While on my quest to find the ultimate handheld gaming device, I decided to go down a different avenue than the manufactured hardware most of us usually buy: I wanted a homemade “portibalized” console.

Now I’m certainly no slouch when it comes to electronics repair – sans soldering of course – but one quick look at the guides posted online on the portable video game hacking cite Benheck.com  made me reconsider my abilities and dampened my prospects of making my own portable console.  Still intent on owning one, I found a respectable modder whom I commissioned a portable GameCube from for about $750.

Yes that’s right, $750 big ones.  As shocking as it may sound, this is is the standard figure for a good looking portable GameCube.  Most of it going to cover the labor costs as opposed to the actual hardware as a GameCube system can be found on eBay for around $30.  The other big contributor is the screen and case, the former usually being an out of print PS1 LCD screen and the latter being  molded plastic or CNC (computer numerical control) cut plastic/MDF wood.  My particular ‘cube was to be cut on a CNC machine – which can go for an upwards of a thousand  dollars or more to buy or build yourself.

I chose the GameCube not only because I’m partial to Nintendo games, but also because the PS2 slim is already fairly portable with a very nice attachable screen, an Xbox is simply impossible to shrink down, and the other older consoles are capable of being emulated on other handhelds.  Being a true Zelda fan at heart I couldn’t help but be excited at the prospect of playing Twilight Princess or Wind Waker on a portable.

Because of space inside the unit and monetary constrains I could only have a 2500mah battery included, which roughly translates to about an hour battery life.  Still, an hour of my favorite Zelda game on the go would be worth it; unfortunately things didn’t work out that way and in the world of portable consoles that is simply a part of the deal.

I received the GameCube from overseas about a month after the project was commissioned.  It’s pretty incredible to see a full-fledged console squeezed into such a small form factor, and despite its size compared to a Nintendo DS I was extremely impressed. Aesthetically, the GameCube looked almost like a manufactured product, albeit a little rough around the edges.  Ergonomics aside it felt great playing Twilight Princess for the little time I had it.    Unfortunately the impression did not last and the unit immediately fell prone to constant disk read errors and the battery refused to charge.  To add insult to injury the memory card did not work and one of the triggers wouldn’t register being pressed.  Cue the massive disappointment.

Having browsed through the forums I knew that there could be a few issues somewhere down the road; what I didn’t know is that I would get them so quickly.  Portibalizing requires a lot of modification of internal components, which increases their chance of failure in the process.  Compounded with using hardware that likely has seen several years of use, these issues make it difficult to really own a portable GameCube and even more difficult to justify spending $750 bucks — especially if you really have no idea how to fix it.

Some of the older hardware like the SNES or the N64 probably makes for better portables considering they have less moving parts, thus fewer variables to break.  It doesn’t hurt that the parts for the older consoles are so easily acquired on eBay. So if you have the technical know-how to attempt at making your own portable then making and owning one is easier due to your ability to maintain it should something go wrong.

Especially with something as advanced as a GameCube or PS2, I wouldn’t advise anyone to spend large amounts of money on buying one, and even building one can become prohibitively expensive.  Sometimes it’s not even a matter of skill and the quality of workmanship – although that can contribute greatly – as it is a simple fact that the homemade hardware  has a much greater chance of failure than your typical manufactured console.  Of course Red Ring of Death affected Xbox 360’s need not apply – although it’s worth noting that Microsoft will gladly fix your console or send you a replacement.  It’s much harder to do that when your homemade handheld console is one of a kind and needs to be shipped halfway across the world to be repaired.

Ah well, there’s always the 3DS.