I absolutely adored my Neo Geo Pocket Color in 1999, but despite its 16-bit grunt it did not quite live up to my expectations of delivering a SNES standard of visuals. Conversely, when I bought my white Game Boy Advance during its PAL launch in summer 2001, its 32-bit CPU more that delivered on my dream of having SNES detailed 2D on a handheld. Unusually, it was the movement of the tiny polygon modelled skaters in Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2, with swish animation, that stood out for me in the launch line-up. Even if its isometric recreation of the N64 version’s environments were clumsy to navigate, I quickly got the impression that it could push 3D models at least as well as a SNES Super FX chip. In truth its 3D texture and shading capabilities were stronger than Super FX, as it proved with early FPS releases like Ecks vs. Sever and a conversion of Doom (for example, compare ceiling and floor textures in GBA Doom vs. SNES).
It was its place as a handheld 2D powerhouse and the way its software felt like a continuation of the SNES era that excited me most, though. I loved the stylish Japanese artwork and their cute little cardboard boxes, so I imported GBA games on mass, despite the language barrier problems evident in games like Kessakusen! Ganbare Goemon 1+2. I have fond memories of Treasure’s releases, regardless of whether Advance Guardian Heroes and Gunstar Super Heroes are deemed as being slightly disappointing when compared to their predecessors. I still loved them, and my jaw dropped at the 2D craftsmanship showcased in Astro Boy: Omega Factor. I also loved the reappearance of side-scrolling beat-‘em-ups on GBA, not just the fantastic Final Fight One, but the superb version of Double Dragon Advance.
"It was its place as a handheld 2D powerhouse and the way its software felt like a continuation of the SNES era that excited me most"
I remember writing a letter to gamesTM magazine expressing a concern that I would be gutted if 2D pixel-art gaming died when the GBA’s successor arrived, because it would most likely be able to push N64 level polygon graphics. The letter was never published, which was for the best, because I was completely wrong: 2D graphics have flourished post-GBA. DLC is great for pushing 2D, but retail games like Contra 4 on the DS have excelled at it.
The lack of a backlight did frustrate me on the original hardware, my friend’s copy of Castlevania: Circle of the Moon was as tenebrous and dark as the reviews of the day complained, but when I had a backlight fitted it cumbersomely scratched the inside of the screen.
Since then, I loved the GBA so much, I bought an SP and a Famicom themed tiny Game Boy Micro, but my favourite of all is my model AGS-101 SP, which was a North American released beautifully backlit GBA that came out later on in 2005. Game Boy Advance is one of my favourite handhelds of all time, my only regret is that I never bought Ninja Five-O on its initial release, because I can’t afford the price that it demands today.