I have a vivid memory of the first time I ever played a game on Nintendo’s beloved handheld, the Game Boy. I must have been about 10 years old, and I was spending the weekend at my grandmother’s house. But I wasn’t very close with this particular grandmother, so I was a little scared and a bit homesick. I hid in my cousins’ room in the back of the house, hoping not to draw my grandmother’s ire. This is where I uncovered an old Game Boy and a copy of The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening.
I didn’t progress very far in the short time I had with the game, but it made a strong impression on me. It felt like an exclusive experience. A big adventure in the palm of my hands. That sparking of imagination sustained me until my parents came and picked took me home.
And I’ve been enamored with the possibilities of portable gaming ever since then.
Over the years, I’ve managed to own a few different versions of the Game Boy. A few of them I’ve traded up for newer models. Some disappeared at my parent’s house. The only one that remains is a gnarled AGS-101 model Game Boy Advance. This thing hasn’t been treated particularly well. There are scratches all over the outer casing and prominent gash in the plastic lens that covers the LCD screen. It’s damaged enough that I’ve considered replacing it a few times over the years.
In a recent fit of nostalgia, I decided that rather than taking a risk on a new AGS-101, I’d disassemble mine and put it in a new case. The YouTube tutorials make it look simple enough, and the parts are less expensive than purchasing new GBA. So I planned out the following fixes:
- Replace the damaged case with a brand new housing.
- Replace the damaged plastic lens with a pristine glass lens
- Replace the old battery (now swollen with age) with a higher-capacity 850 mAh battery.
This wasn’t just a minor restoration of my beat-up old unit. This was a noticable enhancement of the already impressive AGS-101 model. I put in an order at God of Gaming, and waited impatiently for my parts to arrive.
My case kit arrived, and I started carefully dissembling my unit (thanks to this tutorial). It was fascinating to see the inner workings of the Game Boy Advance. The entire unit consists of a single board and an LCD screen, connected by a ribbon connector carefully curled through the hinge. It’s a marvel of engineering elegance and simplicity. I was proud of myself for not breaking anything thus far.
The next step involved removing the old plastic screen lens, which was far grimier than it appeared while the unit was intact. The plastic peeled away pretty easily. However, placing the new glass lens on the LCD was much more challenging. It needed to be centered on the screen: not shifted to the right or left, too high or low, twisted one way or another. Both the underside of the lens and the screen itself needed to be free of dust and smudges. It had to be done perfectly and permanently. This part had me a little stressed.
Unfortunately, I didn’t stick the landing on this screen. My new glass lens was just a tiny bit left of center, with a fingerprint on the on the inside of the screen. I decided to stay calm and try again, but the glass lens wasn’t going to be as easy to peel away as the old plastic one.
That’s when something bad happened.
As I gently pried at the lower right corner of the glass, a small crack shot up into the center of the lens like a bolt of lightning streaking across the night sky.
To make matters worse, at this point that I realized that I was missing a few little parts, one of which would be required to reassemble the new case. At this point I was frustrated. I went back to God of Gaming, ordered a new glass lens, and emailed them about tossing in the missing pieces.
About 4 days later, my second shipment arrived. The glass was there, but the other pieces were still missing. I immediately emailed God of Gaming again, and they were helpful… but I wasn’t going to be able to complete the build for several more days.
At least for now, I could carefully replace the broken glass lens. And since I didn’t have the rest of the things that I needed to finish, there would be no impulse to rush the process. That’s exactly what I did. This time I placed the LCD into the plastic housing, and used the screws holes as points of reference as I slowly lowered the lens onto the LCD. This time without any extra fingerprints on the glass.
With the lens finally in place, I just had to wait for missing parts to arrive. I checked the tracking embarrassingly often, but it no updates. The days slipped away. Still no package. Finally the tracking page displayed an estimated arrival date: Friday. On Friday, I found myself checking the tracking updates even more often, but the day came and went without a delivery. The shipment was delayed.
The next day, the parts finally arrived. After being busy all day, I sat down with a cup of coffee and started reassembling the Game Boy.
Muscling the hinges into place proved to be almost as annoying and difficult as placing the glass lens. I even took a few careful swings at it with a hammer… and I managed to get the hinges installed; though they don’t sit perfectly flush with the housing.
Then I had to get ribbon cable for the screen reattached to the main board. That was actually very challenging as well, but I eventually connected that after some careful tinkering. From here, I just had to screw the bottom of the case back onto the unit. Simple. But I must have done something wrong beause the buttons didn’t feel right. I unscrewed the case again, checking all the rubber membranes underneath the buttons. And then I screwed it back together one final time.
It was finally done.
Overall, I am pleased with the way that my Game Boy Advance. It’s not perfect, but I’m pleased. I don’t think I want to do this again, but I’m pleased. Now I’m going to bed because that took longer that I thought it would. When I wake up in the morning, I’m going to play The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past.
What a time to be alive!