Over 30 years after its debut, there are hundreds of ways to modify and upgrade the Nintendo Game Boy, as well as the subsequent versions of the handheld console, to improve everything from the screen to the quality of the built-in speakers. But one hacker, finally fed up with stressing over battery life, has upgraded the Game Boy Pocket with a solar panel so they’ll never have to swap another AA battery again.
There are lots of valid complaints to be had with 24-year-old hardware, including the Game Boy Pocket’s low-contrast screen that lacked self-illumination; requiring gamers to find an external light source when playing well after the sun went down. Upgrading the handheld with a backlit modern LCD display is relatively painless now, but it results in greater demand on the pair of AA batteries that power the Game Boy Pocket. Adding a rechargeable lithium-polymer battery is usually the first step modders take when adding upgraded components to old Game Boy hardware, but that then means you’re always in need of a power outlet for charging, whereas a pair of replacement AA batteries are still easy to find almost everywhere.
Sourcing power from a wind turbine isn’t exactly convenient so a Game Boy modder (who, for some reason, is sharing this hour-long build tutorial through the Houston Museum of Natural Science’s YouTube channel) instead turned to our other clean source of renewable energy: the sun. They were able to find a compact solar cell that was a perfect fit for the back panel of the Game Boy Pocket, and it was wired directly into the added rechargeable battery so that as long as the handheld was left out in a spot with sufficient sunlight, the battery would always be recharging when the GBP wasn’t being played.
There are other factors that can affect the battery life of a Game Boy, including whether a gamer is using an OEM game cartridge or a third-party flash cart that can hold hundreds of games at a time. With the screen set at full brightness and playing games from a flash cart, this modded Game Boy Pocket can run for about two to four hours before dying. But with an OEM game cartridge in the slot and the screen brightness dimmed, battery life can reach an impressive 10 to 12 hours between charges. And for every hour left out in ideal sunlight (with the sun directly overhead and no clouds in the sky) the added solar panel can gather enough charge for two additional hours of gameplay.
Had Nintendo included solar charging with the original Game Boy, an entire generation of kids would have gladly obliged their parents and played outside all summer long.