Overall Score - 8.3/10
There's a lot to like about the GameForce and some things to not like but the high res 4:3 screen on a horizontal RK3326 device with awesome ergonomics make this one a great 4:3 option just slightly behind the 351V overall.
GameForce Gaming Handheld
- CPU: ROCK-CHIP RK3326
- Quad-core Cortex-A35 up to 1.5Ghz
- GPU: Mali-G31MP2
- Memory: 1GB DDR3L
- Screen: 3.45 inches TFT IPS screen, non OCA
- Resolution 640X480, Response time 10-15ms, Viewing angle 85 degree
- Charge and Data port: USB-Type C
- Charging voltage: 5V. 2A
- Battery: 3000 mAh
- Memory Card support: TF card, up to 512GB
- WiFi: WiFi Built-in, 2.4Ghz band
- Backlights: 7 Colors LEDs
- Dual Speakers
- Dual Joysticks (ALPS, same as PS VITA)
- Dual Vibration Motors
- System: EmuELEC and RetroArch (Officially supported by EmuELEC with a 4.1 build specific to the GameForce)
Scores are always fairly arbitrary when going from reviewer to reviewer and subjective. I often debate whether to even use them but 8.3/10 is my estimate. I consider scores in the 70s to be average. When deciding on which system to buy, definitely comb through the details. In the SBC Gaming world there's no perfect handheld for everyone. Needless to say despite some obvious flaws I really like the GameForce.
The GameForce RK3326 can be ordered from:
Gao Feng should be commended for this achievement as this is an independently developed handheld right up there competing with the bigger companies. If I was only allowed to own two RK3326 devices (there are 12 available), I'd pick the 351V and GameForce. While there are some glaring flaws with the GF, there are some things that were done really well to make up for it.
It should be noted on 3.5" and smaller screens I put a LOT of weight into the 4:3 aspect ratio which is the best overall size for retro gaming. If you don't care about the 4:3 ratio that much you should keep that in mind. If 4:3 ratio is a big deal it's the 2nd best RK3326 option though. If 4:3 and horizontal form is a big deal the GameForce is the only option.
*For this review I purchased a retail unit with my own funds and my review is my own unbiased and non influenced opinions on the GameForce RK3326.
The GameForce is a unique entry in the SBC handheld retro gaming world and a late entry into the RK3326 arena. It should be noted again that the GameForce was an independent project and it's quite an accomplishment for it to be competing with the bigger companies. We first heard about the GameForce last summer independently being developed by Gao Feng an individual not a big company like Anbernic, GPD, PowKiddy etc. The Final product was a pretty big accomplishment considering we are in the middle of a global parts shortage and parts are hard to get competing with bigger groups. From what I was told by Gao Feng, he worked with Shanti (developer of EmuELEC) for months optimizing the firmware for the system and it shows.
All in all I like the GameForce quite a bit and it's worth your purchase consideration especially if you like 4:3 devices. This was a difficult device to review because it is awesome in some ways and average in ways too.
- 4:3 High Res
- Very Ergonomic
- 100% Legal In Every Way
- Old School Retro Aesthetic
- Includes a Case Designed For It
- Shoulder Buttons Are Excellent
- Dual Front Facing Speakers
- Dual Rumble Motors
- LED Lights
- Independently Developed
- Face Buttons and d-pad are just average
- Late in the RK3326 Game
- Non OCA Screen
What Would Make it a 9?
In my opinion if the face buttons were a little bit better and the d-pad had a little more depth I'd probably like the GF just as much as the 351V. It honestly isn't that far off from being really great. I prefer the dual SD slots on the 351V to the single slot here but it's not a deal breaker. Fortunately the build is really clean and the GameForce is relatively easy to disassemble so modding some things here and there is not out of the question. While it's not my favorite system it's not that far from it and the GF will definitely have a place in my regular gaming rotation. What I appreciate the most by far about the GameForce is the thought that went into it particular the control layout, ergonomic shapes etc. The thoughtfulness that went into the system does carry a lot of value and makes up for flaws. Most systems will fatigue your fingers after an hour of straight gaming for example but not this one.
Face Buttons, Triggers, Thumb-sticks & D-Pad
The face buttons and d-pad are not areas where this handheld shines at the top unfortunately. The face buttons stick a little further out of the shell than I'd like but they aren't terrible. There is a bit of wobble (play) with the ABXY buttons that I did not care for but they aren't terrible. They are still pretty responsive and don't effect gameplay a lot. The ABXY face buttons are a little on the small side as well.
The d-pad I like and dislike. The shape of the d-pad is excellent and slightly curved towards the center. Unfortunately the touch is a little too shallow while slightly stiff for my liking and feels like it has a little play in it. Left, Right, Up and Down and Diagonal controls while still on the shallow side are responsive and work well. All in all the d-pad isn't the worst I've used on these retro handhelds but it's not the best.
The thumb-sticks aren't bad at all although I would have preferred Switch style sticks. While they don't click that's not really necessary for most retro games. You can also easily remove the caps on top of sticks and replace them with some better Vita style caps. You can also replace both thumb-sticks with Vita thumb-sticks if you are inclined to modding. The stock thumb-sticks on the GameForce are fine though. They are responsive and accurate. If you are accustomed to particular devices these are not as stiff so take a little getting used to. I'd say they have a wider range of control once you get accustomed to them though.
While I would have liked a better d-pad and face buttons, the shoulder triggers really shine on this device. While they are stiff they are placed perfectly. They aren't particularly amazing but they are positioned perfectly, feel very solid and are very comfortable to use and are very responsive. In addition to the triggers there are a couple function buttons on the face of the system that could be mapped for convenience as well. The 4 triggers have a tactile clicky feel to them which could annoy some people who like soft triggers but the positioning and responsiveness makes up for the tactile feel to me. Due to the ergonomic design I found that I can hit R1 or R2 (or L1 or L2) without moving my fingers at all hitting the outside trigger with the bottom of my finger at the inside with the top. It's definitely a very well designed shape and placement.
Despite my complaints about the controls they are still all good enough to not effect gaming performance so the face buttons and d-pad are not a deal breaker but are a slightly annoying.
None. And in my book that's a great thing. Most of these retro handhelds ship with an SD card loaded with games and some type of slapped together firmware (often firmwares used without permission from developers) and its technically very illegal to sell and market SD cards loaded with copyrighted ROMs. It should be noted that the stock firmwares on most devices are less than desirable, the ROMs are often not the best dumps and the micro SD cards that come with most of these are very low quality and prone to failure. The GameForce is a 100% (no grey area) legal purchase and that by itself holds a lot of weight with me. The fact that the firmware you can flash onto this device was also officially run past the developer says a lot too. Most of these import devices use various firmwares commercially without consent and that's not what open source should be about. The GameForce was done right in that respect.
The nice thing about the GameForce is that it is officially supported by EmuELEC and its not terribly difficult to flash your own card with it. If you plan to really get into retro handheld gaming (emulation) you'll want to take the time to learn how to flash cards, source your ROMs and set things up. Once you learn it's like riding a bicycle as most of these Linux based handhelds work in similar ways. If you don't want to flash your own card or tinker with devices at all, this isn't the one for you.
The official reasoning for not including a loaded card is to follow official open source copyrights rules and I have to say I'm very pleased with that move. It was also done due to most handhelds being released are released with firmwares that are are already dated, not optimized and often without developers being involved. The GameForce is a 100% legit and you can very easily flash the latest EmuELEC and it will work as intended. Over 10 EmuELEC builds were ironed out to get to to the current build and it works great.
The firmware I tested with the unit was EmuELEC 4.1 (the official firmware of the GameForce). Make sure to download the build specific to the GameForce. All you have to do is download the GF specific build, decompress it and flash it to a new card (Win32 Disc Imager is a simple free option to use. Then just put the card into the GameForce with the flashed image. The scripts will automatically set up the partitions for you when you turn the device on. After that process runs all you need to do is add your files. Performance is identical to EmuELEC 4.1 running on other RK3326 devices. I hope to test out some other firmware options in the future as well. This may sound technical to newcomers but it's really a pretty easy process. A bonus of doing things this way pointed out by the developer is that in the long run, people will learn more about how these devices work and in the long run that's beneficial to the user experience.
Form Design, Build Quality & Ergonomics
The one thing Gao Feng hit out of the park (Grand Slam) with the GameForce is the ergonomics. Of all the RK3326 chipped handhelds this is absolutely the most comfortable to hold for extended periods of time. A lot of thought went into the ergonomic design with this one. The back of the GameForce looks a little strange at first glance but it's molded perfectly to grip with ease and the strange looking "nipples" provide a good place to rest unused fingers while gaming.
The early 2000s look to the device I think are great. It's heavily inspired by the NeoGeo Pocket Color but also has an original Game Boy Advance aesthetic. The under button LED Lights (which can be toggled on or off) are a pretty cool addition that's not in any of the other RK3326 devices. There's some slight light bleed with the LEDs but that can easily be modded. The shell has a very matte feel to it not the slick plastic type feel most systems have. It's a little strange at first but I've come to really like it. It makes the system very easy to hold and keep a good grip on without even having to try to keep a good grip on it so its easier on the fingers. in addition to the unique addition of RGB LEDs it was also a unique decision to add Dual Rumble Motors and front facing speakers.
All in all I like the build quality although it could have been better. Aside from the face buttons, there's no rattling parts, the shell seams fit together nicely and the inside build is pretty clean. When I have some more time I may mess around with the face buttons, d-pad and LED's and see what kind of simple adjustments I can make experimenting.
There are some glaring issues but there are also some very glaring positives going on. This was definitely a tough handheld to make up my mind about.
The downside to this screen is that it's non OCA. If we were comparing this to the Anbernic RG351V, the 351V has a brighter screen, slightly better viewing angles and more defined dark colors. There are only two 4:3 aspect 640X480 screens in RK3326 devices so it's the GameForce or the RG351V if aspect means a lot to you. For me 4:3 is the perfect ratio for retro and vintage gaming. With that said, the screen does look pretty good. I tend to play the 351V at 20% brightness inside but have the GF set at 60%. The only time the screen brightness could become an issue is playing in bright sunlight outdoors. Running brighter might effect battery performance a little. So far I get about the same battery life out of the 351V and GameForce.
The dual front facing speakers are small but they sound pretty good and are thoughtfully positioned in a place where they do not get obstructed unlike a lot of handhelds. If comparing to the 351V, the GameForce wins this battle. There's also a headphone jack properly placed at the bottom of the device.
The GameForce has good connectivity options with most of the modern standards including 2.4 GHZ WiFi, you can better transfer files to and from the device via SFTP. I'd like to get my hands on a second GameForce at some point to see how they well two work with each other for co-op and head to head gaming connected.
Like all RK3326 devices, HDMI out is not an option.
Recommended Emulation Platforms
There's not much new here. Being another RK3326 chip, Performance will not differ greatly from the other RK3326 devices.
Like all RK3326 devices you can play some N64, Dreamcast, DS and PSP on it but don't expect any miracles. It's very hit or miss. I'm hoping we see an ArkOS build in the future for the GF which seems to handle all of those better than most firmwares.
I tested the following systems that perform great on the GameForce: NES, SNES, GB, GBC, GBA, Atari 2600, Atari Lynx, Master System, CPS1, CPS2, Game Gear, Master System, Genesis, 32X, PSX and PC Engine. It performs just as well as other RK3326 devices with those. (As expected). I'll probably test some other systems in the near future...
Price & Shipping
I wasn't a big fan of paying $15 shipping at first on this device which elevated the overall cost to around that of a 351V but the GameForce was shipped out quickly to me. It arrived from Shenzhen to the US in less than 48 hours from ordering but the USPS took their time with it. It took 9 days to get from Pennsylvania to WV. Lol. 11 days is still pretty good for these kind of orders though. Ordering from my go to sources of BangGood, AliExpress, eBay, direct from other manufacturers like Anbernic etc I generally expect a two week wait.
Price-wise you are still getting a good deal with this handheld even this late in the RK3326 game. What makes up for the cost a bit is that it comes with a case designed for the GameForce and molded to fit it specifically. It's far less generic than the cases from the bigger companies.
There are currently 3 options available: Milky (pictured directly below), Green and Orange. Your color choice might depend on which color you want to set the LEDs to. I have the green model which looks best with Red lights. There will also be Black, and Grey models available in the near future. The color varieties seem to be divisive amongst people in the forums but I like them. They are different and definitely have a retro vibe. The retro aesthetic of the device plus great ergonomics and LED Lights make it a very interesting option.
When I get time I plan to do some light mods/tweaks to the system including switching out the thumb-sticks for Vita sticks, wirelessly if I can do anything with the d-pad to make it just a little less shallow and adding some kind of padding under the face buttons and see if I can tighten them up a bit. Fortunately the interior build is pretty clean and easy to take apart.
What Others Are Saying
Excellent review of the GameForce from trusted source Obscure Handhelds:
Retrododo.com scored the GameForce at 6.5/10.
Taki Udon's take on the GameForce (YouTube):
Old School Inspiration
Gao Feng had stated in the interview on Discord channel that the Bezel was definitely inspired by the Neo Geo Pocket Color. Some gamers think it looks like a Game Boy Advance. Regardless there's no denying the classic looks of the GameForce and it looks more retro than any of the other RK3326 retro handhelds and that's definitely a cool thing. While looks are subjective of course there's no denying that the GameForce is a conversation starter.
*All images of the GF in this article are stock images from the manufacturer or images I shot with the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5G. The images I shot are not edited.
Check out GameForce.fun to order!