"(SP Review) Finally "Advancing" the GameBoy Into the Visable Spectrum!"

Portable gaming machines have come and go over the years: at one point or another, the gaming world enjoyed the presence of the Sega Game Gear, Atari Lynx, NEC Turbo Express, Sega Nomad, Tiger Game.Com, SNK Neo Geo Pocket/Pocket Color, and the Bandai Wonderswan/Wonderswan Color/Swan Crystal, among various others. During this time period however, there has always existed a monumental force to challenge these console’s sales. Since it’s release in the end of the 1980’s, the Nintendo Gameboy has stood as a iron titan to be reckoned with. Currently the most successful selling console in videogaming history, Nintendo’s latest release, the Gameboy Advance, has been reissued as the Gameboy Advance SP, complete with some new (and highly welcomed) changes that will make even the most cynical gamer happy.

Before I even get to the amazing new design, the most important elements that needs to be discussed about this hardware is the “minor” tweak Nintendo performed on the hardware…that of backlighting. That’s right, no longer are players forced to sit in front of a window or lamp to play those darker titles such as Castlevania. *Finally* adopting a feature that Sega’s Game Gear and Atari’s Lynx (I believe so) incorporated over a decade ago, the Nintendo Gameboy Advance now can be played at any and all times. In truth there was no excuse as to why the original Gameboy Advance did not come with a backlight unit, however I will briefly discuss this issue later in the review.

The first thing gamers will notice upon opening the box of the Gameboy Advance SP (or by just plain looking at pictures of it) is that the console is radically different in appearance than its previous build. Resembling the original Gameboy/Gameboy Color design (assuming a laptop had kids with it), the Gameboy Advance SP is actually two connected pieces of hardware: one being the bottom half (the control area) and one being the top half (the screen area). The unit itself can fold in half when not in use, just as one can do with a laptop. This feature actually manages to accomplish more than one might first think: On one hand, the Gameboy Advance SP is therefore much smaller and easier to carry around in one’s pocket, but on the other hand, the new folding design serves to protect the screen and guard against scratches and cracks. Anyone who has ever dropped their precious ‘Boy and noticed dents or scratches in the screen will agree, this feature is truly welcomed.

The next major innovation to the Gameboy Advance SP is that (FINALLY) batteries are no longer required. Well, they are but in such a way that users will no longer find themselves making endless trips to the hardware store to purchase these increasingly expensive acid cylinders. (Heck, now when you buy something at Toys R Us, you can finally tell the cashier with great pride: “No, I do not need batteries” since the question comes up non stop with them as of late). Borrowing the format of a laptop, mobile phone, or some portable CD players, the Nintendo Gameboy Advance SP features a single lithium-ion *rechargeable* battery used to power the unit. This battery, which Nintendo claimed in its press-release, will last for 3 years (a reaching statement to believe for anyone who ever purchased rechargeable batteries) will solve the problem of donating hundreds of dollars to Energizer, Duracell, and the likes each year. Additionally, the SP comes with the needed hardware (wire) to recharge the battery, thus no additional purchase is necessary.

The only problem with the SP is that, ripping a page from the Wonderswan notebook, in order to use headphones with the machine, a separate adaptor is necessary to do so. The Gameboy Advance SP does *not* allow users to jack in directly. At the moment, import stores charge a low $10 or so for this accessory however, so it won’t break the bank to get one should you desire it. Still, the additional purchase is somewhat annoying for one to have to make. Please make sure you are aware of this factor when purchasing however, as it would be a bit of a hassle to get the thing home only to then realize you need to go back out and purchase the headphone adaptor.

As with almost any big scale Nintendo product (in Japan at least), demand for this new innovation is not being met with supply. One would think that at this point in time Nintendo would finally learn to increase production for its hardware when it releases, however it seems that such educational advancements are beyond the company’s vision. As a result, those who are now trying to find a Gameboy Advance SP (a little over a week after release in Japan) are frantically looking everywhere for this hot seller. Americans and Europeans take note: if you want yours when it comes out in March, make sure to pre-order now.

As far as my own experiences go with the Gameboy Advance SP, I purchased the “Limited Edition Final Fantasy Tactics Gameboy Advance SP Bundle”, the product of a Nintendo-Square-7 11 (yes the convenience store) campaign. This Limited Edition set includes a Pearl White Gameboy Advance SP, as well as the brand new Final Fantasy Tactics Advance and other FF goodies. While I have yet to test out the Gameboy Advance SP with all of my software, Final Fantasy Tactics looks amazing on the new screen, as did the two GBA Castlevania games. The backlight is truly a welcomed addition to the design even if it does sacrifice some battery life by staying on. (Hey, if worse comes to worse, just play the SP while it’s plugged into a wall socket!).

Because of the nature of this product, I feel compelled to list a few of the “issues” that it presents. I am not advocating that either of these comments is correct, truthful, or even legitimate; they represent two of the greatest concerns and matters that people I’ve spoken to in regards to the SP have advocated and thus I present them to you, the reader, so as to possibly educate you in your decision to purchase the SP or not. The arguments are:

1. There is no excuse whatsoever as to why Nintendo could not and in fact, did not, release a back lit Gameboy Advance to begin with. Whereas their excuses back in the days of the original Gameboy (or even its remodeled forms of the Gameboy Pocket or others) were quite understandable, things became more and more implausible during the days of the Gameboy Color. However, there was no reason that when the Advance released in 2000, the unit was STILL without a backlight. The Sega Game Gear proved back in 1990 when it was released that a portable system could have a backlight. Of course the Game Gear was expensive; however this was now 13 years ago. It is glaringly obvious that Nintendo purposely removed a backlight feature from the original Advance so as to charge customers for it at a later date and thereby get more money.

2. Nintendo has already announced that it’s working on a successor to the Game Boy Advance. Please take note of this, as in truth such news indicates the Gameboy Advance SP is really nothing more than a makeshift “Gameboy Color”. What do I mean by this? Simple: after spending 10+ years on the original Gameboy and it’s various remodeled versions, Nintendo finally released what the world wanted and waited for, the Gameboy Color. Of course, no sooner did that release than Nintendo broke word in it’s successor, the Gameboy Advance. It is more than probable that Nintendo will publicly display the successor to the Advance/Advance SP at the 2004 E3 show: this will have allowed for the SP to be on the market for a little over a year than thus “once again time to screw the consumer” as some may look at the situation.

Thus you now have the two main arguments skeptics of the Advance SP advocate. Again, I am presenting them simply for your consideration; personally I happen to like the SP and have no problem spending “another” $100 on another Gameboy unit.

Regardless of what one thinks of it (a cheap way to make more money, a great idea, a welcomed addition, a mistake, etc), the Gameboy Advance SP is an amazing piece of hardware and is recommended to any who want portable gaming on the go at its finest. The only problem with the new SP is that Nintendo may have chosen a poor time to release the hardware considering the Gameboy Player dawns in less than a month. For those that don’t know, the Gameboy Player is a converter that allows you to play Gameboy games on your Gamecube. It is 100% legal, and is made by Nintendo; a “Ultra” Super Gameboy if you will. Because playing on the Gamecube eliminates the need for a backlight altogether (as well as squinting at a small screen), the market for the SP is potentially much smaller than it could be. Nevertheless, the portable power of the Gameboy will never be curtailed, and thus anyone who wants to enter the stylish new world of the SP can fill out their applications starting now.

Reviewer's Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

Originally Posted: 02/23/03, Updated 03/02/03

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