News Article

Feature: Remembering the Game Boy Advance

Posted by Mark Reece

The end of an era

For many years, the Game Boy brand was as synonymous with Nintendo as Mario and, perhaps, it still is. Have you ever been playing on your DS or 3DS and had someone who’s not particularly games savvy refer to it as a Game Boy? After all, the Game Boy was a worldwide brand phenomenon, penetrating the public consciousness and bringing handheld gaming to the masses. The combined sales of the Game Boy, Game Boy Pocket and Game Boy Color exceeded 118 million units across the globe, which is a big achievement when you take into consideration that, at the time, Nintendo's closest competitor in the handheld market was Sega, who managed to sell only 11 million Game Gears.

Nintendo pretty much dominated the handheld console scene for around 12 years before they launched the Game Boy Advance in 2001, and the GBA was destined to become their next success story from the very moment that many people first laid eyes on it. What made it so endearing at first glance was surely how much of a technical leap it was from the Game Boy Color. Its technical specifications might have paled in comparison to the home consoles of the day - handhelds have always lagged behind their bigger brothers - but the GBA had some seriously unprecedented horsepower under the hood. This was beneficial to adopters of Nintendo's newest portable in two ways. Firstly, GBA games looked substantially prettier than any of us would have dreamt possible before. In the grand scheme of things, it's not like we were carrying N64s in our pockets all of a sudden, but more clearly defined characters and vividly colourful in-game environments on par with the SNES were easily obtainable by developers willing to put the effort in.

The second benefit from the GBA's added grunt was that developers could not only churn out prettier games, but they also began to get more daring in regards to what IPs they would bring to the table and, more importantly, how they would go about developing them for a handheld. We still had 2D platformers and puzzle games in spades, of course - it wouldn't be a Nintendo handheld if it were any other way - but those traditional staples of handheld gaming were accompanied by, of all things, first person shooters. Having the ability to quickly take that Super Mario Advance cartridge out of your GBA and insert Doom anywhere you wanted was something that was unheard of for a Nintendo handheld. Fans of the FPS genre were adequately catered for: Doom, Doom II, Wolfenstein 3D, Ecks vs Sever and Duke Nukem Advance might have lacked the precision aiming possible with, say, the DS touch-screen, but they all played superbly well considering they were running on a handheld with limited control inputs. Even more miraculous though, was that the GBA was host to the first Sonic game to appear on a non-Sega console; something that none of us would have dreamt possible.

"The legacy of the GBA's bountiful and versatile library of software is something that is still fresh in the minds of many Nintendo fans"

The legacy of the GBA's bountiful and versatile library of software is something that is still fresh in the minds of many Nintendo fans, to the point that, when Nintendo announced that the 3DS would have its own version of the Wii's Virtual Console with a line-up comprised of GB and GBC games, the first question on the minds and lips of many a gamer was, "will we be seeing GBA games?" This isn't surprising, and as is the case with all Nintendo hardware, it's the first party software in particular that gives the machine that special something and makes it worth owning. Fair enough, Mario was maybe not represented as well as he could have been, with Nintendo being perfectly content to make each Super Mario Advance title a remake of the plumber's previous adventures, but franchises like The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, Kirby, Wario Land and Pokémon all saw numerous top quality releases that equalled their console counterparts in sheer playability.

The GBA also saw franchises like Mario Kart and F-Zero make their debut appearances on a handheld in the form of Super Circuit and Maximum Velocity respectively, both are arguably every bit as entertaining as Mario Kart 64 and F-Zero X. This was thanks to Nintendo upping the ante in handheld multiplayer games by allowing up to 4 players to play simultaneously; each player with their own completely private screen, which in many ways resulted in these already unpredictable and largely multiplayer focused titles being even more fun and competitive. Nintendo rounded off these already highly revered first party franchises with a slew of new ones: Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga, Golden Sun, WarioWare, Inc.: Minigame Mania and Mario vs. Donkey Kong all kick-started what would become popular franchises, in which each and every subsequent entry was classically reliable Nintendo fare. Fun, endearing and oozing charm. Oh, and in true Nintendo style, the GBA was fully backwards compatible, so all those GB and GBC games you'd bought over the years worked perfectly well on your sleek, swanky new handheld.

Of course, it wasn't all plain sailing for Nintendo; a sometimes headache-inducing screen that wasn't back-lit was a complaint for many gamers who purchased the original GBA model back in 2001. The fantastic redesign in the form of the GBA SP in 2003 - which added a brighter screen, rechargeable lithium battery and a folding case design that effectively halved the handheld's size and protected the screen from damage - went a long way to rectifying issues anyone might have had with the original model. The less said about 2005's GBA Micro, however, the better. A tiny screen, buttons so small they were cause for plenty of hyper-obese Homer Simpson-style palm mashes, along with a lack of compatibility with link cables, wireless adapters, GB/GBC software and a plethora of other GBA accessories, proved that Nintendo re-designs don’t always satisfy the gamer.

But there's a reason why Sega, Sony, Atari, Bandai, SNK and so many other companies have failed to make any sizeable dent in Nintendo's share in the handheld market since Nintendo debuted the original Game Boy. Nintendo knows handheld gaming better than any other company, and the Game Boy Advance was no exception to that rule. New entries in existing franchises, handheld debuts, brand new games, improved multiplayer, backwards compatibility; all of these attributes and more contributed to the GBA success story. It may have succumbed to the might of Nintendo's own DS, but no one reading this should forget about the GBA; the last of its breed but certainly a worthy swansong for the Game Boy brand. If you're lucky enough to be part of the 3DS Ambassador program, then you're guaranteed access to 10 classic GBA games already. If, however, this is not the case, then as a Nintendo fan you owe it to yourself to track down some of the games that made the GBA's life cycle a golden era in handheld gaming history.

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User Comments (53)

zezhyrule

#1

zezhyrule said:

The only good game on the GBA was Mario Pinball :O
all else I play are GB/C games n_n

FJOJR

#4

FJOJR said:

Hopefully it lives on beyond the ambassador program on 3DS. Nintendo surely wouldn't want to make more stupid decisions in 2011, right?

Shiryu

#6

Shiryu said:

Still the closest thing I have that resembles a portable SNES. Love it!

StephenYap3

#9

StephenYap3 said:

Mario and Luigi: Superstar Saga and Pokemon Fire Red/Leaf Green better be on the ambassador list! In my opinion, they deserve to be on there.

James

#10

James said:

I remember my brother bringing back Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town from America, and I played it to death. Then I tried to connect it to my PAL version of HM: A Wonderful Life on GameCube and it wouldn't connect, so I bought the UK copy of FoMT and played that to death too. I even had a chart showing when my crops would be ready, when I should go visit the Harvest Sprites, when shops were closed and more. It was awesome.

zezhyrule

#11

zezhyrule said:

Harvest Moon is pretty amazing... The archaic SNES version is still my favorite :3

AbuJaffer

#13

AbuJaffer said:

The GBA holds a place in my heart as not only my first handheld, but my first Nintendo system as well. I had a Genesis the generation prior, and frankly, at such a young age I didn't give a rat's butt about who made the system as long as it had great games. Also, I preferred the original design to the SP because of the great gaming grip it offered. I had a little clip-on light that got rid of the backlit issue as well.

Like most good things though, my time with the GBA had to end sometime. It broke and to this day I still have its carcass, with a rattling sound whenever you shake it around. A sad day that was indeed; I'll always remember you fondly oh beloved Game Boy Advance.

ecco6t9

#14

ecco6t9 said:

Um Sonic Jam on the Game Com and Sonic Pocket Adventure on the Neo Geo Pocket.

But other than that the GBA had a great diverse life, with many different games that appeal to anyone.

Supremeist

#15

Supremeist said:

I remember my gameboy so much, It got lost this year after we went through and cleaned my room. It worked fine too. But always an awesome system. That and a PS1 = My childhood.

And I didn't know they had DOOM on GBA. Want that to come on 3DS VC now.

citizenerased

#16

citizenerased said:

What? NO! Gameboy Micro is amazing.

I'm still sad I sold my SP, though, I wish I had both now. SP is probably the single best design Nintendo ever made. That being said, the Micro is so ultra portable I bring it when I can't be bothered to bring my DS.

Mr_Reece

#18

Mr_Reece said:

@tealovertoma With the Micro, Nintendo exceeded itself in making the thing very portable, but scarified any practicality in the process. The screen is ridiculously small and my big man hands cramped up after a short while because of the inhuman position I had to twist them into. Plus the face buttons were so small they were both covered by one of my thumbs.

The GBA SP was easily the pinnacle of handheld console design until the DS came along.

shinesprite

#19

shinesprite said:

No mention of Rhythm Tengoku? I really hope that this and Warioware Twisted find life again on the 3DS Virtual Console

DrCruse

#20

DrCruse said:

The Gameboy Advance was amazing. Definitely the best handheld game console ever.

HandheldGuru97

#21

HandheldGuru97 said:

The Gameboy Advance holds a special place in my heart, it was my first introduction to Nintendo, handhelds, and video games in general. My youngest brother has my old SP and my other brother had a blue SP ( front-light )so after all this time with my DS I went back and "borrowed" it from him. I recently bought a Gameboy Micro and I picked Golden Sun 1. Pretty much I love my Gameboy Advance. Now to go back and buy all the great games that I missed.

gambitttt

#22

gambitttt said:

Again, I think MegaMan Battle NetWork 1,2,3,4,5,6 were the best GBA games of all time :)

GamerZack87

#23

GamerZack87 said:

"along with a lack of compatibility with link cables, wireless adapters"
Didn't the GB micro have its own Game Link Cable and Wireless Adapter? I'm sure it was in the Instruction Booklet... :|

In any case, I wholeheartedly agree with this article. I remember the lead-up to my 14th birthday nearly ten years ago...the only thing I wanted was a Glacier GBA with Mario Kart "Advance". Sure enough, on that sunny November 3rd morning back in 2001, I tore the wrapping paper to shreds and...I found what I thought was the greatest handheld system ever! Twice as powerful as the Super Nintendo, four-player gameplay...and that tasty clear-blue finish...drool...with a brand-spanking-new Mario Kart game which I found to be called "Super Circuit". Since then I've chewed through a GBA SP, a GB micro (which I only had for a week due to it causing hand-cramps), 2 DSs (the first one had missing pixels), a DS lite, 2 DSis, a DSi XL and (so far) one 3DS. Oh, and a couple of Pokemon minis as well. I still play my GBA games, however, more-often-than-not racing a few courses in Super Circuit, or gobbling a few Shy Guys in Super Mario Advance 3, or even just wandering around the Land of Hyrule in A Link to the Past. It's these memories of handheld gaming which will be some of my most revered for a very, very long time. :)

MeloMan

#24

MeloMan said:

This reminds me, I still need to get and play Metroid Prime Pinball. My NES style GBA SP is craving it...

Mr_Reece

#25

Mr_Reece said:

GB Game Paks
GBC Game Paks
GB or GBA link cables
GBA wireless adapter
GBA e-Card Reader
GCN/GBA link cable
GB Printer
GB Camera

None of these are compatible with GBA Micro, according to its instruction booklet, although Nintendo did release GBA Micro-specific "adapters", which isn't the point really. It's never good when a company redesigns a console and renders consumers' accessory purchases of the last few years utterly useless unless they purchase something else

Collz

#26

Collz said:

The best Nintendo console ever in my opinion.
I have a SP Famicom edition & a yellow pikachu SP, As well as
A gameboy micro famicom. I still play
On them regularly, a lot more than my 3DS tbh.
There are a stack of NES games available, some awesome snes conversions as well as games like, final fight, street fighter, sonic advance & chu chu rocket. The games are cheap & plentiful on EBAY
(not forgetting all the original GB games that you can play)
Too.

Thwiidscube

#28

Thwiidscube said:

I've got a Game Boy Pocket, but not an advance. The only game I have for it is Pokemon Blue Version, the original Pokemon game.

Wolfenstein83

#30

Wolfenstein83 said:

Maybe the end of an era in business terms, but as a gamer, I still play GBA games alot more often than you may think.
I have been getting back into the GBA Castlevania games, and they still haven't lost their charm for me.
Although, I play them on the DS because it has a much brighter and clearer screen, as I noticed that the GBA-SP screen seems to have dimmed more and more over the years.
I think as far as gaming goes, there is never truly and ending of an era, because the fans still play the classic games and consoles, so to me it is more of a business term that a corporation has decided to move onto new products, not that the fans have abandoned or forgotten the previous generation.

Wolfenstein83

#31

Wolfenstein83 said:

@bugaham
Well when you put it in those terms, 2D to 3D, then I may have to agree.
There are still some new 2D games, but yeah, 3D is the mainstream now, and that is fine with me, because the worlds are bigger and maybe more detailed, but sometimes I like games that have a bit of simplicity.
I guess it's really just nostalgia from living with 2D gaming for so much of my life, but you still make a good point.

TrueWiiMaster

#32

TrueWiiMaster said:

@el_marko
None of that stuff was compatible with the DS either (except maybe the e-reader) and it came out before the GBA micro. The micro was never supposed to be BETTER than the SP in functionality; it's goal was almost solely portability. It was made as a fit-anywhere GBA. It was a teacher's worst nightmare: a fun toy that is so small it could easily be hidden almost anywhere. When I bought one a couple years ago, the cashier told me he spent hours with his in such a way, after hiding it in his sock. What other portable could do that? An SP would probably fit, but it would be far more noticeable. It was great for it's intended purpose. It is still the most portable gaming device (excluding ipods) ever made, and it still plays some of the best portable games ever made. Whether or not it gave you specifically hand cramps (it never did to that to me) is irrelevant to the system's charm, and it deserves better than a passing insult in this article.

Also, correct me if I'm wrong, but doesn't it also have the best picture of all of the GBA's? Games certainly seemed to look sharper on it.

Kingbuilder

#33

Kingbuilder said:

@zez

Mario Pinball is definitely good but you obviously haven't played any of the other gems for the GBA. noob

MetroidMasher17

#34

MetroidMasher17 said:

The GBA micro wasn't THAT bad. I still prefer it over my GBA original, but I don't have the SP yet so I'm a bit biased.

Kagamine

#35

Kagamine said:

i thought the gameboy micro was third party when i first saw it haha, i was ignorant back then

dizzy_boy

#36

dizzy_boy said:

blame the ds for killing the gb series off.
if i remember right, nintendo had planned to continue with the gb series, but didn`t anticipate the success of the ds.
tbh, there are some good games on the ds, but the gba had the AAA titles.
i never really got into the gb or gbc much as i was more into nintendo`s home consoles during that time.

DrWadsy

#37

DrWadsy said:

I still love my GBA games, hoping for more than just the 10 ambassador releases (though I'll manage if thats all there is)

My nearly 3 year old currently plays with my old GBA SP, and he loves it :)

Rainman

#38

Rainman said:

I still have my three GBA SPs and play Dr. Mario (the GBA version is my favorite version) daily on one of them!

Tasuki

#39

Tasuki said:

I agree the GBA was an amazing end to an amazing legacy. I had every single version of the Gameboy from the ol gray brick GB to a GB color to a GBA SP. I never really cared for the original GBA design but I loved the design of the SP. I still have my Blue GBA SP mainly so I can play my GB games on it I use my original DS for GBA games.

MrDanger88

#40

MrDanger88 said:

My stupid GBA SP have these mushy A and B buttons where I can't even notice that I push them sometimes. It's pretty annoying and I can't find a new GBA SP for a reasonable price on Amazon.

outrun2sp

#41

outrun2sp said:

Its about time you guys showed some love for the GBA. It is the snes of the handheld machines.

So many games that you havent reviewed on it when there have been droughts.

Mr_Reece

#42

Mr_Reece said:

@TrueWiiMaster yea but GBA accessories not being compatible with the DS is something different entirely. The DS may have had the ability to play GBA games originally, but it was a brand new line of handheld; originally intended to be a third pillar beside Nintendo's GB brand and home consoles. Had it been named the GBA DS then its incompatibility with GBA accessories would actually be something to take issue with.

The Micro screen did indeed have a sharper image in terms of visual quality, but that means naff all if it's so small you need an electron microscope to make it out :P

Besides, I didn't actually insult the Micro in the article as such. I merely pointed out that it wasn't the massive success that the GBA and SP were, partly down to its shortcomings. Just look at its sales figures.

HugoSmits

#43

HugoSmits said:

I started programming homebrew stuff on the gameboy classic.. but I didn't really got up to speed until the GBA. Man, I loved to program on it, such a clever and amazing system.

I bought so many titles; but the one I love the most must be Ninja Five-O what an amazing game!

It really deserves a second change as VC

ToneDeath

#44

ToneDeath said:

The only thing that annoyed me about the Game Boy Micro was the removable faceplate, because it would get dust behind it and I don't think they ever released official faceplates here in the UK anyway!

Other than that though, I think it's STILL a very cool device.

Geonjaha

#45

Geonjaha said:

Lets face it. The only reason DS and 3DS arent gameboys are because of their naming and thats it. DS was obviously the next game boy when it came out, and still referring to it as a Game Boy doesnt mean you dont know your stuff. Anyone who thinks it different are the people that need to get their head checked.

TrueWiiMaster

#48

TrueWiiMaster said:

@el_marko
I know the DS isn't a Game Boy in any way. I was pointing out that most big-time portable gamers had already moved on to a platform incompatible with all or almost all of the accessories you listed before the micro ever came out, and let's face it, few people would have bought a micro while having a GBA and not a DS. They would have most likely saved for the DS. Only people who never had a GBA and hardcore fans would have bought a micro at the time. Hardcore gamers knew what they were getting when they got it, and the newcomers would lose no previous investments in accessories.

I never had any problems with the screen size. I was worried the small size would be a problem, but it didn't bother me at all once I started playing. Admittedly, I never tried a more complex game like advance wars on it, but I doubt even a strategy grid-based game would suffer much or at all from a smaller but sharper screen.

Though you did not insult it directly, you did insinuate that if you were to discuss it in the article, things wouldn't be pretty. As far as sales go, I don't know how well it did, but I'm sure Nintendo was never really expecting a blockbuster out of a last-generation remake. Besides, sales do not always reflect quality accurately. The Wii has tons of gems that sold terribly but are still fun.

Also, and no offense, weren't most of those accessories pretty out of use anyway? I have a GB printer, and it was rarely used in games, especially in a worthwhile way. I doubt there were tons of people still getting together to play GB and GBC multiplayer on the GBA, and the GBA wireless connector, which I also have, was hardly used. The e-reader, though awesome, was not a huge seller itself, and I doubt many people who still used it bought the micro to play it.

Mr_Reece

#50

Mr_Reece said:

@TrueWiiMaster all good points mate, but the fact remains that the Micro - regardless of how strongly you or I might feel about it - was something of a misfire. People have spoken out in its defence on here, and that's fine, we all have our own opinion. But there's no denying that its lack of commercial success - which I openly admit was in part down to the DS; I did in fact state the the GB brand succumbed to the DS brand in the article - was in no small way down to the fact that many gamers saw little point in it. Nintendo is a company that is well known for releasing re-jigged versions of hardware, and the Micro represents one instance where they went one step too far and dropped the ball somewhat.

citizenerased

#51

citizenerased said:

The Micro has as much/little of a point to it as the DSi XL. The only thing that changed is the size. Some people will prefer a larger handheld (because of large hands), others will prefer a smaller one (because of portability). You're clearly in the first group, I'm personally in the second. Given the strong defense the Micro has been getting I can't help but feel the feature only reflects your personal feelings about it rather than a more broad view (in fact the article only hints at a lack of commercial success and focuses on dissatisfaction in the design itself.)

Not saying you should change the article, I just think it's fair that objections have been made.

theblackdragonAdmin

#52

theblackdragon said:

@tealovertoma: i love my Micro too — it's smaller than my cell phone and it's got some great games, plus the backlight on that tiny screen is pretty amazing :3 to be honest, though, this is exactly why we have comment threads for articles — so that users can voice whether they agree or disagree depending how they feel, and everyone can discuss things openly. Changing the article would be an option if it were a factual error, but it's all opinion in this case. :3

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