THICC GBA SP Mod Gets Easy Install Ahead Of Release

Back in August we covered a unique modification for the Nintendo Game Boy Advance SP which replaced the handheld’s rear panel with an expanded version that had enough internal volume for an upgraded battery, a Bluetooth audio transmitter, and support for both Qi wireless and USB-C charging. The downside was that getting the 10 mm 3D printed “backpack” installed wasn’t exactly the most user-friendly operation.

But today we’re happy to report that the dream team behind the so-called THICC BOI SP have not only made some huge improvements to the mod, but that they intend to release it as a commercial kit in the next few months. The trick to making this considerable upgrade a bit more forgiving is the use of a bespoke flat flex cable that easily allows the user to solder up all the necessary test points and connections, as well as a custom PCB that pulls together all the hardware required.

In the video below, [Tito] of Macho Nacho Productions goes over the latest version of the mod he’s been working on with [Kyle] and [Helder], and provides a complete step-by-step installation tutorial to give viewers an idea of what they’ll be in for once the kit goes on sale. While it’s still a fairly involved modification, the new design is surprisingly approachable. As we’ve seen with previous console modifications, the use of flat flex technology means the installation shouldn’t pose much of a challenge for anyone with soldering experience.

The flat flex cable allows for an exceptionally clean install.

Some may be put off by the fact that the replacement rear panel is even thicker this time around, but hopefully the unprecedented runtime made possible by the monstrous 4,500 mAh LiPo battery pack hiding inside the retrofit unit will help ease any discomfort (physical or otherwise) you may have from carrying around the chunkier case. Even with power-hungry accouterments like an aftermarket IPS display and a flash cart, the new battery can keep your SP running for nearly 20 hours. If you still haven’t beaten Metroid: Zero Mission by then, it’s time to take a break and reflect on your life anyway.

According to [Tito], the logistical challenges and considerable upfront costs involved in getting the new rear panels injection molded in ABS is the major roadblock holding the release of the kit back right now. The current prototypes, which appear to have been 3D printed in resin, simply don’t match the look and feel of the GBA SP’s original case well enough to be a viable option. A crowd funding campaign should get them over that initial hump, and we’ll be keeping an eye out for more updates as things move along towards production.

The previous version of this mod was impressive enough as a one-off project, but we’re excited to see the team taking the next steps towards making this compelling evolution of the GBA more widely available. It’s a fantastic example of what’s possible for small teams, or even individuals, when you leverage all the tools in the modern hardware hacking arsenal.

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two hands holding a wider version of a purple gameboy advance

The Stretch Limo Of Game Boys

Here at Hackaday, we see all sorts of projects, some born out of a deep necessity or itch that couldn’t be scratched. Others are born out of a world of “why not” and it is perhaps these projects that put the biggest smile on our faces. The WideBoy Advance by [Elliot] of Retro Future is one such project.

Starting with a working Game Boy Advance and a donor one with a busted motherboard, the frankenstein-ification could start. A Dremel split one case in half and removed the sides on another, while trusty old car body filler helps fill and smooth the gaps. A particularly clever trick is to use the Dremel to create channels for the filler to adhere easier. Several areas had to be built up with filler and glued in bits of plastic as a base. As you can see in the video below, the countless hours of sanding, priming, sanding, and more priming led to a beautifully smooth finish. The choice of purple paint really sells the impression of a factory-fresh Game Boy Advance.

The working circuit board was desoldered and the donor board was cut into pieces to fit in the extended sides. Using some magnet wire, connections were bridged over to the original motherboard via the test points on the PCB. [Elliot] didn’t opt to swap the screen to an IPS display or add a backlight. These quality of life improvements are nice, but a dead giveaway that Nintendo didn’t make it. The goal is to get the user to wonder, even if just for a second, what if Nintendo just happened to make this wide one-off handheld console.

[Elliot] made it simply because he found it interesting and enjoyed the form of the thing he made. Is it a hack? Is it art? Probably a little bit of both. This isn’t his first modified Nintendo handheld either. He previously made a long Nintendo Gameboy DMG-01. We love seeing all the wild hacks and tweaks made to Game Boy line, such as this Game Boy Color inside the DMG-01.

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Cracking A GBA Game With NSA Tools

[Wrongbaud] is a huge fan of Japanese kaiju-style movies, including Godzilla and King Kong. In honor of the release of a new movie, he has decided to tackle a few projects to see how both of these monsters can hold their own against other legendary monsters. In this project, he is using Ghidra, named after another legendary kaiju, against the password system of the Game Boy Advance game Kong: King of Atlantis.

Since this project is a how-to, [wrongbaud] shows how to search Ghidra for existing scripts that might already have the functionality needed for GBA analysis and emulation. When not, he also illustrates how to write scripts to automate code analysis, and then moves on to cracking the level password system on the game.

The key to finding the passwords on this game was looking for values in the code that were seven characters long, and after some searching [wrongbaud] is finally able to zero in on the code responsible for handling passwords. Once found a brute force method was automated to find viable passwords, and from there the game was officially pwned. For anyone interested in security, reverse engineering, or just the way that binaries work, it’s quite the detailed breakdown. Of course, it’s not the only example we have seen that uses this software tool to extract passwords.

PlayStation Games On The GBA, With A Few Extra Steps

It might seem impossible, but what you’re looking at is a Sony PlayStation game being played on a Nintendo Game Boy Advance. The resolution is miserable and the GBA doesn’t have nearly enough buttons to do most 3D games justice, but it’s working. There’s even audio support, although turning it on will slow things down considerably.

How does it work? The trick is that creator [Rodrigo Alfonso] is actually emulating the PlayStation on a Raspberry Pi and simply using Nintendo’s handheld as an external display and controller. We say “simply”, but of course, it’s anything but. The GitHub page for the project goes into impressive detail on how the whole thing works, but the short version is that the video data is sent from the Linux framebuffer to a small program running on the GBA over the handheld’s serial port using SPI. In testing he was able to push 2.56 Mbps through the link, which is a decent amount of bandwidth when you’ve only got to keep a 240 × 160 screen filled.

Perhaps the best part is that you don’t even need a flash cart to try it at home. [Rodrigo] is using a trick we’ve seen in other GBA projects, where the program is actually transferred to the handheld over the link cable at boot time.

Nintendo introduced this “multiboot” feature so multiplayer games could be played between systems even if they didn’t all have a physical cartridge, but now that hackers have cracked the code, it means you can run arbitrary code on a completely unmodified console; though it does get wiped as soon as you power it off.

[Rodrigo] provides all the information and software you need to try it at home, you just need a Raspberry Pi, a Game Boy Advance, and Link Cable you don’t mind cutting up; far less hardware than is required by the similar project to run DOOM on the NES. Since he’s tied everything into the popular RetroPie frontend, we imagine it would even work when emulating earlier 2D consoles; which would be a much better fit for the GBA’s display and limited inputs.

Steady Hand Brings GBA Cart Back From The Grave

The flash chips used in Game Boy Advance (GBA) cartridges were intended to be more reliable and less bulky than the battery-backed SRAM used to save player progress on earlier systems. But with some GBA titles now hitting their 20th anniversary, it’s not unheard of for older carts to have trouble loading saves or creating new ones. Perhaps that’s why the previous owner tried to reflow the flash chip on their copy of Golden Sun, but as [Taylor Burley] found after he opened up the case, they only ended up making the situation worse.

A previous repair attempt left the PCB badly damaged.

When presented with so many damaged traces on the PCB, the most reasonable course of action would have been to get a donor cartridge and swap the save chips. But a quick check on eBay shows that copies of Golden Sun don’t exactly come cheap. So [Taylor] decided to flex his soldering muscles and repair each trace with a carefully bent piece of 30 gauge wire. If you need your daily dose of Zen, just watch his methodical process in the video below.

While it certainly doesn’t detract from [Taylor]’s impressive soldering work, it should be said that the design of the cartridge PCB did help out a bit, as many of the damaged traces had nearby vias which gave him convenient spots to attach his new wires. It also appears the PCB was designed to accept flash chips of varying physical dimensions, which provided some extra breathing room for the repairs.

Seeing his handiwork, it probably won’t surprise you to find that this isn’t the first time [Taylor] has performed some life-saving microsurgery. Just last year he was able to repair the PCB of an XBox controller than had literally been snapped in half.

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Game Boy Macro Build Retains DS Compatibility

Building a so-called “Game Boy Macro” is a great way to salvage a Nintendo DS that has a broken hinge or top screen, as the system only needs the lower display to play Game Boy Advance games. Naturally, DS games that were designed to use both screens would no longer be playable. Or at least, that’s what we thought. But as [Facelesstech] shows, it’s actually possible to play DS games on a Game Boy Macro if you do a little extra soldering.

It turns out that there are two test points on the original DS motherboard where you can pick up the signal for the top and bottom screens respectively. With just three wires and a simple switch, you can select which signal gets fed into the bottom screen in real-time with no image degradation. Now, this won’t do you any good on games that make constant use of both the top and bottom DS displays, but for many titles, the bottom screen was used for little more than a map or inventory display that you only need to glance at occasionally.

Installed screen switch. Note USB-C upgrade module.

With the ability to switch between them at will, a large number of DS games are perfectly playable with just one screen. Interestingly, the touch panel still works the same regardless of which video feed is being pipped in; so if you memorize which areas need to be touched to perform different actions, you don’t even need to flip the images. In the video below, [Facelesstech] demonstrates the concept with New Super Mario Bros, which would otherwise be unplayable as the action usually is shown on the top screen.

This hack is only possible because the two displays on the DS are identical beyond the touch overlay, which as we learned during a previous deep-dive into the technology behind this revolutionary handheld, was a trick Nintendo used to squeeze as much performance as they could out of its relatively meager 3D hardware. Unfortunately, it seems like the modification is much harder to pull off on the DS Lite, so it wouldn’t be compatible with the slick Game & Watch styled Game Boy Macro we covered recently. Continue reading “Game Boy Macro Build Retains DS Compatibility”

Original Game Boy Powered Up With GBA Motherboard

The Game Boy DMG-01 is about as iconic as a piece of consumer electronics can get, but let’s be honest, it hasn’t exactly aged well. While there’s certainly a number of games for the system that are still as entertaining in 2021 as they were in the 80s and 90s, the hardware itself is another story entirely. Having to squint at the unlit display, with its somewhat nauseating green tint, certainly takes away from the experience of hunting down Pokémon.

Which is precisely why [The Poor Student Hobbyist] decided to take an original Game Boy and replace its internals with more modern hardware in the form of a Game Boy Advance (GBA) SP motherboard and aftermarket IPS LCD panel. The backwards compatibility mode of the GBA allows him to play those classic Game Boy and Game Boy Color games from their original cartridges, while the IPS display brings them to life in a way never before possible.

Relocating the cartridge connector took several attempts.

Now on the surface, this might seem like a relatively simple project. After all, the GBA SP was much smaller than its predecessors, so there should be plenty of room inside the relatively cavernous DMG-01 case for the transplanted hardware. But [The Poor Student Hobbyist] made things quite a bit harder on himself by deciding early on that there would be no external signs that the Game Boy had been modified; beyond the wildly improved screen, anyway.

That meant deleting the GBA’s shoulder buttons, though since the goal was always to play older games that predated their addition to the system, that wasn’t really a problem. The GBA’s larger and wider screen is still intact, albeit hidden behind the Game Boy’s original bezel. It turns out the image isn’t exactly centered on the physical display, so [The Poor Student Hobbyist] came up with a 3D printed adapter to mount it with a slight offset. The adapter also allows the small tactile switch that controls the screen brightness to be mounted where the “Contrast” wheel used to go.

An incredible amount of thought and effort went into making the final result look as close to stock as possible, and luckily for us, [The Poor Student Hobbyist] did a phenomenal job of documenting it for others who might want to make similar modifications. Even if you’re not in the market for a rejuvenated Game Boy, it’s worth browsing through the build log to marvel at the passion that went into this project.

Some would argue [The Poor Student Hobbyist] should have just put a Raspberry Pi into a Game Boy case and be done with it, but where’s the fun in that? Sure it might have been a somewhat better Bitcoin miner, but there’s something to be said for playing classic games on real hardware.