Exclusive: First Look At The Handheld N64 That Plays Actual Cartridges

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A clever modder and YouTuber has developed a unique handheld N64 that plays actual cartridges, forgoing any sort of emulation.

This handheld Nintendo 64 comes from the mind of Handheld Gameplayer, who has recycled two badly damaged consoles and rewired the original motherboard to fit within a bespoke 3D printed shell. The 3D-printed face buttons required an SLA printer for a smoother finish and the D-pad comes from an old Game Boy. For the display, Handheld Gameplayer opted to include a simple TFT screen, and the outer shell even has space for the Nintendo 64 Expansion Pack.

Handheld Gameplayer's Handheld N64
Image credit: handheld gameplayer

Speaking exclusively to Retro Dodo, Handheld Gameplayer revealed the origin of their latest custom build. “When I created my channel in October 2023, I knew I wanted to focus on handheld systems only, and that I wanted to show the real hardware. But in the first two weeks of making videos and coming up with new ideas, I realised that I also wanted to show more things that I have a nostalgic place in my heart for, but aren’t necessarily handheld gaming systems, like for example the PlayStation or the N64”.

Handheld Gameplayer runs a YouTube channel showcasing gameplay on various handheld systems including the PSP, Neo Geo Pocket, Atari Lynx, Game Gear, and many more. Handheld Gamer’s N64 allows the content creator to produce videos on original hardware, providing an authentic experience for themself and their audience.

“Surely I could’ve gotten away with just taking one of my newer retro handhelds which are
perfectly able to emulate N64 games and call it a day, but I wanted to play those games from
their actual cartridges. To have at least one thing “as it originally was”.

The back of Handheld Gameplayer's Handheld N64 showing Turok 2 and the expansion cart
Image credit: handheld gameplayer


Wiring inside Handheld Gameplayer's Handheld N64
Image credit: handheld gameplayer

Handheld Gameplayer’s Nintendo 64 redesign builds on the efforts of previous modders, with the developer making use of several online guides, tutorials, and forums to help guide their creation in the right direction and adjusting existing shell designs using Tinkercad to incorporate the full-size of the Nintendo 64 motherboard.

“Since I haven’t worked with the N64 before, I figured I didn’t want to cut the motherboard at all, just to increase the possibility of the project being successful”.

Speaking about the development process, Handheld Gameplayer revealed that the project didn’t always go according to plan. “Nothing of this was made on the first try. I printed, tested, and adjusted the shell at least three times, and had some iterations with the buttons as well, but eventually I got there”.

The cartridge slot wiring.
Image credit: handheld gameplayer

One of the biggest challenges in bringing the handheld N64 to life was incorporating the cartridge slot so it became flush with the back of the shell, a process that required Handheld Gameplayer to solder 48 wires to the cartridge slot that the modder referred to as “not the coolest thing to do”.

After completing the initial build the intrepid modder finally reached the testing stage, but unfortunately it didn’t work, with the TFT display briefly showing several vertical lines on the screen before cutting out entirely.

“I tried everything, re-wired the cartridge slot two times, cleaned all slots, and checked
everything, but to no avail. Somewhere in the process of putting it together, I seemed to
have shorted something and damaged the N64 mainboard”.

The TFT display showing vertical lines.
Image credit: handheld gameplayer

What followed was a period of several months that Handheld Gameplayer referred to as their “stagnation mode”, with the modder discouraged from pursuing the project after investing so much time and effort.

Fortuitously, Handheld Gameplayer found a second working N64 console with a badly damaged shell and returned to the project, this time testing the functionality after each step before eventually finishing their creation.

“I tested some games and it really just worked like an N64 would do”.

What’s Next?

Handheld PSOne design
Image credit: handheld gameplayer

Handheld Gameplayer revealed that during their stagnation mode after their original build failed to operate, they began to conceptualise their next retro gaming project, a handheld PSOne console.

“From a technical point of view, this is absolutely 100% possible and not really hard to do”, said the developer, who expressed an interest in creating a portable version of Sony’s diminutive PlayStation hardware revision.

Handheld Gameplayer’s motivation comes from creating content for their YouTube channel, and for the time being, it appears they’ve found an alternative solution to bring PlayStation content to their audience by capturing gameplay on another original Sony device – the PSP.

“For my channel, I figured I could also show PS1 footage on the PSP, since that was a real thing as well, so I went the easy way”.

While active development on their PSOne handheld is on the back burner, Handheld Gameplayer suggests other hardware enthusiasts could take up the challenge and even offers to assist on their efforts. “If someone is interested in designing this thing, I would be happy to 3D print and
build it and give it a try”.

For now, I’m sure Handheld Gameplayer is perfectly content to start recording footage using their handheld Nintendo 64 and enjoy some of the best titles on Nintendo’s last cartridge-based home console.

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