It’s been a long time since I’ve used a gaming handheld, and longer still since I’ve wanted one. I bounced off the Nintendo Switch hard when it became clear it was a jack of two trades that was just okay at both, with a library sorely lacking in games designed for a handheld experience to boot. When the pandemic began wrecking both my sleep schedule and poor eyeballs, I imposed a “no electronics in bed” policy for myself. I limited my leisure screen time, too, and since my only commute was driving to the grocery store, I didn’t see the point. I’ve been happily handheld-less for years.
My curiosity was reignited earlier this year when another of Nintendo’s needlessly cruel anti-piracy lawsuits came into the public eye. Suddenly, there were talks of mass emulation efforts both for personal enjoyment and game preservation. Dozens of different devices were being recommended — most of which were inspired by the various Gameboys in form factor and designed to run games from the NES to GBA era.
But, dear reader, I am not someone who does things halfway. If I was going to get an emulation device, it was going to do damn near everything.
Enter the AYN Odin Pro
You might have heard of the AYN Odin Pro — it’s amassed over $3.8 million dollars and 11,000 backers on Indiegogo. The self-proclaimed “Ultimate Gaming Handheld” promises access not only to the libraries of the SNES or PSX, but also well past, dipping into those of the PlayStation 2, Wii, and even the 3DS. Add in game-streaming capabilities and you theoretically have the ultimate gaming handheld.
There are many specs I could throw at you, but consider this a layman’s review that’s concerned with demonstrable, real-life performance. That is: Will the AYN Odin Pro do what you want it to?
It better, you’d think, for the price. Including shipping from the AYN factory in Hong Kong, it set me back just shy of $320. Even accounting for the roughly $30 shipping, that’s close to the full price of a Switch. It also took about four months to get here. I bought this as a pre-order from a new company and am more than used to waiting for manufacturing like this, but it’s still part of the “price,” isn’t it?
But I won’t mince words with you: If “what you want it to” is “emulate pretty much anything from all retro consoles, the PS2, and the Nintendo GameCube on a convenient handheld device,” then yes, it will. Do you want to play The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker at the beach? Final Fantasy X-2 on a plane? Yoshi’s Island while you wait for takeout? The Odin can do that.
It feels a bit excessive to describe what the Odin does well — that’s just about everything it sets out to do. It’s particularly true for those of us who aren’t persnickety about perfectly imitating the visuals of a CRT or original Gameboy screen in sunlight.
The Odin will play just about whatever you want, whenever you want. Battery life is good, especially on airplane mode and with lower brightness. That screen brightness is really impressive, too, allowing me to play games in nearly full sunlight at the beach.
AYN Odin Pro Setup Woes
The chief caveat of the Odin is not, strictly speaking, its fault. Emulation is finicky. So are mobile devices. Ergo, learning each emulation software in its mobile configuration, building your controller and screen layouts, and modifying video settings will eat up a lot of time.
Add in that some games — especially those on the Nintendo DS and Wii — will need individualized settings to run comfortably, and you’re looking at an unfortunate amount of setup time. Again, it’s not really the Odin’s fault, but it’s something worth noting before you buy, especially as a gift.
You’ll have to select, download, and set up all the emulators yourself — not to mention the ROMs, which of course I could not tell you where to get. Anyone who understands that piracy is wrong should definitely not use a safe search engine like DuckDuckGo, gaming hobbyist subreddits, or some kind of wiki to find all available information on the craft along with download links.
Anyway, the vast majority of games from the Dreamcast and earlier are ready “out of the box.” For these consoles, double-check that each emulator has properly read the Odin’s control scheme. After that, you’re probably good to go.
Console Emulation and Performance
That still leaves the performance of later generations. In the year 2000 with the PS2, the speed bumps begin, but it’s not until the following year’s GameCube that the hitches become noticeable.
Some games don’t run ideally. Music stuttering becomes more common, as do sudden framerate dips and sound glitches. These won’t ruin your experience; everything is still well past playable, but the hitches are present. Games now require individual settings to solve most of these issues. The Odin breaks the slightest of sweats and should be put into Performance Mode more often than not, which causes it to consume battery much more quickly.
As you might expect, the Wii gives the Odin a lot more trouble. It requires the most hand-holding and awkward fumbling with settings. Even then, many games just don’t feel quite right without a pointer to gesture with — perhaps this could be solved with a peripheral of some kind, but that’s not what this is about.
It’s a real shame, as the Wii is my favorite console of all time (partially owing to the fact that it also comes with a GameCube in it). Its uniqueness is what makes me love it so much. More than any other console, handheld or home, the experience the Wii provides is by far the most difficult to imitate. I came in expecting Wii games on the Odin to be pretty awkward, and, well, they are.
In moving on to the 3DS era, it’s worth noting that 3DS emulation is notoriously difficult. It’s officially possible on the Odin, but in the way that spaceflight became officially possible after we sent a chimp into orbit with no hope of return. I wouldn’t buy the Odin with the expectation of playing any 3DS games.
However, I’ve read it can run things like Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance, Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, and some of the Shin Megami Tensei games pretty well. If those matter to you, you’re in luck! Regardless, though, I would consider every 3DS game a hard-earned bonus rather than a reason for purchase.
With all you need to know about consoles out of the way, we still have mobile game streaming to cover. Well… sort of. Between Google Stadia, Nvidia GeForce Now, Steam Link, and Xbox Game Pass, I just don’t think streaming is there yet.
It seemed like the Odin could handle it with no problem, but the host and connectivity struggled. The Xbox Game Pass app is a nightmare. Nvidia GeForce Now requires logging into your other game accounts — sometimes multiple times — and frequently fails to connect. Google Stadia is probably closest to the promise of game streaming, but its limited library is a drawback, and my internet doesn’t play with it so well. Steam Link is the most viable but still requires you to be in-network with an open computer capable of playing the games in question.
If you live in a city and have fast internet, these services are probably much more viable. For me, they were a novelty. It was beyond entertaining to play Mixolumia while lying down on the couch, but the occasional frame drop means it’s not viable for score-chasing. I also still had to have my computer on to stream it via Steam Link. Adapting to keyboard and mouse games, or even just navigating Final Fantasy XIV’s launcher, is a headache and a half.
This still leaves you with the entire ecosystem of mobile games. You can easily enjoy games like Cookie Run: Kingdom, Genshin Impact (on Medium settings), Pokemon Unite, and more.
Form Factor and Physical Build
First: It’s not helpful to describe how comfortable a device is in the hands with no frame of reference. My hands are 15.25 cm (6 inches) tall, and my palm is about 7.5 cm (3 inches) wide. I have no disabilities or issues in my hands or wrists that make holding things difficult for a reasonable period of time.
After about an hour of playing the Switch in handheld mode, my hands — especially the pads of my thumbs — begin to ache. This is not the case with the Odin.
The Odin has grips similar to a controller instead of flat like the Switch’s; its joysticks are shorter, too. These not only combine for a more comfortable grip on the palm, but also allow me to hold my thumbs at a lower angle — meaning there’s much less discomfort overall. Unlike other retro handhelds, it’s got a nice weight to it and smooth edges that give it a premium feel.
I only have two real complaints regarding the Odin’s physical build: the face buttons and the triggers.
Face buttons were always going to be an issue. The positioning of ABXY is different (or nonexistent) between a few of the controllers you’re likely to be playing on. That’s unavoidable, but what isn’t is that the face buttons feel too… sticky. They require much more downward force than you’d expect.
It’s nice that there are no accidental presses to be had, but I wish I could roll my thumb over to press them more easily. While it doesn’t add much to the average game’s workload, it makes timing mini-games like Mother 3’s Combos more difficult to pull off.
The triggers are a similar story. Even when configured for “half-presses,” the triggers, like me, still needed to be fully depressed before they could get anything done. Updates on AYN’s Indiegogo page indicate this is a known problem that’s being fixed, but this is what I’ve got. At least I’ve got a right to repair, but let’s face it — I’m just gonna deal with it.
AYN Odin Pro Final Verdict
AYN’s tagline for the Odin is accurate: it is the ultimate gaming handheld… for now. Increased competition in the space has to have AYN sweating, but they seem more than happy to meet the challenge; they even announced their own Steam Deck competitor, the Loki, just last month. Ultimately, the AYN Odin Pro does what it sets out to do and then some as an excellent, comfortable handheld gaming device that can run classics and current mobile favorites in tandem.