Almost a decade before the world finally realised how tedious April Fool’s Day pranks are, Google revealed a farcical 8-bit port of Google Maps for the iconic Nintendo Entertainment System. The prank was quickly forgotten, but not by one maker, who, nine years later, has made the NES version of Google Maps a reality.
Although Google did provide an online demo at the time, a promised fully functional NES cartridge version of the mapping service was never meant to be (nor was the Game Boy version that Google also teased) but it turns out the idea was very much technically feasible. YouTuber ‘ciciplusplus’ used two other clever hacks as a starting point for their 8-bit version of Google Maps: a guide for creating your own custom NES cartridge by YouTuber ‘TheRasteri’, and this work by Alastair Aitchison that turns Bing Maps aerial imagery into what looks like The Legend of Zelda world map.
If the world seen through ciciplusplus’ Google Maps 8-bit conversion looks very familiar, it’s because the imagery generated by Google’s mapping service is converted to a 16×16 grid, with the colours in every grid averaged and replaced with a matching pixelated image based on the graphical tiles used in the original NES version of The Legend of Zelda.
The hardware that powers what might be the NES’ most boring game ever is fairly simple and includes a Raspberry Pi, an FX2LP microcontroller, and the guts of an official NES cart that sacrificed its life for the cause. Eventually, all the hardware will be squeezed inside the cartridge’s original housing so that it can be loaded through the console’s game slot, but that’s an upgrade that appears to be on ciciplusplus’ to-do list, including features like searching for specific places. For now, the fun hack works, and with a surprising amount of interactivity using an NES gamepad to scroll the map and zoom in and out, complete with place names that are auto-generated using the NES’ instantly recognisable font. The next time you’re told the princess is in another castle, you’ll finally be able to get directions.