Why the Game Boy Advance was THE Handheld

 Why the Game Boy Advance was THE Handheld

I missed out on the GBA’s heyday, adopting the handheld right before the release of the Nintendo DS.  Going back to the system and its library years later, I have grown to appreciate how incredible a portable console it really was.  Here are a few reasons that the Game Boy Advance was a handheld worth playing back in the day, and worth collecting for now.

  1. Backwards Compatibility

I know that the Game Boy Color was already backwards compatible with the Game Boy library, but the hardware was so similar. It would have been a complete disappointment if you couldn't play Super Mario Land 2 on your GBC.  The fact that the Game Boy Advance could play every previous handheld cartridge game that Nintendo released was such an amazing concept.  In 2001, to be able to play the latest games along with all the titles that were released for the past decade+ was quite the phenomenon!

  1. Upgrades 

Nintendo has been infamous most of its gaming career for releasing underpowered hardware for a lower price point.  Most people attribute the success of the original Game Boy with the fact that it was cheap and therefore accessible to most everybody.  But in the early 2000s, Nintendo heard the customer’s cry for more features, and they delivered.  While their previous hardware releases had very little change aside from colored shells (I love the Play It Loud series, don’t get me wrong), the GBA SP was the first real upgrade to a North American handheld system for Nintendo.  They added a backlight so you could play in the dark or on car rides without major eye strain - something that Sega and Atari did with their very first handheld. Nintendo also added a rechargeable battery, so you didn’t have to stock up on dozens of AA batteries. These were massive upgrades that made quality of life for GBA owners shoot through the roof.

  1. Library of Games

With over 1200 games released in North America, it had more titles than the Game Boy and Game Boy Color combined. Like many handheld systems of the time, there were a lot of dumbed down ports from that generation's home consoles, but there were a ton of gems too!

  • Sequels – 

    • The Castlevania Trilogy (Circle of the Moon, Harmony of Dissonance, and Aria of Sorrow) was an amazing follow up to Symphony of the Night. 

    • F-Zero Maximum Velocity was a fun sequel, made in the vein of the SNES original.

    • Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories was the first entry in the KH series on Nintendo hardware. 

    • Kirby and the Amazing Mirror was a great pink puffball action game. 

    • Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap was a unique way to play a Link adventure.  

    • Metroid Fusion was the sequel Metroid fans were begging for, but never got on the Nintendo 64. 

    • Sword of Mana was another solid entry in the action RPG Mana series. 

    • Wario Land 4 is arguably the best entry in the villain’s catalog.

  • Rereleases/Remakes – 

    • Classic NES Series gave old school gamers like me the ability to play original Nintendo Entertainment System games on the go! 

    • Donkey Kong Country trilogy was brought to the GBA in all its glory.

    • Earthworm Jim plays just as good (and difficult) as is did on the SNES/Genesis.

    • Final Fantasy had a multitude of its entries brought to the GBA, some with upgrades and some with minor issues…but FF on the go!

    • Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past not only brought one of my favorite games of all time to a handheld, but it added Four Swords Adventure too.

    • Lost Vikings, like most puzzle games, plays incredibly well on the GBA.

    • Metroid Zero Mission is probably one of the best remakes of a classic game ever put on a circuit board.

    • Super Mario Advance series brought four classic Mario games, plus Mario Bros, to the handheld.

  • Original IPs – 

    • Advance Wars 1 & 2 is a strategy series so beloved that they got brought to the Switch recently.

    • Golden Sun is an RPG with beautiful graphics and an engaging storyline.

    • Mario & Luigi Superstar Saga wasn’t the best in this RPG series, but it started a saga that spanned 3 handheld systems.

    • Mario vs. Donkey Kong, like Advance Wars, saw a remake on the Switch recently.

    • Mega Man Zero was a great spin-off to the Mega Man X series.

    • Punch King & Wade Hixton’s Counter Punch took the concept of Punch-Out!! and brought them to the small screen.

    • WarioWare Inc. & Twisted – I love this franchise! nuff said!!!

  1. GameCube Connectivity

Previous handhelds have been able to connect with each other.  With the Transfer Pak, a Pok√©mon game could even communicate with a Nintendo 64 cartridge.  But the Game Boy Advance had several ways to interact with Nintendo’s home console of the day: the GameCube.

  • Link Cable

Not only could you use you GBA as a controller with select games on the GameCube, but you could also use the screen in your hands for additional functions, like menus.  Was this a way for Nintendo to get you to buy a whole bunch of cables and GBAs? Maybe, but the end result was unique gameplay that you couldn’t experience on other consoles of the time.

  • Game Boy Player

The Super Nintendo had the Super Game Boy, allowing the user to play Game Boy games on their SNES.  But the Game Boy Player for the GameCube gave the owner the ability to play Game Boy, Game Boy Color, AND Game Boy Advance games on their GameCube.  What a library!

If you haven't experienced it yet, or enjoyed it in the day but haven't picked one up in a while, get yourself a Game Boy Advance and enjoy some of the best sprite-based gaming Nintendo has to offer!

-Brian Moura

Find him on IG, Threads, TikTok, and X @mourabros


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