Review of the Meggy Jr. RGB Handheld Video Game Kit

Remember playing those old Tiger Electronics LCD games back in the day?  Yeah, they were pretty cheesy, but they were fun and relatively cheap, meaning that even the most resilient parents might have caved and bought you one to get you to shut up.  Even further back, when I was maybe a twinkle in my old man's eye, game makers were crafting LED based games - such as Mattel's classic "Football."  What if you could not only resurrect this antiquated form of gaming, but customize it as well?  If you've ever dreamed of that (I mean, who hasn't) then the Meggy Jr. RGB from Evil Mad Scientist Labs is for you.

What is the Meggy Jr. RGB?

Essentially, the Meggy Jr. is a handheld video game system, although vastly simple compared even to the earliest of mainstream handhelds.  Sporting a simply massive 8X8 LED matrix display, these 64 little Lite-Brite-esque dots are where your game is projected. (Please note that the LED's are much more beautiful in person.)  It's built on the ATmega168 chipset, which runs at a heart-stopping 16 mHz and 16 kB of flash memory (14 kB of which can be used for installing programs.)  While it comes pre-loaded with a game (Attack of the Cherry Tomatoes, a shoot-em-up) the real objective is to program and install your own, using the Arduino programming language.

Yeah, You Gotta Build It

Otherwise, where would the fun be?  This thing doesn't come pre-assembled - you have to build it yourself - so whip out those soldering irons and let's get crackin'.  Truthfully, it was simple to assemble, and even if I didn't have the aid of my father (who is an electronic engineer) I would have completed it, although perhaps a bit more sloppily.  Total construction time was about 3 hours.

Fortunately, the kind folks over at the Evil Mad Scientist Labs (EMSL for short) put together some truly excellent instructions, perfect for even the noobiest of noobs when it comes to breadboards and microcontrollers.  They explain every step of the way, including each little part and what it's for, why exactly you are doing things, etc. - similar to the way a good dentist explains your root canal but a whole lot more entertaining and enjoyable.

Playing the Meggy Jr. RGB

Of course, the moment of truth - when you first turn it on - can be both exciting and nervewracking, as you chew your nails down to the quick wondering if you messed up a solder joint or forgot a capacitor.  Lo and behold, mine started on the first try, no doubt in part due to following the excellent instructions to the letter.  The included game is pretty cool, courtesy of the bright vivid colors and the retro bleeps and bloops from the tiny speaker.  You'll be pleasantly surprised how well the Meggy Jr. fits in your hand and how the clickity big fat buttons are a pleasure to depress.


I'm really looking forward to programming my own games, though.  It's a lot to learn (for a non-programmer) but is apparently simple enough that a 14 year old can do it... at least, a 14 year old programmed the game that is pre-installed on it!  Fortunately, there's a wealth of other software out there that you can reverse engineer, as well as a Meggy Jr. Arduino library that (supposedly) makes the coding much easier.  EMSL has even released a Meggy Jr. Programming Guide to help get you started.


Overall, I'm incredibly happy with the Meggy Jr. kit.  It was easy and fun to build and I learned a lot about soldering together these kind of kits - it was the first I'd ever done.  EMSL provides virtually everything you need to get started whether you're just looking for a fun collectible or a programming platform.  

I would strongly recommend, though, that you purchase the $99 USD "Super Kit," as it includes the USB-TTL cable you need to program the chipset through the Arduino environment as well as the handles for the system.  Otherwise, you'll have to source these yourself.  In addition, they include a handy lead bender to help you shape the leads of the electronic components to fit the board.  If you decide to build one yourself, I'd love to see some pics!  Happy soldering and cheers to EMSL for keeping it "old school."

[Purchase a Meggy Jr. RGB]


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