Analogue Duo Reviewed!

Hey everyone, Try from My Life in Gaming here. I’m a week late making this post, but we and several other folks released Analogue Duo reviews as the embargo lifted last Monday. Things were a bit quieter surrounding this release compared to previous Analogue products, likely due to fewer people having the games and equipment necessary to review a PC Engine-based system.

The end result, at launch anyway, is a bit of a mixed bag. On one hand, the out-of-the-box settings are just fantastic. The default scale of an overscan-cropped 224p sized to fill the 1080p space is crisply interpolated and presents the best view of most games. Thankfully, it also has a composite palette integrated so that you can get the intended original colors and avoid the garish oversaturated RGB palette, although the colors are interpreted slightly differently from MiSTer’s implementation. While the CRT effects lack much customization, they are a huge upgrade over the quality seen in previous Analogue systems, complete with mask effects. People who hate fiddling with settings or thinking about how their games are working can rest assured that they can just turn it on and get an excellent experience if all they want to do is use the system as intended.

On the other hand, the Analogue OS user interface is ported straight over from the Analogue Pocket and feels super out of place on a bigger screen. The font is so chunky that the dashboard can’t even fully display a title as short as “Legendary Axe” without truncating it. The advanced audio balancing features of systems like Mega Sg and Nt mini are completely absent, and promised features like save states and a sleep mode aren’t ready at launch. EverDrives are a bit too big to fit into the HuCard slot with the parts that cover the chips, but the the Turbo EverDrive Pro will work (including CD games) if you remove that. Earlier Turbo EverDrives may be hit or miss in compatibility on the Duo at the moment, as people have had varying reports. Maybe the need for that will be negated by a future jailbreak firmware? Who knows if that will happen this time around, though.

I’m also a bit leery of the disc drive. For one, you have to insert the disc almost all the way for it to take, and it just barely ejects far enough to grab the inner ring. It’s not a premium-feeling disc experience like you’d expect on a system from Nintendo, Sony, or Microsoft, and I wish they’d have gone with a top-loading design to minimize potential failure points. The disc drive also just won’t function correctly without an up-to-spec USB-C cable like the one included. Coury tried a different cable that has always been reliable for him in Power Delivery applications, but using it with the Duo resulted in the system crashing simply by having a disc present in the drive. When I tried a super scratched up disc, I didn’t get very far, which is to be expected I suppose, but another, which wasn’t in as bad of shape, crashed after playing for 20 or so minutes. Otherwise, everything seemed to work fine on the CD side during the review process, including most of the emulation trouble spots identified by the community performing just fine on the Duo.

Still, I wasn’t ready to put my full confidence in this disc drive, so I decided to play Shubibinman 3 on the MLiG stream last night to give it a bit more of a workout with a single game than we had time to do while writing and editing the review. And somehow, I wasn’t all that surprised when the game just failed to load the next scene after 50 minutes of play. The disc is in pristine condition, but to be fair, the Shubibinman games are super janky, so I can’t say for sure whether this was an issue with the Duo or the game itself. I wonder if the complexities of running from a disc on a hardware emulation core is thrown off by the default “Zero Delay” 60Hz buffer mode, and if the game would have continued on successfully had I used the Fully Buffered mode that runs at the true original speed of the system. To be fair, I should note that I similarly had Valis II fail to load the next level while playing on the MiSTer’s TurboDuo core on a stream once, although that was several years ago, so I have no idea if the same situation might’ve happened today or not.

All of this probably sounds pretty negative, but I actually like the system a lot. For HuCard use, it’s pretty much perfect, and the built-in wireless controller functionality is wonderful (aside from the option to remap buttons being grayed out presently). I also really like the aesthetic of it, including the off-white color that matches my real PC Engine (though I’m sure it’s going to be divisive since the render on Analogue’s website was much more of a modern stark white). That said, I’d have gladly taken some aesthetic compromises if it meant having a top-loading disc drive and a HuCard slot that could accommodate EverDrives without modification.

At any rate, check out our video for much more detail! The Duo’s state at launch may have a few more asterisks compared to previous Analogue launches, but I’m still glad that it’s finally here and I’m really curious to see what Analogue might be able to do with disc-based consoles in the future. I just hope they pick a drive that inspires more confidence in its reliability.