RetroPies, powered by the cheap minicomputer, the Raspberry Pi, have taken off hugely in the last few years as a great solution for emulation. While most will prefer using a Pi 3 Model B inside nothing but a pre-made case, since it’s easy to plug straight into a TV and can emulate up to the sixth generation with (not many) problems, there’s a growing maker community out there who instead build dedicated handhelds.
While most prefer to 3D print their own cases, others like to utilise whatever is pre-existing. It’s not totally unheard off to use something like the original Game Boy – just check out this Google Image search for many examples – but the heat has always been on to create something original.
Giles Burgess (online handle, ‘Kite’) recently posted on the sudumod forums showing off his new RetroPie project, which was lovingly stuffed into a Dreamcast VMU. The VMU, for those not in the know, was the memory card for the Sega Dreamcast. It was a tad special, though, as it included nine buttons (including a directional pad) and a basic 48×32 dot LCD screen that was utilised for data management, a clock/calendar program as well as rudimentary games that were associated with whatever you happened to be playing on your DC at the time. For example, Sonic Adventure includes a mini game where you care for Chao’s found in-game.
Luckily, Kite’s mod does not use the basic screen or any of the other original hardware of the VMU, instead opting for a Raspberry Pi Zero (the much smaller, less powerful sibling to the popular Pi3), a 128×128 SPI LCD and a 850mAh rechargeable battery (which offers about 4 hours of gameplay). The full spec list can be found in his original forum post, but in order to fit the Zero the IO ports had to be desoldered and the capacitors replaced for smaller variants. The inside of the VMU’s case had to be trimmed down with a knife, also. In fitting with the original design of the VMU, the charging port as well as the on/off switch is found under the cap of the VMU.
While you won’t be able to play F-Zero GX on the Pi Zero, the small form factor is perfect for GBC games and anything as technically basic (here’s a video of Kite playing Sonic 3D Blast, for example). There’s quite a small screen and only a few buttons to work with, after all.
Better yet, Kite actually plans on selling the VMU-Boy. So far, there is a predicted release date of early 2018, and you can register your interest through this Google Form. There is no pricing as of yet, but it’s promised to be cheap and there will also be the option of a console with a smaller battery (450mAh to be exact, which will mean that the Pi will not have to be slimmed down).
Mods come and go, but the fact that this will be available to purchase (and uses true to form retro hardware) make it stand out indeed. Watch this space for further pricing and release date information.