Gameboy Game Cartridge Repair Guide

The Gameboy cartridge launched over 30 years ago alongside one of the most memorable handheld devices of the 90’s, the original Gameboy DMG. These game cartridges have brought lasting memories to gamers, but time seems to be catching up to them quicker than ever. You can follow along with this Gameboy game cartridge repair guide to resolve any issues you encounter!

With prices of some cartridges reaching all-time highs on the second hand market, it is not feasible to replace all your old unusable cartridges. Along with that, due to their age, there are less and less numbers of these games available.

Well, instead of replacing your game, why not repair it? You may be surprised how simple it can be to revive the games you remember playing as a kid.

Diagnosis

Before covering the fixes for these games I will first cover various problems you may encounter. If your game behaves like any of the following, don’t worry! It is definitely repairable.

First

The single most common issue among cartridges is losing the ability to save your progress. A lot of these cartridges use a coin cell battery to save the players progress. Unfortunately these do not last forever! They normally have an expected life of around 15-20 years, but can sometimes last longer. I personally have a copy of Pokemon Blue that works and saves perfectly. That’s 24 years and counting!

Second

The next most common issue is a distorted Nintendo logo on boot. When the Gameboy has an issue reading a game the initial logo you see on the boot screen will look odd and distorted like the following image. Often this caused by dirty or corroded pins on the cartridge.

Gameboy Pixelated Boot Logo

The game will not progress further than the initial logo screen. This is because when Nintendo created these games, they needed a way to ensure that nobody could flash hacked games onto the cartridge. To do this, the cartridge runs a block of code that matches the Nintendo logo on the handheld to one stored on the cartridge ROM. When the Gameboy cannot read the game ROM due to bad pin contact, the image is distorted, causing an incorrect match in the code. Because of this, the game cannot load any further.

Third

Another common issue is that the game will pass the Nintendo logo at startup, but will freeze on a white (blank) screen shortly after. You may also encounter a similar issue to this where the game will startup, but some images will appear as a bunch of pixels.

This is a bit more difficult to diagnose but keep reading and we will step through everything you need to do to attempt this fix.

Tools

To complete the following fixes, a number of items will be required.

iFixit Pro Tech Toolkit – Repair Kit
Hakko FX888D Digital Soldering Station
60/40 Tin Lead Solder With Rosin Core For Electrical Soldering
Liquid Flux Pen
Isopropyl Alcohol 99.9% (16oz)
Hi-Polymer Block Eraser

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Internals

Let’s open up the cartridge. There is only one small screw on the rear of the game. It is a 3.8mm game bit. Once that is removed, you can slide the two halves of the shell open.

Inside the shell is just one circuit board. It contains a mask ROM(1), SRAM(2), memory bank controller(3), mm1134 chip(4), and a battery(5).

Gameboy Cartridge Labeled

The mask ROM is where the actual game is stored. If you’ve heard about game ROM’s before, this is where they are stored on an authentic cartridge!

The SRAM is the chip that stores your save file. Without constant power provided by the Gameboy or the cartridge battery your save data would be lost.

The memory bank controller (MBC) allows the Gameboy to “bank switch”. The Gameboy was only able to process 32KB of game data at a time, so any excess ROM data was stored on this chip when not in use. This chip also stores real time clock data from the quartz oscillator(6).

The mm1134 chip controls when the SRAM draws power from the battery or the Gameboy.

The battery was used as a constant source of power to the SRAM so your save data would always be available. If the SRAM lost power, you would also lose your save. In games like Pokemon Silver, Gold, and Crystal (among some others) the battery was also used to keep track of the real time clock.

Resolution

To start, let’s fix the dead battery issue. This is a very simple job as there are only two solder points involved with the battery. As for a replacement battery, you will need a CR2025. A CR2032 could also be used and has a larger capacity, which will last a lot longer. some sources mention that since it is physically larger the shell may not close properly, but I have never run into that issue. If you’re worried about the fit, just stick to a CR2025.

To remove the dead battery, first heat one tab with a soldering iron and lift that side away from the board.

Gameboy Cartridge Half Removed Battery

Repeat that process with the other tab, and you can remove the battery. To prepare to install a new battery, I add flux to the contact pads on the board and add some fresh solder. I also add a glob of solder to each battery tab.

You can then place the battery on the board (remember to match up the positive and negative terminals). Heat up each tab to melt the solder and install the battery.

Gameboy Cartridge New Battery Installed

Now let’s move onto fixing issues that occur while the cartridge boots or plays. The first step is to clean the cartridge. I use isopropyl alcohol and q-tips for this. Simply clean up any problem areas on the cartridge. To clean the pins, the best method is a white pencil eraser. Rub the eraser on the contacts a few times to clean them. This should resolve any issues you run into where the Nintendo logo on boot is pixelated.

Gameboy Cartridge Cleaned

Moving on from there, if you continue to have issues, you most likely need to reflow the mm1134, the MBCchip, or the mask ROM. If your game boots to a white screen, the mm1134 is the likely culprit. RTC issues can be resolved from reflowing the MBC. Any pixelated images or other quirkiness can be resolved from reflowing the mask ROM.

So how do you reflow a chip? It’s easy! First, add a line of flux to the chip you need to reflow. Then, once your soldering iron reaches proper temperature (I normally set it to 350°), you can run your iron down one side of the chip. This will heat each pin and reflow the solder on each. If this does not resolve your issue, you can try again but add a small glob of solder to the iron beforehand. If you accidentally bridge any terminals, you can remove the solder with a wick or solder sucker and try again.

Summary

Congratulations, you should now have a perfectly working game to enjoy! I hope you learned a good amount by following along with this Gameboy game cartridge repair guide.

Gameboy Boot Graphic

Leave me a comment below if you have any questions or need some more help with your repair!

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