As fun as Nintendo Switch is, it’s not exactly the most portable or user-friendly device. There are much smaller alternatives over there, but the thumb takes portability to another level with a tiny screen and even smaller controls on a handheld that doesn’t look bigger than a postage stamp.
When we reviewed another small portable gaming device earlier this year, the FunKey S, we left quite impressed with the quality of the 1.52 inch color GBA SP clone screen and its basic controls which were small and cramped, but still very playable. We assumed the FunKey S was the absolute limits of handheld size, but the creators of the Thumby probably took a look at the FunKey and wondered why it was so gigantic.
The Thumby looks a lot like the original Nintendo Game Boy, but it’s on display in Wayne Szalinski’s pickup shelf from Honey, I cut down on the kids. Even the photos of it sitting on the original Game Boy can’t prepare you for the Thumby’s small size when you first take it, and although its small size means the “Start” and “buttons” Select “insanely tiny are just for show, it includes a fully functional four-way directional pad, two action buttons, and a sliding power button on top.
The control buttons are all very clickable, with a very audible âtickâ each time they are pressed. Bbut in this case, this is a good thing as this is pretty much the only way to know for sure that you have successfully pressed one of them with your fingertip given how little travel they all have . People with smaller hands might have an easier time with the Thumby, but my big mittens struggled to use the directional pad accurately and reliably. It was “playable”, but in the same way that standing on the edge of an active volcano would be considered “safe”. This is not a console for high-score seekers. Above all, it’s a novelty, a demonstration that a handheld can be made so small and still technically functional, but at no point are you going to really enjoy playing on it.
Handheld computers like the FunKey S and the excellent anbernic consoles providing gamers with access to thousands of games through their use of emulators that can play retro titles released years ago on older consoles. Rather, the Thumby takes an approach that is more reminiscent of Arduboy by Kevin Bates, where a color screen is replaced by a simple 1-bit black and white display, with custom games (often clones of popular titles) from a community of dedicated users and developers.
With the console itself measuring just 1.2 inches tall, the Thumby’s OLED display is about a third that tall, and it brings together a resolution of only 72×40 pixels. Up close through a camera’s zoom lens it certainly looks pixelated, but to the naked eye the screen is so physically small that it’s almost impossible to see individual pixels.
The developers have a little over 2,000 total pixels on the screen to play with. It may sound like a lot, but in reality this will force them to get very smart and creative with their game graphics. Out of the box, the Thumby will include five games to enjoy / try to play, including TinyTris, a growing Nokia-style snake game called TinyAnnelid, a dungeon robot named TinyDelver, TinySaur Race, and RFSD (short for Royalty-free space debris) which is a space shooter similar to Asteroids which you can see playing in the GIF below.
There’s no denying that the Thumby’s graphics are about as basic as video games can get (although the handheld is powered by a very capable Raspberry Pi RP2040 processor), but that lo-fi aesthetic will be. probably another part of its charm. Users can also easily develop their own games for the system by simply plugging it into a computer with a microUSB cable and opening a specific website where they can code and edit the Python files right on the Thumby. If you’ve ever wanted to learn to code, this could be a fun place to start as the limitations of the hardware mean that simpler games are actually the best approach.
A paltry 40mAh lithium-polymer battery still manages to deliver enough power for around two hours of gaming on the Thumby, while 2MB of storage should actually provide more than enough space for a decent number of games. . The handheld can be charged using the microUSB port on the bottom, but the port also facilitates multiplayer gaming when using an optional Thumby to Thumby link cable. This option was not yet ready to be tested, which is unfortunate, because the multiplayer Tetris is still one of my favorite Game Boy experiences.
TinyCircuits goes crowdfunding route to bring Thumby to players (with excellent eyesight) through a Launch campaign which launches today. The first 50 “early risers” campaign supporters can get a Thumby for just $ 9, with delivery in November. For all others, the price will be $ 19, with delivery expected at some point in 2022 due to the global semiconductor shortage. Higher (more expensive) tiers will also be available, with Thumbys in different colors and one that includes additional accessories, such as the multiplayer link cable.
The usual risks with crowdfunded products still apply here, especially during an ongoing pandemic that has plunged supply chains and shipping into chaos, but this is far from the first product. Small Circuits has produced and sold, and the company is very direct about delays for anyone ordering one after the first 50 are claimed. In addition, you get fully functioning portable gaming system for just $ 19. It’s not a Switch, but it delivers exactly what TinyCircuits promises: video games stored on your keychain for extreme emergencies where you have no other way to be entertained.