Review – BitBoy

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Wander into any used game store across North America and there’s a decent chance that you’ll spot a couple Game Boy Cameras; a charmingly bizarre accessory/game released during the Game Boy renaissance of the late 90s. Equal parts tool and toy, the Game Boy Camera is the brainchild of longtime Nintendo composer/designer/programmer Hirokazu ‘Hip’ Tanaka. And if there’s anyone out there who would appreciate what the BitBoy can do for the Game Boy Camera in 2016, it would be him.

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Originally released in a limited 100-unit first printing in October 2015, the BitBoy is a third party device that has been created for the express purpose of extracting pictures from Game Boy Printer-compatible software and transposing it into a .bmp format that can be easily transferred to a computer. And once those pictures are on your computer the sky is the limit. The potential behind the BitBoy is virtually limitless and breathes new life into the Game Boy Camera — one of the most unique and versatile game peripherals of 90s.

Technically speaking the BitBoy is a cinch to use. Simply connect the little black box to your Game Boy of choice using a game link cable (generously included with the BitBoy, but your own cables from 20~ years ago will do the job) and use it the same way you would use a Game Boy Printer with any compatible software. That means your photos in Link’s Awakening DX, your high scores in Pokemon Pinball, and even your Pokedex entries from Gold and Silver are all extractable.

The BitBoy also comes with instructions that show you how to batch extract multiple photos from a Game Boy Camera at a time, making what could have been a patience-testing affair into a simple push of a button. Everything about the BitBoy is user friendly and designed to maximize ease of use.

The unit itself is a lightweight, minimalistic, 3D printed black box that could easily fit into a pocket – it’s so non-descript that it’s almost nefarious-looking. Both connector ports are easily accessed and the SD card is easily removed. It has LEDs showing power and transfer status – a feature that designers with less passion and talent would have easily looked over. And it’s these small details that make the BitBoy such a curious and exciting device. Having the monopoly on the Game Boy Camera transfer tool market means that the BitBoy could easily have been much less impressive and still been received by the market with open arms. That these standards have been set so high for such a niche product is kind of incredible.

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Instructions, a game link cable, a USB charging cable for the BitBoy’s built-in lithium-ion battery, a 4GB SD card and the BitBoy itself are all included with price tag. A price tag that will seem prohibitive to some, but considering the number of items included in the package — and features included in BitBoy that streamline the process — 100 USD plus shipping isn’t the most expensive thing in the world. And for the relatively tiny market that this little guy is designed for, it’s a small price to pay for an item that by all rights shouldn’t even exist.

But with the advent of BitBoy it’s likely that market will only continue to grow as 90s nostalgia is reaching its zenith.

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Small but passionate communities of Game Boy Camer photographers (not sure if I’m willing to appropriate the title of ‘FUNtographer’ just yet) have cropped up in the last few years. Facebook groups, blogs, and Instagram pages dedicated to exclusively Game Boy Camera photography aren’t taking the world by storm, but they exist and produce some remarkable work that would look right at home in their own gallery. It’s easy to chalk it up to nostalgia but there is something genuinely beautiful about good Game Boy photography – you want to see an artist push composition to its limits, give them only 4 shades of grey. My personal favourite is showcasing found photos on second hand Game Boy Cameras. Lo-res pictures of brothers and sisters and family pets, their anonymity protected by the sheer fact that no one can really make out faces on a Game Boy Camera to begin with. It’s a wonderful little world that I can’t wait to see grow in the coming years.

And none of this would have been possible without a way for people to extract their photos from the Game Boy Camera.

After its initial limited run of only 100 units, BitBoy is available again for purchase from gameboyphoto.bigcartel.com. I can easily recommend BitBoy to artists and photographers or fans of Nintendo’s bizarre history of accessories that can afford it. I can personally testify that a number of art projects I’ve been experimenting with lately just wouldn’t have been possible without BitBoy. I hope that others out there find the same joy and creative satisfaction that I have while using BitBoy to resurrect one of Nintendo’s strangest and most wonderful peripherals.

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