If you’ve not heard of the Mobile Game Boy Adapter, we don’t blame you. This Japan-only Game Boy peripheral can connect to a Japanese mobile phone and play certain Game Boy games online. They didn’t sell very well back in the day, but trust fans to track this peripheral down to find an unusual way of using it. And, a security researcher has managed to use the adapter and Pokémon Crystal to take control of an opponent’s Game Boy remotely.
In a chat with Vice’s tech column Motherboard, Xcellerator shared his fascination with retro tech. So, with the annual Binary Golf Grand Prix — a competition to find “the smallest file which will crash a specific program” — Xcellerator wanted to use this adapter in his entry. Instead, what he ended up discovering was what he thinks is the very first case of ‘remote code execution‘ (a hack where you can run any kind of code on a target device) using a Game Boy Color.
The process was pretty lengthy for Xcellerator, as detailed over on his blog, but the gist of it is that it takes advantage of a bug in the Japanese version of Pokémon Crystal. This allowed the security researcher to trick the Game Boy into reading a different part of code — one that he managed to get inside the system. And it’s this exploit that allowed Xcellerator to control the Game Boy on the other end of the internet.
This ‘hack’ doesn’t just let you control your opponent’s Game Boy — you can also beat them by triggering the code for “no health” to just instantly wipe a Pokémon. Ouch!
Believe it or not, Xcellerator hadn’t even heard of the adapter before attempting to enter the Binary Golf Association’s Grand Prix. But because this isn’t a crash (binary), and it’s not a small feat, this is sadly not eligible. But it’s fascinating how a 22-year-old game still has unusual, complicated tricks hiding in its cartridge — with a lot of steps.
Check out the full write-up from Vice down below. And let us know about any of the strange bugs and glitches you’ve found in retro Pokémon titles in the comments!