Each iteration of the Game Boy brought something new to the table. The original made you feel like you had a true NES on the go; Game Boy Color introduces 32,000 colors to mobile Nintendo gaming; And the Game Boy Advance both improved, combining great (for the time) graphics with a new aspect ratio and shoulder buttons to boot.
However, none of the tools was perfect. The biggest problem for many gamers was the lack of a backlit display. The Game Boy, Game Boy Color and Game Boy Advance all omitted this option, meaning the game had to be viewed under an external light source in order to be enjoyed. Still, it wasn’t ideal, and it certainly wasn’t the way most of us wanted to play. The only ones that liked it were third-party companies, as they slayed on Game Boy Lite accessories.
It wouldn’t be until the Game Boy Advance SP that mobile Nintendo games would have their own light source, but it also came with complications. Nintendo originally released the SP with a front-lit display, which was miles away Better than the other Game Boys’ screens, but not as good looking as the backlit option they later introduced with the AGS-101 model.
but I digress. Backlighting may be the biggest problem with the Game Boys, but there’s a lot of room for improvement in 2022. You Know Those built-in speakers don’t seem to hold up, and the lack of a rechargeable battery means you’ll be searching your house up and down for AA when that red light comes on.
Gaming purists may not be interested, but there is a way to enjoy these retro handhelds to their full potential. Enter the world of Game Boy modding. As long as you have an original Game Boy motherboard, you can retrofit your console to look the way you like. Buy cases in completely different colors than Nintendo’s; Add a light-up button to play in the dark easily; Upgrade the sound chip to jam some great 8-, 16-, and 32-bit soundtracks.
Most importantly, in my opinion, replace the old, terrible screen with a backlit, high-quality alternative. Modders enjoy working on all models of the Game Boy, even the Advance SP with its light-up display. There’s just something cool about the combination of customizability, as well as the improved quality of life that comes with these mods.
Retro Future was my first foray into the world of Game Boy modding. The color combination isn’t my cup of tea, but I was more taken with the idea of choosing your own Game Boy Advance colors in the first place. This one video sent me down a rabbit hole of a Game Boy mod, and it might do the same for you.
As you see from The Retro Future’s video, modding can be very technically complex, requiring a soldering iron (and, with it, knowledge of how to solder). While there are plenty of mods that require soldering, there are some that don’t. For example, installing a new backlit IPS panel is something that is doable without any soldering work. However, skipping this process means you won’t be able to control the brightness of the display.
For a full modding experience, you need to know how to solder. Screen control, rechargeable battery, sound upgrade, etc. I I don’t know how to solder, so I can’t give advice in that area. However, a display replacement may be all you need to improve your enjoyment with your Game Boy. While the backlit display is an obvious upgrade to the OG Game Boy, Game Boy Color, and Game Boy Advance, you’ll want to upgrade your SP if you don’t have the 101 model.
This is a great video at Do Not Compute showing how an original SP can be modified to fit a great new display. Also, because his SP was scratched, he replaced the shell with a horrible transparent alternative. I know I could put this mod together myself, but, honestly, I’d pay good money to buy it prebuilt.
You should note, if you don’t plan on replacing your Game Boy’s case, you’ll need to trim some of the plastic around the edges of the display housing to fit the slightly larger display you’re adding. The guide you are referencing will guide you through this process if necessary, but it can be a tedious process to fix. As such, you’ll see that modders recommend buying pre-made shells. Unless you’re dedicated to the retro look, you might want to consider going that route.
Now, in addition to excellent YouTube videos, there are other places to start. Retro Modding is definitely a top site to check out, as they feature all the parts you need to get started on one of these revamped projects. They even have a tutorial page, which walks you through the various steps required for the particular mod. If you’re interested in more complex mods iFixit also has tools for you to use for modding, including a soldering workstation.
Of course, you don’t have to be modding to find a better Game Boy experience. For $220, you can pick up an analog pocket with a super-sharp backlit display, great sound, the ability to plug in your TV, all in one astonishing Design.
Still, there’s a reason Game Boy modding has the community it does: tinkering with technology and creating something that’s all your own. Nintendo may never have offered a transparent Game Boy Advance with light-up buttons and a backlit display, but you can put one together yourself.