A (Playable) Game Boy For Ants

A (Playable) Game Boy For Ants
Gif: TinyCircuits / Kotaku

You know what my grandmother used to say? “That blasted Game Boy of yours, it’s too damn big!” She was right, the old woman was wise. And if this fictional gram were alive today maybe she’d smile upon hearing word of Thumby, a very, very small Game Boy-like device that launched a Kickstarter today. (Of course, she’d then grimace upon hearing the word Kickstarter, which, fair.)

Anyway, yes, the aptly named company TinyCircuits got the notion that it should produce a Game Boy-like that’s very smol indeed, and Thumby’s the result. The Kickstarter blew past its goal in a mere two hours.

The video footage makes clear just how small this thing is, and honestly, it does not look super playable. My aged, crone-like digits are slightly throbbing just looking at how they hold it in the trailer, carefully pressing segments of the Lilliputian d-pad with the slightest sliver of thumbnail. And of course you’d better have some damn good up-close vision if you want to make out the unfathomable speck of a display.

But enough sourpussing; there’s no denying this is a Neat Toy that will appeal to a certain audience (ants, as mentioned) and the price sounds reasonable, starting at 10 bucks for the standard grey version.

Regarding specks — sorry, specs — the most interesting is probably the display, which is a 72×40 pixel monochrome OLED. This makes Thumby notably higher res than previous puny portables like Sony’s PocketStation (32×32) or Sega’s Dreamcast VMU (48×32), both of which used low-quality LCD screens. The CPU’s a Raspberry Pi RP2040, which costs about a buck. A bona fide choking hazard, the Thumby measures 1.2 by 0.7 by 0.3 inches, has a battery life of about two hours, and 2MB of onboard storage. That doesn’t seem like much!

But maybe that’s all you need, because the games look very basic. It will come with five pre-loaded:

TinyBlocks – A classic puzzle game

Space Debris – A space shooter, similar to asteroids

Annelid – A snake game, collect the food to grow your annelid

Delver – A dungeon adventure game, collect and buy weapons, battle monsters

Saur Run – You are a small running and jumping dinosaur, side scroller

The bits of footage show the super-simple sorts of games you would expect: Tetris, snake, a spin on Hack, an autorunner, etc. Notably, every Thumby game will be open source, so you can poke at its internals and see how the sausage gets made. TinyCircuits — which has a history in the DIY “Maker” scene — has already released a simple, web-based IDE in which you can create Thumby games from code to graphics to tinny beeps and boops.

Pretty neat. You could probably learn some game dev basics here; I just would prefer to never have to play such creations on the form factor they’re apparently being designed for. Maybe you can test them in your browser, too? Or perhaps they will develop a brick-sized Thumby XL that is compatible with humans. Anyway, novelty gonna novelty, and if this is your kind of quirk — or if you’re shopping for a game-loving insect of some description — the crowdfund awaits.

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