I’ll begin this post by explaining my background in gaming with handheld consoles. Which began back in 1991, with my first Gameboy. Which was later succeeded with the Gameboy pocket and then Gameboy Colour. I was never a massive fan of the Gameboy Advance. As I always felt Nintendo had once more missed the point. The one thing all Gameboy fans where screaming for was a back-lit screen. Which wouldn’t come until the arrival of the Gameboy Advance SP. By that time, I’d lost my interest in Nintendo handhelds. The appeal of 3D games on the GBA was lost on me. My Sega Game Gear was far more fun to play, ok the screen could induce epileptic seizures, but with titles like Columns, Sonic and Shinobi, it was worth the risk.
I confess when they first came out, I was too busy with my Gameboy to notice. Tho I did drool with envy at the colour screen and it’s wonderfully lit screen. How many play ground standoff’s did this cause I wonder? As many as the Atari vs Amiga debate? Who knows!
Getting in to the Game Gear in 2004, made a refreshing change to gaming on the PC. With it’s simple 2D graphics, I was 13 once again. As my library of games increased, I found myself pretty much sold on the Game Gear. While Sega may have missed me in the 90’s, I was now hooked. Aliens 3, Star Trek Holodeck, Cool Spot and almost every Sonic title are amongst me GG cartridge library.
Sadly tho my trusty GG has been showing it’s age. Having already repaired the failing caps on the sound board twice. I couldn’t help notice that the screen was
becoming increasingly dimmer over time. This is due to the capacitors on the main board wearing out. Slightly apprehensive about replacing all the caps inside the GG. It came as a welcome relief to discovered someone who was offering a refurb service on Ebay. After exchanging emails, I discovered James was no stranger to consoles. With an impressive 400 serviced Game Gears already to his name. I felt happy letting him do the job. Usually I would have undertaken the task myself. However its wise to know when to stand back and bow to experience. I had two repaired sound boards to my credit, compared to James and his 400 fully refurbished consoles.
In all the refurb took only a couple of weeks, when my GG arrived back. It was like a totally different console. I can not begin to describe the difference the
refurb has made. The screen quality is vastly improved. Originally I had assumed that was how all GameGears looked. As it turned out, the failing caps where contributing to the problem. The sound is now at least 3 times louder thanks to James doing a thorough job on the sound board.
He also repairs Atari Lynx consoles and was kind enough to service my Lynx II after it stopped turning on.
James is worth his weight in gold and I recommend any retro gamer with a poorly console to seek his help. You will find him on ebay via his username “Gearforgames“.
In my last article, I covered how the Gameboys one let down was its low resolution screen. After 20+ years of service these screens are beginning to show their age as one by one, they begin to fail. If your Gameboy is one of them, the chances are it is afflicted with pesky lines running vertically up the screen. For many this means the end of their Gameboy. My own original Gameboy suffers with lines running horizontally across the screen, which is less common and not as easy to repair. Yes you heard me right, dodgy Gameboy screens can be repaired with a little know how and in some cases you don’t even need to use a soldering iron.
In To The Beast
Opening your Gameboy for the first time might seem daunting to some. Even to those of us that are used to repairing gadgets, the process is just as worrying. Luckily there is a wealth of information online, documenting the insides of the classic Gameboy. In fact a quick look on Youtube will bring up a dozen or more tutorials on how to repair the very screen issues being covered in this blog. It was through watching several of these, that I began to see where the old Gameboy was failing and how best to fix it.
I was intending to make a video showing how to fix the screen. But with the amount of videos already covering the subject, I decided it would be easier if I just include what I believe to be the creme de la creme for you to follow. All that hard work searching done for you, aren’t I nice!
This video is excellent at explaining the problems behind the screen and worth watching if you with to learn about the Gameboy’s LCD screen.
The following video guide requires you to own a soldering iron and apply it to components inside your Gameboy. Proceed at your own risk!
USE THE GREY MATTER!!! USE COMMON SENSE!
Now this is where things become a little sketchy and sadly disheartening. My classic Gameboy suffers not with the typical vertical lines, but horizontal ones. So how to fix them? It would seem the general consensus is not to bother even trying. The two ribbon cables connecting the LCD screen to the main PCB can not be disconnected. As such the aging solder begins to dry and crack. Unlike the bottom ribbon cable which deals with the vertical lines. The cable that deals with the horizontal is sandwiched behind the LCD and the PCB. Making any attempt with a soldering iron very hazardous. Your more likely to melt the cable then you are to mend the fault.
Even so, I still attempted a repair. Instead of using a soldering iron, i opted to use a hot air gun. The sort you would use for removing paint. I used this method of heating and softening solder on a PS3, to fix the “Yellow Light of Death”. So finding people where suggesting it online as a possible fix, did not come as a surprise.
With the Gameboy apart, and the screen laying on a non flammable surface. I set my heat gun to the lowest setting and hovered it above the screen until it turned black. Usual you can see the effect the heat is having on the solder as it begins to soften. Sadly it did not fix the issue of the horizontal lines. Which leads me the think my screen is properly dying.
Hopefully in the next few months I will be able to grab another. As I much prefer my classic Gameboy to the GB Colour or pocket.
Well I hope thats helped some of you, please drop me a post if you’d like me to cover anything in a future blog.
For now, keep geeking!
The original Nintendo Gameboy was released in Europe on September 28th 1990. The second-hand held device to be produced by Nintendo, after their Game & Watch series in the early 80’s. Selling some 64.42 million units worldwide, the Gameboy cemented itself as an iconic piece of the early 90’s.
The Gameboy was not without competition from rival companies such as Atari and Sega. Both had hand held consoles out at time, the “GameGear” and “Lynx”. Boasting colour graphics and backlit screens, you’d be forgiven for thinking these where superior consoles, in many ways they where. The Atari Lynx was the first gaming console with hardware support for zooming & distortion of sprites, allowing fast pseudo-3D games (ref wiki). However the technology of the time meant both consoles would be forever faulted for battery life issues. The Gameboy with its monochrome screen and no blacklit could run for 10-11 hours on 4xAA batteries, where as the Game Gear and Lynx could only manage 4-5 hours with 6xAA’s, This would plague both consoles throughout their lives. Both companies offered optional rechargeable battery packs to overcome this limitation. But these where often cumbersome and heavy to carry around with you.
As I own both the Gameboy and the Game Gear, I have to say I like both consoles for separate reasons. The Game Gear is great for sitting around the house and having a quick game of Sonic or Columns. The backlit makes it a breeze to use, I don’t have to worry about having a light source to see what I’m doing. The stock LCD screen does have a slow refresh rate resulting in blurry sprites if things are moving fast on the screen. This can be pretty bad on the eyes, but I’m guessing it was a limitation of the technology of the day. My Game Gear also has a third party battery pack which clips to the rear of the console. Unlike Sega’s official rechargeable pack which clipped to your belt.
I wasn’t aware of this product until doing a recent search on Google. I can’t help but puzzle why Sega went this route when other companies where producing better products for the Game Gear. My battery pack is shaped with grips for holding the console, which I personally find improves my hold on the console.
The Atari Lynx is one of those consoles I’ve never got around to owning. When it first came out, i remember going for the GameBoy. I can even remember them on the shelves of our local Beatties (oh i feel old!) Not actually owning one, I can only offer much hands on knowledge. But from what i have read and a look at the spec’s the Lynx was perhaps overlooked to quickly by the average kid of the 90’s. In terms of specifications, it offered far much more than the Gameboy and was priced better than the GameGear. If I get my hands on one, expect to see a review dedicated to the Lynx!
The Gameboy is not without its short falls. The monochrome liquid crystal display which Nintendo choose for the Gameboy was often criticized by its rivals and also by the general public for it’s poor visibility and low resolution. Many third-party products were produced during it’s life to address problems, such as clip on lights and screen magnifying viewers. Yet these required more batteries. As a teenage I would often take a pack of batteries along with me when travelling. You always needed them!
The only thing which saved the Gameboy from the likes of Atari and Sega in the 90’s was the battery life and the quality games that where available. My opinion of the screen has not changed since I was 13, it’s just plain rubbish!
When the Gameboy colour was released many including myself, criticized Nintendo for not addressing the backlit issue. In 1998 Nintendo released the Game Boy Light, only available in Japan. It was almost the same size of the Gameboy pocket and used an EL backlight, very similar to that used in wrist watches. It would not be until 2003 when Nintendo released the Gameboy Advanced SP would be see a lit screen and even then it was front lit! In part Atari and Sega where ahead of their time.
So about a month ago I was toying about with the Beebem on the Nomad. A great emulator and well worth installing if your running Linux and happen to have a soft spot for retro gaming. However as is often the case with me, my thoughts drifted to the acquisition of a real BBC Micro, specifically a model B. Mainly because it was the model B, which I remember using at school and for some reason I always made sure I was sitting with this particular series. I honestly have no idea where this affinity with the “B” comes from.
So with that thought well lodged in my mind, I posted a “wanted” on the Amibay website, asking if anyone
had an old Beeb gathering dust in a closet, which they’d be willing to give a new home. After several weeks and no resp
onse what so ever. I concluded it had been a good idea, but people where holding tightly on to their micro’s and I really did not have the funds to buy one from Ebay. If you consider a monitor, floppy drive, Model B bought all together or separate, the postage alone is worth crying over.
Then the unexpected happened, I hadn’t been on Amibay for several days and was surprised to find I had an email waiting for me when I logged in at the beginning of this week. A very polite message asking me if I was still looking for a BBC Micro and if I was, I could have one, with monitor, floppy. All for the price of postage and a couple of beers. Yes you did read that right, I’m not pulling your leg. There still exists generous people on the T’interweb!
As one might imagine, I took my time typing out a reply at around 30 letters a seconds! No sooner had I sent my reply. I received a response, saying the Beeb was still available and mine pending funds to cover the postage and consumption of fermented vegetable products. So without further ado, money was sent as soon as I had it to send. Now all I have to do is wait until next week, when hopefully the courier will be gracing me with a new addition to the vintage collection.
Finally have the last ingredients for making the retrobrite formula, originally I had intended to test the process out on a defunct A1200, but now my candidate shall be an aging Gameboy. Which sadly has succumbed to the effects of yellowing plastics. Watch this space for news on how I get on.