The simple yet challenging game of Tetris helped make the original Game Boy a success, but the game was even better when played head-to-head against a friend using a link cable. Finding someone to play Game Boy Tetris with 30 years later isn’t as easy, so a clever hacker has upgraded the handheld with online multiplayer letting players all around the world compete with each other.
Having already wowed us by hacking Nintendo’s new Game & Watch before it was even released, and then getting other retro titles to play on it, Twitter’s ‘stacksmashing’ has recently turned their attention to the original Game Boy — more specifically, expanding its multiplayer capabilities past a physical cable tethering just two consoles.
The idea was spun off from stacksmashing’s experiments with mining Bitcoin on the Game Boy, which required the development of a custom PCB attached to a Raspberry Pi Pico that allowed the classic handheld’s proprietary link port to connect to a standard USB port. But connecting to a modern computer was only half the challenge. With multiplayer Tetris, the Game Boy that initiates the head-to-head match becomes the game server, sending over a list of pre-determined tetrominoes for each player, and keeping track of which player either clears 30 lines first or whose stack first breaches the top of the screen and loses.
To take these matches online, stacksmashing created two custom programs: a local client that a player needs to run on the computer their Game Boy is connected to using the USB adaptor, and a web-based online game server that serves as a virtual substitute for the lead Game Boy — which are both available for download on GitHub. The server sets up the matches, assigns the list of tetrominoes, configures which version of the Tetris theme will be played, keeps track of the game’s progress, and provides custom access codes that remote players can use to join a match.
The approach not only allows two players on either side of the world to play Tetris against each other using original Game Boy hardware, but also a large group of players to compete in a sort of Tetris Battle Royale given how little data has to be shared back and forth. As players fill their screens, they’re eliminated from the game one by one until the last one standing is declared the winner, or the game immediately ends once a player clears 30 lines.
There’s even a Discord channel stacksmashing has set up for those wishing to find other Game Boy Tetris enthusiasts around the world to challenge. But keep in mind that while all the software needed to make this work can be downloaded for free, you’ll still need that $US15 ($19) custom PCB and a Raspberry Pi Pico to make your Game Boy cyberspace compatible.