Building the Ultimate Game Boy

Throughout my thrift store journeys I’ve purchased a handful of Game Boy consoles, most of which were in desperate need of repair or restoration. Some only needed elbow grease and care, but the others, sadly, were so far gone they became relegated to the parts bin. A few years ago I looked into my parts bin and saw an AGS-101 and a AGB-001 sitting there. I could feel the desire to become a part of something better burning deep within their souls, so I decided it was time to make my own backlit GBA (or as I call it the GBA-101).

The GBA I found had a broken screen and a heavily worn shell, but the rest of the console worked perfectly. The GBA SP I found worked perfectly, but its shell was heavily damaged and the moisture detector on the motherboard had turned pink, causing me concern about the console’s long-term reliability. Having previously reshelled a GBA I had a few shell options in which to place the newly formed GBA-101. I decided to mix and match and settled on an indigo front with the transparent back, inspired by the Gamecube controller with the same color scheme.

Having all the ingredients sitting there before me I only needed one more thing to pull this off, the ribbon cable adapter. For anyone thinking about creating their own GBA-101 you must take into consideration that the GBA has 2 motherboard variations: 32 and 40 pins. To see which type of ribbon cable adapter you need take the battery cover off the GBA and you’ll see a number at the top where the battery cover clips in. If the numbers start with a 1, it’s a 32 pin and you will need a type B ribbon cable. If the numbers start with a 0, it’s a 40 pin and you need a type A ribbon cable. While you’re ordering the ribbon cable you might want to buy an aftermarket shell, buttons and glass front lens for the GBA, but that’s all up to your personal desire.

Before the AGS screen will fit inside of the AGB, the shell has to be modified first. This part can be a bit tricky if you don’t have the right tools. I happen to have a very useful X-acto blade (X-Acto blade 17) that is flat and works really well in achieving the necessary cuts on the front of the shell. Carefully cut all the necessary parts down flush and you’re almost ready to finish up.

When you’re done modifying the front of the shell, you can now put everything back together, taking care to align the new, bigger screen. Put everything back together and make sure you plugged the screen into the ribbon cable correctly and you’re ready to go. Yes, on my first attempt I plugged the screen in backwards, no harm was done but nothing worked until I flipped the connector around. Some ribbon cables come with brightness switches, some come with an extra cable attached and some are just plain A to B ribbon cables. Mine came with an extra wire, which I didn’t solder onto the board, and it works perfectly fine.

I did previously make a GBA Macro (or as I call it the DS Boy Advance), which is the bottom half of a Nintendo DS modified slightly to become a backlit GBA, but those only play GBA cartridges. The benefit of the GBA-101 is that you’re not limited as to which Game Boy library you want to play. From the classic grey carts to the transparent GBC carts all the way to the GBA carts, you can play them all. I’ve always loved my main AGS-101, but my hands tend to cramp up after a few hours of playing a game. The AGB-001 form factor is perfect, so this modification was exactly what I wanted in a Game Boy.

Now I have to say I would never take apart two perfectly good working units to make one of these. There are kits available with screens and ribbon cables that don’t require cannibalizing an AGS-101. Had my AGS-101 simply needed to be reshelled I would have done so, but, again, the water indicator on the motherboard was pink indicating some moisture had come in contact with the board. The motherboard could be perfectly fine, but I personally wouldn’t want to spend the money to reshell it and the board short out sometime down the road, so I chose to make the GBA-101. Here are the conditions of both units as I found them at Goodwill:

Posted June 26th, 2020