Feature: Breathing New Life Into The Original Monochrome Game Boy
Posted by Damien McFerran
We speak to GameBoyMods.uk's Shaun Jones about the iconic brick
Despite being one of Nintendo's oldest systems, the humble Game Boy continues to bring joy and entertainment to dedicated players all over the world. We've already spoken to Joe Heaton about the Game Boy and its appeal to chiptune composers, and recently we got the chance to catch up with Shaun Jones of www.gameboymods.co.uk, arguably the UK's best choice when it comes to fixing up your trusty handheld and giving it a new lease of life.
Nintendo Life: Why does the original Game Boy hold such a special place in your heart?
Shaun Jones: Firstly, it was 1991 and I got my first Game Boy when I was 6 years old. I'd gotten a NES the previous Christmas and I’m guessing my mum didn’t know what to get me for my birthday. Anyway, from the moment I got it I was hooked. I remember getting Tetris and Super Mario Land — it went everywhere with me, bus trips, in my bedsheet fort (with a horrific magnifying light), school and to all my friend's houses. I think the one memory I have though which will always stick with me is when my dad cleared Level 20 on Tetris and me running from the other side of the house so I could watch the rocket launch and the little Russian guys dance.
It's incredible to think that a piece of tech that is over 20 years old is still being used in an age when the iPhone provides a much more impressive handheld experience. Why do you think this is the case?
Shaun Jones: Well here’s my humble opinion. I love well made mobile games and although touch screens are brilliant with certain things, I don’t think you can beat a physical keypad and buttons. I personally have an iPhone and I hear a lot of people say "well I have an emulator on my phone that can play that" — that’s great and all, but its not the same. What happens when you’re on your last life, on a boss you’ve been trying to beat for ages and the crucial touch isn’t picked up by your phone? The sounds are different, there’s no key response and I personally think it loses its soul and feeling. The awesome thing about all Game Boy systems is that apart from a few select titles, most games can be had for very little money — probably less than some in-app purchases in a lot of cases.
Is the Game Boy an easy system to modify?
Shaun Jones: Yeah, it really is, just like most systems are, its more about time taken and patience than anything else. Trust me if I can do it, anyone can!
What are the most common technical issues with old Game Boy systems?
Shaun Jones: There are two common problems. The first is is dead pixels and the second is corrosion in the battery compartment caused by batteries leaking. The good news is that they’re easy to fix. I have tutorials for people looking for help and if there isn’t one I’ll always do what I can to keep another Game Boy working. I guarantee there isn’t a problem I haven’t seen before.
Can you explain the modding services you provide?
Shaun Jones: I can do anything that can be done to any console but I mainly restrict myself to Game Boy upgrades because I get the most pleasure out of it. In regards to Game Boy upgrades, I personally like to tailor my products to gamers. A lot of modders are into Chiptune music — I like it, but I’m a gamer at heart. As well as offering modding services, I sell parts, kits and spares to the UK and Europe.
As you said, the Game Boy is popular with chiptune artists, and one of the most popular mods involves improving the console's audio. Why do you think such artists have flocked to Nintendo console over other retro systems?
Shaun Jones: Pure and simple really, the sound hardware is better. Nintendo has always put a lot of R&D into their sound chips, its why most people prefer SNES ports to Mega Drive/Genesis and NES to Master System.
Are there any mods you don't currently provide but would like to try? What's the future of GB modding - is there more to come?
Shaun Jones: To be honest, I really like the people I meet and the services I offer already, rather than spread myself too thin, I’m going to stick with providing gamers better ways to play their consoles.
Like all hardware, every Game Boy has a finite lifespan. How much longer realistically will gamers be able to enjoy this console, or will it be possible to repair and mod systems indefinitely?
Shaun Jones: Wow! This is something I haven’t thought about or looked into! There will always be working Game Boys throughout my lifetime because I’ll be there to make sure that there is! After then well someone else will have to take over.