Building A Tiny Arcade Cabinet From A Game Boy Advance

[Jani ‘Japala’ Pönkkö] found a way to make his old Game Boy Advance exciting again. He poured a ton of time and craftsmanship into building a miniature arcade cabinet. He did such a good job it’s easy to think this is a commercial product. But when you open the back of the case to switch games one look at what’s crammed inside let’s you know this is custom work.

What’s most surprising to us is that he didn’t draw out a full set of plans before beginning. He simply measured the circuit board and LCD screen from the Game Boy and went with his gut for everything else. The case itself is crafted from baltic birch plywood, which was primed and painted before applying the decals. There is also a screen bezel made of acrylic with its own decal like you’d find on coin-op machines. These were made using printable sticker paper. The electronic part of the build involves no more than extending contacts from the circuit board to buttons mounted on the case. But he did also replace the stock speaker for one that produces better audio.

13 thoughts on “Building A Tiny Arcade Cabinet From A Game Boy Advance

    1. Supercard! Though the ones for GBA are obsolete, and I’d bet very hard to get hold of new. I got mine a few years ago and they were borderline-obsolete then.

      But what I got was 32MB (256Mbit) RAM, an SD-card interface, boot ROM, and some interfacing logic, in a slightly oversized Gameboy Advance cartridge case. Nice transparent one, too. And it does stuff like save-states / snapshots, which the real games wouldn’t do.

      You just load your ROMs onto SD card (up to 2GB). The ROMs need patching first, since the RAM on the card has slower timings than some of the original cart ROMs. The patch util you can download, I think mine came on a CD-R. Then put the SD card in the Supercard, the Supercard in the GBA, and Bob’s yer uncle!

      What’s really nice, is it has built-in emulators for the NES, Sega Master System, original Gameboy, and even PC Engine! You just put .SMS or .NES files on the SD card along with your .GBAs, and they play off the boot menu like normal! No user setup required!

      If you can’t get one, there are older alternative carts available, with a few hundred MB of flash on board, that need the ROMs sent to them by USB, or (even older) with an included programmer. Usually they’re more expensive, since you’re paying for the onboard flash, instead of providing it with a cheap SD card.

      For the DS there’s also a Supercard, which I also love. So far don’t think they’ve cracked the 3DS, but give them time… But for the Gameboy Advance, I don’t think you’d ever find better than the Supercard. With the right games, you’d have something like a tiny MAME cabinet!

      1. Just to add… there are quite a few Chinese GBA clones with many builtin games. From reading reviews, they can be excellent, tho on some models the screens might not be great, check the reviews first!

    1. Nice pictures but there’s no explanation! No text at all! And I’d really be interested in knowing what you did, particularly for the Outrun version (it has a steering wheel!). Did you use a pot and a circuit to convert it to L/R presses? Or just a mechanical thing?

  1. I just realized, with the way the way he has the buttons placed couldn’t you get creative and make it so the GBA SP could be slid in and out, rather than taken apart and permanently affixed? You could use pass through plastic buttons that directly interacted with the ones on the game boy itself……. I was just having a thinking moment not trying to criticize the work. It looks amazing and has more craftsmanship than I could ever achieve.

    1. Having buttons that press the real GBA buttons might leave the action a bit loose, and be susceptible to mis-presses. Also would mean you’d be stuck with the button layout of the original console (particularly the L and R shoulder buttons, which would really spoil the arcade feel).

      I suppose you could carefully wire the buttons to an external socket or something added to the GBA. But they’re so cheap, why bother!?

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