Game Boy Advance: A special on Nintendo's handheld console 20 years after its release

Game Boy Advance: A special on Nintendo's handheld console 20 years after its release

Game Boy Advance

On June 22, 2001, exactly 20 years ago, the Game Boy Advance was released in Europe, preceded by a few months after its launch in Japan. It was the first substantial hardware revision for the famous Nintendo laptop, a real new generation console that evolved the initial concept through a rather advanced hardware base for the time, while remaining tied (at least initially) to certain traditionalist ideas of the company on this type of device. While not reaching the extreme diffusion of the original Game Boy and the subsequent Color model, in less than 10 years (to be precise 7 in Europe, about 9 in North America and only 5 in Japan) he managed to place over 80 million units, with a trend completely similar to the traditional laptop and interrupted only by the arrival of a successor capable of grinding even more impressive numbers, namely the Nintendo DS.

Today we celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the Game Boy Advance, so the spotlight is all for him in this retrospective that aims to evoke historical events, features and games for this amazing console.

The successor to a myth

The legacy of the original Game Boy was quite heavy Building the successor to a console capable of selling around 120 million units like the Game Boy and the next Color must have been a leg-shaking task even for the designers of Nintendo R&E, forced to find a new hardware solution to remedy the now evident obsolescence of the portable console, pushed to the maximum conceivable limit for a machine whose original version dates back to 1989. The need to find a compromise between a new high-performance hardware and the historical characteristics of the brand, that is the maximum portability, the longevity of the batteries, the reliability and relative simplicity in software development led to a solution in some ways very advanced and for others rather conservative.

From a design point of view, the change was radical: the Advance version had practically nothing of the Game Boy origins from the point of view of ergonomics, display and key layout, finding new solutions and in many respects more comfortable and balanced than the progenitor.

The Game Boy Advance presented itself with a completely different shape from the 'original A 32-bit ARM RISC processor provided enough power to represent a real generational leap, the larger screen had for the first time a "landscape" format compared to the square one of the older Game Boys, while the layout of the controls on the sides of this it substantially changed the usability, making it more comfortable even if more cumbersome. Having to deal with consumption, which in fact remained minimal despite the new hardware, and probably with the general economy of production, the LCD screen of the Game Boy Advance continued not to be backlit, which somewhat limited its possibilities of use, having to rely on good ambient light to be well visible.

To ensure continuity with the millions of games sold for previous versions, the console was completely backwards compatible through a simple but flawless system: inside there was a custom coprocessor based on the Intel 8080 architecture capable of guarantee a specific hardware emulation, which was activated automatically by inserting a cartridge of the old Game Boy, supported by the same slot.

Initial experiences and evolutions

The "worm light" for GBA was a practically indispensable accessory The display of the Game Boy Advance was certainly the element at the center of the major discussions: it was a substantial qualitative evolution compared to the previous ones, moreover able to finally provide a fluid scrolling without the historical blur effect of the console Nintendo portable, but the lack of lighting continued to be an obstacle to usability. Anyone who has played Castlevania: Circle of the Moon, one of the console's best early titles, knows exactly what we're talking about: a game characterized by dark and shadowy tones required you to hold the console practically under a halogen lamp in order to be played decently. or with the tremendous jointed lantern to attach to the link door (and believe us, we are not exaggerating). In short, the new generation portable console continued to be anachronistically behind, on this aspect, also compared to the ancient Sega Game Gear, but it certainly compensated for the defect with a remarkable graphic power and a true portability that guaranteed about 15 hours of autonomy. br>
The GBA SP proposed the revolution of the illuminated screen and Nintendo played with it some rather impactful advertisements It took another two years to see a further evolution capable of completely solving the problem: in 2003 the Game Boy was launched Advance SP, which practically felt like a dream come true. All the power and versatility of the GBA inside a very small and foldable shell, making it tiny and truly pocketable, but not only: the revolution was provided by the internal (front) lighting of the screen which, although not exactly perfect, made the console usable even in the dark, something simply futuristic. The defect of the SP, to want to look for it, was above all in the ergonomics, since the close controls and placed under the screen made everything a bit unbalanced, so much so that the definitive solution for fans continues to be the GBA. original with afterburner modification that can brighten the screen. Further evolutions came in 2005 with a revision of the GBA SP with real backlight and the launch of the Game Boy Micro, a real microscopic collector's gem. But these were now the latest tributes to the old laptop, while the new generation represented by Nintendo DS was already beginning to spread like wildfire.

A separate mention should also be made for the particular integration experienced by Nintendo between the GBA and its contemporary home console, the Nintendo Gamecube: in addition to the player to be applied under the console, which allowed Game Boy Advance titles (and previous models) to be played on the TV, something already experimented with the Super Game Boy for SNES, the GBA was designed to also function as a proper peripheral for the Gamecube. Through a connection cable, the portable console could be connected to the home console and act as a controller with an integrated secondary screen: although the support was rather extensive on numerous Gamecube games, the use was always somewhat limited to unlocking some extra content. or some additional options, with the best applications remembered in The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords and Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles, but the idea was certainly fascinating.

The games: Nintendo production between masterpieces and a bit of recycling

The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap is one of the most original chapters of the series As per tradition for any Nintendo console, the Game Boy Advance has also been able to count on a mighty internal production, however in this one could see, for the first time, a certain tendency towards recycling on the part of the company. Having a 32-bit laptop with the ability to easily replicate the quality of a Super Nintendo paved the way for a series of very appreciable ports as they were still based on real masterpieces, but which inevitably showed a certain decline in originality in terms of development by the first party. The "problem", so to speak, was still relative: in the tide of games produced, some were simply direct remakes of previously released games, other somewhat derivative versions but many were still very high profile original games. Among the latter we remember the turn-based strategy Advance Wars, the splendid Metroid Fusion, perhaps the best 2D chapter of the series ever, the Golden Sun RPG series by Camelot, The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap (developed with Capcom) , Metroid: Zero Mission, the mythical Wario Land 4, Fire Emblem and The Sacred Stones, Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga and we also add the mythological Mother 3, which unfortunately never got an official location outside of Japan. All this in addition to the inevitable Pokémon, present here both as unreleased with Ruby, Sapphire and Emerald, and as a remake with Fire Red and Leaf Green.

Metroid Fusion remains one of the best chapters of the series ever. these games of great depth are then a plethora of more or less direct conversions from Super Nintendo games, or new chapters that however derive very clearly from their respective titles on the 16-bit console. The whole Super Mario Advance series was in fact a revival of the classic platformers between 8 and 16-bit up to Yoshi's Island, beyond a particularly deep work done on the old Super Mario Bros. 3 for Super Mario Advance 4, which can be considered almost a new title. Among the recoveries also The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past and the Classic NES series: clearly these are timeless masterpieces, but it was perhaps the first time that Nintendo re-proposed the games previously released on another system. Some new chapters of famous series were then proposed as extremely derivative from those released on SNES, such as Mario Kart: Super Circuit and F-Zero: Maximum Velocity. In any case, it was certainly not a problem: the issue was mainly linked to the need to provide a truly huge supply of games during the relatively short life cycle of the console, because the original productions were still many and the quality remained very high.

A large, varied and 2D catalog

GBA game cartridges spread like wildfire in a few years The fast and wide diffusion and rather low production costs obviously attracted a large quantity of third party developers, who in fact invaded the market with many games for GBA during its stay on the market. Even without reaching the level of some Nintendo games, many of these yokes are still characterized by a really high quality and in general managed to supply the catalog with practically every possible genre. The peculiarity of the Game Boy Advance playroom was also the fact that it offered almost exclusively 2D titles in a period in which the transition to 3D had been happening for a while: this gave us the opportunity to enjoy some of the latest productions with graphics in "genuine" bitmaps, in the sense that they were developed without considering this solution a simple stylistic tinsel, as is often the case today, especially in the indie field. It is not a thing to be underestimated, because in fact from the Nintendo DS onwards 3D will increasingly take over even for games on a laptop.

Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow was one of the chapters in the relaunch of the series on GBA Making a list of the third party titles of greater depth for GBA would require an entire article, but we limit ourselves here to recalling some particularly characteristic phenomenon of the experience linked to the Nintendo console: first of all the rebirth of Castlevania which, in its uncertainty in the field 3D, found a notable relaunch on GBA by recovering the original formula with Castlevania: Circle of the Moon, Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance and Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow. It could be safely said that these three titles together with Metroid Fusion and Zero Mission have relaunched the "metroidvania" as we understand it now and could be the very basis of the recent success of the hybrid genre in question. The classic Japanese strategy game found great expressions in this period with Final Fantasy Tactics Advance and Tactics Ogre: The Knight of Lodis, two fundamental games for this genre.

Boktai: The Sun is in Your Hand, produced by Hideo Kojima, presented original game solutions with the use of the sun Among the more or less classic actions there are many examples but we remember in particular Mega Man Zero, which marked the return in style of the Capcom character, and Astro Boy: The Omega Factor, able to significantly raise the tie-in from manga / anime. The recovery of classics from the SNES era can also be found at other publishers, as demonstrated by the excellent improved re-edition of Final Fantasy 6 Advance by Square Enix. Finally, we also want to mention the contribution of Konami and Hideo Kojima with the particular Boktai, stealth action on a vampire hunter that included a sunlight sensor on the cartridge, linked to the gameplay through the particular weapon of the protagonist.

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