Game Boy/Game Boy Color emulators

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Nintendo Game Boy
Game Boy.png
Developer Nintendo
Type Handheld game console
Generation Fourth generation
Release date 1989
Discontinued 2003
Predecessor Game & Watch
Successor Virtual Boy
Emulated

The Game Boy is an 8-bit, fourth-generation handheld console released by Nintendo in 1989. It had a monochrome display that could show only two colors, black and white (though the white was more green). Nintendo re-released the console as the Game Boy Pocket in 1996, with a more compact body and a better screen. A front light was added to a special edition of the Pocket in Japan called the Game Boy Light, a feature that wouldn't be seen outside of Japan until the Game Boy Advance SP.

Nintendo released a peripheral for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System called Super Game Boy in 1994, which was modelled like a cartridge but included its own cartridge slot for Game Boy games, as well as the hardware needed to translate the games. Many Game Boy emulators offer at least some of the special features it included, such as added borders, colorization, custom button mappings, and other features. It was possible to link, but without the external port, as well as errors in the CPU, it would not be feasible to the end user; these issues would later be corrected in the Japan-exclusive Super Game Boy 2.

The Game Boy's successor, the Game Boy Color (GBC), was released in 1998. It was named such from its color screen, but it also had a larger memory size and a double-clocked CPU. The hardware similarities allow cross-compatibility between the two platforms and they are often treated as one. They would both be succeeded by the backward-compatible Game Boy Advance.

Emulators[edit]

Because of how relatively easy popular 8-bit consoles are to emulate, tons of Game Boy emulators exist. For a list of open-source projects, see this GitHub query. For a list of accuracy tests, see GB/C Tests.

Name Operating System(s) Latest Version Game Link Support Libretro Core Active Recommended
PC
SameBoy Multi-platform 0.11.2
BGB Windows 1.5.7
Gambatte Multi-platform r571
Gearboy Multi-platform 2.3.1
BizHawk Windows 2.3.1
GBE+ Windows, Linux, macOS (untested) 1.2
higan Windows, Linux, macOS 0.106
MAME Multi-platform 0.203
mGBA Multi-platform 0.6.3 ?
Visual Boy Advance-M (VBA-M) Multi-platform 2.1.0 [N 1]
Pantheon Windows 7.708
hhugboy Windows 1.2.7
KiGB Windows, Linux, macOS 2.05
TGB Dual Windows, Linux[N 2] "L" v1.2 [N 2]
GiiBiiAdvance Windows, Linux 0.2.0
Mobile
Gambatte Multi-platform r571
mGBA Multi-platform 0.6.3 ?
GBC.emu
(Gambatte 0.5-wip based)
Android 1.5.19 ?
My OldBoy! Android 1.5.2 ?
John GBC Android 3.80 ?
GBA.emu
(VBA-M r1097 based)
Android 1.5.19 ?
GambatteDroid Android 1.2 ?
Consoles
GameYob DS Nintendo DS Git (NiFi)
GameYob 3DS Nintendo 3DS v1.0.8 ?
Visual Boy Advance-M (VBA-M) Wii, GameCube r1231 (as VBA-Next)
MasterBoy PlayStation Portable 2.10
Virtual Console Nintendo 3DS 8.10 (Pokemon only)
mGBA Wii, Nintendo 3DS, PlayStation Vita 0.6.3 ?
GeMP PlayStation Portable 3.3 Final
RIN PlayStation Portable 1.32
  1. A VBA-M libretro core does exist, but it only emulates GBA.
  2. 2.0 2.1 As an SDL port (and the libretro core is based on this version).

Comparison[edit]

Game Boy-only emulators[edit]

SameBoy
A relatively new emulator, probably the most accurate Game Boy emulator currently. The UI is simplistic and lacks mouse support. It includes open source bootroms, although these can be replaced with real ones. Also emulates Game Boy Camera and Game Boy Printer.
BGB
A closed-source emulator for Windows (and Wine) with excellent Game Boy and Game Boy Color accuracy, as well as near flawless link support. It has a wealth of options for color palettes and even enabling Super Game Boy colors and borders, though it doesn't emulate all of its functions. It also has an advanced debugger.
Gambatte
Very accurate open-source Game Boy Color emulator. It has a good range of options and features, though not quite as much as some other emulators. It has not been as active lately.
TGB Dual
An ancient emulator that supports link cable emulation. It also supports netplay, but it requires a VPN. The libretro port supports local multiplayer using player 2's controls.
KiGB
An old and obsolete emulator which boasted its accuracy but was proven to be full of game-specific hacks.[1][2][3] It has a wide selection of features, but other emulators have caught up and are already doing much better.
GiiBiiAdvance
Pioneered full GB Camera emulation, including webcam support. Aside from that, it's an unfinished emulator with the basics set up, but its promising future currently on hiatus. It has very accurate timing.

List of recommended GB/GBC emulators for Android:

Backwards-compatible GBA emulators[edit]

mGBA
Primarily emulates the Game Boy Advance but it also includes GB/C support much like the original system. It's still in development, but it's already on the level of many other emulators.
GBE+
A recently rewritten emulator that has a large effort in preserving the functions of obscure accessories that other emulators don't focus on. It can also load custom tiles in games, including colorized tiles for original Game Boy titles.
VisualBoy Advance -M (VBA-M)
Used to be the go-to for Game Boy Advance emulation and even included solid GB/C emulation. It's now behind mGBA on both fronts.

Multi-system emulators[edit]

higan
Because it started out as a SNES emulator (its original name was bsnes), it was the first and only one that properly emulated all of the Super Game Boy's features, such as SPC sound chip utilization. Versions of bsnes at and before 0.73 used the Gambatte core for its Super Game Boy functionality, but byuu eventually made his own Game Boy core, which ended up having pretty good accuracy.
BizHawk
Uses a modified Gambatte core. It provides speedrunning tools.
MAME
Has solid Game Boy emulation through its gameboy driver despite the sound being imperfect, as well as slightly worse Game Boy Color compatibility through its gbcolor driver (where both the graphics and sound are imperfect). Despite its setbacks, it aims to feature compatibility with obscure mappers that other emulators usually ignore, like Wisdom Tree games or MMM01 multicarts. Accuracy was improved upon with contributions by Judge_.
Mednafen
Its Game Boy Advance core is forked from an old version of VisualBoy Advance.

Emulation issues[edit]

Oversaturation[edit]

Comparison of saturation levels in VBA-M and Gambatte.

The Game Boy Color's screen is undersaturated. Game developers often work around this by using brighter colors knowing it'll be compensated for on hardware. This does not translate well in emulation, because standard LCD screens don't account for this sort of issue. Many emulators attempt to combat this issue with options that adjust accordingly; if not directly, then shader functionality may be implemented.

This issue also affects Game Boy Advance emulation.

Unlicensed Mappers[edit]

Much like the NES, the Game Boy (and by extension, the Game Boy Color) used Memory Bank Controllers (MBC) (called MMCs on the NES) and also known informally as mappers, to go beyond the restrictive initial hardware specifications. Nevertheless, Nintendo was much more careful to standardize their specifications to just a small number of possible mappers. Moreover, Game Boy ROMs now included an official internal header mandated by Nintendo that included the correct MMC type. This meant that for the officially licensed games, these mappers proved to be rarely a problem... with some notable unimplemented exceptions: Net de Get's MBC6 that offered downloadable content off the internet, and the MMM01 footer used for some official multicart games, among others.

However, shit hits the fan when it comes to unlicensed games, since they didn't necessarily respect Nintendo's specifications about how a given mapper type should handle its memory and behave in general, and internal headers were often filled with erroneous data to hinder dumping and emulation efforts. Some emulators like MESS and hhugboy try to emulate that behavior with various degrees of success (Compatibility List). The hhugboy project also proposed a similar solution to iNES for this mapper problem, as the gbx ROM format that appends a footer with extra information needed for some unlicensed games. However, this format, much less unlicensed hardware quirks, isn't widely adopted aside from tentative mGBA support.

Hardware Features[edit]

IR Transmitter[edit]

The Game Boy Color had an infrared transmitter and receiver. Generation II Pokémon games made use of this feature through Mystery Gift. Super Mario Bros. Deluxe could send high scores to another cartridge. GBE+ had basic IR emulation back in July 2016 but it then only worked with Pokémon games. Now, as of April 2018, it has full IR emulation for most IR-enabled games (Hudson Soft's HuC-1's IR capabilities need to be emulated for Japanese Pokémon TCG).

Game Boy Camera[edit]

Name Operating System(s) Build to Use Recommended
mGBA Multi-platform Dev builds post 0.6.0
VBA-M Multi-platform Latest
GiiBiiAdvance Windows ?
BGB Windows ?
Hashcam Windows Source

The Game Boy Camera is an official Nintendo accessory for the Game Boy and was released in 1998. Users can take pictures and modify them with stickers and frames, as well as play several included minigames. In addition to the original model, there was a US-exclusive Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time edition that included different stamps.

The first emulator to have some capability of emulating the Game Boy Camera was a modified version of an old emulator called Hash. This version, named Hashcam, can still be found on the author's website. While there were some efforts to run the Game Boy Camera ROM in BGB unofficially, the author didn't show much interest in it. However, it is fully emulated with webcam support in a lesser-known emulator called GiiBiiAdvance.

The latest dev builds of mGBA post 0.6.0 release can emulate the accessory by either using the PC's webcam or send a BMP, GIF, JPEG, PNG, or other image format to the game, as if it was coming from the camera itself.[4] To enable the PC webcam, go to Game Boy under settings and switch the camera driver to Qt Multimedia, or by editing qt.ini and setting cameraDriver=1 under [General].

Game Boy Printer[edit]

VisualBoy Advance 1.8.0-beta 3 and GBE+ had Game Boy Printer support that turned the signals into a bitmap form of the image. Some notable games and accessories to make use of this feature are the RPG Pokémon games, Super Mario Bros. Deluxe, and Game Boy Camera. mGBA supports this feature but it is unknown if other emulators support or have plans to support it.

Motion Control (Tilt Sensor)[edit]

Two Game Boy Color games featured a built-in tilt sensor: Kirby Tilt 'n' Tumble and Command Master. These games cannot be played without support for this feature. VBA and KiGB have a "Motion Sensor" option to map four directional keys to emulate the cartridge tilting, but the controls aren't analog. BGB can emulate the tilting features with the use of the mouse.

Rumble[edit]

A good number of cartridges came with a built-in rumble that required an AAA battery to power, such as Pokémon Pinball, but the feature is optional. It is unknown if any emulator supports this feature.

Multiplayer[edit]

  • Link Cable: BGB, KiGB, some versions of VBA-M and TGB-Dual supports link cable. It can also be used for Netplay on the corresponding RetroArch core.
  • 4-Player Adapter: Currently only GBE+ supports it. There is a 16-Player adapter as well, but it went unreleased outside of unused code in some games, and as such isn't emulated.

Online Features[edit]

Mobile Game Boy Adapter[edit]

There is a Japan-only accessory that communicates with Mobile Golf and Japanese Pokémon Crystal. It was bundled with Mobile Trainer cartridge which allowed the player to use e-mail as well as browse Nintendo's website. It saw use on some Game Boy Color and Game Boy Advance games, but support was limited to Japan, and the servers went offline by 2002.

It is possible to partially emulate its feature for Pokémon Crystal by using BGB's scripting capability, and GBE+ can at least reach the title screen of Mobile Trainer, but otherwise, no emulators properly support this accessory.

Hudsonsoft KISS Link[edit]

This accessory allowed users to download exclusive content by them from Hudsonsoft's website. No emulator supports this.

Accessories[edit]

There are a few accessories that the Game Boy and Game Boy Color had. Due to their very small and game-specific use, most emulators don't bother with them at all, save for GBE+.

  • Game Boy Pocket Sonar: Japan only cartridge released by Bandai. It is a sonar-enabled device used for fishing with a fishing game included. Only GBE+ supports this feature. A similar cartridge was released for the WonderSwan (still unemulated).
  • Barcode Boy: An obscure Japan-only barcode-scanning device released by Namcot (then-Namco's consumer division) in 1992. A total of 4 games were released to utilize this accessory. KiGB and GEST claim support for this device, but they only feed random data to Game Boy until the game accepts it as a valid barcode. GBE+ has proper emulation with the ability to read barcodes from binary files.
  • Barcode Taisen Bardigun: Another Japan only barcode-scanning device with the dedicated game. GBE+ supports this accessory.
  • Singer Sewing Machine: There is link cable support for the Singer IZEK Digital Sewing Machine. The IZEK was unique in that it came bundled with a specially coloured Game Boy and a cartridge for interfacing with the machine.[5][6] No emulator supports this, mostly due to the IZEK being a rare item, along with the complexity of implementing a similarly automated sewing machine.

References[edit]

External links[edit]

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Consoles: Nintendo Entertainment System (Family Computer) • Super Nintendo Entertainment System (Super Family Computer) • Nintendo 64GameCubeWiiWii UNintendo Switch
Handhelds: Game & WatchGame Boy/ColorVirtual BoyGame Boy AdvanceNintendo DSNintendo 3DS
Related: Family Computer Disk SystemSatellaview64DDSuper Game Boye-ReaderDSiAmiiboTriforce (Arcade) • Namco ES3 (Arcade)