Running unofficial code on a Nintendo Game Boy has long been a solved problem. However, you still need a way to get that code onto the handheld console. The Squareboi cartridge promises to do just that, as created by [ALXCO-Hardware].
It’s a well-featured cartridge, with up to 4 MB of ROM storage onboard. It also features a ferromagnetic RAM part for savegame storage, which doesn’t need a battery to hang on to your precious data. It’s designed to be compatible with the vast majority of Game Boy and Game Boy Color games, with efforts made to support the most common mapping schemes. It can be built using entirely through-hole components, and is readily programmable via an Arduino.
For those eager to tinker with code on the Game Boy, diving into the Squareboi is a great way to get closer to the bare metal and understand what’s really going on at the low level. Those interested in building their own can get all the relevant details over on Github.
We’ve seen similar hacks before, too, like the cartridge that brought Wikipedia to the humble Nintendo handheld. If you’ve been whipping up your own Nintendo hacks, be sure to drop us a line!
We see lots of great hardware projects here at Hackaday: some are extremely clever, some are beautifully made, and some show off their maker’s extraordinary skills. Others are just plain weird, but still manage to include some or even all of the above categories. Case in point: [kgsws]’s Wireframe Game Boy project. It’s probably the weirdest Game Boy mod we’ve seen so far, but also extremely impressive from a technical point of view.
The basic idea was to take a Game Boy Pocket and remove its outer shell, replacing it with a cage-like structure made from thick copper wire. That sounds kind of reasonable; think of those transparent Game Boys, only without the transparent plastic. [kgsws]’s video (embedded below) shows him bending a few pieces of copper wire to match the Game Boy’s overall shape, then adding mounts for the cartridge socket, the display, the D-pad and the four buttons. After that you’d simply slide in the PCB, insert some batteries and off you go, right?
Well, this wouldn’t do for [kgsws]. What he did instead, was use a hot air desoldering station to remove all chips from the motherboard and proceed to mount them directly inside the wireframe without a PCB. He then used dozens of thin copper wires to hook up the cartridge slot, the CPU, RAM, buttons, and everything else to reconstruct the motherboard’s functionality. We cringed a bit when we saw him brutally cut the display’s flat cable with scissors, and that too was connected to the rest of the system through flying wires, soldered directly onto the screen’s contacts.
The Game Boy Camera was the first digital camera that many of us ever interacted with. At the time it was fairly groundbreaking to take pictures without film, even though the resolution was extremely low by modern standards, and it could only shoot two-bit color. It’s been long enough since its release that it’s starting to become a popular classic with all kinds of hacks and modifications, like this one which adds modern SLR camera lenses which lets it take pictures of the Moon.
The limitations of the camera make for a fairly challenging build. Settings like exposure are automatic on the Game Boy Camera and can’t be changed, and the system only allows the user to change contrast and brightness. But the small sensor size means that astrophotography can be done with a lens that is also much smaller than a photographer would need with a modern DSLR. Once a mount was 3D printed to allow the lenses to be changed and a tripod mount was built, it was time to take some pictures of the moon.
Thanks to the interchangeability of the lenses with this build, the camera can also capture macro images as well. The build went into great detail on how to set all of this up, even going as far as giving tips for how to better 3D print interlocking threads, so it’s well worth a view. And, for other Game Boy Camera builds, take a look at this one which allows the platform to send its pictures over WiFi.
While mobile gaming has largely moved to smartphones these days, the classic Game Boy remains a hugely popular platform for retro enthusiasts, owing in no small part to its enormous library of quality games. The original Game Boy hardware is pretty much bulletproof, but feels a bit outdated today because it lacks modern conveniences like a large, backlit display or a rechargeable battery.
[iketsj] wanted to build a modern take on the Game Boy design and designed what’s in effect a 3D-printed, oversized copy of the classic handheld powered by a modern single-board computer. Most people would have gone for something obvious like a Raspberry Pi running Linux, but not [Ike]: he decided to go for a LattePanda Alpha board and run macOS Monterey on it. That makes this a Hackintosh, and probably one of the last ones as well since Apple is busy migrating all of its products onto its own proprietary CPUs.
The LattePanda also has an Arduino integrated on its board, which is used to read out the Game Boy’s buttons as well as the resistive touch screen. It communicates with the macOS system through a Python script that emulates mouse movements and keypresses. Sadly, the touch function is not working because [Ike] accidentally damaged the touch-sensitive system while trying to slim down the display module. Still, the seven pushbuttons are more than enough when running a Game Boy emulator, and there’s also a USB connector available to connect external peripherals like a keyboard, mouse or monitor.
The popular word game Wordle is both an addictive brain teaser for some and a perpetual social media annoyance for others. Its runaway success has spawned a host of clones, among them one created for the Nintendo Game Boy with a reduced vocabulary. [Alexander Pruss] took on the challenge of improving it by fitting the entire 12972-strong 5-letter-word vocabulary as well as the 2315-word answer list into a 32K cartridge along with the code. The challenge in compression on a platform of such meager resources is to devise an algorithm which does not require more computing power or memory than the device has at its disposal. His solution is both elegant and easy to understand.
Starting by dividing the words into lists by first letter such that he can ignore the letter, he can reduce each word to 20 bits as four 5-bit letters. The clever part comes when he organises the words alphabetically, meaning that the 20-bit numbers representing each word are in numerical order.
Thus instead of storing the full number he could store the difference between it and its predecessor. With a few extra tweaks he was able to get the full list down to an impressive 20186 bytes, but was still faced with not enough space. Turning to the Wordle code he found that a library function call could be switched to an alternative with a much more efficient footprint, resulting in a new ROM with all words in place and ready to play.
The original Game Boy was the greatest selling handheld video game system of all time, only to be surpassed by one of its successors. It still retains the #2 position by a wide margin, but even so, they’re getting along in years now and finding one in perfect working condition might be harder than you think. What’s more likely is you find one that’s missing components, has a malfunctioning screen, or has had its electronics corroded by the battery acid from a decades-old set of AAs.
That latter situation is where [Taylor] found himself and decided on performing a full restoration on this classic. To get started, he removed all of the components from the damaged area so he could see the paths of the traces. After doing some cleaning of the damage and removing the solder mask, he used 30 gauge wire to bridge the damaged parts of the PCB before repopulating all of the parts back to their rightful locations. A few needed to be replaced, but in the end the Game Boy was restored to its former 90s glory.
This build is an excellent example of what can be done with a finely tipped soldering iron while also being a reminder not to leave AA batteries in any devices for extended periods of time. The AA battery was always a weak point for the original Game Boys, so if you decide you want to get rid of batteries of any kind you can build one that does just that.
For the Nintendo aficionados of the 90s, the Super Game Boy was a must-have cartridge for the Super Nintendo which allowed gamers to play Game Boy games on your TV. Not only did it allow four-color dot-matrix gaming on the big screen, but it let you play those favorite Game Boy titles without spending a fortune on AA batteries. While later handhelds like the PSP or even Nintendo Switch are able to output video directly to TVs without issue, the original Game Boy needed processing help from an SNES or, as [Andy West] shows us, it can also get that help from a modern microcontroller.
The extra processing power in this case comes from a Raspberry Pi Pico which is small enough to easily fit inside of a donor NES case and also powerful enough to handle the VGA directly. For video data input, the Pico is connected to the video pins on the Game Boy’s main board through a level shifter. The main board is also connected to a second Pico which handles the controller input from an NES controller. Some fancy conversion needed to be done at this point because although the controller layouts are very similar, they are handles by the respective consoles completely differently.
With all of the technical work largely out of the way, [Andy] was able to put the finishing touches on the build. These included making sure the power buttons, status LEDs, and reset button all functioned, and restoring the NES case complete with some custom “Game Guy” graphics to match the original design of the Game Boy. We commend the use of original Game Boy hardware in this build as well, which even made it possible for [Andy] and his wife to play a head-to-head game of Dr. Mario through a link cable with another Game Boy. If you’re looking for a simpler way of playing on original hardware without burning a hole in your wallet buying AA batteries, take a look at this Game Boy restoration which uses a Lithium battery instead.