Honor View20 Retro Gaming Review: Testing the Kirin 980 against GameCube, Wii, PSP, and Dreamcast games

Honor View20 Retro Gaming Review: Testing the Kirin 980 against GameCube, Wii, PSP, and Dreamcast games

Part 1 of our Honor View20 gaming review focused on the View20’s gaming performance in a dozen top Android games on the Play Store. As expected, the Honor View20 handled those games—even on their highest graphical settings—like a champ. Honor’s View20 is a flagship smartphone with flagship hardware, so that’s to be expected. Mobile game developers can’t make games that are only playable on a handful of devices or they would run out of business. Although some of the games we tested did push the Honor View20’s Kirin 980 a bit, none of them really made the smartphone slow to a crawl. That’s why we’re back to test how well the Honor View20 handles console emulation.

Emulating consoles and handhelds like the Super Nintendo, Nintendo 64, Nintendo DS, or PlayStation 1 is something that most Android smartphones can handle with ease. The Sega Dreamcast and Sony PlayStation Portable require a bit more power, but most Android devices should have no trouble with the default emulation settings for the most popular Dreamcast and PSP emulators. The consoles that the majority of Android devices struggle with are the Nintendo GameCube and Nintendo Wii. Sadly, only the highest-end Android devices will have a decent experience with GameCube and Wii emulation. The Kirin 980 certainly qualifies as high-end, but is it powerful enough to suit your retro gaming needs? We tested a multitude of Dreamcast, PSP, GameCube, and Wii games on the Honor View20 to find out.

Category Specification
Design In-screen camera (display hole), V shape color edge, Nanotexture with aurora effect
Display 6.4-inch 19.25:9 IPS LCD; 2310×1080 (398ppi), 4.5mm display hole
91.82% screen-to-body ratio
Rear Cameras 48MP Sony IMX586, f/1.8 lens, 1/2″ CMOS size, 0.8µm, Quad-Bayer pixel binning, 78-degree angle
3D Time-of-Flight (TOF) sensor
LED flash
Video Recording: [email protected], [email protected]
Slow Motion: [email protected]
Front Camera 25MP, f/2.0, 27mm
Video Recording: [email protected]
Mobile Platform CPU: 7nm HiSilicon Kirin 980 (2x ARM Cortex-A76 @ 2.6GHz, 2x ARM Cortex-A76 @ 1.92 GHz, 4x ARM Cortex-A55 @1.8 GHz)
GPU: Mali-G76 MP10 (1o core, 720MHz)
RAM 6/8GB LPDDR4X @ 2133MHz
Storage 128/256GB
Ports USB Type-C (3.1), 3.5mm headphone jack
Connectivity Dual SIM, Dual 4G VoLTE, 1.4Gbps Cat. 21 LTE, Bluetooth 5.0, Dual-band Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, A-GPS/GLONASS, NFC
Link Turbo, IR blaster
Security Rear-mounted fingerprint-scanner
Battery 4,000mAh, 4.5V/5A fast charging (22W Super Charge 1.0)
Software Honor Magic UI 2.0.1 (Android 9 Pie)

Disclaimer: Honor sent me a View20 for review. Honor is also a sponsor of XDA, however Honor did not have any say in the content of this article.

The reason we chose to test GameCube and Wii games is obvious. Emulating those two consoles is something that even devices with the latest Snapdragon 855 may struggle with. In our benchmarks comparing the Snapdragon 855 with the Kirin 980, the Snapdragon 855 and Kirin 980 are fairly similar in CPU performance but the Snapdragon 855 trounces the Kirin 980 in raw GPU performance. For those of you considering whether you should buy a Huawei or Honor device with the Kirin 980 or another flagship with the Snapdragon 855, we wanted to show you what kind of performance you might get if you choose the Kirin 980 device.

As for why we chose to test PSP games, it’s because we wanted to see how much we could increase the graphical quality without degrading performance. Emulation speed is largely CPU dependent unless you want to uncap the FPS or increase the internal resolution of the console or mess with textures and shaders. Fortunately, PPSSPP (our PSP emulator of choice) has a lot of settings to toy with, so we were able to find a sweet spot that gives you much better graphics than the original PSP hardware without having to deal with frame rate drops. We were also just curious how well the device handles Dreamcast emulation so we added 5 Dreamcast games to our testing, though sadly Reicast offers few options to tune its performance.

If you haven’t already, I recommend you read part 1 of our Honor View20 gaming review. There we talk about the gaming experience with the punch hole display, the gaming performance in 12 of the most graphically demanding Android games, our experience with the View20’s memory management and storage speed, and our experience with the View20’s battery life. The memory management, storage speed, and battery life are all incredibly important factors to consider when looking for a smartphone to fulfill your mobile gaming needs, but we won’t be retreading old ground in this article so do check that article out if you’re interested in hearing our thoughts on those topics.

Finally, consider this article to be a general test of the Kirin 980’s emulation performance. Other Honor and Huawei devices like the Honor Magic 2 and Huawei Mate 20 Pro should post results that are pretty close to what we got below. I have the Honor Magic 2 and Huawei Mate 20 X and have played some of the games I tested for this review on both devices. I can confirm that the Honor View20’s results are about what you should expect for the other Kirin 980 devices.

Before we move on to showing you our results with console emulators, we have to follow-up on an incorrect claim we made in the last article.


MagicUI/EMUI‘s Gaming Mode

In part 1 of our gaming review, we criticized MagicUI/EMUI for not having a dedicated gaming mode feature. We have to apologize because the software does offer a gaming mode. In our defense, it’s hard to find. The dedicated gaming mode is called “AppAssistant” and is located in Settings > Apps. You can also add a shortcut to it on the launcher.

AppAssistant may not be as advanced as Samsung’s Game Tuner, but it gets the job done. You can add your games to AppAssistant for quickly launching them. You can enable “game acceleration” which turns on performance mode. You can turn on “uninterrupted gaming” which blocks onscreen notifications except for calls, alarms, and low battery warnings from showing. AppAssistant also helps you manage any Bluetooth gaming peripherals you might have. For example, I can manage the key mapping of my Betop G1 game controller. The settings have only two options. One lets you toggle the knuckle gestures off when gaming and the other toggles whether to launch AppAssistant when one of your gaming peripherals connects to your device.

You can’t control the screen resolution on a per-game basis even though MagicUI/EMUI has a “smart resolution” option to automatically switch between FHD+ and HD+. You also can’t control the per-game frame rate or CPU clock speed like Razer Game Booster on the Razer Phone. Despite the lack of features, the presence of a dedicated gaming mode app will solve most of your frustrations when gaming.


Retro Gaming (Emulation) on the Honor View20

Methodology

Before we dive in, let me explain a few things about how I conducted this review:

  • For the Dreamcast, GameCube, and Wii, I stuck to the default emulation settings.
  • For the PSP, I changed options to increase the graphical quality as much as I could. At the same time, I did not enable any option to improve performance. It’s possible to unlock the FPS for some PSP games by using a cheat code, but I chose not to because doing so can mess with some games’ physics engines. Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker is one such example.
  • Because Android still doesn’t allow you to record the internal audio, I had to record the sound from the microphone output. I used MagicUI/EMUI’s built-in screen recorder.
  • I used GameBench to collect data on most of the GameCube and Wii titles that I tested, except for New Super Mario Bros. Wii and Super Paper Mario which I instead chose to record for demonstration purposes. I left the device plugged in to the PC for most sessions because I had issues getting GameBench to work untethered (likely related to EMUI’s aggressive background app management.) I didn’t use GameBench for the Dreamcast or PSP titles because the data just isn’t interesting.
  • I had trouble getting the DualShock 4 controller to connect over Bluetooth. Thankfully, Android Pie has the proper controller mapping for the DualShock 4, so I was able to plug-in the controller and map my inputs.
  • Lastly, I wasn’t taking any of these games seriously, so please excuse the terrible gameplay in some of the recordings. I skipped the tutorials and introduction dialog in all the games wherever possible, but because I had forgotten some of the controls for games I had previously played I spent a little longer than I should have in some areas.

Dreamcast Emulation

Although it was short-lived, Sega’s Dreamcast boasted a healthy selection of games that are still looked upon favorably to this day. Classics like Crazy Taxi and Jet Set Radio were unique, stylish, and addictive. Shenmue was so far ahead of the curve with its open world environment. Sonic Adventure and Resident Evil – Code: Veronica on the Dreamcast were both well-made continuations of two iconic game franchises, though gamers would later be able to enjoy them on the Nintendo GameCube and PlayStation 2 respectively. I chose these 5 games because of their immense popularity; if you’re going to relive your memories by emulating the Dreamcast, there’s a good chance you’ll start with one of these games.

The best Dreamcast emulator on Android is Reicast. It’s simple to use though, sadly, it lacks a lot of the options you’ll find in emulators for other consoles. You can’t increase the internal resolution, for example, so you’ll be stuck playing games at the maximum 480p resolution. The games that I picked all look great anyway, but it would be nice to increase the resolution since I believe the Honor View20 and Kirin 980 can handle it.

Reicast - Dreamcast emulator
Reicast - Dreamcast emulator

Games:

  • Crazy Taxi
  • Jet Set Radio
  • Resident Evil – Code: Veronica
  • Shenmue
  • Sonic Adventure

Here’s a playlist of 5 screen recordings showing off Dreamcast emulation on the Honor View20. There are almost no slowdowns at any point during gameplay. (Reicast’s built-in FPS counter was broken for most of the games, but you can clearly see that the games run at their target FPS basically all the time.) The audio is nearly perfect. There are a few issues with shadows in Shenmue, but that’s about it.

PlayStation Portable Emulation

The Sony PlayStation Portable, or PSP, may not have sold as well as the Nintendo DS, but it’s still in the top 10 best-selling game consoles of all time. Sony’s decision to use proprietary memory cards in the PSP angered many hardcore gamers, but those gamers were eventually won over by the incredibly diverse PSP modding scene. The PSP was arguably the best handheld of its time simply because it could be used as a portable emulator for other consoles while also having a great library of exclusives. If you were a fan of some of the best PlayStation game franchises, then you had to own a PSP because a lot of sequels and spin-offs were developed for this handheld.

Games like Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep and Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker were crucial additions to their respective series, while other games like Persona 3: Portable and Star Wars Battlefront: Renegade Squadron gave you a taste what you already enjoyed on your home console. One of my favorite franchises, Valkyria Chronicles, had two sequels released on the PSP, though the third title in the series never made its way to the west. Fortunately, there’s a really well-made fan translation patch out there for the third title. I played these 5 PSP games on the Honor View20 because they’re all games I remember fondly and ones that could do with a face lift in PPSSPP. PSP games ran at 480×272 on the original hardware, and thus would look terrible on the Honor View20’s 1080p LCD if played at the original settings. Fortunately, PPSSPP lets you bump up the rendering resolution, among other settings, to massively improve the graphical quality.

PPSSPP - PSP emulator
PPSSPP - PSP emulator
Developer: Henrik Rydgård
Price: Free

Settings:

  • Backend: Vulkan
  • Mode: Buffered rendering
  • Frameskipping: Off
  • Postprocessing shader: FXAA Antialiasing*
  • Rendering resolution: 5x PSP
  • Upscale level: 3x
  • Anisotropic filtering: 16x

*Changing the postprocessing shader can introduce stuttering, so I left it at the default setting.

Games:

  • Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep
  • Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker
  • Persona 3: Portable
  • Star Wars Battlefront: Renegade Squadron
  • Valkyria Chronicles 3 (with English fan translation patch)

Here’s another playlist, this time showing off PSP gameplay on the Honor View20. As you can see, the Kirin 980 has no difficulty handling PSP emulation, even when bumping up PPSSPP settings to improve the graphics.

Nintendo GameCube and Nintendo Wii Emulation

My personal favorite out of the four sixth-generation video game consoles is the Nintendo GameCube. Nintendo knocked it out of the park with their collection of first-party titles. Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door is one of the best RPGs of all time, and is on many people’s top 10 games list. Resident Evil 4 redefined third-person survival horror, though its successors failed to live up to its hype until the new Resident Evil 2 remake came along. Super Mario Sunshine’s platforming gimmick might not be as good as Super Mario Odyssey‘s Cappy, but I still think F.L.U.D.D helped make the game one of the best 3D Mario platformers. The two Legend of Zelda games that came out on the GameCube couldn’t be any more different in style and tone, but both were still popular enough to be remastered in HD for the Wii U.

The Nintendo Wii can be credited for bringing gaming to new demographics, but it still had a great selection of titles for long-time gaming fans. One of my favorite video game franchises, Fire Emblem, saw the release of (arguably) its best title on the platform. Mario Kart Wii is the first with real online multiplayer, and I had a lot of fun racing other players as Funky Kong. New Super Mario Bros. Wii re-imagined the classic side-scrolling platform for those who never had the chance to play the original. Super Paper Mario experimented with non-turn based combat, upsetting fans of the original two titles, but it was a fun experience for those who approached the series for the first time.

Dolphin Emulator
Dolphin Emulator
Developer: Dolphin Emulator
Price: Free

Games*:

*For titles with clickable links, the link takes you to the GameBench session I recorded.

The following gameplay performance data was recorded using GameBench, an excellent service that helps you analyze gaming performance on Android and iOS. GameBench has desktop clients and mobile clients. We used a mix of the Android mobile client and the desktop client for our review.

Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door

Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door should be fully playable just based on my experience. I rarely met lag when moving about outside of battle, and rarely did I experience any lag during battle. Some effects like entering a pipe to load a new area will lag a bit, but it shouldn’t impede your gameplay. There weren’t any graphical issues with the X-Nauts in the opening scene. I didn’t try Chapter 2 with the Punies in the Great Tree, though I don’t think it should be too much of a problem.

Resident Evil 4

Resident Evil 4 is almost playable. Lag can really impact your gameplay experience here, and the Honor View20 certainly does lag a bit in Resident Evil 4. I think with a newer or experimental build of Dolphin (there’s a few recommended ones on /r/EmulationonAndroid) and with some settings tweaks (frame skips, etc.), you can probably get Resident Evil 4 running at acceptable speeds to fully complete the game. I played the game until the church bell rang in the village, signaling the end of the first major enemy encounter.

Super Mario Sunshine

I was hopeful that Super Mario Sunshine would be playable at default settings, but sadly it’s not. I recorded two sessions on the Honor View20 to demonstrate the performance. The first session was at the Delfino Airstrip in the beginning while the second was at Delfino Plaza and in the first level of Bianco Hills. The FPS fluctuated way too much for a 3D platformer. You’ll probably need to tweak a lot of settings to make Super Mario Sunshine playable on Kirin 980 devices.

The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker

Fortunately, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker is another story. The game ran really well during my 17 minute gaming session which started at the beginning and ended with Link’s sister being kidnapped by the Helmaroc King. There was some minor slowdown in the forest with the lighting effects, but I think the entire game should be playable.

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess

Twilight Princess isn’t playable, and I don’t think there’s any way to salvage it. Walking through Ordon Village was a chore, and I imagine that Hyrule Field would be even worse.

Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn

A turn-based RPG like Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn is perfect for when you’re on-the-go. I completed the first 3 prologue chapters in Part 1 without any issues on the Honor View20. Having beaten Radiant Dawn twice, I think beating it a third time should be doable on a Kirin 980 device.

Mario Kart Wii

Emulating Mario Kart Wii on Android is strange. It’s playable on some maps, but lags too much on others. With frame skipping and other tweaks, I bet you can make this game fully playable. Even so, there’s an odd graphical glitch where a black box covers up part of the screen. This issue also happened on Adam’s Mi 9, so I don’t think it’s a Kirin-specific bug. Perhaps a future update to the Dolphin Emulator will fix the issue.

New Super Mario Bros. Wii and Super Paper Mario

I didn’t record GameBench sessions for these two titles, but instead recorded brief gameplay sessions because I thought it might be boring to have so many GameBench screenshots back-to-back. I haven’t played through Super Paper Mario in the past, but it seems to me that it should be fully playable on the Honor View20. There are some noticeable lag spikes with certain effects, but the game runs at 60FPS for the most part. New Super Mario Bros. Wii failed to run at the 60FPS mark for most of the session, but it oddly still felt playable. That’s possibly because the side-scrolling platformer is pretty forgiving in the earlier levels, though. In any case, I think with some settings tweaks, you can improve the performance to the point where it’ll be an enjoyable experience.

I originally planned on testing Star Wars Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader, but it’s a stuttering mess (it’s no better on the Xiaomi Mi 9 with the Snapdragon 855) so I left it out because it’s unplayable.


Conclusion – The Honor View20 (And Other Kirin 980 Phones) Is Great For Emulation

I hope this article shows that you can have a great retro gaming experience on the Honor View20 and other smartphones powered by the HiSilicon Kirin 980. The SoC can easily handle emulating games from the Nintendo 64, PlayStation 1, Nintendo DS, and Super Nintendo, but that was never really in doubt. If you want to play games that are more recent, then the Kirin 980 still has no problems emulating the Dreamcast or PlayStation Portable, though it struggles with a few titles from the Nintendo GameCube and Wii. You’ll have to be selective about what games you want to play from the GameCube or Wii, but you may be surprised by how well the Honor View20 and other Kirin 980 devices handle many of their games.

Before I started testing these games for my review, I never really saw my smartphone as a retro gaming machine. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always known it was possible and I was well aware of the many open source emulators on GitHub and Google Play. It’s just that I’ve never had the desire to use my smartphone for emulation. Revisiting the PSP games on a screen that’s substantially better than my old PSP and with the potential for better graphics gave me the itch to replay some of these games. I own a PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch, but my smartphone is much more convenient to just pick up and resume a gaming session for a few minutes. If you aren’t really feeling any of the mobile games on Google Play, you should try picking up an emulator to start playing some of the really high-quality games you might have missed out on. And if you’re looking for a new smartphone to power through your backlog of retro games, you won’t be disappointed by the performance of the Honor View20 or any other Kirin 980 device.


Honor View20 Pricing and Availability

If you’re interested in the Honor View20, read our initial hands-on, video review, and in-depth camera quality test. You can buy the View20 from HiHonor.com, which should automatically redirect to your region. The Honor View20 is on sale in Europe, China, India, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, the United Arab Emirates, and Malaysia. The smartphone is available in Sapphire Blue, Midnight Black, Phantom Blue, or Phantom Red. The Sapphire Blue and Midnight Black colors come with 6GB RAM and 128GB storage whereas the Phantom Blue and Phantom Red colors come with 8GB RAM and 256GB storage. The prices of the Sapphire Blue and Midnight Black are €569/£499/₹37,999 while the Phantom Blue and Phantom Red cost €649/£579/₹45,999.

Follow the XDA forums for the Honor View20 where you can discuss the best tips, tricks, mods, accessories, and more for the device.

Honor View20 Forums

Note: Huawei has stopped providing official bootloader unlock codes for its devices. Therefore, the bootloader of the Honor View20 can’t be unlocked, which means that users cannot root or install custom ROMs.

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