I received a nice surprise a few weeks back - my Arduboy FX finally arrived, a credit card-sized handheld designed to resemble the original Game Boy. It's wafer-thin (a cracker or two thick), sports a 1-bit OLED display (meaning it only produces stark, black-and-white graphics), and can store hundreds of games at once due to its built-in memory (unlike the original model that allowed only one title at a time). Better yet, the machine comes preloaded with over 200 of them! In short, it looks like this:
I recently published a brief podcast reviewing the unit, but here's a excerpt detailing the system's specifics:
"The name, 'Arduboy,' speaks to the philosophy behind its design. The first half—Ardu—comes from Arduino, which is an open-source electronics platform intended to help hobbyists, artists, enthusiasts, and amateurs create interesting tech products without the huge learning curve usually involved with such enterprises. The latter half—Boy—of course refers to Nintendo’s own classic portable system, the original Game Boy. Indeed, the machine, despite being many times smaller than any of Nintendo’s hardware, is clearly an homage to that classic design. Yep, it’s a flat rectangle meant to be held vertically with a d-pad and two buttons arrayed parallel to a small black-and-white screen. If Nintendo itself had come up with something like this, the company would have sold millions just on the novelty value alone.
"But I digress. As Nintendoish as it seems on the surface, the Arduboy is clearly its own animal chasing its own whims and design philosophies. For one, despite the retro pretenses, it's packed with some interesting hardware, most notably a 1-bit OLED matrix display of 126x64 pixels. Yep, it’s a fine screen…but one hamstrung by a severe limitation—it can only spit black-and-white graphics. Even the original Game Boy could do four gray shades, but here we have a measly two! The screen is strangely squat, as well. Think of it being like a Game Boy screen with the top third hacked off, and that’s the real-estate you can expect from the Arduboy. It seems underwhelming, but in many ways it’s the perfect complement to the modest 8-bit hardware powering the unit; the teeny screen at least makes for a machine that truly is wallet-friendly and big on charm."
As noted, the system isn't perfect, but its limitations are part of the fun; the so-called shortcomings force programmers to get creative with the games they make, maximizing the little that's available in terms of power and visibility. And yep, while many of the unit's offerings are forgettable distractions, some are true masterpieces considering the platform's inherent restrictions. My favorite might be Catacombs of the Damned, a fantasy FPS that plays with a buttery fluidity I would have thought impossible before.
Ardynia can be likened to The Legend of Zelda...
And Sirene is a charming horizontal shooter (which I couldn't get a good pic of, hence the title screen shown)...
Along with all the games, the handheld packs some weirdness, including a Fidget Spinner, an LED tester, and even a credit card number saver. The system is full of these curiosities.
It's an eclectic, and eccentric, device to say the least! And it's a bauble worth buying, in my humble opinion (especially for the modest $55.00 asking price). And because it's open-source, anyone can develop for it. Check out Arduboy.com for more info; preorders for the second batch are currently underway. If nothing else, it makes a neat conversation piece!