Game Boy Advance

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Life Advanced

Just a few years after the Game Boy Color made the NES portable, the parts to make a portable SNES became viable, and allowing the same paradigm (size, durability, cost, and battery life). So rather than waiting, Nintendo went ahead with the Game Boy Advance.

It was Nintendo's last dedicated 2D system, and man, did it go out with a bang. It was the second bestselling system of the 6th generation, which likely led Sony to try to get in on that market.

Although the system was a hit, 16 bit-level graphics proved too much to effectively show on screen without some kind of light. Thus Nintendo quickly went ahead with the SP revision, which added a front light to the system. It didn't look as good as a backlight, but it worked. The system sold even faster after that. It also dropped the AA batteries in favor of a rechargeable one.

Early in the Game Boy Advance's life, one of the common criticisms was the handheld's audio. While the Game Boy Advance was similar to the Super Nintendo in its specs, the Advance's sound chip was made differently since the Super Nintendo's sound chip was produced by Sony and Nintendo could not use the same chip or a similar one without paying royalties to Sony, so Nintendo had to produce one of their own. When Nintendo ported several of their SNES titles to the Game Boy Advance and Square-Enix ported a few of their Final Fantasy titles from the SNES, there was criticisms over how the sound effects and music were inferior to the original versions of the games. However, these criticisms faded over time when more titles were made with the Game Boy Advance's sound chip in mind.

The multiplayer aspect of the handheld was pushed more than the past Game Boy systems; as people only ever seemed to use the link cables on the old systems for trading Pokémon, the GBA link cable added an extra port in the middle that, when combined with 2 other link cables, allowed 4-player play (which, while not new, was only supported by a few games and required a whole separate accessory for the link cables) and introduced the idea of single-card play, games with a multi-player mode that only required one player to have a copy, allowing others to load the game into ram and play, eliminating one of the bigger boundaries to handheld multi-player.

Along with this ability to load data into RAM, Nintendo also touted the Game Boy Advance to Game Cube cable, which allowed players to hook up their GBA to the Gamecube and use it as if it were a controller with a screen; a similar idea had been used before by Sega, with the VMU controllers for the Sega Dreamcast. Several games used this feature to allow multi-player while keeping important data on the GBA screen and thus private from the other players (selecting a football play, for example). While an innovative idea, games that required this mechanic (Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles being the prime example) while fun, had the added drawback of the price of 4 of these cables making the whole setup really expensive. (Although one would hope everyone would at least bring their own GBA). It seems to be this backlash that has prevented Nintendo from jumping right into doing a similar setup with the DS and Wii, despite the fact that cables are no longer an issue in that situation. Another factor for this could be to avoid a repeat of Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles where everyone needed a handheld in order to play, which would add the cost to the consumers and a DS wasn't exactly cheap at the time it was released.

Around the time the DS launched, Nintendo introduced the Micro, which made the Advance even smaller. Unfortunately, it also lacked the Game Boy Color chip, so it wasn't as fully featured as the SP. Worse, it actually cost more than the SP, and required new cables/accessories. Plus the SP was finally given a back light at the same time, so there was little reason to get the Micro. It did sell a few million units, but was quietly discontinued.

Despite early statements by Nintendo higher-ups that the Advance was one of company's three main pillars, along with the DS and the Wii, the release of the DSi and its lack of a GBA slot, and that there are apparently no plans on continuing the Advance line, contribute to the inevitable fact that this kind of gaming system is slowly dying out...

... until Nintendo's Author's Saving Throw for potentially-disappointed customers who bought the Nintendo 3DS before a price cut came surprisingly early (hence the potential disappointment) revealed that the GBA will soon join the ranks of Nintendo's other portable systems in the Virtual Console.


Specs:[edit | hide | hide all]

  • CPU is a 32 bit, 16.8 MHz, ARM processor.
  • The original GBA and SP have the Game Boy Color CPU included to ensure full backwards compatibility. This can be used as tone generators in regular Game Boy Advance games.

  • 256 KB of RAM
  • 96 KB of Video RAM
  • Another 32 KB are embedded into the CPU.
  • Carts can be up to 32 MB in size.
    • Carts can also display FMVs, although few games had those. It was mainly used by special carts to play video with. The compression format is barely passable quality, but it still showed movie playback had advanced to fitting in affordable carts. This would be important for the DS.

  • Like the SNES, sprites are up to 64x64, with up to 128 on screen, but no flicker if too many on the same line. Sprite combination for bigger objects is also improved.
  • The GBA can also transform sprites and backgrounds in real-time without additional hardware, unlike the SNES, which can only transform 1 background layer with Mode 7, and needed an extra chip in the cartridge to be able to scale, rotate, and otherwise transform sprites properly..
  • 4 background layers, and increased memory and game size allows even more detail.
  • Still 32,768 colors total, but the total on screen is 512: 256 for the sprites and 256 for the backgrounds. Each object and tile can use either a 16- or 256-color palette. Of course, there are transparency effects that override this on-screen color limitation.
  • Resolution is 240×160.

  • The GBA added in two 8-bit PCM channels, in addition to the original GB/GBC sound hardware, giving a total of 4 GB-era synth channels and 2 PCM channels.
  • Most, if not all games didn't directly play samples on the PCM channels - games instead utilized the then-fast CPU to mix audio, along with sound effects.
  • Many games use a combination of the old GB/GBC synth and software PCM synth music.
  • Due to the fact that audio is mixed in software, audio quality varies with software. For the PCM channels, games can either only support mono output, or can support mono and stereo output. The sampling rate and amount of instruments and sound effects at one time also varies greatly - it can range from about telephone-quality to 44kHz, sometimes higher.
  • However, the PCM audio is always in 8-bit quality, resulting in background noise.

  • The original model uses 2 AA batteries, for 15 to 20 hours.
  • The other models use a rechargeable battery, which runs around the same without a light, and around 10 hours with it on.

So aside from the color depth and resolution, the GBA is actually more powerful than the NeoGeo. It took 11 years (1990 launch to 2001 launch), but all the power got squeezed into a handheld.


Games include, but are not limited to:[edit | hide]