Review by BigCj34

"A great handheld with top-2D and semi-3D capabilities that's better than the SNES, as many developers saw..."

Nintendo first dunked their toes in the portable gaming pool with a big collection of Game and Watch handhelds, until releasing the Game Boy in 1989. While other companies (and who else but Sega) tried to get the best graphics into a portable machine, results were big chunky “handhelds” that ate many batteries in 5 hours, with limited third party support. Nintendo's aim with the Game Boy was never about cutting edge graphics, but decent portability, low power consumption and of course fun. Thus Nintendo released a monochrome system that had a 30-hour battery life in the name of the Game Boy.

Even though hardware was limited, Nintendo and other companies churned out lots of good games (and bad games) that made the Game Boy a hit. In 1996, the Game Boy Pocket was released; a smaller Game Boy with a better display and Nintendo released the much awaited colour version of the Game Boy, the Game Boy Color. The Pokémon series in 1997 was one of the biggest hits for the Game Boy, which made it become very popular.

The original Game Boy Advance was released in 2001. The SP edition was then released in 2003 plus the Game Boy Player (a Game Cube add-on enabling you to play Game Boy games on the Game Cube) was also released in 2003, and now there is soon going to be a Game Boy Micro.

The Game Boy Advance is a great idea by Nintendo. The Game Boy Color was starting to feel dated, as the screen was small and graphics were limited. The Game Boy Advance's hardware is the best for 2D capabilities and many developers can confidently use isometric 3D, and it was also capable of producing rudimentary 3D graphics. Many people anticipated the GBA as good as the PlayStation from it's 32-bit processor, but clearly the graphics are in totally different avenues, 3D GBA games end up running sluggishly and the graphics are quite blurry.

The GBA is a great portable console; the design once again means fun instead of the dark side. The layout abandons it's classic GB layout, and follows the layout like the Game Gear or Neo-Geo pocket. The screen's in the middle, the d-pad is on the left, A and B on the right, and there are also two shoulder buttons. The SP edition is the standard layout but it folds in half, and the Micro edition is like the classic GBA but smaller.

It's nice that Nintendo have included a widecreen (leaving you to decide whether you play your old games stretched along the screen or normal) but the obvious complaint is the screen brightness. The GBA has quite a dark screen, and you need good light to play it. The GBA has no backlight, which made Nintendo open to making the SP edition. This had the backlight, but the handling was uncomfortable.

Graphics capabilities on the GBA are better than the SNES. And it's even capable of 3D graphics. The graphics are at best, semi-3D. Many of the games you'd find would have polygon-based sprites, but the backgrounds are 2D. 3D games look grainy and have sluggish frame-rates so they have not sold too well.

The GBA can play virtually all Game Boy games, so you can safely take your collection of GB/GBC classics on holiday. Just when you play them the screens a bit darker than usual and you have a border around the game. You can change the colour scheme for monochrome GB games as well.

One of the few things I don't like about the GBA is the way Nintendo had advertised it. It wasn't because it was bad, oh no. It was quite the opposite. Nintendo and many other developers managed to trick gamers by re-releasing their old back catalogue of SNES games, etc. and give them ‘new life' on the GBA. Some advertising is: “Generic SNES game 37 is back and better than ever” to “The old SNES classic, Crap SNES game 56, is now on GBA with exclusive new levels/ characters never seen before” You guessed right, the GBA was seen as an opportunity for developers to port back their old SNES games. You could argue that they find something to do with their old games, but they're just making money from games they made 10 years ago or so. This may not affect the younger gamers, but the older gamers would soon notice that they're buying games they already own on the SNES. Here's the easy way out: get an old title from the SNES/ Sega Megadrive, etc. and slap the word Advance on the end. Chances are you're buying an old SNES game.

Unfortunately the ‘fun' doesn't end there. Nintendo launched their Classic NES series sometime in 2004, and they are what they say. But first, lets give them credit for being honest about this, and tell the customer that these are port-over's from a bygone era. Aside from that, Nintendo are asking for £15 for each of these port-over's, and there's around 20 of them. Would you really want to spend £15 on some lame games when there are better ones about for a tenner more?

Let's also look at the new Game Boy's. Nintendo see the SP to make money from their own ‘mistakable' omission. Someone says: “Let's make big $'s by slapping a backlight onto a slightly different design, and watch the numbers roll up.” Bingo, there you have the SP. I can assure you many people have bought the SP when they had a GBA. Now what are they releasing? The GBA Micro! Nintendo couldn't get enough games out for the DS so they tell GBA fans that it's still alive for another year. Smart move, but at least we'll see more games in the DS era.

There are a few original games, but the mini-SNES attitude means developers are just breathing new life into old games. This could only frustrate older gamers. However, aside from a collection of port-overs, there are a few decent games around. It's just hard to filter the good games from the crappy movie-tie-ins and miniaturised console versions. Who really wants to play a watered down mini-version of a game they have on the console? Many of the ideas are used on the console, but they change the theme for the GBA, which is okay, as long as it's good.

There are a few good features on the GBA. The original unit is comfortable to hold and light-weight, until you get to using the shoulder buttons as they're awfully hard to use when using A and B, making running on FIFA, etc. a hard task to do. The LED changes colour when your batteries are low, and you can now have multiple player support for some games. In the likely event that there isn't four people around you who don't have the same game as you do, you can send the multiplayer game to the RAM on the other unit's, so they can play. Nintendo decided to be cheap so every player had to have their own official cable, with only two plugs plus a slot for another cable, but you can get cables with 4 plugs, for less! Life's always about decisions, unless you have to be official and only buy a product with the Nintendo seal of quality what'll guarantee greatness, fool.

Sadly, Nintendo scrapped the infrared port, which is a bit of a disappointment. Just in case you see someone on the train playing Pokémon, you'd like to do a mystery gift, as you don't need any extra stuff. Instead, Nintendo expect you to carry a link cable about, leaving you an excuse to keep your Game Boy Color, maybe.

The GBA cartridges are half the size of a GB/ GBC cartridge. They can hold a cool 32MB of data, but half the size means 2 times easier to lose, and when playing a GBC game half the cartridge sticks out. Great design, Nintez. You can even get a cartridge with a SD slot, which makes your GBA a MP3/Movie player, and as the DS also supports it, it makes the DS more of a competitor to the PSP.

In 2003, Nintendo released a Game Boy Player feature for the Game Cube, it's a box that plugs into the bottom of the Game Cube enabling you to play Game Boy games on the Game Cube, whenever you feel like playing your collection on a bloated TV. Using the link cable you can plug the GBA into the Game Cube and use some of the features available with a game.

The sound quality is potentially great but there isn't enough memory on cartridges to store decent sound, so the sound you hear is polyphonic MIDI music with some sound effects.

So there we have it. The Game Boy Advance was a great console made by Nintendo, with tw2o models currently available and a third one to be released at the end of the year. Even though the GBA's can be awkward when trying to get to shoulder buttons, many games have been designed to get around that. The thing I really don't like is the way Nintendo market thing. First of all they released a SP edition with a backlight, and then remove the headphone slot so they can make a small profit by selling an adapter, and now they're releasing the Game Boy Micro with a ‘compact design'. The Game Boy Advance formula has been running for four years since it's UK release in 2001, and the truth is there isn't anything the GB Micro can do that the original GBA can't.

The GBA is a great little portable console to have, so if you are buying one, pick up the original for £30 in Game Station, as you're going to find yourself paying an extra £30 for a backlight, plus an irreplaceable rechargeable battery. When buying games, read reviews to see if they're any good, and check to see if you don't own them on the SNES.

Graphics Capabilities Very good for it's time, top for 2D capabilities but 3D capabilites are basic. 8/10
Sound For a cartridge console space is limited, sound quality is some sound effects with synthesiser music. 7/10
Games Library Many port-over's and movie tie-ins but there a lot of good games available. 7/10
Design Using the shoulder buttons with the main buttons is an uncomfortable job, but otherwise it's comfortable to hold. Design isn't anything special but feels solid. 7/10 for both original and SP
Multiplayer Features Up to four players can play certain games with only one cartridge. 10/10
Battery Life A very feasible 10-15 hours play with the original, SP is around 10 hours. 8/10
Cost The original can be picked up for around £30 to £40, the GBA SP costs around £60, and those values will fall once the GBA Micro is out. 9/10
Best place to play it? Good for playing on the bus when going on a school trip/ sports tour/ exchange and on holiday, just don't play it in public places if you don't want to appear a nerd.
Which to buy? There's nothing that the GBA SP/M can do that the original can't do, so if you want to bed able to easily play games on the move, it'll only cost you as little as £30. £30 more for a backlight? I don't think so.


A great portable console by Nintendo, although the lack of back-light eventually worked in Nintendo's favour with the SP. A good collection of games available, even though many are lazy port-overs. I'm giving this an 8, because even though the console itself is great, I absolutely don't like the way Nintendo have made money by doing such simple things from re-releases and 'upgrades'.8/10

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 08/16/05

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