Love them or loathe them, hardware clones of vintage gaming platforms are here to stay. Technical wizards operating on the fringe of the gaming hardware arena are constantly dreaming up new products which ape the performance and feel of classic consoles, and in the past few years we've seen imitations of the NES, SNES and Mega Drive - as well as some hybrid systems which play games from multiple platforms, like the Super Retro Trio and the RetroN 5.
If you're already familiar with the wacky world of clone systems then the name REVO K101 will already be known to you. It's a clone of the Nintendo Game Boy Advance that follows on from the K1 GBA SP, and not only allows you to run original GBA carts but also supports ROMs, as well as very basic emulation. The system launched back in 2012 to a rather mixed reception - it was plagued with bugs and issues - but more recently it has been enhanced and re-released in a new "Plus" guise. With a low retail price and above-average compatiblity, this is a piece of portable hardware that is certainly worth considering - if you're willing to overlook the murky world of ROM distribution, of course.
The REVO K101 Plus isn't an expensive machine - it costs $69.99 - and that cheapness shows a little in the build quality. It's not on the same level as Nintendo's portable hardware, but that is to be expected - Nintendo is a massive company with years of manufacturing experience. Our review unit felt solid enough, although we noticed that the top of the casing - where the black plastic band meets the white front and back portions - bulges slightly, presumably because of internal components pushing against it. The buttons feel spongy but they're perfectly responsive, and while the D-Pad has a lot of travel but we didn't have any issues when playing intense action titles that required quick response time. The L and R shoulder triggers are perhaps a little too "soft", but again, they respond well to input so it's not that much of an issue.
The console's screen is uncommonly bright for a system that costs such a small amount of money, and while viewing angles could be better, we found it a pleasure to use. The big issue here is that it boasts a higher resolution than the original GBA, so running games full-screen means you have to put up with distortion and fuzziness. It's possible to play games in a smaller window which matches the GBA's original resolution, but that involves a massive black border around the image. Another disappointment is the sound - the console's single speaker is quite tinny and discordant, and too easy to accidentally cover with your thumb during play - it's located directly below the diamond-cluster of face buttons.
On the top edge of the console there's a brightness button which can be used to cycle through preset brightness settings for the display. Using this button with various other inputs activates other settings - such as toggle between the three screen resolutions, backing up save data to your microSD card, putting the console into sleep mode or dropping back to the K101 Plus' menu when not using a standard GBA cart.
The REVO K101 Plus features a standard GBA cartridge slot and will therefore play GBA games. The manufacturer boasts 100 percent compatibility, and while we're naturally not in a position to test that claim, we didn't experience problems with any of the GBA games were threw at the machine. Performance was perfect, both in terms of visuals and audio. The console is also able to emulate the "Real Time Clock" aspect of the original GBA system, where a battery was used in titles like Pokémon Ruby & Sapphire to simulate the passage of time within the game itself. However, this is all just one side of the system's GBA support - a more attractive element for retro gamers will be the fact that the console comes with a special K-Card cartridge that boasts a microSD card slot, thereby granting access to ROM support.
When you boot the K101 Plus with a standard GBA cart, it loads just like it would on a standard GBA console. However, with the K-Card inserted, you're presented with a unique menu which allows you to load up ROM files not only for GBA games, but also for built-in emulators which cover the likes of the NES, Master System, Game Boy, Game Boy Color and PC Engine. Sticking with the GBA for the moment, we again found the compatibility to be impressive. Games ran just as well as they would as if they were being loaded from an original cartridge, albeit with considerable loading times as the ROM data is dumped into the system memory.
The emulation of other systems was a little disappointing; NES and Master System games suffer from skittish performance and ropey audio, while PC Engine emulation is so sluggish it's practically unplayable on some games. The primitive Game Boy is emulated more faithfully by the hardware, but in all honesty, we wouldn't recommend investing in this system as a means to experience such games - you're not getting a decent representation of them, and are much better off either tracking down the original hardware and carts or obtaining them via one of Nintendo's download services.
The K101 Plus contains a 800 mAh battery which is good for about a day of use - we managed to squeeze around 6 hours out of the machine before it needed recharging, although we were running on the lowest brightness setting. Also in the box you'll find a set of cheap headphones and a TV-out cable, which links up the system to a television via a standard AV connection. It's a neat extra but when running these titles on a HD TV set, you'll notice the results are rather muddy and ill-defined. Finally, it's worth mentioning that the K101 Plus has an extension port which means it can be linked up with other K101 systems - and the original GBA console itself - for local multiplayer sessions.
When you invest in a hardware clone, it's a good idea to leave any lofty expectations at the door. There's usually some catch or shortcoming which makes that bargain price seem a little more realistic, but in the case of the REVO K101 Plus, the shortcomings are far outweighed by the positives. If you're looking for a decent GBA system but don't like the tiny form factor of the Game Boy Micro - and can't afford the revised GBA SP AGS-101 with its superior screen - then this is a solid choice. It allows you to keep your beloved GBA library alive and offers some neat extras - although we'll let you decide for yourself if the included emulation and ROM support put this particular platform on morally shaky ground.
Review unit provided by www.k1gbasp.com.