Playing Game Boy Games on the Steam Deck

Here's what it feels like to play Game Boy games on Valve's retrogaming powerhouse.

Valve's Steam Deck is a retrogaming powerhouse; it emulates consoles up to and including the Nintendo Switch with little compromise. My favorite vintage handheld has always been the Game Boy, so I've spent countless hours on my Deck nostalgia diving into its legendary library.

Obviously, all the games run without a hitch — the technological rift between the Deck and Game Boy is enormous. One lets me play Red Dead Redemption II in bed; the other struggles to push too many moving sprites to a 160x144, black-and-white screen. On the Deck, I can listen to Spotify while I grind Hunter Ranks in MONSTER HUNTER RISE. Someone once tried to turn the Game Boy into a portable MP3 player and got embroiled in a license dispute so serious Jesse Jackson had to jump in to mediate.

So yeah, the 30-year-old Game Boy is outgunned by a brand-new device barely a year into its lifespan — no, duh. But it's not the 1.6 Teraflop APU nor the 7-inch, 800p screen that makes the Steam Deck a great place to play Game Boy games.

How to customize controls on the Steam Deck | Digital Trends

One of the Steam Deck's standout features is its remappable controls. Valve's big black handheld features four face buttons, a start and menu button, two capacitive analog sticks, a d-pad, two trackpads, four shoulder buttons, four back buttons, a gyroscope, and a touchscreen. You can play Wii games with motion controls, DS games with your stylus, add gyroscope-assisted aim to games that don't support it, and even bind input macros to a button press.

It took all of 10 minutes to set up a control scheme that lets me play Game Boy games one-handed. I even customized the trackpad to display a radial menu that lets me easily load, save, and switch between save states. A few more minutes and I had the whole thing mirrored on the right side of the Deck so I can play with either hand. My morning routine has 40% more Pokemon Red since I can now play while I have my coffee.

Is playing Game Boy games a better experience on the Steam Deck than on a Game Boy? Not really, but the appeal of the Deck's extreme customizability and the convenience of having all your games ready to play at a moment's notice is hard to ignore. The Game Boy Pocket is definitely the better companion for bathroom gaming.

Also, I know not everyone is a fan of emulation. Good news! You can play your original cartridges on your Steam Deck. It requires plugging a special peripheral into your Deck, which makes the handheld decidedly less hand-holdable, but the option is there.