The early 2000s. It was a great time in the video game industry. It was when Sony was dominating the console market with the PS2, wildly outselling both the GameCube, Xbox, and Dreamcast combined. It was the fiercest time in terms of console and game quality competition – one that we will likely never face again. It was the time when Nintendo hired Reggie Fils-Aime and bring his legendary E3 2004 presentation. Yeah, Sega might have caved in at this point, but the Big N had to keep their guard up with Sony. This also was the time Microsoft started to enter the console business with their original Xbox.

[Note: video demonstration available on YouTube.]

As someone who grew up with the Nintendo 64, it was natural that my parents would follow up with Nintendo’s next console at the time - the GameCube. I remember being six or seven at the time, being in the living room – with my parents, my older sister and brother – and there was this box that was wrapped up. You should have seen the look on our faces when we unwrapped that box, to find that it was none other than that purple-colored portable lunch box. This was also the time I was introduced to the Smash Bros. series with Super Smash Bros. Melee.

JSAUX front and back shell box

A few years later, I remember waking up in my bedroom one day, and finding a bag with a brand new platinum-colored GameCube and controller along with a copy of Super Smash Bros. Melee. I later discovered my dad bought this for me. I remember him slapping my shoulder after I finished a match. He knew how much I liked video games.

But the GameCube wasn’t home to just that legendary game. That console had some of my favorite games of all time – Zelda: Wind Waker and Twilight Princess, Metroid Prime 1 and 2, and other great hits. Maybe it’s just me, but these days, people can’t make anything original anymore. Mostly new games that come out these days are remakes or remasters of games that came out from the dawn of the new millennium. The period of innovation for games just isn’t there anymore. Perhaps that’s because competition isn’t as fierce as it was 20 years ago.

At any rate, because I wanted to relive my nostalgia of the early 2000s, I asked JSAUX if they’d be willing to send out their purple transparent front and back shell for the Steam Deck. They did so. Along the way, I decided to upgrade the thumbsticks to use hall-effect sensors, and further decorate the Deck with colored buttons that are reminiscent of the GameCube controller. The back shell also comes with customizable back buttons.

JSAUX front and back shell box contents

And you’re probably asking yourself whether or not this mod was worth it. Spoiler: not at all. Over $200 worth of repairs later, both my wallet and my patience had to suffer.

Back Shell - Easy Enough

Replacing the back shell of the Steam Deck is very simple, and chances are you’re not going to harm any of the internal components along the way. If you’re new to modding your Deck, I recommend starting off with this before going with a full-blown front shell replacement. All it takes is removing the eight Phillips screws, prying the back shell out with a spudger, then putting the new shell in, replacing the eight screws. For the JSAUX shell in particular, you also need to remove the plastic that covers the thermal grease. This is also your opportunity to replace the back buttons with a different set – you take out the screws holding the back buttons in and replace them with the different set of buttons that JSAUX provides.

Steam Deck internals

It’s a bit difficult to describe the differences between the back button sets. One set is more flat than the other. The flatter set just didn’t set right – they felt weird to press after I had installed them. I then opted for the set that had the button higher up off the ground. It’s pretty cool that you can customize the back buttons to suit your preferences, and this is similar to what JSAUX had offered with the clear shell they had sent me earlier this year.

Back shell buttons

One other difference I noticed aside from the heat dissipation method is that, unlike the original back shell, there’s an opening in the center, right where the fan is. This allows the heat from the unit to freely flow out. Great to see that, to prevent the Deck from getting too hot.

JSAUX back shell

Colored Buttons

Initially I had wanted to settle for full-color replacement buttons. I got in touch with a seller on Etsy to see what they could do. They told me they could replace ABXY, Start, Select, Steam, QAM, and the D-pad. They told me they couldn’t replace the bumpers or triggers because they are “battling with” them. Analog sticks could technically be replaced, but the touch-sensitive feature would have to be removed due to the hassle involved with resoldering the wires to the daughterboard.

FF7 Remake

They told me I would have to order two sets of buttons, which would cost $20 a piece. No thanks. So instead, I opted for a custom-ordered set of button stickers. Much less work, and less than half the price. Might not be as great as doing a full button replacement swap, but still, the colors are there. Now I’ve got myself a handsome-looking GameCube controller with a screen in the middle. Guess I just need to get those sticks notched now.

Steam Deck top

Front Shell

Oh my Lord. Please, whatever you do, don’t replace the front shell. Unless you have a spare Steam Deck lying around that you don’t mind messing around with. Replacing the front shell requires taking almost everything out, including the screen. That’s going to require heating up the bezels with a hair dryer, taking the suction cup that JSAUX provides with the box, putting it onto a corner of the screen, and gently prying it out. Fortunately, you don’t need to pry the battery out, but still, it’s not worth it. Trust me on that. Especially if your Deck is out of warranty – like mine is. If you’re determined as ever, be prepared to put your pair of ESD gloves on. You’re going to be working on your Deck as if you were performing surgery.

Steam Deck info

Even with how careful I was taking the Deck apart, I noticed that the ribbon cable to the screen broke off during the disassembly process – or, at least, the clip holding the cable in did. So guess what I did? After I put everything back together again, I ordered a new screen from iFixit, which costed $65 plus $5 shipping. I got it a few days later. Even though I could get the display cable connected properly to the motherboard, my Deck was still broken. I tried to turn on the unit. The screen backlight turned on, but nothing else. I tried everything I could – replacing all the ribbon cables, doing all the steps Valve outlined to me during the troubleshooting process, including putting the device in battery storage mode. Nothing worked.

Getting the Deck Repaired

So Valve sent me a shipping label. I put the Deck back into the box that I kept when it first showed up at my doorstep, encased in the original case, slapped the printed label on it, and sent it to United Radio in Salt Lake City, Utah. I had to call them to provide my credit card number. A week or two later they told me what was wrong – the “action cable” needed to be replaced, as well as the LR control board, the LR trackpads, and the display itself. Not sure why they had to replace the display – it was brand new. $115 plus $30 shipping later, I finally got my Deck back yesterday. All-in-all, the process took nearly a month, from the time I sent my package out, to the time I got it back.

United Radio invoice

I should note that the guys at United Radio also factory reset my device - I had to reinstall Steam, log back into my Steam account, and redownload all my games. Fortunately I didn’t have any personal documents on the SSD. Still, if you ever need to send your Deck in for repair, make sure you back up your data if you can, because chances are they’ll wipe your drive after the repair is done. And if you don’t want to hurt your wallet in the process, make sure your Deck is still under warranty.

Going the Extra Mile

I wasn’t satisfied with just the exterior swap. I wanted to make the software experience similar to the GameCube as well. That’s where Decky-Loader comes in. With that, I was able to install the CSS Loader plugin to give me the Pretendo theme. Purple vibes there whenever I’m browsing my game library. Also, fortunately Audio Loader has the GameCube menu theme, as well as the sound effects when navigating the UI. Finally, I have the Valve GabeCube boot video. I don’t really think I could make this Deck more GameCube-nostalgic than that.

Worth It?

You already know by now that, at least for me, it wasn’t. Yeah, JSAUX might have provided all the tools and sent me both the front and back shell as a review sample. Together, this would have costed over $70. Still, at the end of the day I ended up paying more than that to get a new screen, only to find out it didn’t fix my Deck, and spend even more to have United Radio repair it. And not have my Deck for an entire month in the process.

So, I will re-iterate: only replace the front shell if you feel fully confident, you’ve watched an hour video on how to disassemble the Deck, and your Deck is a spare unit and is still under warranty. While having a mod like this does remind me of the good ‘ol days with the GameCube, I also have to be reminded how much money it costed me.

TL;DR

  • transparency on both sides, allowing you to see the insides of the device
  • purple shell, colored buttons, and UI reminiscent of the GameCube days
  • customized back buttons and hall-effect joystick upgrades
  • back shell is far easier to replace than the front shell
  • only replace the front shell if you’re feeling confident and ready to break something inside
  • very expensive to fix, and a long wait time if your device is out of warranty and you can’t fix it yourself

Special thanks to JSAUX for sending the front and back shell.