9 Year-Old Me was a Dumbass: Lessons in Game Boy Advance SP Refurbishment

I’ve been feeling nostalgic recently about the GBA SP I had as a kid and how much joy it brought me. Unfortunately being the dumbass 9 year old I was when the Nintendo DS Lite came out, I sold my SP in the Quokka for $20. The Quokka was basically like Gumtree but in the form of a printed newspaper for anyone wondering. Against my mum’s better judgement of “are you sure??” and little ol’ me replying “yea-nah I wanna sell this thing, mY DS pLaYs GaMe BoY gAmEs”, it’s safe to say that I had made a mistake.

You see, recently I hopped onto eBay to try and find my beloved childhood console with no results, and further research on Wikipedia also yielded nothing. I thought I was going crazy because surely I wasn’t the only person in the world to own one of those cute pale gold consoles?! You may be thinking “oh but there was a gold console! A Zelda one!” but that’s not the one I’m talking about. This console was special; so special in fact that it was only sold in Australia as a Toys R Us exclusive. I’m talking about the AGS-101 ‘Starlight Gold’ console. She was perfect in every way so you can imagine the regret that I’m feeling now knowing how rare they are to come by now.

Dwelling on past-mistakes isn’t going to help me much now, but I feel relieved knowing my childhood SP went to another kid who would cherish it more than I apparently had.

Now onto the part I’m sure you’re here for anyway; the details of the refurb! After snagging a charcoal AGS-101 from an eBay auction for around $60, those lovely transparent shells had just come onto the market (in an ideal world I would have replaced the shell with transparent red instead of transparent black but at the time of writing this post, red hasn’t been released yet).

Not only did I get swindled on the amount I paid for postage to receive my SP, the state it came in was a lot grimier than the seller photos made it out to be. Up close, this thing looked like a bio-hazard! The PCB needed some cleaning too, especially around the volume slider and in the chip reader. The charging and link ports were gross as well (thank god for isopropyl alcohol). Unfortunately the battery it came with was swollen and completely dead, and no charger was provided either, so I’m yet to test the state of the consoles functionality.

I followed The Retro Future’s Tutorial to replace the shell, but removing the OEM one proved to have its own set of challenges.

I’m not going to lie and say I think that everything about the transparent shell kit is amazing. It certainly looks beautiful and feels sturdy (maybe the most important features) but the rest of it… is kind of ‘eh’.

To start, the screwdrivers the kit came with are utterly crap. I don’t have a tri-wing screwdriver on hand (thankfully I have a nice precision screwdriver kit for the Phillips head screws), so I had to use the one it came with. The screwdriver worked for the most-part but the head became damaged rather quickly and stripped the screw heads making the one under the battery housing impossible to remove. I had to break out the hacksaw to remove some of the plastic around the area of the screw to even attempt to gain access to the PCB.

I ended up having to use a lot of force to snap the plastic away from where it was joined with the screw. In the process of doing this I thought it would be a good idea to do this over the laundry sink so I wouldn’t have bits of plastic going everywhere. Oh how wrong I was! The battery light indicator cover ended up falling to its demise down the drain so I was unable to use it with the new shell.

The shell replacement kit I got from eBay had supplied its own buttons and membranes (they were light grey and didn’t fit with the aesthetic I was going for), so I scrubbed the original black ones in warm, soapy water and left them to dry in front of the heater.

Removing the hinges from the shell was another challenge because I’m not used to applying excessive amounts of force when working with electronics. Unfortunately one of the little clips from each hinge was broken off in the process, and the shell kit only supplies hinge caps, not the actual hinges themselves (The kit didn’t come with a volume slider cover either).

In the end I decided not to replace the lens of the screen either in fear that I would damage it (then again, the one provided in the kit was okay quality, and the one that came on my SP wasn’t in terrible condition either).

The final hurdle of reassembly was having to switch out the OEM springs in the shoulder buttons with the ones that came with the replacement shell. For some reason the original springs didn’t give enough tension for the trigger to spring back up once pressed.

The final touch of the Nintendo logo was of a high quality and looks a good as the original. I didn’t add the manufactures sticker on the bottom of the console because the quality isn’t great (I’m sure there are other nicer replacement ones out there), but I enjoy being able to see the game cartridge art through the shell.

For a ~$25 kit (incl. shipping), you get what you pay for. I was looking for a nice shell to replace the OEM one with, and after a lot of people recommending them, I’m not disappointed with the quality. The plastic feels firm, and the matte texture on it provides some nice grip (not to mention that transparent handhelds are coming back into fashion). Everything else included in the kit isn’t really worth using unless your OEM parts are completely unsalvageable. I’m happy with the results of my refurb and I feel confident that I’ll have an easier time doing it again in the future.

That’s all for now!