What Rodrigo Alfonso lacks in shooting well-lit videos, they make up for with their impressive hardware hacking skills. Through the use of a custom cartridge, this unmodified, 20-year-old Game Boy Advance can actually run 3D PlayStation games at full speed, bringing the 16-bit handheld into the 32-bit era.
Of all the consoles ever released, none have been as aggressively hacked as the Game Boy Advance. You can easily find parts to upgrade everything from the GBA’s screen, to its speakers, battery, and even the entire housing, allowing it to be customized with any design and color scheme you could want. The same goes for its games. Don’t want to carry around an entire stack of cartridges? Multi-carts with microSD storage for hundreds of games let you carry your entire collection at once, and that’s the approach Alfonso has taken here.
You can upgrade the GBA as much as you want, but assuming you’re still using the stock motherboard Nintendo created, it will never be powerful enough to play the same 3D games the original PlayStation could. So Alfonso’s solution was to outsource all of the game processing and rendering to a custom cartridge housing a Raspberry Pi 3 running a PlayStation emulator.
Even with a 3D-printed housing and some considerable refinement since revealing the idea a few months ago, Alfonso’s custom emulation cartridge is still bulky as far as GBA carts go, but it cleverly leverages the GBA itself as an all-in-one portable display and controller. One of the best features of the GBA was that it allowed two handhelds to be connected for multiplayer gameplay even if only one system had the actual game cartridge. Hackers have long since reverse-engineered how this multiboot feature worked, and Alfonso uses it to send a 240×160 (the limited resolution of the GBA’s screen) video stream through the Game Boy Advance’s link port.
Alfonso has also shared a video on how the whole thing was built, and the custom code needed to run on the GBA itself is available for download on their GitHub page. And while the custom cartridge works on an unmodified Game Boy Advance, the GBA featured in these videos has two upgrades: a backlit LCD screen as well as some extra hardware that actually overclocks the handheld’s CPU to increase the data rate through the link port, improving the streamed frame rate and playability of the setup.