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Game Boy Advance

Game Boy Advance

game_boy_advanceManufacturer:  Nintendo

Release Date (NA):  June 11th, 2001

Category: Handheld

Nerd Rating: 8 out of 10

It’s time now Baconeers for me to tell you all about one of my favorite handhelds, and that’s saying something because I love handhelds. Actually, as of right now, the majority of my reviews are of handheld games from the likes of the Neo Geo Pocket Color, Game Boy Color, Nintendo DS, and even my phone. So in a way, it was inevitable that I’d come to writing a full on hardware review about this fine piece of technology. Also of note is that the Game Boy Advance had two successors in its lifetime the Game Boy Advance SP and the Game Boy Micro, the former of which you can also read about here on Nerd Bacon.

But the original GBA was totally better.


First and foremost, let’s talk about the design of the Game Boy Advance for a second. Compared to the rest of the

The Game Boy family,from the original Game Boy to the Game Boy Advance.

The Game Boy family,from the original Game Boy to the Game Boy Advance.

Game Boy family before it, the shape of the GBA makes it look more like the odd one out. While the Game Boy and the Game Boy Color are portrait-shaped handhelds with the screen on the top and the controls on the bottom half, the GBA is landscape-shaped with a larger screen in the center of the device with controls split between either side. The GBA also has all of the same controls as the Game Boys did, your directional pad, A and B buttons, Start and Select, however, it added bumpers to the top left and right sides of the machine; L and R.

An example of the New Wide Screen Game n Watches.

An example of the New Wide Screen Game & Watches.

The Game Boy Advance also kept several other parts from its predecessor as well including the switch power button, the headphone jack, and the circular volume dial. In addition to that, the size of the game slot in the back of the handheld was also the same width as that of the previous Game Boys, however it was shortened so that Game Boy Advance titles could cleanly sit inside of the console while Game Boy and Game Boy Color games and certain add-ons could still be played. The handheld’s clam shell redesign, the Game Boy Advance SP however, returned to the portrait-shaped model of the Game Boys while still integrating the Game Boy Advance‘s controls. It did get rid of the headphone jack though, which I missed…

Anywho, the shape of the handheld actually isn’t too original, like the Nintendo DS, Nintendo’s early handhelds, the Game & Watches experimented with a lot of different models of handhelds that would later be reused. In the Game Boy Advance‘s case, the Game & Watch model that most closely resembles it would be the New Wide Screen model. For clarification, this is the model used for the Donkey Kong Jr and Super Mario Bros Game & Watches.

Graphics and Sound

When Nintendo first launched the Game Boy Advance, it was touted as the handheld equivalent to the popular and powerful Super Nintendo Entertainment System. And it’s true, the Game Boy Advance actually does boast the ability to play SNES-grade graphics on a smaller, portable system. Some well-known SNES games have even been ported to the Game Boy Advance, and they look pretty nice. For example, the first three Donkey Kong Countries, Earthworm Jims, the Super Mario Advance games, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, and Final Fantasy games IV, V, and VI.

The GBA's screen lacks a backlight so the graphics don't appear as bright as they are.

The GBA‘s screen lacks a backlight so the graphics don’t appear as bright as they are.

However, one of the issues with the Game Boy Advance when porting these games is that the graphics have always ended up looking muted and not as bright. This is because the GBA couldn’t display as many colors as the SNES and even still, the lack of backlight on the original made it hard to see the really colorful screens anyway. The sound on the other hand is great. When I first got my Game Boy Advance I was amazed at how great the games I was playing sounded. Of course, when I started to play those same games on the Game Boy Advance SP, the sound wasn’t nearly as powerful. While the original GBA had stereo sound, the GBA SP stereo sound could only be obtained by buying a stereo headphone adapter for the handheld.


Nintendo’s done a really great job of making handhelds with games that you’ll want to play with others. The Game Boy Advance is no exception, through the Pokemon GBA games alone, owners of the GBA have had tons of chances to use the multiplayer function with others. Although Nintendo originally scrapped the infrared wireless link-up port with the GBA, it did receive an accessory by the end of its lifetime to incorporate wireless play.

An example of one of the GBA's possible connections.

An example of one of the GBA‘s possible connections.

While many games for the GBA were specifically single player, options to play multiplayer mini-games, trade items, battle against one another, etc. did exist quite often in these games. At the beginning of the GBA‘s lifetime, four players could be hooked up using a Link Cable. The only issue was that players had to be within arm’s reach of one another in order to link games together. And sometimes that wasn’t really fun. When the Wireless Adapter was released with the Pokemon Red and Green remakes, this allowed numerous players to connect at a distance. It made beating the stupid out of that annoying kid on the other side of the playground in Mario Tennis possible.

The Game Boy Advance was also really cool in that players could also hook up their handhelds to certain GameCube games to either play along with friends, assist them, or download special games. One of the most common examples I can think of is using the Game Boy Advance to play The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords. The GBA not only becomes your controller but it also becomes an extra game screen, almost like a precursor to the Wii U. There are other instances too like in The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker where a player with a Game Boy Advance hooked up can use the Tingle Tuner and assist in the GameCube game in real time.

I don’t know about you, but I still think bombing the Forbidden Woods from my GBA is one of the coolest examples of playing a console game with a handheld.


Now that I’ve bored you enough with all of the technical stuff, it’s time to talk about the games. And oh my god, the Game Boy Advance has so many games! Last time I checked it was at least over 1,000. Of course, a number of those games also include GBA game bundles which I don’t really consider a NEW game. But alas, the Game Boy Advance had something for everyone. You can even play games from the original Game Boy and Game Boy Color on it as well! Pops wants to play Doom wherever he goes? There’s a port of that. Mom likes to play Pac-Man while she’s waiting for the kids to get out of school? We’ve got a Pac-Man Collection for her! Big brother wants to bend the rules and get into some mature games at school when no one’s looking? We may not have porn, but the GBA does have Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance and Grand Theft Auto Advance. Baby sister wants to see her favorite characters on the small screen? Give her Batman Begins!

Examples of some of the media the GBA can play including e-Reader cards, GBA games and videos, and original and Game Boy Color games.

Examples of some of the media the GBA can play including e-Reader cards, GBA games and videos, and original and Game Boy Color games.

The GBA has a game for just about any popular brand, person, show, movie, toy, etc. And almost every game for the Game Boy Advance was rated E so you also weren’t force-fed the same poorly made kids games that flood all of the modern systems. Although, that’s not saying all GBA games were amazing. There were plenty of shovelware games for the Game Boy Advance, just not as many as the Nintendo DS has. And I really wish that Nintendo would’ve ported one of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers SNES games to the GBA, since the other GBA Power Rangers games are awful.

Besides just the regular Game Boy Advance cartridges, with the e-Reader, players could also use specially dotted cards to play mini-games and such on their GBA. For example, an e-Reader card set of Classic NES games were released, which could be scanned into the e-Reader to play each specific game. Other cards like specific Pokemon cards could also be used on the e-Reader to play games or with certain GameCube games to unlock specific content. A boxed card game called Mario Party-e was released that combined typical tabletop card gaming with the GBA. Late into the GBA‘s life time, a series of cartridges were also released with children’s movies and TV shows that could be watched on the go, simply called Game Boy Advance Video. So the variety extended beyond just genres of games to actual methods of using the GBA as well.

Modding and Homebrew

In addition to the Game Boy Advance‘s already large library of games, the handheld is also very popular with the homebrew and modding community. While the GBA may have had a number of interesting expansions including the Wireless adapter, e-Reader, etc, a lot of modders have taken it upon themselves to add to the GBA. A lot of modding projects for the GBA involve simply adding a backlight to the screen or recoloring the shell, but the GBA has also been used for things ranging from diabetic blood sugar meters to cellphones. Even modding giant Hailrazer has transformed the GBA into a handheld Nintendo 64 player. The possibilities are pretty cool.

Modder Hailrazor's N64 Boy, an example of a modded GBA.

Modder Hailrazer’s N64 Boy, an example of a modded GBA.

On the homebrew side of things, you have the Game Boy Advance flashcart and linker, which allows players to hook their GBA flashcarts to their computer and download homebrew games to the cartridge to play on the go. Homebrewed games are even more varied than the regular GBA library with the creators having more freedom than commercial developers. So, don’t be surprised if you see a lot of more adult-oriented homebrewed games and slideshows. I’ve found the GBA ports and translated versions of popular early console games to be a great addition to the GBA‘s homebrew library.


The Game Boy Advance is a fantastic handheld, and also one of my favorites. It may have lacked a backlit screen and completely wireless gameplay, but it gives players a ton to choose from in terms of gaming from its fantastic library and expansions. When you aren’t playing old Game Boy Color games on it, or using it with a GameCube to unlock bonus content, you could easily spend hours checking out all the homebrewed applications and games. It just leaves so much in terms of possibilities. But maybe it’s not as fun as the Nintendo DS or as cool as the Neo Geo Pocket Color, but I’ve adored my GBA for as long as I’ve had it and I wouldn’t trade it for another handheld in the world.


Written by Doc Croc

Doc Croc aka Kelly is Nerd Bacon’s Editor-in-Chief and resident narcoleptic. In the off-chance she isn’t already asleep, you can find her here at the Bacon!


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