When we look at how far handheld gaming has come, it is hard to understate the important role played by early systems such as the Game Boy. A lot of things we have today are descended in one way or another from the fundamental concepts laid down by these ancient consoles. But they also had some flaws due to technological limitations of the time- display brightness being one of these flaws.
Why is the screen so dark on Gameboy Advance? It has to do with the contrast adjustment system that’s controlled by a tiny potentiometer hidden behind the label on the back. Original Game Boy Advance consoles don’t have built-in backlighting, so a properly tuned potentiometer is necessary.
Nintendo doesn’t want end users to tune this potentiometer by themselves, so you must break through the silver model number label on the back. There is a tiny screw that can be adjusted to turn the contrast up or down. Since the GBA is over two decades old, I’m assuming you aren’t too concerned about voiding its non-existent warranty.
Why Is The Screen So Dark On Gameboy Advance?
Even the Game Boy Advance didn’t come with a built-in backlight for its color LCD panel. Nintendo designers felt that prioritizing battery life and endurance was more important. Plus, a non-backlit display helped keep manufacturing costs low (it launched at just $99.99 in 2001).
LCDs on handhelds were evolving quickly, and the Game Boy Advance SP got its own light. However, the AGS-001 version of the SP didn’t have a light integrated into the back of the LCD panel. Instead, it had a front-mounted light that you could toggle on and off.
The AGS-101 version of the GBA SP has an actual backlight and is quite rare on the used market since it was manufactured in smaller numbers. You can tell an AGS-001 from an AGS-101 by looking at the color of the console. Barring limited edition models, AGS-101 was sold in North America in 3 exclusive colors- graphite, pearl blue, and pearl pink.
AGS-101 has a toggle switch below the display hinge that takes the display from its “Normal” setting to the “Dim” mod. Even with the dim mode turned on, an AGS-101 appears brighter than the AGS-001. You can never turn the backlight off in an AGS-101, but you can with an AGS-001.
If you have a regular GBA or the GBA SP model 001, you might want to play in an area with good ambient lighting. At least with the AGS-001, you can turn on the front light and play in a dark room. With a regular GBA, you need to do a backlight mod if you want to play under dimly lit conditions.
How Do I Make My Game Boy Advance Screen Brighter?
There is a label on the back of your GBA, with the words “Game Boy Advance” written on the black sticker. To the top right of this label, you’ll find the individual manufacturing code for that particular unit. Stick a screwdriver into the last two digits of that number, and you should find the contrast adjustment hole.
This is intended for Nintendo technicians and not customers, but at this point, everyone knows the trick. Plus, it’s not like Nintendo will honor the warranty on a console that is over 2 decades old. If you bought your GBA used, there is no reason to not try this out.
You’ll need a small Philips head screwdriver to adjust the contrast. If you have batteries installed in your GBA, you can watch the contrast change in real time. Of course, you can also install a worm light that plugs into the Game Link port above your GBA.
Which Game Boy Advance Has The Brighter Screen?
It is the AGS-101, which is the 2nd revision of the GBA SP. AGS-001 is the first SP version and uses a front light that is external to the actual LCD panel. You can turn this front light on or off depending on the conditions in which you’re playing your Game Boy Advance.
But with the AGS-101, there is a proper backlight integrated into the display. And you can’t turn it off completely. However, you can switch it from its normal brightness to a dimmer setting.
Does A Game Boy Advance Have A Backlight?
No, it doesn’t have one. This is quite intriguing, given the fact that GBA is Nintendo’s 2nd release within the Game Boy series. It received a more powerful processor than the original Game Boy and Game Boy Color, with more memory and a higher display resolution.
However, Nintendo figured they had to cut costs somewhere while also maintaining battery endurance. So they decided to keep the backlight out for some more time until LCD tech matured and backlit displays were cheap enough. And that’s when Nintendo released the Game Boy SP AGS-101.
Understand that even the first GBA SP doesn’t have an actual backlight. It just has an external light on the front of the display (similar to many aftermarket light attachments). AGS-101 is the SP version with an actual backlight.
Should I Backlight My GBA?
If you find yourself traveling a lot, a backlight might be a good investment since you can’t always count on the sun to save you. Any room after dusk becomes completely unplayable with a regular GBA unless you have something like a worm light. Even the regular lights in your room won’t be enough unless you’re facing them directly.
You can buy backlit display kits for GBA on the internet. They often come with a replacement shell, because you also need to cut a bit of plastic to fit the larger screen assembly. The replacement screen comes with a ribbon cable that carries display data, and you must solder it to the Game Boy Advance motherboard.
Even if you don’t have prior soldering experience, watching this guide can help you a lot. If you can, ask someone who works with electronic devices to help you out. There are also more expensive GBA mod kits that come with IPS screens, like this one.
Spotting Fake Game Boy Advance Cartridges
Sometimes, your GBA isn’t to blame for faulty colors or bad brightness. It could just be a cheaply manufactured replica of an actual GBA game. These cheap replicas are hard to differentiate from real cartridges at first glance.
But if you take them apart, you’ll see that they have several missing components on the motherboard. That’s because they integrate all the chips into one package on the board. Stuff like this wasn’t possible back when the GBA was originally manufactured in 2001.
If you don’t have the luxury of taking apart the cartridge to view its motherboard, you can hold it up in the light and check the label. Look for weird logos, missing trademarks, spelling errors, etc. Compare the cartridge to an image of the official product with a quick Google search.
I hope this article helped you understand why your GBA screen is so dark. If the potentiometer tweaking fix doesn’t work for you, I suggest investing in a worm light. And if you’re serious about keeping your GBA with you in the foreseeable future and using it to play games, buy a backlight mod kit.
You’ll need to do a tiny bit of soldering and follow some guides, but it will be worth it as you won’t have to rely on ambient lighting anymore. An IPS display mod is highly recommended if you have the budget. It completely transforms your GBA experience with superior colors, brightness, and viewing angles.