HOW THE GAME BOY ADVANCE TRULY ADVANCED HANDHELD GAMING
By Matthew Byrd
March 21st marks the 20th anniversary of the Game Boy Advance: a handheld that doesn’t always get the love it deserves.
For years Nintendo hesitated to replace the original Game Boy as it dominated the marketplace en route to over 118 million units sold.
In 1998, Nintendo released the Game Boy Color in response to developer requests for a more powerful handheld. However, rumors suggested another Game Boy was in development.
The rumors were half right. Nintendo was working on a more advanced handheld known as “Project Atlantis,” but that project was eventually scrapped. Little is known about it to this day.
Fortunately, some of the Project Atlantis ideas (including a 32-bit processor) would be utilized in the Game Boy’s true successor: the Game Boy Advance.
Along with better graphics, a key element of the GBA’s design was its “landscape” form factor. This change allowed for a wider screen, "side" button placement, and the addition of shoulder inputs
The Game Boy Advance was publicly announced in 1999 as both the successor to the Game Boy/Game Boy Color, and an accessory for the upcoming GameCube (known then as Project Dolphin)
The Game Boy Advance was officially revealed on August 24, 2000. Early reactions praised what Nintendo described as a “simple, yet complete” design and development strategy.
The GBA was finally released in Japan on March 21, 2001. In June, it was released in North America, Europe, and Australia for the regional equivalent price of $99.99.
The GBA’s impressive launch lineup included Super Mario Advance and F-Zero: Maximum Velocity. These games emphasized the handheld’s ability to run SNES quality titles.
Super Mario Advanced
Early GBA reviews were mixed with many criticizing its lack of a backlight. Nintendo wouldn’t add a backlight to the device until the release of the Game Boy Advance SP in 2003.
The GBA’s GameCube compatibility also proved to be pretty limited. While it was a vital part of underrated multiplayer games, few titles utilized the expensive accessory.
The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventure
Nintendo stunned many by releasing the GBA’s successor (the Nintendo DS) in 2004. The backward-compatible DS quickly replaced the GBA and would become Nintendo's best-selling handheld.
Despite its problems and short life, the GBA is fondly remembered for its games. The GBA is still the home of some of the best Castlevania, Metroid, Mario, and Zelda titles.
The GBA also kicked off beloved franchises like Golden Sun, Advanced Wars, and WarioWare. Its library of truly original games even included an adventure powered by the light of the sun.
20 years later, the GBA is defined by the quality of its library, its technological advancements, and for raising the bar for handheld gaming. It was a truly special device.