The power that’s in­side


Sean LaBrecque has re­paired a lot of Poké­mon car­tridges. Each week, con­fused and up­set cus­tomers bring copies of Poké­mon Gold, Crys­tal, Ruby and var­i­ous other shades to his Las Ve­gas-based vin­tage-game store, A Gamer’s Par­adise. And they all ask the same ques­tion: “Why can’t I save my progress any more?”

Like all car­tridge-based games re­leased be­fore the mass adop­tion of flash mem­ory, the Game Boy Color and Game Boy Ad­vance Poké­mon games rely on bat­ter­ies to save and back up data. Game data is stored in ac­tive mem­ory, and that mem­ory is kept on life sup­port by a tiny three-volt bat­tery that’s sol­dered to the game board. All of these bat­ter­ies will even­tu­ally die; when they do, your game saves will be in­stantly lost along with them.

It’s a prob­lem that af­fects – or will af­fect – thou­sands of old games, but few seem to die as quickly as those in the Poké­mon se­ries. “I don’t re­ally see any carts other than Poké­mon,” LaBrecque says. Even the old­est bat­tery-backed car­tridges are alive more of­ten than not, so long as they’ve been well looked af­ter. The Leg­end Of Zelda was among the first home con­sole games to use a bat­tery to save data, and has in many cases man­aged to sur­vive some 28 years.

With the sec­ond gen­er­a­tion of Poké­mon games, Nin­tendo in­tro­duced a clock that caused cer­tain events to hap­pen based on the pas­sage of time in the real world. Berries on trees re­grow af­ter a few days and some train­ers of­fer new chal­lenges ev­ery 24 hours. It was a

Older car­tridges are run­ning out of juice to main­tain game saves. Here’s how to put them on life sup­port

step for­ward for the se­ries, but one with con­se­quences: to keep the clock run­ning prop­erly, the carts have to pull ex­tra juice from the bat­tery. Thus few Poké­mon game car­tridges re­tain the abil­ity to save even af­ter just five years.

The good news is that these bat­ter­ies are re­place­able. Us­ing a sol­der­ing kit, old ones can be eas­ily switched out. The ma­jor­ity of games, from the orig­i­nal Zelda on NES to Oca­rina Of Time on N64 (one of the few N64 games to use bat­tery sav­ing), con­tain the same generic CR2032 watch bat­tery, which is avail­able every­where for pen­nies. Though many Game Boy games came with slightly thin­ner CR2025 bat­ter­ies, most have enough room to spare for a CR2032 re­place­ment, which can even sig­nif­i­cantly up­grade their life­spans.

Se­ri­ous game col­lec­tors, such as videogamemu­’s Mark We­ber, fu­ture-proof their carts by in­stalling bat­tery clips onto their game boards af­ter re­mov­ing the orig­i­nal bat­tery. Clips al­low col­lec­tors to pop new bat­ter­ies in and out with­out any fu­ture sol­der­ing re­quired. Once the clip is in­stalled, bat­ter­ies can be re­placed like any watch bat­tery, though that’s not to say that ev­ery­one should risk tak­ing a sol­der­ing iron to their most prized games. Michael Marks, who has writ­ten on­line guides for re­plac­ing bat­ter­ies in old games, urges col­lec­tors to be care­ful. “I screwed up the first cart that I tried to fix,” he says. “I think I over­heated the cir­cuit board. Now I’m much more cau­tious about how long I’m hold­ing the sol­der­ing iron to the board.”

All cart bat­ter­ies will even­tu­ally die; when they do, your saves will be in­stantly lost along with them

The sol­der­ing iron shouldn’t be your first re­sort. Be­fore de­cid­ing to re­place a bat­tery, it’s best to test it with a mul­ti­me­ter. If it still has close to three volts re­main­ing, it doesn’t need to be re­placed. But while there are bat­tery-re­place­ment meth­ods that don’t re­quire sol­der­ing knowl­edge, these are un­de­ni­ably in­fe­rior.

Derek Mead, edi­tor of Vice’s Moth­er­board blog, has suc­cess­fully used a hot knife to re­move and re­place a bat­tery in his copy of Se­cret Of Mana, but says he wouldn’t rec­om­mend that oth­ers use the tech­nique. “I didn’t have a sol­der­ing iron at the time and I didn’t feel like or­der­ing one off of Ama­zon,” he ex­plains. “It’s a lot cleaner and eas­ier just to solder it.”

LaBrecque makes a profit ev­ery time he re­places a bat­tery in a game car­tridge, but ad­mits that most people are best off learn­ing to solder. “It’s not hard,” he says. “Fa­mil­iarise yourself with a sol­der­ing iron. Prac­tise on some­thing. An old Game Boy game is the per­fect thing to prac­tise on.”

Al­though most old games have been able to last this long on orig­i­nal bat­ter­ies, LaBrecque ex­pects that we’ll be­gin see­ing them fi­nally run out en masse in the com­ing decade. It’s un­likely that most bat­ter­ies, even ones that have been kept out of ex­treme con­di­tions, will make it much be­yond the 30-year mark. And even own­ers of mod­ern games and con­soles shouldn’t feel too smug: flash­based mem­ory isn’t truly per­ma­nent, even if it can sur­vive up to 100,000 rewrites. God help the an­tique col­lec­tor who, decades from now, gets their hands on a copy of An­i­mal Cross­ing: Wild World, and leaves with only one ques­tion: “Why won’t this mole stop yelling at me?”

Sean LaBrecque is the owner of A Gamer’s Par­adise in Ve­gas

You’ll need a sol­der­ing iron to in­stall a bat­tery clip, but it’s a longterm fix, es­pe­cially if what you’re sav­ing is a Poké­mon car­tridge from gen­er­a­tion two on­wards

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