Build Your Own Game Boy-Style Handheld Console

Sonocotta's open source Play ESP DIY Kit is a portable handheld console similar to a Game Boy, but with a lot more flexibility.

Cameron Coward
4 months agoGaming / Retro Tech

Hardcore console and PC gamers may be the most vocal, but the truth is that mobile gamers put them to shame. Your mom, her friends, and everyone else playing games like Candy Crush collectively provide 77.7% of total gaming industry revenue, according to Zippia's Jack Flynn. The reason for the popularity of mobile gaming is obvious: people like quick, addictive games that they can play on the go with the hardware they already own. But if you're willing to carry an additional gadget, you can build your own Game Boy-style handheld console to take advantage of the entire NES library.

Sonocotta's open source Play ESP DIY Kit is a portable handheld console similar to a Game Boy, but with a lot more flexibility. The standard firmware utilizes the Nofrendo NES emulator, so users can play any game released for the NES with a ROM that they can acquire. The device has one joystick that replicates the NES controller's directional pad, as well as tactile push buttons for A, B, Start, and Select.

But this device can run games from other consoles (including the original Game Boy and Game Boy Color), because its brain is an ESP32 development board. Developers have ported many different emulators to run on the relatively powerful ESP32, so there are a lot of different options.

That development board needs to be in the Wemos S2 Mini / S3 Mini form factor, but can use an ESP32-C3, ESP32-S2, or ESP32-S3 microcontroller. The user solders their development board onto a custom PCB designed by Sonocotta with some very cool arcade-themed artwork. The user will also need to solder the joystick, buttons, battery holder, speaker, and display header. That display is an ST7789-based 1.3" TFT IPS screen with a resolution of 240×240 pixels.

It is currently out of stock, but Sonocotta offers the PCB through their Tindie store.

Sonocotta also has a version in development that drops into the shell of a Game Boy Advance. That will be a fantastic upgrade, because the current version does not come with an enclosure. And because this is an open source project, you can have your own PCB fabricated instead of purchasing one from the Tindie store if you prefer.

Cameron Coward
Writer for Hackster News. Proud husband and dog dad. Maker and serial hobbyist. Check out my YouTube channel: Serial Hobbyism
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