DIY Handheld Game Consoles


Tags Arduboy

Minnow got a little camera for Christmas and my dad discovered it had some mini games tucked away in a corner of the options menu. Minnow has been highly engaged by these simple games (maze, guess, sokoban, snake). Unfortunately the simple games are not well made, for example Snake takes forever because the screen is too big compared to the snake/fruit sprites.

It reminded me of the LED Matrix toys I made a while back, and I wondered if I could cobble together something similar for them in the future. Not a full-fledged handheld game system, but something sturdy with a small number of similarly basic games. Think Game&Watch rather than Nintendo Switch.

Instead of jumping headlong into some dubious tinker project I decided to realistically consider all options. See, I’m learning. Also, I’m trying NOT to fritter away the rest of my existence on fiddly projects.

Of course, the easiest way to do this would simply be to get an old smartphone and put a few basic game apps on it and make sure calling is disabled (airplane mode). Another easy way is to get one of the many retro emulators now on the market “for kids” (aka manage your expectations gamebros) for $20 or less, though this is only useful to me if the device is hackable so I can downgrade it to a handful of basic games. (Obscure Handhelds is dedicated to such devices.) Yet another option is hacking an existing old console. These options solve the main problems I foresaw working on other types of toys: battery-power and form factor. Making a decent case is not trivial.

Then there the Arduino/Pi DIY methods. These are impressive and offer great flexibility, but they are also time-consuming, expensive, and not necessarily kid-friendly. I won’t lie, such projects are really an excuse for me to tinker rather than a good way to come up with a toy for my kid to play with. However, in the spirit of my earlier attempts at toys I considered putting some of my microprocessors to the task. I got the idea for a sort of 3D breakout where the ball bounces off the edges of the LED matrix and you can control the angle by how you tilt the unit. Maybe the goal is to break all the bricks as quickly as possible and clear the screen. Might save that idea for a rainy week.

I really like Arduboy and Makerbuino, that is the type of device I’m looking for. I am intrigued by the idea of putting together an Arduboy clone, I don’t have an Ardunio Micro and SPI OLED but I do have a Nano and an I2C. I will keep an eye out at the thrift store for old electronic games with cases that can be repurposed, though I’m sure I haven’t seen any before.