Last year Hasbro revealed it was resurrecting Tiger Electronics’ handheld video games for those nostalgic for a gaming experience that was even more basic than the Game Boy. It scratched a nostalgic itch, but we would have preferred to see Hasbro upgrade the handhelds with more modern capabilities, like Mark Ghirardi of Marky Pi Gaming has done with their TigerPi mods.
Tiger Electronics’ handhelds were by no means technological marvels, but for around $US20 ($27) each, which was still relatively cheap in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, they were an affordable alternative to the Game Boy. Games ran on monochromatic segmented LCD screens that were played using basic controls. Could they hold a candle to other portables like the Game Boy or Game Gear? No. Were they better than nothing when as a kid you found yourself stuck at a boring wedding all day? Absolutely. But 30 years later, when even your watch is a surprisingly capable gaming device, the electronics powering the Tiger handhelds feel hopelessly outdated, even if the devices themselves rekindle fond memories of playing them as a kid.
Had Hasbro taken the approach Nintendo did with its Game & Watch revival, packing several games into a modern handheld that emulated the old-school LCD screen tech, we would have been screaming at the toymaker to shut up and take our money. Unfortunately, the new Tiger handhelds aren’t much different than the originals, so Ghirardi took things into their own hands.
Ghirardi already has a long history of modding handheld consoles, and through their website, Marky Pi Gaming, you can buy everything from Sega Dreamcast VMUs upgraded to full on emulators, to Game Boy-inspired devices that can play hundreds of games from several classic systems. Their latest creation, shared through their Instagram account, brings similar modifications to Tiger handhelds. The original electronics and screens of the toys are gutted and replaced with a compact Raspberry Pi Zero W paired with a 2.6-inch full colour LCD display, USB-C charging, and software emulation for playing everything from old Atari games right up to some PlayStation one titles.
The Tiger handhelds’ original controls still work, but to make the devices compatible with games designed for newer consoles with more complex controllers, Ghirardi also added additional buttons to the back that can be custom mapped through the emulation software. It’s not the optimal way to enjoy some of your favourite SNES/Genesis/PS1 titles, and don’t expect to set any speedrunning records with this hardware, but for nostalgia’s sake alone we desperately want to add one of these to our retro gaming collections. Hopefully they’ll one day show up in the Marky Pi Gaming online store.