In the 1980's (before the Game Boy was released), Nintendo's series of Game & Watch handhelds provided people with portable gaming excitement. As LCD games they provided a stripped down gaming experience that Cranky Kong would approve of - basic sounds, none of those pointless fancy graphics and only a few buttons used for controlling your character – in some cases just a button to move left and one to move right. The Game & Watch Gallery titles collect several games together in one neat package replicating the original games, whilst also throwing in updated versions too. Game & Watch Gallery Advance is the largest of these compilations with 20 Game & Watch tiles (eventually) available to play.
Whether played on a Super Game Boy or a Game Boy Color, previous entries in the series managed to match the look of the old games well, so it should come as no surprise that Nintendo has managed it again for this Game Boy Advance entry. One new addition this time around is the presence of shadows from the unlit LCD elements; a little more noticeable than they perhaps should be, they nevertheless help with the illusion that you are playing on one of the old machines.
Sound-wise things are authentically naff, with simple beeps and rings accompanying your onscreen movement. There are also occasional beepy tunes to be heard, which are surprisingly well done but are unlikely to leave you wishing for a soundtrack CD.
Initially there are six games available: Fire, Rain Shower, Donkey Kong Jr., Mario's Cement Factory, Boxing and Donkey Kong 3. As well as recreating the original LCD game experience, each game is also available in an updated "Modern" mode using Mario characters. Whilst you still have to do the same thing in these updates, there are a few differences. For example in both versions of Fire people leap from a burning building and you use a stretcher to bounce them to safety. However whilst everyone falls at the same speed in the "Classic" version, the update has characters fall at different speeds (and there's also the occasional bomb that appears too). Both versions of Donkey Kong Jr. have you climbing vines and jumping over creatures as you attempt to free Daddy Kong, but the original game has a single level that loops over-and-over whilst the update has three different stages.
The Modern versions of the games look fairly impressive, with a bright cartoony look, plenty of detail and animated elements. Variety is added the longer you play, either by changing scenes, changing seasons or a changing time of day. There are good touches if you make a mistake too. In the updated Fire, should Mario and Luigi fail to catch someone who has leapt from the building they leg it behind a carriage. As the unfortunate character lies on the ground the not-so-super Mario Bros. look sheepishly from behind their cover, only to emerge when the person has hobbled off screen and they are sure there are no injury lawyers around. Audio has also had an upgrade with a wide range of crunches and thuds accompanying the onscreen action; music also plays throughout and is generally upbeat and bouncy. There are some catchy tracks and if you so wish you can listen to them via the Gallery section, accessible from the title screen.
Due to the nature of the games the controls are straightforward enough, typically using an action button and the d-pad. The analogue stick on your controller can be used if you prefer, but tapping the d-pad works better than a push on the stick for the games available here. The Modern mode games still control the same as their classic counterparts, with your character sliding along the screen after a single tap or hanging in the air an unnaturally long time. It can be a bit strange at first, but the controls work as intended. Once unlocked you will find that Donkey Kong makes use of a second button to adjust the size of the screens. Both screens from the original dual-screen portable are visible, with one larger than the other. Tapping the button switches which screen is enlarged. This was a good option on the GBA due to its 2.9 inch screen, but its not really necessary here as when viewed on a TV screen (and even the Wii U GamePad) the action is easy to follow.
The simple nature of the games can make them repetitive but they mostly remain fun. Whether you are frantically trying to pull your washing out of the way of raindrops in Rain Shower (there's no option to just bring it inside and wait for the shower to pass) or blowing bugs across the screen in Donkey Kong 3, the action steadily gets tougher as you progress. Quick reflexes are required as you find yourself with less time to deal with more things. The games can frustrate but if you are close to the high score you may find yourself jumping in for another go. There are two difficulty settings for most of the games and with Modern and Classic editions, that's four high scores (of up to four digits) for players to attempt.
The games that don't have two difficulty modes are Boxing and Donkey Kong 3. Instead they have a two-player mode, or at least the original GBA release did (off a single Game Pak no less). Wii U owners just get to stare at message asking them to connect the game link cable. Whilst missing game modes are disappointing, it isn't hugely detrimental to the enjoyment of the game. In fact Boxing is something of a package lowlight; buttons for raising, lowering and dodging punches suggest some tactical thinking is required but all you really need to do is hammer the attack button.
Get 200 points in a game and you are awarded a star, with up to five stars available in each game mode/difficulty. Collect enough stars and you unlock a new game to play. Five further games can be unlocked, playable in both Classic and Modern editions including stop-the-food-from-hitting-the-floor 'em up Chef and the conveyor belt action of Mario Bros. An additional nine games can be unlocked (first for viewing and then play) in the game's museum section and include Tropical Fish (similar to Fire but with jumping fish), Climber in which you must work your way vertically to the top of the level and something called Zelda that appears to star a male version of Linkle. These museum games are only available in Classic mode, even though two of them (Manhole and Parachute) featured a modern mode when they had been included in previous series entries.
Those aren't the only games to make a re-appearance. In total eight of the games here appeared in a previous Game & Watch Gallery release and a version of a ninth (Mario's Cement Factory) had appeared in Game Boy Gallery - an earlier attempt to get G&W action on the Game Boy. With those earlier carts compatible with the GBA that could cause some irritation with the original release, but that's less of an issue here as they are not available on Wii U. If you've also been picking up the series on 3DS however, be aware that you already have some of these games.
Practice with the games will improve your score, but it can be difficult to master them. Trying to improve your score will keep you entertained, but there is some forced replayability too as you must get good at some games to unlock others. If you are wanting to play Mario's Bombs Away and find you are being made to get good at another game (like Octopus) this unlock system can of course annoy. The more games you unlock however, the easier it can be to get everything, as a reasonable score in many games (rather than a great score in a few) will get you the required stars. If you do get very good at a game a "Very Hard" version of its modern mode becomes available for you to try – a particularly tough challenge that should keep you busy for some time.
The gameplay is simple, but the included titles are fun to play. High-score chasing should keep players occupied, especially with twenty games to chose from - eleven of which also include an updated "Modern" mode. It can feel repetitive at times and the method of unlocking games has the potential to annoy, but in the end the volume of titles makes Game Boy Gallery Advance an excellent compilation of Nintendo's first foray into portable gaming.