Release Date: 06/11/2001
Colors: Red, Clear Orange/Black, Platinum, White, Gold, Arctic, Orange, Fushcia, Glacier, Indigo
This is probably the most iconic and memorable handheld system for anyone over the age of 25 today. The Game Boy Advance was an unstoppable juggernaut of a system and one of the most anticipated in video game history. It sold like gangbusters and Nintendo couldn’t keep up in the beginning. The first Nintendo handheld with a horizontal orientation and their first 16-bit handheld system that could create SNES quality titles, and boy did it. The Game Boy Advance has one of the most beloved and expansive handheld libraries out there. It’s also a good middle point of being playable today without any hardware mods.
So, let’s address the elephant in the room. There’s still no backlight on the screen. This was largely criticized back in the day and for a 21st-century handheld, mostly unacceptable. While the LCD is clear and crisp you still need a bright light to see anything. Thankfully many people still held onto their worm lights and got good at hiding under blankets at night by this point. Outside of that, I would say that’s the worst thing about the system.
When it comes to power the GBA delivered. It could re-create SNES-style 2D games and could do rudimentary 3D games which weren’t really seen until later on in its life. The added shoulder buttons helped with the ergonomics and allowed deeper gameplay. We still didn’t get much in I/O outside of the usual Link Cable, and the infrared was gone with this system. Overall, the system feels good in the hands. The slightly rounded back helps fill out your palms and reaching around to the shoulder buttons makes the system sit well in the hands. It’s a great feeling system and many prefer this to other re-releases of the GBA.
In today’s age, the best thing you can do is upgrade the GBA to a modern LCD. It’s a drop-in mod and pretty easy to do, but there are so many mods for this system. Amplifier boards, USB-C upgrades, shells, buttons, silicone pads, lenses, you name it. Many people run shops dedicated to modded GBAs and they can be quite beautiful. I have a nearly one-of-a-kind mod myself. The person who made mine no longer runs a shop and UV printed his own shells. Some people even add speed hacks via a hardware switch too. It’s an amazing system to customize.
We all judge these older systems on their libraries and the GBA is one of the best, some might say the best handheld library to date. While there was a lot of kiddie shovelware, there is something here from every genre including first-person shooters. We got Doom ports, many SNES ports, and games from many favorite franchises like Final Fantasy, Mortal Kombat, Tekken, Pokemon, Mario, Prince of Persia, Tetris, Lord of the Rings, and many more. This was an era where many console games were better on the GBA because developers were forced to redo the game and think outside of the box. Some terrible console games wound up having great GBA ports in the end. There’s something here for everyone. There are hundreds of games to choose from and many are quite good.
Overall, the GBA is a fantastic and iconic piece of hardware. While the internals isn’t impressive today, having a portable SNES was something everyone dreamed of. The GBA library is what most people remember over the hardware anyways. Many people’s childhoods are wrapped around this system. While I never had the original model growing up (my parents couldn’t afford one) I still saw people with them and envied them for it. I love my GBA today and play it at least once a week.