I don’t remember exactly where I got this beat to hell Gameboy Advance SP. Most likely at a garage sale, but I do remember not knowing if it worked since the battery was dead. I took a chance on romance as this was a AGS-101, the very last revision of the GBA hardware. This model is sought after for it’s superior quality backlit screen and sells for a premium over a regular run of the mill GBA SP. Surprisingly it worked, and worked well for looking like it was used by a 10 year old to go sledding down a highway overpass. The case was cracked and had a small hole on top, but still worked just fine. Recently I dug it back out to play Metroid Fusion and saw from the separating top part of the shell it was finally giving up the ghost.
But luckily thanks to the myriad of factories in China producing knock off video game products, replacement cases for GBA SP’s are easily found online. These seem to run you about $10 – $20 depending on what color of the rainbow you’d like, and what tools and parts are included with the case. Since I already own a regular GBA in a orange after market case, I figured I’d get a orange one for my SP too.
I didn’t bother ordering a case with a tri-wing screwdriver that you’ll need for the job since I already owned a set. I also didn’t realize this particular case does not come with any screws so I had to be extra careful not to lose any from taking apart my old SP. Easier said then done as all the parts to these things are super tiny and are not compatible with my large sausage sized fingers.
One major pet peeve of mine is how there are practically no text guides for these sorts of things online anymore. Everyone instead makes YouTube videos all day long. So off to YouTube I went to try to find a decent tutorial without a shaky camera and a foul mouthed pre-teen. Luckily I found this one by a nice UK chap named Mark who’s nice soothing accent helped me not completely hulk out during the dicier parts of the operation.
With video running I started following Mark’s instructions for taking apart my SP. At this point I stopped taking photos as I was afraid I was starting to get in over my head. The old case was in super bad shape and started to crumble and snap apart from being so brittle. It’s a good thing I decided to do this when I did as the poor girl was one hard drop away from complete destruction.
Overall it was pretty easy to take apart. The most difficult things were keeping track of the tiny screws, being careful not to damage the flimsy video cable, and not hurting myself or losing my mind dealing with the god damned case hinges. For what ever reason these replacement cases do not come with hinges that allow you to open and close the GBA. Instead they expect you to reuse the ones from your old GBA and put them in the new case. While this sounds easy, and everyone online makes it sound and look easy, it’s actually a total bitch. You need to hold this flimsy slowly disintegrating old GBA housing, and gently push out the hinges without giving yourself a stigmata with a Phillips head screwdriver. Luckily Mark has a technique using a hammer to dislodge the hinges that worked for me. Even though it led to a few tense moments of trying to hunt down flying hinges after gentle tapping didn’t work and I finally had to get medieval on it’s ass. Getting the hinges in the new housing was also a pain and required some good hammer thumping, but everything eventually went together with minimal swearing and without killing my pretty orange case.
I also decided to replace the screen lens with a glass one as I’m spoiled by the quality of the glass lenses I bought for my normal GBA and Gameboy Color. Replacing the GBA SP one is a bit trickier since it attaches directly to the screen and not the outside of the case, but I finally got it aligned correctly.
I also decided to use the buttons from the old unit as these aftermarket buttons never feel the same to me. The shoulder buttons that came with the new case were actually a bit sharp on the edges. Switching these out was also tricky due to the miniature size of the parts and the springs that connect to the buttons. If you’ve ever taken apart a SNES controller for cleaning it’s like that, only three times smaller. Luckily I kept my composure and got them back together.
The case also comes with a replacement Nintendo sticker for the top and a system information sticker for the bottom. I was able to salvage what was left of my old sticker though and stuck it on the new case.
So overall it went pretty smoothly. The internet made it sound like an easy 15 minute job, but in reality it took me closer to an hour. I was really convinced at a couple different moments that I had made a horrible decision and I had killed my GBA. Luckily it all worked out. But man do I hate those hinges! Die, die, die!!! I’m also not completely convinced I got them in exactly right since the movement is stiffer then what I remember it being, but it works so I’m not complaining.
The one mistake I did make was either using the wrong screw or over tightening the middle screw on the GBA’s motherboard. This created a small dimple between the d-pad and the action buttons. Not a big deal as it didn’t completely break through, but it’s not perfect either. Still if this is the worst that happened I consider myself lucky. I’m actually quite pleased with the results and I’m happy to give my GBA SP a new lease on life.
If you have a unit that is as beat up as mine was, I completely recommend getting a new housing for it. Just be sure to keep a level head, be anal retentive in your inventory of parts, have the right tools on hand, and take your time. As with most of these old consoles it all comes down to just being a few components, but the tiny size of everything in the GBA SP really drove me nuts. If I was going to do this again I’d definitely use a pair of tweezers.
Hope you enjoyed reading this, and good luck if you decide to take this on for yourself!