Modding the 18-year-old Nintendo Game Boy Advance SP with upgrades like a better screen and bigger battery is relatively painless. But modding the GBA SP so that it functions as a dedicated 16-bit Switch with Joy-Con and TV-out support? That’s a monumental challenge that Macho Nacho Productions somehow made look easy.
Among dedicated GBA SP fans who’ve stuck with the console for almost two decades now, Macho Nacho Productions is probably best known for its promised upgrade kit that adds modern amenities to the console like a larger battery, wireless charging, a headphone jack, and Bluetooth support for wireless audio streaming. The idea is to take a classic console and bring it up to speed with more modern handhelds, but what if someone did the reverse and took a modern handheld and swapped out 3D high-def gaming for retro 16-bit graphics? Is the world ready for the GBA Switch?
There are already screen upgrade kits available for the GBA SP that turn the handheld’s link port into a video-out connection for connecting it to a TV and playing classic GBA titles on a much bigger screen. Using that as a starting point, Tito from Macho Nacho Productions and Kyle Brinkerhoff still had to develop a custom 3D-printed rear housing replacement that included rails for a pair of Joy-Cons to attach to plus enough space for a custom PCB and Raspberry Pi Zero so that the Joy-Cons could wirelessly control the GBA gameplay. On top of that, they needed to squeeze a larger 2,000 mAh battery in there too to power all of the additional electronics.
The results are no longer a GBA SP that can be slipped into a pocket, so the duo even created a custom Switch-like dock the modded handheld can be stored in which also makes it easy to connect it to a television set. Brinkerhoff has included all of the files you’ll need on their GitHub page for anyone wanting to tackle this upgrade themselves, including a link where you can buy the custom PCB board.
Just don’t expect the mod’s functionality to be as smooth as it is with the real Nintendo Switch. Wirelessly pairing the Joy-Cons is a lengthy process that involves connecting the Raspberry Pi to a computer and running custom code, and that has to happen every single time the GBA Switch is powered on. It looks like a real pain, and that alone might be enough to justify shelling out for the Nintendo Switch Online service, cross your fingers that one day Nintendo adds the GBA to the list of supported retro consoles.