Casual readers would be forgiven for seeing the maker's name on the box of the GB Operator — a neat little device that lets you play your Game Boy, Game Boy Color and Game Boy Advance carts on your PC — and confusing the company with Analogue, the producer of such quality retro-playing consoles as the Analogue NT (SNES) and the upcoming Analogue Pocket (Game Boy).
The cheekily-named Epilogue is obviously hoping to align itself with the same brand of uncompromising quality Analogue is known for, and has adopted the slogan 'No compromises' for its Operator series. The Romanian company's first effort is a strong entry into the field of retro gaming, although it's a very different product to anything Analogue has produced, and one which may have limited appeal.
the GB Operator won't work without being connected to a PC... it requires a downloadable .exe running on your computer to function
Firstly, banish any ideas that this is a mini Game Boy emulation system that plugs into your TV like the Retron SQ; the GB Operator won't work without being connected to a PC, for starters. It requires the use of a downloadable .exe running on your computer to function in any way at all.
The device works as a middle man; an interface between your cart collection and tried-and-true GB emulation served up in a bespoke emulation wrapper on your PC. To reiterate, without the accompanying desktop app and some modest processing power from your PC, the GB Operator is simply a flashy-looking cart stand. Plug it into your TV via USB and nothing will happen.
That may be disappointing to some retro enthusiasts, but Epilogue arguably makes up for the limitations with an otherwise convenient and comfortable user experience, not to mention a couple of functions that could make it indispensable to a select group of Game Boy fans.
On opening the box, you'll find the unit itself, an attractive little chunk of see-through plastic housing mounted on a quality strip of non-slip rubber. It's a simple, stylish plinth in which to insert your carts and remove them as you would a mighty sword from a stone, and we enjoy the reverence it imbues in that action. These carts deserve respect, and the GB Operator provides that.
The included instruction leaflet directs you to download the 'Operator software' from Epilogue's website, with Windows, Mac or Linux options available. Once extracted and installed, the software searches and automatically detects the GB Operator connected to your PC via the supplied USB-C to USB-A cable (we used our Switch Pro Controller cable). A distractingly bright LED in the unit indicates that it's powered on (Epilogue plans to address this minor irritation via an update) and it's time to insert a cartridge of your choosing. Almost instantly the software recognised our Metroid: Zero Mission as a legitimate European cart and showed appropriate box art and blurb, which it appears to be pulling from a server.
On loading up a cartridge, the app offers 'Play' and 'Data' options, along with a third 'Photo' tab reserved for the Game Boy Camera, which we'll get to later. The Play page, predictably, is where you launch the game. You rebind Gamepad and Keyboard controls here and we would have liked the option to duplicate inputs on multiple buttons, but it worked smoothly enough with our 8bitdo FC30 Pro. The app also has greyed-out options for Emulator and Device settings that will be unlocked in future updates. Hit Launch, the ROM downloads to the emulator and the game fires up.
Emulation is handled via the open source mGBA by default, although you'll apparently be able to use whatever emulator you like in the future. Super Game Boy enhanced games are flagged and play with added colour, and everything worked beautifully in the games we tested. However, it quickly became apparent that basic features are missing in this beta version of the software. Expanded functionality is coming, but at the time of writing (we used v0.7 and v.0.7.1) you're limited to playing in Windowed mode, for example. At present there are no options for save states, pausing, rewinding or fast forwarding. There are no alternative colour palettes to pick from or visual filters to cycle through, either.
everything worked beautifully in the games we tested, although it quickly became apparent that extremely basic features are missing in this beta version of the software. Expanded functionality is coming...
It's worth remembering that Epilogue is continuing work on the software and has committed to a roadmap addressing several of the issues mentioned above. This includes fullscreen and shader support, plus in-app volume control and game reset, along with other changes brought about by user feedback, with several of these features are planned for a September/October update. The beta foundation here could be described generously as 'barebones', but it is a solid start.
Hitting ESC quits the game (removing a cart while playing will send you back to the launch menu immediately and you'll lose unsaved progress) and you're given the open to Save your progress to the cart or Discard it. This is where the device comes into its own: not only can you save your progress on the cart you're playing (and pick up again on actual GB hardware), but you can copy your cart's save data, back it up on PC, write it back and carry on where you left off.
Moving over to the Data tab, you can rip a full copy of the data stored on the cart to your PC as a .gb or .gba file, and also write data to rewritable cartridges, which opens up the world of homebrew and fan patches/translations. You could, for example, take your legitimate copy of Mother 3, download and patch the ROM with the English fan translation, and load it onto a suitably sized rewritable cartridge for play via the GB Operator or your Game Boy Advance itself.
You can also download/upload just the save data (.sav) and backup to your heart's content. We immediately backed up our original Mario Golfer and Pokémon Yellow menagerie and can finally rest easy knowing that our stalwart Gen I pokeymans — Metapoo, 'Lecky Mouse, Stinky, et al — are now preserved for posterity. This feature is particularly handy if you're looking to replace a battery in a treasured cartridge without risking losing your precious save data. Simply transfer it to your PC, switch out the battery at your leisure, and transfer back once you're done. Sorted.
Manufacturers of fake carts have begun using more sophisticated techniques over the years and it can be tough to spot a rogue repro in your collection, but the GB Operator flags unofficial games as such — the app performs an 'integrity check' and asks you if you'd like to progress if this check is failed.
Plug in a Game Boy Camera, click 'Save All' and voila, your precious pics from yesteryear are saved in tiny 128x112 pixel .png form
However, one headline feature that made this writer pre-order the thing in the first play is the ability to transfer Game Boy Camera photos quickly and painlessly off the device. Plug in a Game Boy Camera and the third 'Photos' tab becomes available (interestingly, you're not able to 'play' the camera on your PC). Head there, click 'Save All' and choose a folder and voila, your precious pics from yesteryear — or the best Blue Steels and Magnums you could muster for a pic to accompany a hardware review — are saved in tiny 128x112 pixel .png form.
Or they would be if your Game Boy Camera battery hasn't died. Unfortunately, the 30 blank spaces on this writer's Camera were all filled with static. Yes, pour one out for the forever-lost high school-era pics of random selfies with school mates and family members, and that rangy cat we saw walking home from school that one time.
So, yes, turns out the primary reason we bought the thing — to transfer GB Camera pics to PC in a quick and easy fashion — wasn't actually possible in our case, although through no fault of the GB Operator. We've otherwise been incredibly lucky with our cart batteries and managed to save everything else from digital oblivion, though. You win some, you lose some.
Overall, the GB Operator is a great little piece of kit with oodles of potential, but it's a device for a very specific type of user — people with an existing GB(A) library who run their PC through their TV, for example, or anyone with a comfortable gaming monitor set-up. The option to take your treasured GB carts, play them on a big screen, save your progress, and carry on where you left off on official hardware gives the device an almost Switch-like appeal for the right person, and this writer just about fits into that niche category.
The GB Operator is a quality product — a small, stylish, relatively inexpensive addition to a gaming environment that enables you to conveniently play your carts and your saves on a big screen
If you're coming to this expecting a 'mini console' experience with the added functionality to play your physical catalogue, you'll likely come away disappointed by the restrictions and current lack of features. The GB Operator is a quality product, a small, stylish, relatively inexpensive addition to a gaming environment that enables you to conveniently play your carts and your saves on a big screen. It is in danger of falling between two stalls, though; too reliant on an existing physical library for its plug-and-play accessibility to appeal to casual players, yet too restrictive for die-hard retro enthusiasts looking for the ultimate way to play GB games on a big screen.
Improvements are coming that should address our biggest gripes with the GB Operator as the app moves towards Version 1.0, and the user-friendly way it enables save backups makes it a very handy device for any Game Boy lover with an intense affection for the genuine article (or anyone with cart batteries to replace). Even if GB games do end up coming to Nintendo Switch Online, there will inevitably be a great many titles that'll never see the light of day on Switch, so there's still room for devices like this, even if the appeal is somewhat limited.
We're intrigued to see what Epilogue has in store for the Operator series in the future. In the meantime, we'll be eagerly awaiting those feature updates.
The GB Operator is available for $49.99 plus shipping from Epilogue's website.
i'm really interested in this, but will wait for some more reviews and updates to the software before i jump in. the price is nice if nothing else than to just easily play on a bigger screen at home and then take my games with me to work (which is how I play roughly 85-95% of the time.. maybe this can push it closer to 70%). definitely beats dropping $300 on a gamecube with gameboy player. and that can't even back up my saves.
Wow, this sounds amazing. Now if it somehow had the capability to apply patches to the carts themselves, that would be incredible, but I don’t think that’s possible.
Okay thats cool!
Many emulators support on-the-fly IPS patching, and I think devices like Retron5 do as well.
You'll want to be mindful of writing save files for a patched game to the cartridge though, depending on the patch it may be incompatible with the unpatched game.
@foodmetaphors It's been pretty good so far. Allowing me to play my Castlevania games on the go and resume them on PC. Software is still pretty beta so waiting is good. Most of my complaints though are more related to rendering than anything else. It just worries about rendering to the window with presets. So no configuration, no scan line options, very bare bones compared to emulators. However if you desire the ability to go back and forth, I can't think of a better wya of going about it. Even the Crap tastic GameBoy Player isn't exactly at the same level of accuracy and polish of this device.
OOOOHHHH, I like this a lot. It would be really nice to be able to easily dump my GB/GBA library, although I'm sure that it would probably be cheaper to just mod my Gamecube and dump them from my Game Boy Player. Now, can we get one of these for NES/SNES (Hopefully with Famicom/Super Famicom as well)? I'd love to be able to finally dump my SNES collection, but ROM dumpers are generally rare and hard to come by, and it certainly doesn't look like the Libretro Open Hardware Project is going to be showing us anything anytime soon.
Now if only this works with everdrives😔😔
Doesn't seem very likely though
So basically it's an emulator that uses original cartridges. Interesting. Certainly gets around piracy concerns.
I have one of these. The primary reason I bought one was to backup my old Pokemon save files and also to play some games 'legitimately' on my PC.
The feeling of loading up an old cart and seeing my old save files really did bring a tear to my eye. Well worth the money.
Once thing I noticed was it did not want to load the old pirated multiple-games-in-one carts. It would either boot to a random game or not at all for the carts I had. A minor issue but worth mentioning nonetheless.
It’s an interesting one, I’ve ripped all my carts by now but I really like the simplicity of this product. On the fly IPS patching is the only little issue I think it’ll have if it writes to cart and not to a file!
Meh any of the features this thing could do you could already do it on PC without this. This applies to all the patching and stuff and if you already own a Game Boy, GBC, or GBA EverDrive then you don't really need this. This thing would only be useful if it allow you to dump your cartridge game for you since EverDrive had not done that yet. Once the EverDrive does that this thing would be unnecessary.
It seems when I add a new GBA to my collection an Gameboy hardware related artical is release on the day or a few days afterwards. So I am interested in this product and I will have my eye on it once the software improves.
I do like that for European orders they have a warehouse in Europe so that massively helps at avoiding import taxs and customs.
@RupeeClock Oh, I'm well versed in that stuff, but thanks for the reminder!
One doesn’t need a PC, but a computer.
There's a bunch of GBA patches that caught my attention recently.
There's one that turns Zero Mission in Super Metroid.
There's one that restores rumble functionality to Super Mario Advance 3: SMB3.
There's one that enables running by default in Castlevania Circle of the Moon.
All good stuff I'm looking forward to trying, though I'm not sure if they're IPS patches, which otherwise wouldn't be viable for on the fly patching.
@RupeeClock I know for sure the QOL patches for Circle of the Moon are IPS. There's even one that scatters all the DSS cards throughout the castle, so you don't have to farm. They are just rewards for exploration. It's my preferred way to play the game, now.
There's a patch for Dawn of Sorrow that removes the necessity for the touch screen, so if you need to break blocks you just attack them after you get the appropriate soul, and when you need to defeat a boss you just have to have the correct emblem in your inventory. It also fixes the broken luck stat, which in the original release does not impact your chance for soul collection. Those patches really make the game come alive.
Yes, card mode is my favourite way to play CotM now, I'm hoping that it's possible to patch the running QoL change on top of card mode, I'll be trying it later.
But down the line I'll play the Advance Collection version to get a better feel for the card grinding experience once more.
The Dawn of Sorrow patches I'm also familiar with, it really does a ton to revitalise the game and I hope Konami acknowledge these when if they ever do a DS collection.
There are similar patches for Aria of Sorrow as that has its own issues with stats, being the luck stat is ineffectual (but not broken), and that the intelligence stat doesn't boost the power of bullet (red) souls, only guardian (blue) souls.
Or, you could just download GB roms off the internet?
If this comes to Mac, I’m buying it. No Mac? No sale.
EDIT: did a CTRL F and found the Mac mention. Will be buying!
Careful, @Trajan, the local morality police will hear you. But anyhoo, if you look at this and just wonder why not DL ROMs, the product's just not for you. I like having a cart collection, and products like this allow me to do more with them. Though from the review it doesn't sound like this has any functions that I want, that I don't already get from my RetroFreak.
@MervTheMan "One doesn’t need a PC, but a computer."
PC is short for "personal computer".
I have a Game Boy Player (and a Super Game Boy) and a CRT so I can already go from handheld to TV.
@ChromaticDracula you don't play games on mac, you just over pay for hardware for brand image.
@RupeeClock Yep the Retron5 can do it. I've used translation patches with my Japanese SNES games.
@Trajan are you making fun of the Mac I’ve been using since 2013 and that still runs rock solid? The same Mac I’ve been using that isn’t bogged down by all the adware, malware, and isn’t infected with Windows fatigue? Naaahhhh you wouldn’t be that silly would you?
Also took the Rom of a 100in1 Module with the Retrode to my PC.
Can only see the Title Screen.
Even trying to play it one the Mister gets me only one step further.
I can scroll through the Game List, but nothing starts.
A GBA Module works on the Mister, but not emulated.
I am curious what trickery they use that is sooo specialized to the original Hardware.
@ChromaticDracula If you don't know how to use a computer, I guess go for it. My XP laptop from 2005 is just fine too. Put kubuntu on it because XP is too old.
However, the same person who would like a locked down environment generally wouldn't be the same person to buy something as this, as you would wait for Nintendo to resell you your old games.
The fact that you had to ask if this would work on mac is a sign of a problem.
You could always go to linux, but stick with mac.
@Trajan all of the above: valid points. To be completely frank, I do not use my Mac to play anything except StarCraft. Furthermore, I am by no means a computer gamer at all. In fact, I may become a mobile game gamer before I became a computer game gamer.
I really only would want this thing so I can back up my saves from my carts. I stick to the original hardware when I play my carts (or until I get my grimey hands on an Analogue Pocket!)
I would only play these on a computer if I had no other way to play them.
I really only questioned if this would work on a Mac because it was my own fault skipping around the article. I missed the part about Mac and only saw “simply run the .exe…”
Last thing I’ll say is, if I were a computer gamer, I’d for sure be a windows computer gamer. You’d have to be blind to not see every game basically coming out for Windows. From there, either also being released simultaneously for Mac or being ported at a future date. ✌️
@PickledKong lol it’s more that i dont have a lot of time at home. but i work in a factory and i change shifts every week so when im working overnight or in the evening there’s nobody around and if i’m not particularly busy i spend time on twitter and youtube and then gaming on my gba sp or sometimes my ds lite
@ChromaticDracula with proton things are changing with Linux, but yeah windows is king for that still.
@Mountain_Man yeah but to many people, as to me and media around me, PC is synonymous to Microsoft’s Windows. So I wanted to clarify it also runs on Mac and Linux
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