YouTuber ‘Shank Mods’ is a master at turning consoles into handheld portables by trimming down and miniaturizing their original electronics. They’ve gone as far as squeezing a functional Nintendo Wii into an Altoids tin, but their latest creation turns the clunky Nintendo Virtual Boy into a slick handheld that preserves its iconic (or notorious) black and red screen while offering other colours too.
Released back in 1995 to abysmal sales and poor reviews, the Nintendo Virtual Boy suffered from budget cuts during its development resulting in Nintendo’s biggest failure that everyone likes to dump on. But for those who managed to snag one and a pile of games on clearance (like yours truly) it provided a genuinely enjoyable, if somewhat cumbersome, 3D gaming experience before affordable(ish) virtual reality hardware was a thing. Despite Nintendo’s claims, however, the Virtual Boy was not really a portable console, requiring a table and chair to properly play it. So Shank Mods set out to fix that.
Instead of just throwing some Virtual Boy game roms onto a handheld emulator and calling it a day, Shank Mods took the long route to create what they’ve dubbed the ‘Real Boy,’ starting with an original Virtual Boy motherboard from a damaged unit. Using a custom chip that makes the VB’s native hardware output a genuine VGA video signal (the console didn’t have screens, but strips of flashing red LEDs that scanned back and forth to create images) the Real Boy features a generous 4.3-inch, 16:9 LCD display with a resolution of 800×480 pixels that makes Virtual Boy games look better than they ever have.
As you’ve probably guessed, the Real Boy sacrifices the Virtual Boy’s hallmark feature, 3D gaming, for a strictly 2D experience. That’s definitely disappointing. But the custom hardware that connects the console’s motherboard to the LCD display introduces a new feature the original VB was severely lacking: the ability to switch the colour of the games. (A feature left out of the original simply because red LEDs were the cheapest at the time.)
The completed Real Boy handheld features custom PCBs inside to keep wiring manageable, a 3D-printed housing reminiscent of the design of Nintendo’s ill-fated console, glowing buttons, and a rechargeable battery. It even carries over the original’s cartridge slot making it compatible with the entire Virtual Boy library — which is limited at best. As lovely as the final results are it’s a build that mostly asks, “why?,” but for modders like Shank Mods it’s more about seeing if the idea is even possible than producing a device that gamers would actually want to play.