About a year ago I read about a mod to take the backlit screen from a Gameboy Advance SP and fit it to an original Gameboy Advance using a ribbon adapter. I wanted to try this because the original Gameboy Advance is a great system, but the non-backlit screen can be difficult to see. The Gameboy Advance SP has a better screen, but it’s not as comfortable to hold, and the Gameboy Micro is too small to play for an extended amount of time. So putting a backlit screen in the original Gameboy Advance should create the perfect Gameboy!
Unfortunately, white doing this mod, I ran into lots of issues, and it ended up taking much longer than it should have. If you plan on doing this mod, learn from my mistakes!
I started with my glacier blue Gameboy Advance, a screen from a Gameboy Advance SP (AGS-101), and a ribbon cable adapter. I got the adapter from a very nice man in China named Zerey Zhang, but it’s quite easy to get adapters on eBay now.
Some of these pictures were taken as reference photos about a year ago. I didn’t really expect them to be uploaded online so please forgive the poor quality.
Because the glacier blue Gameboy Advance is transparent I decided to try painting the system by painting the inside of the plastic black. This should create a unique smokey black/blue color!
So I took the screen from the SP, attached it to the adapter, managed to stuff it all in to the painted shell. It was still a tough fit with the larger screen and adapter, and there were some gaps between the front and back plastic shells. But at least it was done, or so I thought.
Part 2: In which I break everything
The Gameboy had such a tight fit, the shell was bent and the plastic over the screen kept popping off. So I bought a glass screen cover hoping that would fix the problem. I decided that while I was replacing the glass, I would also cut some more plastic off and try for a better fit.
Mistake 1: When I removed the Gameboy’s screen, I ended up damaging the adapter. It had somehow got stuck to the back of the screen, and part of it separated when the screen was removed. It took many hours of troubleshooting to narrow it down to the adapter (as opposed to screen or mainboard). Once I figured out it was the ribbon adapter, I ordered another one from eBay.
Mistake 2: After removing even more plastic it was starting to show it’s original color in some areas, so I decided to give the shell another coat of paint. I taped everything up, but I forgot to tape up the clear plastic in front of the green power LED. Now when the system was on, no light came through.
Mistake 3: I tried removing the paint from the clear plastic with a knife, but it didn’t work. So I got out the drill (you can probably see this coming), and just shaved the top layer off the clear plastic piece. Everything seemed good… at first.
Once I got the adapter from eBay, everything seemed to work just fine! I put it all back together and played it for a while to make sure it was working. While playing, I noticed a slight crack around the power LED. After about 30 minutes, that crack had spread outwards to the ends of the shell. This had to be because of the drilling…
The shell was ruined… So I went shopping for a new shell. I finally found one that I liked on the Etsy page for 8bit Evolution (no longer available). I decided to try one, as I couldn’t stand having a Gameboy Advance with a crack like that. So after waiting the replacement shell finally arrived!
The only problem I ran into with this shell was the fact that it didn’t have the transparent plastic for the LED. I managed to take that out of the old shell though (it was undamaged, despite the cracks). Other than that, everything fit even better than my butchered original shell!
Once I got the LED looking okay, and I got the Gameboy fully assembled, it looked better than I expected! I was almost glad the original shell cracked!
Here’s the (finally) finished product!
I also managed to use a hairdryer to heat up the stickers on the back of the original shell, and move them to the new shell. Since this is the GBA from my childhood, I wanted to keep as much as I could from the original system.
And just like most of my handhelds, I used rechargeable Eneloop batteries because of the extra power draw from the backlit screen. They also look good behind the transparent battery cover!
I loved the idea of a backlit Gameboy Advance, and I’m really excited that I finally got it right! This really does combine the best of all the GBA models. It has the comfort and nice buttons of the original, with the backlit screen and rechargeability of the SP and Micro. I’m excited to finally have this in my collection!