If you love the original GBA form factor like I do, feast your eyes on this! The Retro Dreamer G4A is a Raspberry Pi4 based handheld all neatly wrapped up in a Game Boy Advance shell. The G4A has some awesome new additions too, let’s have a look.
If you’ve had asked a year ago I would have guessed that the market would be absolutely swamped with CM4 based handhelds by now. For some reason though, the platform hasn’t really taken off in handheld form yet. In fact aside from the portrait mode LCL-CM4 I can’t really think of any that are available right now. Sure the GPi case and PiBoy offer the same performance, but they utilise the full RPi4 board rather than the compute module.
So it’s great to see that we finally have a landscape CM4 based handheld on the horizon, and what’s more it comes in one of my favourite shells.
WHAT IS THE RETRO DREAMER G4A?
At it’s heart, the hardware on offer here is a custom circuit board engineered to accept a Raspberry Pi Compute Module 4. It’s been designed to fit inside the shell of the original GBA, with some slight modifications required to accommodate all the new bits.
Based on the Pi4s ability to play systems with more buttons than the GBA, the Retro Dreamer G4A also adds additional face buttons as well as some R2/L2 buttons round back. The device ships with a 3″ 640*480 display, although not all of that real estate is used. The original GBA has a 2.9″ display, so the image is scaled in to accommodate the smaller aperture.
A very nice side effect of using the GBA shell is that the batteries are replaceable. Requiring 2x user replaceable 14500 Li-Ion cells to power it means you can take a stack of pre-charged cells out with you and just swap them over when needed. No more dying Li-Po cells to worry about! I really wish other manufacturers would adopt this approach.
The G4A also comes with a custom GBA cartridge which contains the OS and, optionally, a WiFi module. The cartridge houses a microSD card, to which you can load your OS of choice.
Currently I am aware of ports of Batocera, EmuELEC and Lakka being worked on for this handheld. Of course Retro Pie will run on here as well.
Slaminger from techtoytinker is developing for this device too, which is a huge positive for anyone interested in getting one. As of yesterday he has a stable RetroArch 1.9.10 build running, with around 90 systems ported over. N64, Dreamcast and Saturn are all currently working on the G4A!
IS IT A DIY KIT?
The Retro Dreamer G4A is the work of Eddie from myretrogamecase.com. It’s not his first device, having released a CM3 version with 3.5″ screen already. This version only came as a prebuilt unit, because of the complexity of modifications required to build it.
The G4A is apparently a much easier device to assemble yourself, and at its cheapest the G4A does ship in kit form. This means you’ll be providing your own shell, buttons and CM4 module. The kit version allows you to decide whether to install an analog stick or not, and whether you want the L2/R2 buttons. If you want them, you can make the modifications to your shell and install them, otherwise just leave them out. It also means you can use any combination of front and back shell colours and buttons too. The choice of high quality cheap GBA shells is quite astounding these days!
There will be a detailed instructional guide available for DIYers to make the required modifications when the handheld ships. However there is a prebuilt option available too, which obviously costs a little more. The available colours haven’t been announced yet, but at the end of the campaign you’ll be able to choose before it is built and sent out.
The supplied GBA cartridge also comes in two forms, with and without WiFi. The WiFi version costs more, but will allow you to easily scrape boxart for your ROMs, as well as use stuff like retro achievements.
RETRO DREAMER G4A KICKSTARTER CAMPAIGN
The G4A is now live on Kickstarter, and has already surpassed the first stretch goal. Some Youtubers have also received review units already, so it looks like all systems are go for this exciting new handheld.
Devices are due to start shipping out in December, with some variants shipping early 2022. If you’re planning to make a pledge, be sure to read the options carefully. As far as I understand it, only the prebuilt units come with a CM4 module.