Monday, 31 March 2014

Backlit Gameboy Advance

Last month I had the absolute pleasure of discovering Twitch Plays Pokémon. If you never heard about it, I'd recommend at least a read through the Wikipedia page. While I only spend a few minutes here and there contributing to the avalanche of commands given to the poor little trainer, I got a lot of enjoyment from checking in now and again to see how the collective quest of 80,000 cooperating (I use that word very lightly) players was going.

Part of that enjoyment, certainly, was due to the nostalgia. My brother and I played a great deal of Pokémon Red and Blue when we were little, trading and battling and generally exploring the world. In fact, after watching Twitch Plays Pokémon, I had a sudden desire to revisit the game. As it happens, the smart people at Game Freak remade the original Red and Blue games for the Gameboy Advance, under the names FireRed and LeafGreen. I never had a Gameboy Advance, and so decided to treat myself to both the handheld console and a copy of Pokémon FireRed courtesy of eBay.

I discovered, upon firing up the device, something that I had forgotten for many years. The display on those early systems; Original, Colour, and Advance was pretty awful. I had forgotten the years of leaning awkwardly towards bedside lamps, and the clunky little plastic magnifying-glass and LED attachments every young boy owned to make his toy usable beyond the daylight hours.

This problem was fixed in the second version of the Gameboy Advance SP (AGS-101) which featured a backlit screen. But I already had my gameboy, the backlit SPs were pretty expensive, and quite frankly I never much liked the way the SP looked and felt.

As it turns out, I wasn't alone in thinking this, and a bit of Googling pointed me towards a lovely man in China by the name of Zerey Zhang. Zerey sells adaptor cables that let you install a beautiful, bright, backlit AGS-101 screen in your regular Gameboy Advance! He also sells the screens themselves and pre-upgraded GBAs.

If you're in America, you can also get either the kit or an already upgraded GBA from Rose Colored Gaming. Regardless of which supplier you use, the instructions provided by RCG are excellent. The procedure itself isn't particularly tricky. First you'll need to open the device up remove a fair bit of plastic from the front case.

I imagine this could be fairly time consuming, however if you're fortunate enough to own a rotary tool such as a Dremel, you'll make short work of the plastic. Next, you'll need to solder a single wire to provide power to the screen. This can be pretty fiddly, especially if, like me, you're no expert with a soldering iron.

Finally, a little tape keeps the new screen's cable snugly in place.

Once you've put it all back together, the difference is fairly striking. My flatmate was kind enough to lend me his old GBA for a couple of comparison shots:

If you fancy having a go yourself, don't hesitate to get in touch with Zerey at He's a pleasure to deal with and his English is excellent.

That concludes this project, and leads me nicely to my next 'project'. It's something I've always dreamed of doing, something challenging, but something I think we can all agree is truly, truly worthwhile.

I'm going to catch 'em all.