An Epic Quest To Build The Ultimate Game Boy

If you didn’t grow up clutching Nintendo’s original DMG-01 Game Boy, it might difficult to see the appeal in 2023. It had the ergonomics of a brick, the system’s unlit LCD screen utilized a somewhat nauseating green color palette, and when compared to its contemporary competition like the Sega Game Gear or Atari Lynx, it would certainly appear to be the inferior platform. But despite its faults there was just something magical about the machine, and those who have a soft spot for the iconic handheld are always eager to relive those glory days.

Now, thanks to the incredible work of [Bucket Mouse], playing the old “brick” Game Boy doesn’t have to be nearly as austere an experience as it was in 1989. That’s because he’s developed a set of replacement PCBs for the handheld that not only implement all of the features of the later Game Boy Color, but sprinkle in some modern niceties as well. The result is a handheld that looks like the original on the outside, but plays all your favorite games even better than you remember them.

[Bucket Mouse] has put together some superb documentation for this project, and the design files are released under the Creative Commons license for anyone who wants to spin up their own copies. He’s even selling boards for those who don’t want to go through the time and trouble of getting them manufactured. But be warned — this is no weekend project.

To start with, you’ll need to salvage several key components (such as the CPU and SRAM) from a sacrificial Game Boy Color, and pull the external connectors off of your Game Boy’s original PCB. Then you’ll need to pick up a third party LCD and lens at the absolute minimum, though you might as well go all in and get a custom new-manufactured case and button set while you’re at it.

Beyond the ability to play Game Boy Color games, the new internals offer a number of improvements over the stock hardware. For example there’s an integrated navigation switch (mounted where the contrast dial used to be) that lets you page through the settings menu of the upgraded IPS LCD panel. The audio hardware has also been upgraded for better sound, and a modern switch mode power supply should get you a few more hours out of the AA batteries than before. You’ve also got the option to swap the face buttons for the more tactile versions used in the Game Boy Advance SP, and if you really want to show off that aftermarket translucent case, add some RGB LED lighting to your born-again handheld.

As you might expect, this project has been a long-term labor of love. [Bucket Mouse] has been dropping occasional updates in the Hackaday Discord server for several months now, and it’s been fascinating to see the progression. You may recall we covered an earlier version of the concept, where he literally crammed a Game Boy Color motherboard into the DMG-01 case, but this new approach allows for a much more professional and reliable installation — befitting the legendary reliability of Nintendo and Gunpei Yokoi’s portable brainchild.

8 thoughts on “An Epic Quest To Build The Ultimate Game Boy

  1. “If you didn’t grow up clutching Nintendo’s original DMG-01 Game Boy, it might difficult to see the appeal in 2023.”

    Where I lived, in 1991 original GameBoy cost as much as two months wage of university lecturer.

    1. Yep. That’s something that a lot of people forget about–easy enough to do when you’re looking back and only seeing the “good” specs like resolution and color and processing power.

      The Game Gear and the Lynx took six AA batteries and only delivered six hours of play at best; sometimes as little as two. The Game Boy would go fifteen or twenty hours on a set of four AA batteries.

      For a portable system, that makes all the difference. You could put a fresh set of batteries in your Game Boy and you’d be covered for a weekend.

      There’s also the fact that a system’s library matters more than its specs. The Game Boy came with Tetris, and the appeal of that cartridge should NOT be underestimated. Nintendo also worked hard at putting out high-quality flagship games for the system, like Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening, the Super Mario Land series and the spinoff Wario Land, the Kirby series, some great Final Fantasy titles, and of course, it’s where the Pokemon franchise was born.

    2. Yes, but as someone who had a “play it loud” model in the 90s, I think there’s something else, too: Third-party support.

      Back in the day, there was all sorts of accessories for the DMG-01. External battery packs (via wire/plug), battery packs that stuck to the case, magnifiers, lights, stereo speakers, game link cables, action replays/game genies etc.

      Personally, I had a magnifier/light “thing” that could be mounted on the GB.
      The light source was a pair of miniature incandescent lamps, not LEDs. It had its own battery department, taking four LR6 batteries.

      Ot looked similar to this one, but not exactly the same.

      Sure, looks very primitive by today’s standards, but it also had that warm glow.

      If you were a kid in the 90s, it wasn’t uncommon to play games at a place you weren’t being bothered by others. Like, in a closet, under a desk (with a thick blanket laid over it), in the attic, under the stairs in the cellar, the tree house, in your fortress made of cardboard.. ;)

      Unfortunately, these hideout places were often rather dark, so a light source was required. Flashlights were a big thing back then, too. And compasses. :)

      Again, this were pre-LED days. Bright flashlights often were quite big and heavy by comparison. But they looked warm, like daylight, also. Unless you had some Xenon lamp or fluorescent tube, maybe.

      1. Heh.. I had the same magnifier, and I fondly remember wanting it simply so that I could play in the back of the car during long drives at night. Kinda crazy how far we’ve come..

      2. All true. No joke, my OG Game Boy with magnifier light accessory had a strap with a compass on it. Because, obviously.

        Final Fantasy Adventure was played with religious reverence nightly, deep within the most extraordinary blanket and cardboard labyrinths. I used every chair in the house after my parents went to sleep. Multiple levels, entire living room from wall to wall. Nothing but fort.

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