In my last blog entry, I wrote about the various “handheld consoles” that are coming out in 2022. I also mentioned that I recently started playing a ton of different Game Boy and Game Boy Advance games in anticipation of the release of the Analogue Pocket. While I must wait about 8-12 months to play games on it, I recently made a purchase I strongly recommend others follow suit.

A pile of Game Boy, Game Boy Color, and Game Boy Advance games from Japan and North America

A growing collection but ‘nowhere’ to play them

Over the Christmas break, I began visiting local retro game stores and regularly searching for deals on eBay to grow my collection of Game Boy games. Although I own an original Game Boy Advance and have had it for about five years, I never bothered to increase my collection. 

While buying the games I could, I came to accept that the original GBA, even in its form-factor glory, was not the ideal unit to tide me over until the arrival of the Analogue Pocket. So, I began looking at alternatives and was taken aback by the options available to me and their respective costs.

A sample search for Game Boy Advance consoles through eBay

Buying a GBA in 2022

There were three iterations of the Game Boy Advance over its lifespan. The original, which I have. The SP, which I used to have, but it got left in San Francisco (long story), and the micro. Considering I’m looking to expand my collection of Game Boy Advance and original Game Boy (and Color) games, the micro is not only too expensive it’s not compatible.

With the lack of any sort of light for the original GBA, that would mean the SP is the logical choice. However, there are two versions of the SP. The more easily obtainable GBA SP features a front light. What that means is that the screen is lit up by a light at the bottom front of the screen (it’s also called the AGS-001). On eBay, you can find this version for around 60-120 (Canadian) dollars. Lower-priced ones are typically more beat-up and might not come with the necessary battery charger.

The more sought-after GBA SP is the AGS-101. That version came out a bit later and features a backlight. Unfortunately, because it’s the better version, it’s also much harder to find. Prices on eBay range anywhere between 120-220 dollars. Again quality and shipping location factor heavily on the price.

An original Game Boy Advance and a modified Game Boy Advance

When modified handhelds are a viable option

At this point, it would seem my best option would be to drop the necessary 200 or so dollars and get an AGS-101 unit. Before I did that, I even considered trying to find some Japanese exclusive GBA SP models that never came to North America. But even then, the prices felt too high. However, as I did a bit more research, I found another option. Adding an IPS backlit screen to an original Game Boy Advance. In fact, there are many screen mods that you can do to both the original GBA and the GBA SP (not to mention the older Game Boy and its many variations).

The easiest to find screen mods for the GBA are the IPS variations. They range in price from between 75-100 dollars depending on if you’re looking for just the screen or if you want a new shell and/or need the necessary tools (not including the soldering pen that you’ll also need). I’ve been tempted to modify my GBA this way for a while. I’ve watched a few tutorials and it didn’t seem too difficult but I was certain I would screw up something along the way.

Since the new screen is larger than the original Game Boy Advance’s one, you do need to modify the shell. That’s why most places that sell the screen also offer a new shell in a variety of color options (then you can customize other aspects including the shoulder buttons and d-pad). These new shells have the necessary adjustments made so that you don’t have to worry about snipping off the wrong thing or accidentally damaging the screen when you try to fit it into the shell.

Save time and get one modified for you

Because I wasn’t confident with my modding skills, I bit the bullet and decided to buy an already modified Game Boy Advance. Considering the prices for an AGS-101 hovered around the $200 mark, I found an IPS screen GBA for less than that. It only took about two weeks to reach me and I’ve been loving it ever since.

The eBay seller that I bought offers a lot of different styles. The one I picked up uses the Super Famicom color scheme. A few years back, I bought the Japanese Super Famicom mini because I loved that look and this GBA really fits the part. It also doesn’t hurt that a few of the Game Boy Advance games I recently bought or am trying to get are from the SNES/Super Famicom era.

This also really shows how well-designed the Game Boy Advance was. It’s a 20+ year handheld but these mods make it feel like something designed more recently. On top of that, you can easily go down a bit of a rabbit hole of customized GBAs. There are even customized GBA SP units available to buy if the clamshell version is more to your liking.

The only “negative” around the GBA I got is the lack of a rechargeable battery. But, there are even battery mods if you want. You can either buy the mod kit and install it yourself or find one that already has it installed. If you go either route, expect it to cost another 30-50 dollars. 

A modified Game Boy Advance with The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past gameplay

Haven’t stopped using it since

Seriously, since I got this GBA, I’ve been playing with it every day. Over the last two weeks, I’ve purchased over a dozen Game Boy, Game Boy Color, and Game Boy Advance games and I’m regularly looking at getting a few more. I’m considering a follow-up blog post where I go into a bit more detail on the latest retro handheld games I’ve picked up and some suggestions for those looking to do the same. In the meantime, I heading off to play a bit more of my GBA.