SpongeBob Zero Mission
Image: Gavin Lane / Nintendo Life

On 14th February 2003, Nintendo gave Japanese gamers a Valentine's to remember when it released the Game Boy Advance SP.

Those outside Japan would have to wait until March to get their hands on this gorgeous clamshell redesign of the GBA which came — mercifully — with a front-lit screen (the back-lit AGS-101 variant with adjustable brightness wouldn't be released until 2005) making it possible to play in darkness without the need for a 'worm' light. Hurray for undercover play! Hang on, that came out wrong...

GBA Worm Light
Adios, worm — Image: Zion Grassl / Nintendo Life

Ahem. The SP's two-part flip design meant the system fit more comfortably in your pocket or bag and had its screen protected while it was in there, too. With its own in-built battery meaning you needn't lug spare AAAs around with you, the GBA SP was a beautiful upgrade and one that we at Nintendo Life have fond memories of, memories that are being rekindled just recently thanks to the addition of GBA titles to the Nintendo Switch Online Expansion Pack.

So, on this Valentine's Day two decades on from the console's launch, we're reminiscing about our own personal SPecial ones — how we found them, the wonderful times we spent together in sickness and in health, the knocks we shared, the memories we cherish.

We hope you'll join us in the comments with odes to your personal consoles and a snapshot or two. But before that, let's look wistfully into the middle distance as Nintendo Life staff and contributors tell their SP stories...

Kate Gray

Kate's GBA
Image: Kate Gray / Nintendo Life

I have had two Game Boy SPs over the course of my life.

The first one, I don't remember how I got it. It was likely a birthday or Christmas gift — but I remember loving that thing to death, even though I had only a handful of games. And a lot of them were bad movie tie-ins, too. I even had a cute little plug-in lamp to help light up the screen, even though it was already lit. I don't remember why I had that, either.

The second one I bought in around 2015, when I was earning next to nothing and spending all my money on London rent... but I managed to find an affordable one on eBay. It was a little gift to myself, as someone who couldn't afford any other consoles, and a way I could replay my favourite Game Boy game — Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone. It was amazing, even though technology had advanced a fair bit since then. I brought it with me to Canada, but I haven't touched it since. Maybe it's time to go back?

Ollie Reynolds

GBA - Ollie
Image: Ollie Reynolds / Nintendo Life

Like Kate, I've also owned two GBA SPs, though not necessarily through choice.

My first SP was the stunning NES edition that launched alongside the 'Classic NES Series' game titles. I didn't pick up any of these because I'd already owned a standard GBA console, so I was quite content to simply upgrade my console and leave it at that. Unfortunately, my time with it was short-lived, as I rather foolishly built up a ridiculous phone bill due to the fact that mobile contracts in those days only afforded you about 50 text messages. So I sold my SP for funds and that was that.

Around ten years ago, however, I was working in my local GAME store and built good relations with the owner of an independent game store nearby. He's an incredibly friendly chap and we always worked to help out one another with trade-ins, pre-orders, all that jazz... Anyway, I must have mentioned the story about my original GBA SP at some point, because in the run-up to Christmas one year, he came into the store and told me that he'd "bought me a present".

It turns out that a customer had sold him one of the 'Tribal' GBA SP consoles, but rather than add it to the store's stock, he gave it to me as a Christmas present. It was in remarkable condition (and still is) and I simply couldn't believe he would be so generous. I'll never get rid of it!

Alana Hagues

Alana's GBA SP
Image: Alana Hagues / Nintendo Life

Growing up I used to get all of the consoles after my brother stopped playing them — the Mega Drive became mine when the PlayStation came out, and the N64 when he got a Saturn (shocking, I know).

But the GBA was different because, when the SP came out, my trusty purple crystal handheld went straight to my brother, and I got the gorgeous GameCube purple GBA SP. Shh, I know it's 'Cobalt Blue'.

The SP's not-actually-a-backlight was a revelation to me. I could play this outside and not socialise with anyone! I could actually bury myself under the duvets and stay up until the early hours without a stupid clip-on lamp getting in the way. This little SP carried me through my pre-teen years with Pokémon Ruby & Sapphire, Mario vs. Donkey Kong, and Klonoa: Empire of Dreams. But this was the era of particularly amazing limited edition consoles, and the minute I laid my eyes on an advertisement in ONM for the Triforce SP, I knew I had to have it.

And I still have it! I remember the package being delivered the day The Minish Cap launched, and the excitement I felt unboxing this gorgeous golden SP with the Triforce emblazoned on the back — it's simple yet beautiful. Bundled with The Minish Cap, I played through the whole teeny, tiny adventure on my teeny, tiny screen. I still have the box it came in, although it's a little bit tattered from me taking the system in and out of it. Don't ask why I kept it in the box...

I get the gold handheld out every now and again just to check it still works. I've gone through multiple chargers, link cables for Pokémon trades, and played Four Swords Adventures with my brother using the old SP. But this trusty little golden friend has lasted the whole time with just one or two tiny scratches. And I plan for it to stay with me for many, many more years.

Jim Norman

Jim's GBA SP
Image: Jim Norman / Nintendo Life

Like most, it seems, I have had two SPs in my lifetime. I got the first for what must have been my sixth or seventh birthday. I distinctly remember going to Argos with my mum to pick one out and spurning the rare NES Edition because I didn't like the pattern on the inside. I don't have many regrets in life, but this is definitely one of them.

I ended up with the Cobalt Blue model (not quite as sexy as the NES one, but we move on) and I played it non-stop for years. I still own many of my original games today from the good (The Minish Cap) to the bad (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory); but, like all good things, my time with the console came to end when I wanted to upgrade to a DS Lite and subsequently traded in my original.

But this isn't a sad story! I treated myself to a silver model when I went through a heavy Pokémon phase back in 2012 and wanted to play my favourites again (shout out to Gen III) and I haven't looked back since. I still have this silver edition and continue to play it regularly — seriously, this is the best console for public transport. It might be a little more battered and bruised now than it was when I first got it (see the above picture), but I see it as a touch of character.

Until this little fella packs it in, I'm going to keep on playing.

Liam Doolan

Liam's Micros
Imposters! — Image: Liam Doolan / Nintendo Life

Yeah, so I never actually owned a Game Boy Advance SP. Before you kick me out of this conversation, one of my friends did — and boy, did I "borrow" it a lot.

I actually started out with a Glacier OG model system and a copy of Mario Kart Super Circuit, and as much as I loved it, when I first got my mitts on my mate's SP, I was blown away. I'd be using one of those worm lights up until then that connected via the link cable port, so the SP felt like a deluxe system in comparison thanks to its built-in lighting.

For starters, you could now properly see the screen, and for me, it sort of just refreshed every game I'd already played to death at that point in time, from Sonic Advance to Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2. The clamshell form factor was also quite pleasing at the time, with its flip phone-like design, which also did a fantastic job protecting the screen. Then the buttons — they just had that nice firm feel about them... it was just a premium experience coming off the launch model.

I never did get around to buying an SP model, but in the end, I got the ultimate backlight when the Game Boy Player for GameCube arrived on the scene. I also eventually got two Game Boy Micro systems in top condition secondhand for an incredibly low price [Okay, okay, enough with the bragging, Doolan! - Ed.] not long after their release.

And to be honest, even those can't compete with the SP. Maybe it's about time I finally get one!

Mitch Vogel

Mitch's GBA SP
Image: Mitch Vogel / Nintendo Life

My SP was the first video game console I ever owned, and for that it will always hold special meaning to me.

I got mine at the end of second grade as a reward for my good grades that year, and I’ll never forget the day that I got it. I spent the morning following my usual habit of playing games on Miniclip on our PC downstairs, and my mom came to collect me in the early afternoon. We went to the closest Toys 'R' Us (RIP) and I got the Cobalt color, which still to this day remains my favorite color for a game console. She also generously bought me a game to go with it, so I asked for Sonic Advance 2 because I enjoyed watching a friend play it on the bus to school every morning.

I dusted my SP off to replay some old games for this article and found that not only did it work exactly as well as it did all those years ago, but I played it for at least an hour and never even saw the battery light change from green to red. I probably last charged my SP several years ago; they sure don’t make ‘em like they used to!

Gavin Lane

Image: Gavin Lane / Nintendo Life

Despite lusting after it, I never had an SP at the time. I couldn't justify upgrading from my regular Glacier GBA. In fact, it wasn't until the early-2010s that I finally tracked down a red SP and made that clamshell design mine. What a beautiful thing! I immediately started throwing it in my jacket pocket when leaving the house and rediscovered a bunch of classics on it. This is the console on which I first played Aria of Sorrow and Metroid: Zero Mission.

Being secondhand, it wasn't in mint condition, though — acceptable for the 50€ I paid, but far from perfect. I toyed with the idea of transplanting its innards into a new casing. Looking around at the available variants (and with nautical nonsense being something I wish), I was struck by a playful SpongeBob Squarepants shell that launched in limited quantities as a Toys 'R' Us exclusive.

Originally, that one was the upgraded AGS-101 model with the proper backlight, and it goes for eyewatering sums these days. Of course, non-official SP casings can be picked up for peanuts on your auction site of choice these days, and I couldn't resist ordering one to sample the quality. Turns out it was excellent! So the transplant proceeded and now my SP lives in a pineapple under the sea.

One day I'd love to mod the screen to match the majesty of my modded white GBA, but even with a slightly dimmer-than-ideal screen, this is one of my favourite Nintendo handhelds.

Well, those are our GBA SPs, but we'd love to hear about yours. Feel free to share your stories below and let us know your thoughts on this wonderful little console as it celebrates its 20th birthday.