Bring Your Old Gameboy Color Back to Life with This Simple Guide
The GameBoy Color remains, to this day, one of the best-selling handheld game consoles of all time. For those who were lucky enough to live through its heyday, this veteran of gaming still holds very fond memories for them today.
But, given the age of the machine, many existing units are in a pretty poor state. However, it turns out they are actually pretty easy to restore back to their former glory.
So, if you still have one lying around somewhere, why not bring it back to life with this handy guide?
As you can imagine, like any project of this nature, you'll need some tools and materials before you get started.
Materials and gear needed
- A battered and generally neglected GameBoy Color
- Screwdriver set
- Isopropyl alcohol (IPA)
- Liquid soap
- Large plastic container or bowl
- Modelling knife/scalpel
- Hydrogen peroxide
- UV light
- Dental tools
- Kitchen towel
- Cotton buds
- Soldering kit
Once you have all the materials and tools in hand, it is time to get on with the restoration.
Step 1: See what needs to be done
The first step is to get your critical eye in on the old GameBoy Color. Make notes, either mental or on paper, of what needs to be done to restore the machine.
Typical things might include cleaning off grime and debris, leaked acid damage from batteries, or figuring out why some buttons are stuck, or part of the GameBoy Color that does not work as expected (like the screen).
Once you have a rough idea of the work required, we can actually begin to disassemble and restore this venerable piece of gaming history.
First and foremost, take a suitably sized screwdriver and carefully remove the screws from the backplate of the GameBoy Color. Take care when removing them as you don't want to strip the screw head.
They should loosen and come out with little effort.
Once the screws are removed, put them to one side someone safe. You don't want to misplace them. Once all the screws are removed, you can then gently prize the backplate away from the main GameBoy body to expose the delicate gubbins of the GameBoy underneath.
With that complete, continue removing screws to liberate circuit boards and other components from the inside of the GameBoy. Unless you have a schematic of a GameBoy Color to hand, it may be useful to take notes or photographs of how the parts go together for when you come to reassemble the piece.
As always keep small parts like screws in a safe place so you don't accidentally misplace them later. Where required, open any clamps for cables and wires so that you can remove entire circuit boards in one piece. For example, the main golden ribbon for the monitor.
Be very gentle when doing this, you don't want to damage the delicate components. Once done, the entire internal circuit board of the GameBoy should come out in one piece.
Peel off any rubber parts to the circuit board and put them to one side.
Next, remove any other rubber or plastic parts to the front of the GameBoy Color, like the button, etc. With that complete, you can now gently remove the main monitor from the front plastic faceplate. It may need some teasing with a small flathead screwdriver, but it should come free fairly easily.
Be very careful not to damage it as these are delicate pieces of hardware.
Next, remove the metal place from the rear plastic casing of the GameBoy. With that done, prize out the battery terminals from the battery housing of the GameBoy.
Next, take some isopropyl alcohol, and pour a small amount onto the screen, and (while wearing gloves). Rub off any large bits of dirt or grime from the inside surface of the screen protective cover and tease the isopropyl alcohol under the seal. This should dissolve the old adhesive and allow you to remove the screen cover in one piece.
With all the parts now separated, you can give each one a visual once over to see what, if anything, may need to be done to restore those parts too. This could be as simple as giving them a little clean, or more serious like a repair or replacement of faulty parts.
Step 2: Clean up the non-electrical components
Mix up some warm soapy water in a container. Then drop each plastic casing part into the water. Using an old, but clean, toothbrush, and give the casing a good scrubbing. Work the bristles into all the crevices.
Keep going until all dirt, dust, and other grime is completely removed from the plastic. To this end, pay particular attention to places with openings in the casing like the speaker cover, etc.
Once one-half of the casing is complete, remove it, rinse off any excess soap, and leave to dry. Then take the rear casing and give it the same treatment.
Don't be too afraid to be a little vigorous with the casing and toothbrush where needed. For heavy dirt build-up, change the water and soap if it gets too dirty. Also, pay particular attention to the cartridge slot and battery housing, these tend to get very dirty on older GameBoys.
Once the casing is cleaned and dried, we can move on with the restoration.
Take the front casing, and carefully scrape any remaining adhesive from around the screen protector part of the GameBoy. For best results use a sharp scalpel.
With that done, prepare a bath of hydrogen peroxide. You may want to line your plastic bowl with aluminum foil before doing this. Also, ensure this is done in a well-ventilated space, hydrogen peroxide can yield pretty nasty byproducts when reacting.
Once ready, soak the plastic casings in the hydrogen peroxide. They will likely float, so weigh the casings down with something heavy.
Mock up a UV bulb to a lid for the container, and leave to soak/bathe in the UV light.
While the casings are being treated, take all the old hard plastic buttons from the GameBoy Color. Give them a good scrub down using your toothbrush and pure liquid soap.
Once complete, rinse off any excess soap and leave the buttons to dry. Next, take the internal metal plate and screen cover.
Spray some WD40 over them, and scrub them down too using a toothbrush. Be sure to wear gloves when doing this.
This should pull off any remaining dirt and grime from the pieces. Where needed, scrape off any remaining adhesive from the screen cover too.
With that done, take the softer rubber button pieces from the GameBoy Color. Take some cotton buds, soak them in alcohol, and remove dust, debris, and other grime from the surface.
Be sure to change the cotton bud when it gets dirty. Keep going until all pieces are as clean as possible.
Step 3: Clean up and repair the electrical components
With the main body components more or less restored, it is time to turn out attention to the main circuit board. Grab your soldering iron, and partially melt and resolder electrical connections around the board where needed.
The main power input and output parts are likely candidates for this treatment.
Heavy use of the GameBoy over its lifetime may have deteriorated the soldering integrity, so we are attempting to restore it to its original condition.
Let any new soldering fully cool, and then sprinkle a small amount of isopropyl alcohol onto the circuit board. Grab your toothbrush once again, and gently work the alcohol over the surface of the circuit board to digest and remove any and all dirt that may have accumulated on the board.
Don't be too aggressive as you may damage the more delicate electronics of the board. Let the alcohol do its thing, you are only really moving it around the board with the brush rather than scrubbing it per se.
A word of advice here: ensure you do this in a well-ventilated space — ideally outdoors.
If needed, add some more alcohol and work on heavily tarnished and dirty parts of the board. Once you have completed one side, turn the board over and repeat the entire process once again.
Pay particular attention to the main cartridge slot as this tends to get very mucky over the years. For other delicate parts, like the original speaker, switch out the toothbrush for cotton buds.
Where needed, remove any wedged pieces of debris from within and around the cartridge slot as needed. This may include things like old hair or fluff, etc.
Once complete. dab dry the circuit board using some clean kitchen roll. Alternatively, as alcohol is very volatile, leave the boards to dry naturally.
With that done, take your GameBoy's original screen. Add some more alcohol to it and use your toothbrush to clean up the main screen surface and electrical components. Pay particular attention to the main data ribbon.
Keep working it until all grime and oxidation have been fully removed.
As before, leave the screen to dry.
Step 4: Clean up and repair the battery contacts
Next, take the old battery contacts and scrape off any dirt or grime as needed. If one, or more, of the springs, are bent out of shape, remove them from the main contact bars as needed.
Once done, coil the spring back into shape by hand as best as you can. You may find this easier using some pliers, but you should be able to do it by hand. It won't be perfect, but it is considerably better than before.
Next, add some WD40 to the battery contact plates and give them a good scrub using your toothbrush. Brush them until any tarnish and dried battery acid is completely removed.
Once complete, rinse off any excess WD40 and dry the pieces fully. Next, if you had to recoil any springs, reattach them back on their matching battery contact plate.
With that done, return to your GameBoy casings, turn of the light, and remove them from the hydrogen peroxide. Drip dry them and then dispose of the hydrogen peroxide solution safely.
Step 5: Rebuild your GameBoy Color
With all the parts now cleaned, repaired, and generally brought back to life, it is now time to rebuild the GameBoy Color. First, take the back cover, and reinstall the battery contacts to the rear. They should just clip back into the plastic boxing, but you may need to tease them a bit at times.
With that done, place and resecure the metal plate inside the GameBoy back casing as needed. Two of the battery contacts will also need to be reattached to the main circuit board.
With that done, take the front casing and reattach all the plastics button pieces into their respective housings on the inside of the casing.
Next, add the soft rubber components for the buttons too.
With that complete, add the screen protector, and main screen, back into the front casing of the GameBoy Color. After that is done, take the circuit board, and place that back inside the front casing.
Ensure you put back the right way around. Screw it back into place onto the front casing.
With that done, reattach the screen ribbon to the main circuit board as needed. Take your time doing that to ensure you don't crimp or damage the delicate ends of the ribbon. Lock it back into place once done.
With that done, replace the back cover onto the front cover of the GameBoy and screw it into place as needed.
With that complete, turn the GameBoy over, and apply another thin line of adhesive around the screen cover recess. Then take the screen cover and glue it into place, as needed.
Wrap the GameBoy Color with an elastic band to hold the screen protector into place until the glue has fully cured.
With that done, your GameBoy Color is basically now fully restored. Pop a couple of double A's in the back, close the battery cover, and fire the GameBoy up.
Then, stick in your favorite GameBoy game, might we suggest Pokemon, and play away to your heart's content. Congratulations.
If you enjoyed this restoration project, you may enjoy restoring an even older piece of equipment. How about, for example, an old hand-cranked drill?