CircuitMess Nibble aims to bridge kids’ hobbies of building stuff and playing video games together in a single edutainment kit. Traditionally, video game development and hardware engineering is a profoundly complex process. This do-it-yourself portable console simplifies things however, enough so that anyone can do it.
Nibble is a multi-pronged experience that has the user assemble the hardware. Soldering, using simple tools to connect circuits, connecting a screen, and attaching buttons are made easy. In no time, the portable will be booting up, and users can enjoy the bare bones games that are preinstalled.
The third module to the CircuitMess Nibble experience is game creation. This baby is open source, and offers a variety of programming language options for neophyte game developers to build their own game. Don’t expect too much out of Nibble; the specs are modest and the games possible on it are what was expected from 2000s era flip phones.
Release Date: March 20, 2021
Price: $94.99 USD
The contents of the CircuitMess Nibble kit are organized neatly. It has everything a kid would need to begin construction- except for the assembly guide which is found here. Why there was no printed guide included is confusing and inconvenient. The manufacturer thought to include a catalog and company mission statement, but no instructions.
After finding the guide online, assembly can finally begin. The tutorial is very easy to follow, and is worded in a manner where most children can read. Every aspect of the device is explained in easy-to-follow chunks; with images to help kids find their way around a soldering iron, and details on safety.
The build quality of the parts feel sturdy and premium for being very low spec components. The acrylic casing being transparent is a nice touch, to always have the circuitry visible as a constant reminder of how the console works.
When the console is built, (bearing that the assembly guide was followed) the Nibble has a sparse, industrial aesthetic to it. It certainly is not the most appealing looking handheld, and its hard, sharp edges may cause discomfort for some people.
The buttons have a nice and loud, satisfying click. It’s feedback when playing the pre-installed games, which go a long way in adding a bit of crunch to the gameplay. This is due to the Atari-like staticky sound effects that are famous for being loud electronic bloops and beeps.
The main menu in the Nibble is also kept incredibly basic, and won’t confuse anyone who can read. From there, four games are available: Bonk is a Pong derivative, Snake is the quintessential 2000s phone game, Space Rocks is poor man’s Asteroids and Invaderz is a simplified Space Invaders.
These built-in games are likely intended to show the potential of what is possible with the programming module of CircuitMess Nibble. They are hardly tech demos of the full extent of what the hardware can achieve; but digging deeper into the online community suggests that something interesting can be made with a bit of patience and elbow grease.
One of the most impressive feats with Nibble is that it can run a freeware title known as Anarch. Why is this impressive? It’s a recasting first-person shooter; a Doom clone that runs about 30 frames per second. Completely free, and its engine can be easily reprogrammed into any kind of first person game.
It isn’t perfect; Nibble’s ergonomics and button layout are not much different than a Nintendo Entertainment System controller. Ever try playing Doom with a D-pad and only two-buttons? It’s not exactly ideal, and is one of the limitations for game development that more advanced kids may encounter.
The screen is also very small, and almost a perfect square, which also severely limits game design. Yet, these restrictions should foster creativity. Art is created from adversity, and imagination trumps all when it comes to limited resources.
The Nibble is compatible with several entry-level coding languages. This is ideal for children who are fascinated with how games are made, and this is where CircuitMess should be commended. Nibble on its own is unremarkable, but it creates an experience that is compelling and teaches.
This is not a game console for enthusiasts or hardcore gamers. Nibble is an edutainment product, that has more in common with simple to build robot kits. It’s only marginally more advanced than a Erector Set, and that is due to the soldering iron being a potential health hazard to clumsy kids who don’t understand how to handle it with care.
Anyone who wants to play real games on a portable will likely already own a Nintendo Switch or any number of legacy mobile game consoles. There are plenty of knock-off Chinese bootleg portable consoles out there that will run emulators and ROMs. CircuitMess Nibble is not about that- it’s a learning tool aimed for children.
The mission statement included in the kit is met. From construction, to playing Invaderz, to messing around with CircuitBlocks and trying to play Anarch with it; the experience has been illuminating.
CircuitMess Nibble is very basic and limited. It can’t do a whole lot, but this is by design. The intended age group will get a lot out of Nibble, and potentially get kids to appreciate retro games a bit more. After all, they’ll end up programming a few if they go deep down into the Nibble rabbit-hole.
CircuitMess Nibble was reviewed using a kit provided by CircuitMess. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.