Author: Adrianna Nine ExtremeTechExtremeTech
If finding a way to play PlayStation 1 games on a Gameboy Advance was one of your 2021 resolutions, you’re in luck. A modder by the name of Rodrigo Alfonso has hacked a cartridge for the 20-year-old handheld, allowing them to play 3D games like Crash Bandicoot and Spyro: Year of the Dragon on a console that was never made to do so.
Alfonso hacked the Gameboy Advance by moving its game processing and rendering to a custom cartridge, which contained a Raspberry Pi 3 with a PlayStation emulator. The Raspberry Pi allows Alfonso to stream any RetroPie-compatible game to the Gameboy Advance through the device’s link port.
Alfonso is limited to streaming very low-res graphics—240×160—but that’s kind of the point. Depending on how Alfonso feels about framerate when they run a game, they can elect to stream at 240×160 or 240×80 and enjoy the retro vibe intense scanlines offer, or they can go for 120×80 and utilize a slightly brighter mosaic effect. The display itself is illuminated using a backlight mod with an AGS101 display. Alfonso shared videos of their success with the mod on their YouTube channel and provided replication instructions on GitHub.
Because RetroPie is capable of emulating a wide range of retro consoles from the Nintendo Super NES to the Atari 7800, Alfonso’s hacked Gameboy Advance is able to play far more than just PS1 games. (One of Alfonso’s videos depicts Battletoads and Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars being played on the device, and both games were developed for the NES). But given that the PS1 wasn’t a handheld and was manufactured by an entirely different company—versus the other Nintendo consoles the modded Gameboy Advance can now emulate—Alfonso’s ability to theoretically play Metal Gear Solid on the 2.9-inch screen is extra impressive.
The Gameboy Advance is no stranger to modification. Tinkerers have long sold custom cartridges for the old-school device, allowing users to basically make their own game cartridges, even with multiple game files on one “flash cart.” Unfortunately, no matter how good their console hacking skills or comprehensive their emulators, fans of the original Gameboy Advance are unlikely to ever experience PlayStation 2+ games on the tiny screen, given the later models’ incorporation of an analog stick into their controls.