In 1979, Gunpei Yokoi was traveling in a bullet train when he noticed a businessman fiddling around with his calculator. This gave Gunpei the idea to create a handheld gaming system, and that’s how the legendary Game Boy was born. While the original Game Boy was revolutionary for its time, it also had some shortcomings- like a cartridge that would stop saving.
So, why do Gameboy games stop saving? This is due to the original Game Boy cartridge PCB, which relies on SRAM (volatile memory) to store user data. SRAM needs constant power to retain data, and if the battery in the cartridge dies, all your save data goes with it.
Fortunately, this was rectified in later Game Boy models that used EEPROM chips to store user data instead of SRAM. Besides, it’s not like the battery dies in a matter of hours or even weeks. The CR1616 battery used in a Game Boy cartridge will last at least 10 years, and several make it to 20.
Why Do Gameboy Games Stop Saving?
Game Boy cartridges have three types of chips. First is the mask ROM chip, which lasts forever since data is etched into the chip’s circuits from the factory. Then, you have an SRAM chip (much smaller capacity than the mask ROM) that stores save files- user progression, game state, etc.
Finally, you have the “mapper” chip. Which acts as an I/O manager to locate and transfer specific chunks of data from addresses requested by the console. The mask ROM stores data even when powered off, and hence it is non-volatile memory.
However, the SRAM chip needs constant power to retain data (because it’s like the RAM in your PC). To maintain this power, a tiny 3V coin cell (CR1616) is used. SRAM chips sip tiny amounts of power, and the coin cell normally lasts 10 to 20 years.
But once that cell dies, your save data is going with it. Thankfully, the Game Boy cartridge can be opened up. And its battery can be replaced (apparently, the CR2032 also fits into the original Game Boy cartridge battery slot).
You will lose your save data once you remove the old battery to insert a new one. If you’re serious about the long-term archiving of saves, check out this Reddit thread. Note that you will need an aftermarket cartridge reader (like the Flash Boy) to dump your SRAM data.
Why Does My Game Boy Keep Turning Off?
This could be due to a variety of issues. Usually, it’s either a dead battery or faulty connectors. Try checking the batteries to make sure they are seated properly, otherwise, they might be rotating around the connectors as you move your Game Boy around.
If the battery position looks fine, try swapping in some fresh AA batteries. Then, use some compressed air to blow out dust and debris from the Game Pak slot of your console. Take a cotton swab dipped in 99% isopropyl alcohol and clean the contact pins on your game cartridge.
If none of this works, you might have to take your Game Boy apart. Sometimes, too much dust gets into the area behind the screen and disrupts the ribbon cable that carries video signals. While you’re in there, give the battery contacts a double-check to make sure they are not wobbling around.
Do GBA Games Stop Saving?
Yes, but this is not a design flaw. And it’s limited to a small group of GBA games. Unlike the original model, the Game Boy Advanced uses EEPROM to save user data.
But not all GBA cartridges use nonvolatile memory for storing user save data. Some of the earlier games still use old SRAM technology. Because SRAM was just a lot cheaper than EEPROM or Flash at that time.
How Long Do Game Boy Saves Last?
If we’re talking about the original Game Boy (released in 1989), its game cartridges use SRAM. And the coin cell powering this SRAM usually has a lifespan of 10 to 20 years. So if you purchased an original Game Boy cartridge manufactured in 1990, it has probably lost the ability to save data.
And you should replace the battery with a fresh one at your earliest convenience. But if you have a Game Boy Advanced game, it probably uses EEPROM to store user data. Which takes slightly longer to die out (20 years+), depending on how often you play the game and the conditions it is stored in.
Why Do Gameboys Turn Yellow?
This issue is common on old electronic appliances that use an early type of ABS plastic. This plastic contains Bromine as a fire retardant. Bromine interferes with the supply of oxygen that’s necessary to maintain a fire reaction.
However, Bromine also reacts with Oxygen in the atmosphere. Especially in the presence of sunlight. And while this process can take several years, it is only a matter of time before your Game Boy gets a yellow-tan.
To prevent this from happening, always store your Game Boy (and every other retro console) in a place that is both dark and dry. Do not let it into direct sunlight, or humid environments.
There is a process to reverse the yellowing reaction. And it’s used by professional restorationists who take old consoles and refurbish them. The process involves a compound called retro bright, which is a combination of Hydrogen Peroxide and Tetra Acetyl Ethylene Diamine (TAED).
However, I don’t recommend that you do it. Because the concentration of Hydrogen Peroxide needed for this reaction is much stronger than what you get in typical household bleach. And you will also need a UV light source.
But if you want to see a professional do it, here is a video showing how an old Dreamcast controller is restored. Once again, don’t do this unless you have experience with plastic restoration and chemicals. A 12% Hydrogen Peroxide solution will burn your skin (household bleach is 3 to 5%).
The First Saveable Game
Saving wasn’t a thing in video games until the 3rd generation of video game consoles in the 1980s. Before that, you started the entire game from the beginning if you failed. And this was a huge money-maker for arcade owners, which is why they didn’t bother asking manufacturers to implement a save system.
However, things rapidly changed in the 1980s as home consoles weren’t designed to make you drop quarters into a box. Instead, they were focused on convenience and player experience. However, memory was still very expensive back then.
Especially programmable ROM, which was much more expensive than RAM. Hence, the earliest games to include a save system featured a battery-powered SRAM chip. And the very first game with a “proper” save system is The Legend of Zelda, released on NES in 1986.
Saving your game progress is of paramount importance, especially on a handheld. With a Game Boy, you don’t sit down to play for hours on end. You play in bits and pieces; hence it is important to be able to save your game on the fly.
Some of the original Game Boy cartridges are over three decades old at this point, and you should definitely change out the batteries for fresh ones. A similar cartridge design was used by the Game Boy Color. Fortunately, most GBA cartridges use EEPROM rather than SRAM which means they don’t need batteries.