The main question you ask yourself in the time between commissioning a Nintendo Wii modded into the shape of a Game Boy Color and receiving it is: Why?
With so many of the prominent pieces of the GameCube and Wii’s libraries already ported over to other consoles — particularly the Switch — or compatible with the formidable Dolphin emulator, why would anyone even need a standard Nintendo Wii? Why would anyone want a Nintendo Wii without motion controls? How is this experience worth a grand total of $1,250 ($1,490 with the additional storage I ordered)?
To understand this madness, one must understand that retro gaming enthusiasts do not abide by mere human logic. Something like the WiiBoy Color isn’t merely meant to play games on, it’s more like a work of technological art. Financially supporting modders like GingerOfMods, who created the WiiBoy Color, comes with the same feeling one might enjoy as a patron of any other art form. The work required to pack an entire Wii’s hardware into such a small package, and have it still function as intended, is nothing less than sculpture.
With this understanding, the WiiBoy Color is astounding to behold in person. Its 3D-printed case and carefully selected component pieces — salvaged from various sources including the Wii, Switch, and DS Lite — feel almost as good as if Nintendo had made them itself. The charging solution is effortless, the various buttons function as you’d expect, and the 3.5-inch 480p IPS LCD panel looks premium.
To achieve this build, the console’s circuit board and various components are cut to reduce their overall size primarily via the removal of the Wii’s disc drive and its accompanying hardware. Through additional custom-designed boards, the handheld is wired to the necessary buttons and analog sticks. It’s then sealed, fan and all, into a small, Game Boy sized case.
But bespoke or not, the device is intended for a practical purpose and its beautiful design hinges on the premise that it is actually able to adequately execute that purpose: to play video games. To answer your first question: yes, it does. To answer your second: yes, it does it well.
To get games onto the device, you can connect the WiiBoy to any computer via its USB-C port. Then it’s as easy as drag-and-drop to move your (legally acquired) game files onto the USB storage device hidden in the device’s internals. The USB-C port also allows for connections to another modded Nintendo Wii, which can then play your games with their various save files onto a bigger TV. It’s not as simple as docking a Nintendo Switch but it’s plenty impressive to see from a fan project.
The device’s custom interface is adapted specifically to compensate for the lack of motion controls inherent to the premise. With a button press, a circular wheel menu appears and allows the user to select one of the many variety of game formats the Wii can support, from GameCube games to Wii games to homebrew emulation apps and hopefully soon to WiiWare titles (which are not supported as of the time of writing).
You can expect about 2 hours of Wii gameplay on the included rechargeable batteries. This bumps up to 2.5 hours if you’re playing a GameCube title. When it’s time to recharge the device via its built-in USB-C port, the LED indicator turns from green to orange, as you might expect.
The device’s custom interface is adapted specifically to compensate for the lack of motion controls inherent to the premise.
On the topic of those “limited” controls, they feel phenomenal. Thanks to being sourced from various Nintendo hardware creations, they feel extremely tight, consistent, and rock solid during even vigorous gameplay. The software supports mapping the A, B, X, and Y buttons as well as the two analog sticks, D-pad, Menu, L, R, ZL, and ZR triggers in whatever way best suits a given game. This means that a variety of Wii titles which would traditionally require motion input can be remapped in much the same way as Nintendo has for re-releases on the Switch like Super Mario Galaxy and The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword.
In handheld mode, it’s easy to forget that the included single speaker cannot produce stereo audio (there’s truly no space for a second speaker in packaging this small). If the lack of stereo vexes you, you have the option of using the included 3.5mm headphone jack with any standard headphones (as always, take that, Apple!).
The limitations of the form factor are not entirely relieved, however. For example, this is not an ideal way to play Wii Sports. You probably won’t enjoy Just Dance on here. Nobody is going to get any level of Wii Fit via this tiny, expensive toy. There’s also the aforementioned glaring absence of WiiWare games so don’t get too excited to boot up Castlevania: The Adventure ReBirth, as I naively did. If that’s a dealbreaker, ladies, then save your $1,250.
Thanks to the homebrew community’s passionate dedication to the Wii as a platform, the possibilities, however, are vast. The Wii has been hacked to emulate a variety of titles above and beyond Nintendo’s own vast Virtual Console selection. This makes it a wonderful way to play Sega Genesis or Super Nintendo titles (but a deeply unwell way to play Game Boy Color games). It can also run homebrew apps, which enable features like video playback, if that’s somehow the way you want to watch mobile video in 2021.
It is, however, worth underlining just what an expensive way the WiiBoy Color is to skin this particular cat. If you’re strapped for cash to burn, alternate solutions like GingerOfMods’ own “Portable Wii” form factor (which resembles a Nintendo Switch) or BitBuilt’s G-Boy kit may be preferable. Unfortunately, none of these more affordable options have the sense of style or the bragging rights that come with the WiiBoy Color, if that matters to you.
Overall, the WiiBoy Color is an astonishing achievement by fans — particularly GingerOfMods himself. More than just a spectacular piece of technological sculpture, it is actually a joy to use and play games on which, consequently, makes it all the more beautiful to behold. As an actual consumer device, it has a few notable drawbacks but, since it isn’t an actual consumer device, who cares? It’s a full Nintendo Wii in the shape of a Game Boy Color. That either excites you or it doesn’t; it delights me.