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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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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GBA Gets Homebrew USB Charging Upgrade

Sure there are pre-made kits to add a rechargeable battery and USB-C compatibility to Nintendo’s venerable Game Boy Advance, but [HorstBaerbel] thought he could throw together something similar for a fraction of the price. Plus, he wouldn’t have to wait on shipping. The end result might not be quite as polished, but it’s certainly impressive for what’s essentially a junk bin build.

The star of the show is the popular TP4056 lithium-ion charger module. [HorstBaerbel] went with the more common micro USB version, but these boards are also available with USB-C should you want to embrace the future. The module fits nicely inside the original battery compartment while while still leaving room for a 1,000 mAh pouch cell. The 4.2 V output of the fully charged battery is a bit too high for the Game Boy’s liking, so he used the forward voltage drop of a diode to bring it down to a more acceptable 3.5 V.

Naturally this does waste a good deal of energy, especially compared to the DC-DC converters used in commercial offerings like the CleanJuice, but it still delivers a respectable seven hours of runtime. The only issue with this modification seems to be that you’ve got just five minutes to save your progress and shut down when the GBA’s low-battery light goes on; but what’s life without a little excitement?

While not nearly extreme as some of the other GBA modifications we’ve seen over the years, this project is yet another example of the seemingly unlimited hacking potential of Nintendo’s iconic Game Boy line.

Nintendo’s GBA Dev Board Could Pass For Modern DIY

When the Game Boy Advance came on the scene in 2001, it was a pretty big deal. The 32-bit handheld represented the single biggest upgrade the iconic Game Boy line had ever received, not only in terms of raw processing power, but overall design. It would set the state-of-the-art in portable gaming for years, and Nintendo was eager to get developers on board.

Which could explain why the official GBA development kit, recently shown off by [Hard4Games], looks like something that was built in a hackerspace. It’s pretty common for console development systems to look more like boxy 1990s computers than the sleek injection molded units that eventually take up residence under your television, but they don’t often come in the form of a bare PCB. It seems that Nintendo was in such a rush to get an early version of their latest handheld’s guts out to developers that they couldn’t even take the time to get a sheet metal case stamped out for it.

The development board doesn’t like later GBA games.

All of the principle parts of the final GBA are here, and as demonstrated in the video after the break, the board even plays commercially released games. Though [Hard4Games] did find that some titles from the later part of the handheld’s life had unusual graphical glitches; hinting that there are likely some low-level differences that don’t manifest themselves unless the developer was really digging deep to squeeze out all the performance they could.

The board also lacks support for Game Boy and Game Boy Color games, though this is not wholly surprising. When an older game was inserted into a GBA, the cartridge would physically depress a switch that enabled a special 8080-based coprocessor that existed solely for backwards compatibility. Adding that hardware to a development board would have made it more expensive and added no practical benefit. That said, [Hard4Games] does point out that there appears to be a unpopulated area of the board where the backwards compatibility switch could have been mounted.

Hackers have always been enamored with the Game Boy, so it’s fitting to see that the official development kit for the final entry into that storied line of handhelds looked a lot like something they could build themselves. If anyone feels inclined to build their own “deconstructed” GBA in this style, you know where to find us.

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ESP32 Refines Game Boy Bluetooth Adapter

Last year we brought word of a project from [Shyri Villar] that turned a stock Game Boy Advance into a Bluetooth controller by exploiting the system’s “multiboot” capability. The prototype hardware was a bit ungainly, but the concept was certainly promising. We’re now happy to report that the code has been ported over to the ESP32, making the project far more approachable.

To clarify, the ESP32 is now the only component required for those who want to play along at home. Just five wires connect the microcontroller to the GBA’s Link Cable connector, which is enough to transfer a small ROM over to the system and ferry user input to the Bluetooth hardware. Even if you aren’t interested in using it as a game controller, this project is an excellent example of how you can get your own code running on a completely stock GBA.

While the original version of the hardware was a scrap of perfboard dangling from the handheld’s expansion connector, reducing the part count to one meant [Shyri] was able to pack everything into a tidy enclosure. Specifically, a third party GBA to GameCube link cable. This not only provides a sleek case for the microcontroller that locks onto the handheld with spring loaded tabs, but also includes a male Link Cable connector you can salvage. It looks as though there’s a bit of plastic trimming involved to get the ESP32 to fit, but otherwise its a very clean installation.

The GBA will be 20 years old soon, but that doesn’t mean the hardware and software exploration is over. The original Game Boy is over 30, and people are still giving talks about it.