20 years ago, Nintendo ushered in a new era to their handheld console line. Featuring 16-bit visuals, a horizontal handheld design, two shoulder buttons, and longer battery life, the Game Boy Advance succeeded its Game Boy predecessors with the single biggest leap in handheld gaming history at the time. While Nintendo had prevailed with their 8-bit Game Boy and its 1998 upgrade, the Game Boy Color, the Advance took Nintendo's handheld line to far greater heights. Not only could it play ported versions of NES and SNES classics, as well as offering backwards compatibility, but it featured a slew of original, high-quality titles across its library.
|Final Fantasy V on GBA
The Game Boy Advance proved capable of handling several classic SNES titles. Among these included Super Mario World, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Yoshi's Island, and the Super Mario All-Stars versions of Super Mario Bros. 2 and Super Mario Bros. 3! Other titles, like Super Ghouls 'n Ghosts, Super Street Fighter II Turbo, and Mega Man & Bass also made their way to the system. Many of these titles also featured additional content. Super Mario Advance 2 let you play as Luigi while Super Mario Advance 3 featured half-a-dozen new stages. You might also be surprised to learn that Super Mario Bros. 2, released as Super Mario Advance, was remade and coded from the ground up.
However, these SNES ports came with a price. In most cases, their audiovisual quality was reduced to fit the limitations of the handheld. Certain animation effects were sacrificed in some while screen size was cut back in others. While developers did their best to retain the original sound and visual quality, one play on the original console version of a game could tell you which sounded and looked better overall. One prime example would be to look at Donkey Kong Country on the SNES and then compare it with the GBA version.
Meanwhile, the Nintendo DS, successor to the GBA, featured SNES remakes and ports such as Kirby Super Star Ultra and Chrono Trigger. Due to the DS' superior processor, they were better equipped to handle the SNES titles' quality while also introducing extra features and stages to the games. It presents the argument that perhaps Nintendo would have been better off saving their SNES titles for the DS instead. On that note, I also argue that N64 titles, like Super Mario 64 DS, were better saved for the Nintendo 3DS just as Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask were.
However, the GBA versions of Final Fantasy IV, V, and VI feature perhaps the best versions of their respective releases. Thanks to the redone translations, extra dungeons, various improvements, and even extra playable characters, players swear by the Advance versions of the titles in spite of their audio limitations and smaller screen size. Overall, the GBA versions of the SNES titles ended up being a sort of give-and-take sacrificing screen size and audio quality for extra content in the process.
|Ace Attorney artwork
Foundation of Several Franchises
The Game Boy Advance gave the start to several noteworthy gaming series. Among them include Nintendo's Rhythm Heaven series and Capcom's Ace Attorney. While the latter might shock some of you, the original Japanese Gyakuten Saiban trilogy debuted on the Game Boy Advance!
Rhythm Tengoku, the first in Nintendo's trademark musical rhythm genre series, became the Rhythm Heaven series in the west. While the west received titles for DS, Wii, and 3DS, the latest title, Rhythm Heaven Megamix, included a number of songs from the original GBA release.
Speaking of Rhythm Heaven, Nintendo's WarioWare series also debuted on the Game Boy Advance. Reusing various assets from the hit platformer, Wario Land 4, Nintendo developed a creative mini-game compilation title. WarioWare has also gone on to spawn numerous sequels across Nintendo platforms. It stands to reason that fans are eagerly waiting for Nintendo to release a new WarioWare and Rhythm Heaven title for the Switch.
The Continuation of Stellar Series
Along with the original IPs and the ports of NES and SNES titles, classic franchises came to the GBA. Nintendo's Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap, Metroid Fusion, and Metroid: Zero Mission rank clearly among the best games on the system. Capcom released the Mega Man Zero franchise while Sega saw the opportunity to reinstate 2D Sonic with the Sonic Advance trilogy.
Mario & Luigi, an RPG by Alphadream, introduced players to an original RPG featuring the Mario Bros. as the playable characters. Using elements from its predecessors - Super Mario RPG and Paper Mario - Mario & Luigi featured clever, humorous dialogue, a turn-based system featuring action commands, and an original world within the Beanbean Kingdom.
Game Freak developed the third generation Pokemon titles, Ruby, Sapphire, and Emerald, featuring new mechanics such as running, 2-on-2 battles, and Pokemon personality traits. They would be followed up with the remakes of the Gen I titles, FireRed and LeafGreen. Players could now trade and battle using wireless communication thanks to a new accessory included with the latter titles.
On the note of stellar RPG titles, despite never seeing a western release, Mother 3 offered some of the saddest and darkest storytelling ever written in a Nintendo game. Fans of EarthBound would find Mother 3's improvements to mobility and battle system interaction to be a true boon and improvement. Mother 3 should not be missed by any fan of the genre.
|Golden Sun artwork
Bastion of JRPGs
As with the SNES and the Sony PlayStation, the GBA became the best place to pick up Japanese Role-Playing Games during the early 2000s. GameCube had Tales of Symphonia and Baten Kaitos while the PS2 featured Final Fantasy X and Persona 3 FES. However, the GBA's library heralded at least a dozen quality JRPG titles. Aside from Fire Emblem, Pokemon, and Mother 3, the GBA's key traditional RPG was Golden Sun series.
Featuring gorgeous 2D sprite work and animation, Golden Sun also delivered a memorable classic soundtrack by renowned composer Motoi Sakuraba. Featuring over 60 hours across the two titles, Golden Sun allowed players to equip Djinn to customize their class abilities and summon powerful beings. They also featured Zelda-like puzzle dungeons which invited the player to harness the power of Psynergy to solve them.
The GBA featured the Final Fantasy ports as well as a new entry in the world of Ivalice: Final Fantasy Tactics Advance. This addictive Strategy RPG featured many of the same gameplay cues of the PlayStation classic, Final Fantasy Tactics. The system also featured fellow SRPGs, Tactics Ogre and Shining Force: Resurrection of the Dark Dragon. Additionally, Sting and Atlus released the unique point-and-click RPG hybrid, Riviera: The Promised Land.
The original releases on Game Boy Advance include some of the most critically acclaimed titles in history. Among them include Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow. While the previous Castlevania GBA titles, particularly Circle of the Moon, were solid in their own right, Aria of Sorrow raised the bar higher. It managed to even exceed the legendary Castlevania: Symphony of the Night in several ways.
The magic Souls system, the improvements to weapon sorting and warping, the original setting in the future, and the Boss Rush modes offered numerous reasons to play and replay the game. While Symphony of the Night was a respectable classic in its own right, Aria of Sorrow, despite being shorter, managed to be a quality experience from start to finish. It may well be Koji Igarashi's best work to date as well as the best game in the Castlevania series.
Meanwhile, Nintendo's Fire Emblem series also came to the west for the first time on the GBA. While the series saw success in Japan throughout the 80s and 90s, the inclusion of Marth and Roy in Super Smash Bros. Melee saw fans in the west demanding a Fire Emblem release in the west. This spurred Nintendo to release the seventh game in the series, Fire Emblem: Blazing Blade, as the first game in the west.
The quality strategic RPG elements gave players the ability to build armies, move them around the map, and support their units. The title offered a balanced challenge while giving players the option to replay the game on harder difficulty modes as well as uncover more story behind Hector, one of the protagonists of the game. To this date, Blazing Blade still remains a high-level favorite among Fire Emblem aficionados. Sacred Stones, the following game, also featured the same addictive gameplay while taking place in a new world.
Without hesitation, I can tell you the Game Boy Advance is one of my absolute favorite consoles in gaming history. Nintendo consistently releases stellar handheld systems including the Nintendo DS, Nintendo 3DS, and of course, the Nintendo Switch. All these systems feature many of the aforementioned titles' successors to deliver many of those classic experiences all over again.
Game Boy Advance features some of the best Platformers, JRPGs, and Metroidvania titles in gaming history. Castlevania, Metroid, Mario, Sonic, Zelda, Rhythm Heaven, Mega Man, Kirby, and Final Fantasy name just a few of the amazing titles that came to the Game Boy Advance. It even featured the last F-Zero title, F-Zero Climax, released only in Japan and the last released title in the series.
I've listed the PS4, PS2, and SNES among my all-time favorite systems. But I would never fail to include the GBA, as well as its successors, in that list. It took much of the creativity of SNES titles with some of the brightest, most colorful visual charm you could ever ask for in a game. It wasn't afraid to experiment with rhythm titles, racing games, wireless communication, 4-player matching, and introducing new franchises to Nintendo fans. All of these elements, along with its classic horizontal shape, continue to impact Nintendo today as seen in the Nintendo Switch.
The one downside as a GBA fan is that most of these games have never been ported to other consoles. Aside from being placed on the Wii U eShop, a number of these titles remain locked on the GBA. Unless you're emulating, you may not get a chance to play them unless they come to the Switch online library. Moreover, I even had to sell my Nintendo DS Lite, which was backwards compatible with the GBA, simply because my carpal tunnel and larger hands made it hard for me to play them anymore. However, that didn't stop me from redownloading Minish Cap just to play it and enjoy a classic Zelda game again.
With that said, I want to take one more look back at the GBA. It's a timeless system with some of the most enjoyable and addictive games you'll find. These titles have aged remarkably and you'll have no trouble getting into the likes of WarioWare, Sonic Advance 3, or Final Fantasy V Advance.
Well, I hope you enjoyed this little read celebrating this wonderful handheld. With that being said, here's to 20 years one of the finest systems and libraries ever featured in gaming history: Nintendo's Game Boy Advance!
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