Never forget how good the Game Boy Advance was
My heart will always be the weakest for the original DS and the DS Lite. But with today the Game Boy Advance’s 20th anniversary in Australia and New Zealand, we’d be remiss if we didn’t stop to appreciate some of its killer franchises – and how successful the GBA has been.
While nothing is a guaranteed success in games – see the Wii U – it can be easy to downplay the success of the Game Boy Advance. The Nintendo DS series is one of the most successful consoles ever; just like the Game Boy and the Game Boy Color. Both “families” of consoles have enjoyed a long life: the DS underwent several revisions over a decade, while production of the original Game Boy ran from 1989 to 2003, after the release of the Game Boy Advance.
So it’s easy to forget that Advance, even by today’s standards, was a massive agreement.
Consider this. Released in March 2001 in Japan and in June 2011 for other major territories, the Game Boy Advance would only have a few years on its own before the release of the Game Boy Advance SP. Nonetheless, this allowed for new features, advancements in portable graphics, and a larger screen, although older games could be played at their original resolution and aspect ratio. The Advance was also the last unit to have removable batteries, providing around 15 hours of play time from 2 AA batteries.
A big factor in Advance’s success was its compatibility with older Game Boy titles. Users could insert Game Boy or Game Boy Color cartridges into the console, although the design meant the cartridges protruded a bit from the chassis. And even though the original Game Boy Advance didn’t have a backlight – something Nintendo would rectify with every handheld since – the console has enjoyed huge success, far beyond Nintendo’s wildest dreams.
The company originally planned to sell 1.1 million units by the end of March. And with titles like F-Zero Maximum Velocity, Rayman, Forteresse, Fire Pro Wrestling, Super Mario Advance, Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure, Tony Hawk Pro Skater, The army man is advancing and with existing games running on the larger, brighter Advance screen, the console was a huge success. Over half a million GBA consoles sold in the United States in its first week of launch, taking everyone by surprise. In the UK, Eurogamer reported that the Advance broke previous records when it sold 81,000 units in a single weekend, more than four times the sales made by the PlayStation 2.
Nintendo’s software was also extremely popular in Australia. Super Mario Advance entered the top 10 Australian games sold – beating the platinum reissues of Spyro the Dragon and Crash Bandicoot 3 – but four of the top 5 games were all Game Boy titles, all enhanced by new material from Advance: Crystal Pokémon, Gold Pokémon, Silver Pokémon and Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.
By the end of 2010, the Game Boy Advance and Advance SP would sell over 81.51 million units. Sales were split roughly in the middle – the Advance SP selling around 43.57 million consoles to the original 37.94 million Advance.
It’s amazing even by today’s standards. The PlayStation Portable was launched in 2004 and has been a huge success on its own, selling over 80 million units, and even the PSP’s superior hardware hasn’t dented the Game Boy’s success. (Rather, both handhelds expanded the overall gaming market, much like the original Game Boy and the Wii did.)
Hell, even the original Game Boy sold over 64 million consoles during its lifespan. And that was with a production that spanned over a decade. The Advance had barely been around for half a decade, and yet the Nintendo Switch – a console sold in a vastly expanded global video game market, with the benefits of almost instant and frictionless distribution – will not overtake the Game Boy. Advance that this year.
Considering that the Switch is still a few years old, easily, as the Advance was quickly overtaken by the Nintendo DS and the threat of the PSP, this is remarkable.
48 games were eventually transferred from the SNES era, and the improvements were rigid. Seeing LOSS racing on the GBA was amazing. It wasn’t just that it worked, but it was a completely competent and playable version of an absolute classic.
And a lot of other absolute bangers got solid upgrades for the GBA as well. I’m not a fan of the path all the games have been ported, and I think under the right conditions there are a lot of scenarios where the original SNES presentation, while potentially a decade older, is still a lot nicer.
But damn those games were running on a handheld computer. Having that movement and reach in a unit that weighed just 140 grams and measured 144mm x 82mm x 24.5mm (not to mention the same experience in the much smaller Game Boy Advance SP) was truly mind blowing. Games like Radio Jet Set and Tony hawk were completely different from their original console iterations, of course. Still, the developers absolutely took the console’s small hardware and found clever ways to get around its many storage and memory limitations. (For those who didn’t grow up with these systems: If you’ve played Eternal destiny or the recent LOSS reboots on the Switch and thought, how the hell are these games even playable remotely then you will get a feel for what it was.)
And it’s not like the GBA runs out of killer titles. Advanced wars, nobody? Tony Hawk Professional Skater 1 and 2? Super Circuit Mario Kart? golden sun? Advance Wars 2? Fire emblem? Final Fantasy Tactics Advance? Maximum speed F-Zero? Mario Golf: advanced visit? Mega Man Zero? Fire Red Pokémon and Leaf green, updates from Pokemon classics? Donkey Kong Country 2? Metal slug advance? A link to the past? Land of Wario 4? Pokémon Mystery Dungeon? Namco Museum? Metroid Fusion? Pokemon Emerald? Sonic advance? Or The flight of the falcon, which was essentially a low-poly Advance version of Rogue Squadron who didn’t have to play as well as he did?
GBA games slapped. And thanks to Nintendo’s approach to compatibility, these games have carried you through the DS era as well.
It was a crazy time in the game where technical ingenuity was paired with truly creative and ingenious revisionism. The game will probably never see something like this again, given how far the hardware has come. Smaller devices, tablets, and modern graphics engines mean it’s more possible to scale down games through things like dynamic resolution, reducing the need for developers to completely redesign games from scratch. And the dominance of current platform owners means you’re just not likely to see the same competition in the hardware segment – it’ll be more of the people making laptops, rather than making new portable hardware. .
So, 20 years later, let’s appreciate the Game Boy Advance for what it was: pure, unadulterated lightning in a bottle.