Retro Rechargeables

Like many vintage gaming fans, my first portable system was the Nintendo Game Boy. What I didn’t realize at the time was just how power hungry the little thing was, like a portable video game dictator. As the frequency of “Mom (or Dad), I need batteries for my Game Boy!” reached a fevered pitch, my mother bought me a rechargeable battery pack, which took forever to charge and only last as long as it took for me to get to a level boss.

As an adult I try not to pass them up when (more like if) I find them in a thrift store; I often say I would rather loathe owning something than regret not owning it when presented with the chance, if its cheap enough that is. In a previous article I showed off the SGRL system that I picked up simply based on its similar shape to the Game Boy Color battery cover, which turned out well in my favor. Shortly after I found another, this time just the battery pack and along the way I’ve found a handful of other retro rechargeables. For the most part many of them won’t hold a charge, as I assume the batteries have long since lost their ability to do so, but just having them around as relics of bygone technology and little piece of video gaming lore is something I find thoroughly enjoyable!

Nintendo Game Boy Rechargeable Battery Pack

I never had one of these when I originally had my Game Boy, mine was Doc’s brand and fit into the battery compartment from what I recall, but this is quite the nifty little battery pack. This was the official deal, licensed by Nintendo and sold off to all the kids who wanted power on the go. The cable has quite a bit of length on it and the pack itself has a clip, so the user can clip it into their belt and walk around aimlessly (perhaps into traffic), all while keeping their eyes on that Game Boy game. This didn’t require any strange power supplies either, it was a fairly standard direct DC cable used by most smaller home stereos at the time. Just plug it up and wait 8 hours, play until the battery runs out and do it all over again, what joy! Sadly due to the size of the plug this will only work on the original DMG Game Boys.

Power Pak Color by Performance

This one requires a standard Game Boy Pocket/Color (or even GBA) power adapter, so recharging it shouldn’t be too difficult as long as you have one of those lying around. Despite being bulky and uncomfortable while in use, the Power Pak color has 2 unique features that make me wish it were totally useful. Firstly the Power Pak Color has a charge viewing window at the bottom (much like the Energizer batteries in the 90s with the little charge meter on the side), often times it doesn’t work or the button gets stuck, but only after a short charge it fills up completely and all too quickly goes dead, rendering this feature pretty useless. Secondly, and what I find most excitingly, is a clever little storage space on the back for the Game Boy Color’s real battery cover, which would have nowhere else to go if it wasn’t for this little space. Due to its size and shape this will only work on the Game Boy Color.

SGRL Battery Pack and Charging Dock

I thought long and hard about adding this to the list and figured I may as well go ahead, even though I’ve already gone over it briefly. The SGRL is by far the most comfortable rechargeable battery pack I currently own for the Game Boy Color, sadly neither of them will hold a charge. The product gives no hint whatsoever as to what its for, other than the shape in both the charging dock and the battery pack itself. The charging dock uses the same power adapter as the Game Boy Pocket/Color, but there is not other way to charge the battery pack without the dock, sadly. This too is shapes strictly for the Game Boy Color and will not work on any other system.

Sega Game Gear Battery Pack

This one came bundled (I mean Goodwill packing taped) together with a Sega Game Gear I picked up a few years ago. Since I find the Game Gear a bit of a handful anyway, I didn’t really need to use the battery pack and stashed it away thinking I would never need it. As time went by the curiosity of whether or not the thing even worked set it, so I pulled it out and gave it a good charge. This pack uses the same power adapter as the Genesis 2 (MK-2103), so I just plugged it up and left it to charge. After a few hours I checked if there was any progress at all and no, there wasn’t any life coming out of this thing at all. If the unit worked I assume it may very well power the Genesis 2 or 3, since it has the same end as the MK-2103, which would be a little silly but fun nonetheless!

There are many other rechargeable systems created for vintage gaming portables that I don’t currently own, but if I manage to find a new one I’ll be sure to give it a quick review. I’ve passed up many along the way because I know they either won’t work or won’t hold a charge, like the ones I currently have, but I’ve regretted passing them up later down the road.

An easy way to test if the circuits in a retro rechargeable are working properly is to plug the battery in, as if to recharge it, and attach it to the system, then turn the system on. This should work as a simple pass-thru and power the system, but this only shows that the circuit is working properly and does not give any indication of whether or not the battery will hold a charge. Remember that these batteries often required 8 hours or more to charge fully and even as a brand new product (citing the Nintendo manual for the officially licensed battery pack) the battery will slowly discharge whether in use or not.

With advancements in modern technology its much easier to grab a handful of modern rechargeable AA or AAA batteries and just go to town until you’re fingers go numb, then charge them up over night. But I still find it fascinating to look back and see where that technology has come from. It was a long struggle to get where we are, and someday we will look back at today’s technology and scoff just the same, but just remember it was once brand new.

Posted December 6th, 2013