cheap. Then again, the games are free--and there are thousands of them.

GP2X Wiz Product Page [ThinkGeek]

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About Rob Beschizza

Follow Rob @beschizza on Twitter.
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