Over the years we’ve seen plenty of homebrew handheld game systems that combine an AVR microcontroller, a few buttons, and an small OLED display. We’ve even seen some of them turned into commercial products, such as the Arduboy. They’re simple, cheap, and with the right software, a lot of fun. But being based on an MCU, most of them share the same limitation of only being able to hold a single game at any one time.
But not the Game Card, by [Dylan Turner]. This handheld was specifically designed so that games could be easily swapped out using physical cartridges. But rather than trying to get the system’s microcontroller to boot code from an external flash chip, the system relocates the MCU to the removable cartridge. That might seem a bit overkill, but given how cheap the ATTINY84A on each cartridge is, it’s not exactly going to break the bank.
With the microcontroller on the cartridge, the only hardware that stays behind on the Game Card is the SSD1306 128×64 OLED display, buttons, and the battery. That means the handheld is effectively non-functional unless a game is slotted in, but that could be said of most early cartridge-based game systems as well. On the other hand, it also opens up the possibility of producing cartridges with more powerful microcontrollers down the line.
Using a different microcontroller for each game is a neat hack, but it’s not the only solution to the problem. We previously saw a community effort to add expandable storage to the Arduboy in the form of a DIY cartridge, which ultimately led to the development of an official flash chip upgrade for the handheld.