The phone controller looks cool, but I don't have a phone and don't want Wi-Fi connectivity for this solution.
There are basically 2-3 viable options, and compromises with each of them. (And the budget is roughly $30-40. I saw a few consoles for $15, but most of those wouldn't let you add games and had $7-8 shipping.
The Gameboy Color is probably not an option for me. I thought the El Cheapo carts were sold out - most of them are, but it's still $53 and a SD card and re-chargeable batteries for a non-backlit system that really only plays 1942, Tetris, and Pac-Man (of the games I would want to play on it).
The Nintendo DS is a bit of an option, and I didn't look into it that much. I can find used ones in working condition around $20 and you showed me the cart for around $20. I'm not saying there aren't games I would like for the DS, but I play mostly old arcade and vertical shooters, and I think the DS has mostly platform scrollers (Donkey Kong Country, Super Mario). Those are good games, but I suck at them so they are boring.
The Chinese consoles play NES well, and if I can live with the D-pad and possible battery issues, there are a ton of games I like for it. Also, it doesn't need a cart, and I can load the games into internal memory or a TF card. Also, I like the compactness of the PSP format without a hinged screen.
I didn't go through a full list, but there are a lot of NES games that I would like to play in spare time: Tetris, Tiger-Heli, Flying Shark, Jackal, 1942, 1943, Twin Cobra, Pac-Man, Ms. Pac Man, Gyruss, Galaga, Galaxian, Space Invaders, Millipede, Arkanoid, Arkanoid II, Ikari Warriors (
), Joust, Q-bert.
Most of the Chinese consoles should support these and I can be happy with that list.
I isn't perfect, there are some games I would like that aren't supported: 1941, Centipede, Tempest, Star Castle, BatteZone, Frogger, Star Wars (Vector), Outrun, etc. These might be supported by other consoles or the Chinese console might support them under MAME.
Right now, I'm leaning toward getting one of the Chinese consoles and trying it out, but still debating which to get. If it doesn't work out, I'll let you know and you can say I told you so, If it does I'll let you know that too. Either way, as you said, I'm out less than the cost of a dinner out.
As I said, I'm still researching and getting deep into the weeds, but the devices I am considering (least to most likely):
- PAP K III - $40 - https://www.aliexpress.com/store/product/PAP-KIII-4-3-16-9-TFT-Screen-4GB-Handheld-mp5-Player-mp4-Player-Support-Camera/417677_1033821468.html
- I can't find these on E-bay. AliExpress says it is 8-years old, but I'm not sure if that is when it was introduced on how old the ones they have in stock are. I'm considering it b/c it is the only one I can find that officially says it supports MAME .zip game files, although it is unclear whether it means the entire MAME set or just CPS1/CPS2 (i.e. is it running a clone of MAME or FBA). The case looks similar to the $30 ones I am considering, but Ö Software says Game Prince and looks a bit cheesy, but also looks like you might be able to remove some of the pre-installed games if you want to.
- PAP Gameta - $40 - http://www.ebay.com/itm/64Bit-4-1inch-PAP-Gameta-II-4G-Game-Consoles-2-4G-Wireless-Handheld-Video-Games-/112192231771?var=&hash=item1a1f2d995b:m:mFa2wBQ0z0vRdOZ2w13WhFA
- Probably the latest version of the above, uses the same Game Prince OS. Adds a second analog joystick, but I don't think ANY of these games take advantage of that.
- $30 - Goes by a lot of different names on E-bay - A4350, 10000 games, X6, Gameplayer, etc. Basically the same as the video I posted earlier. Some have the volume buttons on the front and some have them on the bottom.