Bandai Wonderswan – Teardown and Analysis

The Bandai Wonderswan is one of the few handhelds that tried to go toe-to-toe with Nintendo’s line of Gameboys. Unfortunately, it wasn’t able to keep pace with the growth of the Gameboy and was discontinued after only being on the Japanese market for four years. Follow along as I detail the technical specs of this device.

In the late 90’s Bandai had plans to merge with Sega but that was unexpectedly shutdown and Bandai made the decision to enter the handheld market without the assistance of Sega. They went out and recruited Gunpei Yokoi who recently left Nintendo (after heading the Game and Watch and designing the Gameboy among other large projects) to head the Wonderswan project. Yokoi unexpectedly passed away in a car crash before the Wonderswan was released, but Bandai continued with it’s development and the handheld came to market exclusively in Japan in 1999.

The Competition

The Wonderswan was released as direct competition to Nintendo’s Gameboy DMG and it was a great opponent. The Wonderswan’s screen can display 8 shades of grey as opposed to the Gameboy only being able to display 4. Pair that with 30 hours of battery life on a single AA battery, and a smaller form factor and you have a seriously competitive handheld.

The biggest issue with the Wonderswan’s release was that only five months earlier Nintendo released the Gameboy Color. Bandai overlooked this as even though the Color was a superior device, it did not sell as well as the original Gameboy. When sales did not overtake the Gameboy as planned, Bandai was quick to release the Wonderswan Color less than a year after the Wonderswan’s release. The SwanCrystal came shortly after that with an upgraded LCD display, but Bandai pulled the plug on their handheld line in 2003 because sales never surpassed the Gameboy Advance.

Tools

Not much is needed for this disassembly. I will again be using my iFixit Pro Tech Tookit, but no other tools are required. For the cleaning, I will be using soap and water on the plastic pieces, and Isopropyl Alcohol for the electronics.

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The Teardown

I recently imported a Wonderswan from Japan. I noticed it’s internals need to be cleaned, and games seem to only play half the time so I figured this was an excellent opportunity to detail this obscure device for everyone! Below you can see exactly what I acquired.

As you can see this device has slight discoloration and can use a good cleaning. Let’s start the teardown!

Start by removing the battery cover and taking out the six torx screws on the back. The rear shell can now be removed.

After the rear panel has been removed, you will be able to see the motherboard. The Wonderswan is a very simple design. It consists of one motherboard and an LCD panel sandwiched between two shell halves. You can now disconnect the LCD ribbon cable (make sure you pop open the black retaining clips before pulling the cable out).

Wonderswan Motherboard in Shell

Pull out the motherboard assembly and you will now have access to the front shell with all buttons and membranes. That motherboard houses the 16-bit NEC V30 MZ processor clocked at 3.072 MHz.

Wonderswan Motherboard

The display that is still on the front shell has a layer of adhesive attaching it. Since I know the screen is working, I am going to leave it in and just clean the shell around it. If you need to remove your screen, lightly pry up the edges with a small spudger until the adhesive releases. If it is really stuck, you can slightly heat the edges (with a hot air gun or hair dryer) to loosen the adhesive.

Wonderswan LCD in Shell

Now it’s time to clean the motherboard, shells, buttons, and membranes. Soap and water will be used for the buttons. Isopropyl Alcohol will be used for the motherboard, front shell, rear shell, and battery cover (as to not damage the electronics and stickers). If you removed your screen, feel free to soak the shell in soap and water to clean it.

To reassemble the Wonderswan, just repeat these instructions in reverse order. Then take a moment to bask in the glory that is your newly cleaned Wonderswan. Insert a cartridge, and get to playing!

Although the before and after may not look very different through these pictures, it looks much better in person. I’m very happy with how it turned out. Also, after this deep cleaning, games load every time! You can see the final result below.

Summary

Although the Bandai Wonderswan had a short time on market, and was only released in Japan, it was still a capable handheld that had potential to compete with the Nintendo Gameboy. In four short years, Bandai launched an interesting console, and two future iterations that improved on the original. It’s interesting to think what could have happened if Bandai’s estimated sales of their Wonderswan actually passed the sales of the Gameboy.

Do you own a Wonderswan? Let me know in the comments what games you have been enjoying on it!

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