There have been a few handheld gaming machines that really push the limits of how small a console can get, but the creator of the original, credit card-sized Arduboy is back with an even smaller version that still looks very much playable. The device is meant to encourage gamers to dabble in hardware hacking to expand its capabilities.
Back in 2014, Kevin Bates wowed us with a custom 1.6-millimeter thick electronic business card, created by stripping down an Arduino board, that could actually be used to play a simple Tetris clone. It was designed to cleverly show off Bates’ hardware hacking skills and land him a job, but it instead led Bates down a different path when he turned his custom creation into the Arduboy: an open source, credit-card thin, 8-bit handheld for aspiring game developers or retro gaming enthusiasts.
The original Arduboy was eventually followed up by a version called the Arduboy FX, featuring more on-board storage capable of storing over 200 Arduboy games (with just a monochromatic pixelated screen; the games are very tiny), but Bates is back again with a complete redesign of the Arduboy hardware that’s now more than half the size of the original.
The new Arduboy Mini is completely backwards compatible with the original, but includes even more storage than the Arduboy FX, and out of the box it comes pre-installed with over 300 Arduboy titles—or more or less every game created for the system to date. Where the Arduboy Mini differs from the original is that it’s been boiled down to its bare necessities. It’s a naked circuit board with a 128x64-pixel OLED screen, six buttons, and a USB-C port attached.
If you’re wondering where the speaker and rechargeable battery are hidden on the Arduboy Mini, you won’t find them, because out of the box, it doesn’t have either. You’ll need to plug the little handheld into a USB-C cable connected to a power source to play it, and while that may seem like an inconvenience, it’s actually part of the whole reason the Arduboy Mini was created.
Besides being a gaming system, the original Arduboy was a tool that encouraged users to learn to program through an abundance of resources and a thriving developer community on the Arduboy website. The Arduboy Mini strives to be a device that also encourages users to dabble in hardware hacking, and when you flip it over, you’ll find pre-existing contacts for attaching speakers and a battery, with the circuitry needed for recharging a battery through the USB-C port already baked right in.
Bates is positioning the Arduboy Mini as a learning tool for the classroom first and foremost, but at launch it’s being made available through a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign that’s open to anyone who wants to pledge $29 for the regular version, or $34 for the Graffiti Edition, with delivery expected as early as June of next year. A 10-pack is also being made available for schools, with a slightly discounted pledge of $240.
There’s always a risk with backing any crowdfunded product, particularly electronics, given the ongoing supply chain issues around various components. But Bates successfully delivered the original Arduboy through Kickstarter, and is familiar with the challenges of bringing these devices to consumers. So while there’s not as much risk to backing the new Arduboy Mini, with crowdfunded products, it’s always a ‘buyer beware’ situation.