Each iteration of the Game Boy has brought something new to the table. The original made you feel like you had a real NES on the go; the Game Boy Color introduced 32,000 colors to Nintendo mobile games; and the Game Boy Advance improved on both, combining great (for its time) graphics with a new aspect ratio and shoulder buttons to boot.
However, no device was perfect. The main issue for many gamers was the lack of a backlit screen. The Game Boy, Game Boy Color, and Game Boy Advance all omitted this option, meaning games had to be viewed under an external light source to be enjoyed. Even then, it wasn’t ideal, and it certainly wasn’t the way most of us wanted to play. The only ones that seemed to like it were third-party companies, as they made a killing on Game Boy lighting accessories.
It wasn’t until the Game Boy Advance SP that Nintendo mobile games would finally have their own light source, but even that came with complications. Nintendo originally released the SP with an illuminated screen on the front, which was miles better than other Game Boys’ screens, but didn’t look as nice as the backlit option they later offered with the AGS-101 model.
But I digress. Backlighting may have been the biggest issue with the Game Boys, but there’s plenty of room for improvement in 2022. You to know those built-in speakers don’t hold up, and the lack of rechargeable batteries means you’ll be scouring your house from top to bottom for AA when that red light comes on.
Gaming purists might not be interested, but there is a way to take full advantage of these retro handhelds. 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 want. Buy cases in completely different colors than Nintendo has ever offered; add lighted buttons to easily play in the dark; upgrade sound chip to jam with stunning 8-16-and 32-bit soundtracks.
More importantly, in my opinion, replace the terrible old screen with a high-quality backlit option. Modders enjoy working on all Game Boys models, even the Advance SP with its bright display. There’s just something cool about the combination of customization and quality of life improvements that come with these mods.
The Retro Future was my first foray into the world of Game Boy modding. Color combos aren’t my cup of tea, but I was more enamored 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 Game Boy mods, and it might do the same for you.
As you see in The Retro Future video, modding can get quite technically complex, requiring a soldering iron (and, with it, knowledge of soldering). While there are many mods that require soldering, there are others that don’t. Installing a new backlit IPS panel, for example, is possible without any soldering work. However, if you skip this process, you will not be able to control the screen brightness.
For the full modding experience, you’ll need to know how to solder. Screen control, rechargeable batteries, sound enhancement, etc. I I don’t know how to weld, so I can’t give advice in this area. However, a screen replacement may be all you need to dramatically improve your enjoyment with your Game Boy. While a backlit display is an obvious upgrade for OG Game Boy, Game Boy Color, and Game Boy Advances, you can also upgrade your SP if you don’t have a Model 101.
It does not calculate has a great video showing how an original SP can be modified to fit a fantastic new screen. Also, because their SP got scratched, they replaced the shell with a great looking translucent option. I know I could put this mod together myself, but honestly I would pay a lot of money to buy it pre-built.
Note that if you are not planning to replace your Game Boy’s case, you will need to cut some of the plastic around the edges of the screen case, to accommodate the slightly larger screen you are adding. The guide you are referring to will walk you through this process if necessary, but it can be a tricky process to complete. As such, you’ll see that modders recommend buying pre-built hulls. Unless you’re dedicated to the retro look, you might want to consider this route.
Now, aside from great YouTube videos, there are other places to look to get started. Retro edit is definitely a great site to check out, as it has all the parts you need to start one of those modding projects. They even have a page of tutorialsguiding you through the various steps required for particular mods. iFixit has tools too to use for modding, including a welding station if you are interested in more complex mods.
Of course, you don’t have to go into modding to find a better Game Boy experience. For $220 you can pick up an analog pocketwith a super sharp backlit display, great sound, the ability to plug into your TV, all in one impressive design.
Still, there’s a reason Game Boy modding has the community it does: it’s fun to tinker with technology and create something that’s yours. Nintendo may never have offered a transparent Game Boy Advance with light-up buttons and a backlit screen, but you can put one together yourself.