Oh to mod a Game Boy Advance

[insert comment about abandoned blog here, again.]

It’s been a while since I last sat down here to write about personal stuff, but most of my life has been absolutely consumed by my job and the deteriorating condition of the workplace that has been taking place for nearly 3 years now. While I would love to go into detail, can’t really talk about it without spilling some personal information.

However, fairly recently I felt a desire to go back and revisit my GBA. Back in 2019 I was wanting to play with a GBA again. I used to have one back when I was a kid, but one day at school in 2006, the screen on my gba went kaput after leaning against a wall with my backpack on. Being a 16-year-old, insecure kid in the year 2006, naturally I assumed my GBA was absolutely destroyed and ended up throwing it away after some time.

Not only did I want to play on a GBA again, but I had also developed an interest in an original GBA modded to use the AGS-101 screen. A very generous person on Twitter approached me and offered to send me their modded GBA, free of charge to boot, since it was just sitting there collecting dust. I had to dig through my DMs to find this person since they had changed up their username and profile. If you ever read this, know I’m still immensely grateful for this.

Around the start of 2020, I received the package with some bonus stuff thrown in as well. Honestly, I was just floored. I had just recently started a new job after being out of work for some time and was hurting for money. This made for a very much appreciated Christmas present. I always preferred the original GBA form-factor over the GBASP.

BN3 my beloved

After many years, I was able to play my most played GBA game: Mega Man Battle Network 3 (Blue) on real hardware. I am also opting to ignore the Wii U VC release. Actually… my Wii U’s gamepad suffered the same fate as my GBA not too long before this.

Cracks were forming on the left side of the shell. I had also opened up the GBA to give it a nice cleanup. I think I had even orered a tri-wing screwdriver just for this. I kept on using the GBA. Later during that summer, I grabbed a New 2DS from Walmart that was going for just $100.

The $100 New 2DS from Walmart was a banger deal

Since I had completely missed out on the entire 3DS generation, I went ahead and did some gaming in that for a while (alongside with a new PC I built shortly after). I also learned that the 3/2DS handhelds make for some really good emulation machines for the entire Game Boy series of handhelds. However, despite its convenience, it’s just not the same. Doesn’t feel right to have such a big device for GBA/GBC. I mean like… it’s perfectly fine, but there’s something about running it on native hardware that makes it feel better.

I went back to the GBA and ordered a new shell to go with it. Perhaps this will solve the shell crack by making sure I seated it properly. I even went with a color that suits me more despite being fond of the Glacier color that my original GBA had.

New shell, now in Sparky Blue™️

Sadly, the same cracks ended up happening at the same locations. I assumed that something about the screen mod itself was causing more pressure than an unmodded GBA and ended up benching the GBA for some time. It was around this time that the Mega Man Star Force DX rom hack came out, so I went to play the ever-loving hell out of it for a while (and later the rest of the series). Luckily it was some time before my job started getting very rough.

MMSF DX was amazing

Sadly, things just ended up piling on me and my available free time was on the decline. For the time being, the GBA would end up as a decoration in my room. A lot of stuff has happened since then, nowadays often succumbing to depression and dissociation during my free time (weekends). However, It wasn’t until not long ago that I ended up stumbling upon laminated IPS kits for the GBA. I did some thorough research and decided to give it a try. I already had a perfectly working GBA (motherboard) and this screen seemed easy enough for me to do it. And hell, maybe using a shell specifically designed for this screen mod, maybe that could prevent the cracks from happening once and for all.

I was too into it to even pause and take pictures of my progress, but I can definitely say that I did give up during the (optional) soldering process. I was struggling to solder the wires onto the motherboard and decided to just remove them from the ribbon cable and just use the touch sensor.

I went with the same color for the case and wanted to try using black buttons this time. However, in my infinite wisdom, I forgot to purchase the rubber membranes in black. The start and select buttons are actually one of the membranes, so I went back with white buttons to not have them mismatched.

I went and ordered the stuff straight from FunnyPlaying. The screen itself is amazing and it’s fairly easy to install, even someone as clumsy as me can do it. There is some sharpness lost given that it’s a slightly bigger screen, but honestly, it still looks really well and has some amazing viewing angles.

At this point, the battery in the EZ Flash Omega that came with the GBA had run dry. Not having a working RTC made it difficult to deal with games that used it. The GB/C emulator bundled in also leaves little to be desired. It technically works but has some inaccuracies. This is much more noticeable when playing Game Boy Color games.

I went ahead and ordered both the EZ Flash Omega Definitive Edition (a mouthful) and the EZ Flash Junior for the GB/C games. (Also came with a usb reader since I believe I lost mine during a hotel stay this summer.) The Jr came with a drained battery, but since both flash carts have user-replaceable batteries, it was only a matter of going to Walgreens and buying a new one. Everything is working as it should since replacing it. Probably gonna skip putting the included sticker onto it for the time being.

There is also a IPS kit for the GBC and there may be a possibility I could end up doing that someday to revive my GBC. It works, but the screen has burned over time in storage. The speaker also stopped working properly after a fall way back when I was still a kid. It’s an interesting project I’m looking forward to when I’m finally able to toss in some money to that. I can play the games both on my GBA and 2DS but wouldn’t hurt to put the GBC back in commission.

The SML2 DX rom hack looks so vibrant on this screen

Throughout this little journey, I learned that it’s much easier and more convenient to put it all in a New 2DS/3DS or use a dedicated emulation handheld. However, the GBA was part of my teen years and I have a soft spot for it. Playing things on it just feels right and always invokes a sense of nostalgia for times that are long gone. That glass do be quite a dust magnet, though.

I’m just as grateful for having received this GBA as the day it arrived. It would have been nice to have something like this back in the day, but it’s never too late to enjoy something once more.

Time to wrap up this unexpectedly long blog post. Might see if I can muster enough inspiration to do another drawing featuring a GBA. Maybe. Unsure.

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