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Repairing and cleaning retro stuff...with pictures! [roundtable]
Nintendo systems are infamous for withstanding drops off skyscrapers and wartime explosions, but Father Time can wear down even then hardiest hardware. Now, I've been really into retro gaming this year but it made me painfully aware of how old and worn out all my stuff had gotten. It was a huge headache to even attempt to play NES games, for instance, since I'd have to struggle with popping the cart in and out until it decided to work. So it was time for some TLC.

Since these are specialty items, I decided to try my hand at cleaning/fixing them all myself! The crazy thing is, this pretty much worked out very well, and I do not consider myself handy at all. With a tiny investment in some cheap items (91% isopropyl alcohol, compressed air, a few specialty screwdrivers, Goo-Gone and a couple odds and ends), you can really make a big difference in your hardware/software performance. Here's what I've done so far:

NES: My top-loader works great but I was sick of my front-loader NES always blinking and taking forever to get games working. So I cleaned out all my carts with the classic Q-Tip + alcohol method, cracked open the system to dust it out, and boiled (!) the pin connector to get it tightened up. Now it's actually TOO tight since pressing down on the games after inserting them makes it not read them! But no worries, it'll loosen up over time and it still works great as is.

I also did something I never thought I'd do with a Nintendo system: mod it. Here's why: the NES has a built in anti-piracy measure to not play cartridges that are slightly different than Nintendo's. The measure made the system reset itself repeatedly so people couldn't actually get anywhere in the games. Fair enough, I suppose, but it actually backfired terribly on the system. As the pin connectors got weaker, the system couldn't read Nintendo's own cartridges well, leading to--you guessed it--that infamous "blink on, blink off" thing that so many 80s kids had to deal with. There's an easy way to fix this, so I did, and now the system has stopped doing that and can actually, y'know, play Nintendo cartridges properly.

SNES: My favorite game system of all time is still working pretty well, but I did give my carts a good cleaning and opened the shell to dust out the inside of the system. Otherwise, nothing to report.

N64: Just the other day, I replaced the super-wiggly N64 controller stick with the Kitsch-Bent stick. The thing works great--not exactly like new, but far tighter and I got two sets of them for a single digit number of dollars. I did get hung up on the repair process for about an hour since I mixed up my gears, but once I figured that out it was smooth sailing. And now the stick is back to being snappy and responsive.

I also opened my N64 shell to dust it out. There was a dead spider inside, ick. All those years...

GBA SP: The last system I messed with was my frontlit GBA SP, which needed a simple lithium battery replacement. Not as cheap as the other stuff but much cheaper than getting a new system, this thing was as simple to replace as a kid's toy battery--just screwdriver open the back and pop it in and get back to enjoying Dragon Warrior III.

Switch: Wasn't happy about having to crack open my Pro Controller to fix the drifting analogue stick, but thankfully it wasn't too difficult and it did the trick. The thing's four years old and I've already opened it up. They don't make 'em like they used to!

Finally, I sent my Virtual Boy to a repair shop to fix a busted lens, since I was a little nervous about doing that myself. Works great now, or at least as great as a Virtual Boy will ever work...

So how about you guys? Is it time to give the collection a little spit-shine? Have you had to replace or reorder parts for your old systems? Is your N64 stick limper than ever these days? Tell us your tips and tricks here!

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12/21/21, 06:46    Edited: 12/21/21, 06:49
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Yeah, I had to do a repair on my Virtual Boy a handful of years ago. The thing turned on fine, but there was no video. Apparently the glue that held the wires in place...lost their stickiness, or something? So the wires no longer were touching the board. So I popped open the system, took out the main board, and literally BAKED it in my oven at the lowest temperature (I think 250 degrees?) to get the glue to melt. Then a simple procedure of pressing the wires back down and letting the glue cool and re-solidify did the trick. Back to Jack Bros.!

The only other hardware "fix" I did was pop open my original Game Boy to dust out the insides and clean the screen. It still worked fine, I just wanted to tidy it up a bit.

I also replaced the batteries in several of my Game Boy and Game Boy Color games. Mostly the Pokémon ones. But I think I had to change the battery on Dragon Warrior I & II as well.

Other than that, all my old Nintendo stuff works pretty good. Stuff holds up. How'd you fix the anti-piracy thing on your NES?
12/22/21, 02:32   
Impressive! Although I often resurrect my portable audio equipment, I usually just give up on malfunctioning video game stuff.

When I bought an original Xbox a couple of years ago, one of the two controllers had sticky, gross buttons, so I opened it up and cleaned it. When I sealed it back up, I accidentally scrunched up the ribbon cable between the two halves of the controller shell, rendering it barely operable. That experience kind of soured me on messing with hardware.

I do have my nephew's old 2DS with an inactive display, though. Maybe I should try to do something with that. Nothing to lose in that case...

What I would really love to resurrect is my old audio recorder. It has about a month of musical ideas, trapped in the embedded memory card. It's just one month out of god(s) know(s) how many years, but I freaking hate losing that stuff! It's like losing blood. I've been way more anal about backing stuff up regularly since then.
12/22/21, 18:49   
Edited: 12/22/21, 18:56
I don't think I ever heard of that boiling thing for the NES connector, might have to look that one up. And yeah, I'm also curious about the anti-piracy fix you mention.

I've fortunately never had to do much of this meself. I replaced the disc tray in the Xbox 360 I got. I've also replaced the save battery in my Pokémon Gold cartridge, but I did it the sloppy way with electrical tape. Works though! I replaced the cartridge connector in the NES. That might be about it, or at least all I remember right now.

I was fortunate enough to learn early about how to apply ceramic grease to N64 sticks to prevent them from wearing out, so I haven't needed to replace any. Only the sticks on our original two controllers are in bad shape, but I don't need to fix those since I have enough other controllers.
01/01/22, 21:12   
@Mop it up

The NES lockout chip mod is relatively straightforward--just make sure to break the right one! There's a particular pin on the circuit board that controls it, and you just have to break it or bend it away via tweezers/pliers/etc and you're good. This goes into detail with pictures.

That's cool that one can just grease the original N64 sticks. Wish I knew about that when I was grinding mine into dust with those Mario Party 1 mini games...!


Yeah, there's definitely some risk involved. I forgot to mention that this summer, while trying to clean out my 3DS's A button (which had to be pressed extra hard to register), I ended up botching something and the system wouldn't turn on at all. This sent me into a deep funk the rest of the night, and I couldn't fall asleep, so I got back out of bed determined to revive it. Six system openings later, at 3 AM, I finally Frankensteined that thing back to life...! But it was a scary few hours. That's the thing about these newer Nintendo systems, it's not like when you break your GBC and can just buy another for 60 bucks with no changes. There's a lot of digital stuff and history on game consoles now.
01/02/22, 05:46   
Edited: 01/02/22, 05:46
I can't believe that they brought that Mario Party game back. Maybe they found that wiggling the stick staves off drift?

That's what's so nice about Switch. The account system works so much better than that of the DSi or 3DS. Especially handy for a handheld system that you may want to double on.

I was thinking about hacking my Wii U for no particular reason. That should give me some heart palpitations.
01/02/22, 19:32   
TriforceBun said:
That's the thing about these newer Nintendo systems, it's not like when you break your GBC and can just buy another for 60 bucks with no changes. There's a lot of digital stuff and history on game consoles now.

Yeah, I learned that the hard way. When my NEW 3DS broke down, I lost everything. That hurt when it happened. I'm over it now, but it still feels "sore" sometimes.

Like, in my heart.
01/03/22, 17:41   
Yeah, that freaking sucks. My PS2 memory card got corrupted by a demo disc of Viewtiful Joe 2, and I barely ever played the system again.
01/06/22, 17:33   
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