Pushing the Classic Gameboy to its Absolute Limit!

Alex Beyman
Jan 13, 2019 · 3 min read
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Last time I showcased some of the most impressive feats on the Gameboy Color. In the process I realized there were some stunners on the original black and white “brick” Gameboy too, which deserved their own article.

How much can you really do with such paltry hardware? It shares the Z80 processor of the GBC, but is weaker in every other respect. The sound chip isn’t even 8-bit, it’s 4. It was weaker than the NES because at the time they must’ve figured you can’t see much detail on the pea green dot matrix display, so why bother?

That hasn’t stopped demo coders from achieving eye popping miracles with it. They’ll code demos for anything with a screen! “Is That a Demo in Your Pocket” benefits also from the thriving Gameboy chiptune scene, which has maximized the musical potential of the Gameboy’s paltry music chip:

“DMG*P-01” by Genesis Project is musically much simpler but shows off more advanced raster effects as well as some smooth, detailed greyscale imagery:

Demos all have their own distinct style which makes it possible for connoisseurs to identify the author. Some are serious and flashy, others are goofy and cute. “Gejmbåj” by Snorpung is…let’s say…not in the “serious and flashy” category, but supremely charming:

Demo coding isn’t just about competing to produce the best possible graphics. There’s also competition to fit it all into the smallest possible file size. “Roboto” by naavis fits into an impressively small 32k, although it kind of shows:

Now for the real meat and potatoes…the games! If you’ve ever dug into this topic before, probably you saw “X” named as the most technically impressive original Gameboy title. For good reason, as it achieves vector based true 3D graphics at a playable framerate:

Another oft-mentioned technical marvel for the original Gameboy is Faceball 2000, running on a Wolfenstein 3D style engine, albeit without texture mapped walls. Some sacrifices had to be made, after all:

Chikyuu Kaihou Gun Zas was made by T&E Soft, who would later go on to make Red Alarm, one of the only good Virtual Boy games (and by far the most impressive). Appropriate then, that they cut their teeth making a classic Gameboy title notable for the presence of parallax scrolling and transparencies in some stages:

Next up is perhaps the most impressive of them all. It’s not a title which came out in the Gameboy’s heyday, but a homebrew title released long after the fact, based on the SNES title “Stunt Race FX”. If you’ve played that game for SNES you’re probably wondering how in the world it could be even remotely approximated on Gameboy. Like this, it turns out:

It doesn’t get any better than that. Don’t look at me. What, you think if you shake me down hard enough, out will fall a copy of Doom 2016 that somehow runs on classic Gameboy? Not gonna happen. That Stunt Race FX port is about the best you can conceivably ever see on this hardware. Although, never say never…

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