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Sunday July 4, 2004 4:11 am

Game Boy Advance SP Review

Posted by Andru Edwards Categories: Product Reviews, Video Games

Game Boy Advance SPIn the wake of the soon to come Nintendo DS, I thought we would take a look at the last handheld released by Nintendo, the Game Boy Advance SP. This little peice of hardware really is "more than meets the eye".

When former Nintendo monarch Hiroshi Yamauchi stepped down, Saturu Iwata took over as Nintendo CEO. His first order of business was to do away with the childish image many had with Nintendo and its consoles. Being that the Game Boy franchise had long been the biggest breadwinner at Nintendo, Iwata decided to soup up the product line. His goal was simple: Get a Nintendo Game Boy back in the hands of adults.

At first glance, you wouldn't know the Game Boy Advance SP was a video game system. With it's clamshell design, one could mistake it for a high end PDA. Upon closer inspection, you find a small Nintendo logo on the face of the folded device. Open up the unit, and the SP is about the size of a Game Boy Pocket. As far as connections, on back of the SP are power and headphone jacks. You can also use this area to hook up the GBA to Gamecube connector.

On the right side of the unit is the Power switch, with the volume control on the left. Finally, there are two LED indicators - the top is green when powered on, and changes to red when the internal battery is low. The bottom LED glows orange when the unit is plugged into the wall charger, and turns off once fully charged.

As far as control buttons, you have a directional pad, A and B buttons, Select, Start, L and R. To me, the L and R buttons look like they would be uncomfortable where they are positioned since this is such a small unit.

With the Game Boy Advance SP, Nintendo sought to fix every complaint consumers had about the original. Earlier I talked about the internal battery. You spoke, and Nintendo delivered. You don't ever have to buy batteries for the GBA SP. It has an internal rechargeable lithium-ion battery and comes packaged with a wall charger.

The Game Boy Advance SP also features a frontlight button. Answering another consumer complaint, Nintendo added a frontlight to the SP. On the original Game Boy Advance, it was tough to use the unit out in the sun or in a dim setting. The frontlight button switches on a glowing light that gives you optimal view in any condition. I guarantee that you will never use this product without the light, which is always on by default.

As for colors, The Game Boy Advance has grown up with the SP. It comes in platinum and cobalt. There are a few "special editions" well. I would not feel the least bit embarrassed breaking any one of these out in public. Nintendo isn't playing around this time.

Upon turning on the power, you are greeted by a Game Boy logo on a glowing screen. I tried out the SP with Metroid Fusion as well as Tony Hawk Underground. This allowed me to see how it performed using all the buttons in two totally different gaming environments. I am happy to say that the SP outperformed all my expectations.

The sound is great, considering that this is a handheld system. Although the unit outputs mono from its single speaker, it does deliver stereo sound through headphones (which I did not have). Despite the small shortcoming, the volume makes up for it and the audio can be impressive. It is definitely a step up from previous Game Boy versions.

The control pad feels more sophisticated. The D-pad and face buttons don't have much leeway in terms of depressing. Instead, it is more of a "click"; a subtle difference, but it adds a bit of speed to the gameplay. As I said earlier, I expected the shoulder buttons to be a bit cramped. I couldn't have been further from the truth. I have fairly large hands, and playing Tony Hawk Underground (a game which utilizes the L and R buttons extensively) was completely comfortable.
I played the GBA for about 10 hours before the internal battery ran out. According to Nintendo, the battery lasts about 14 hours without the backlight turned on. With a rechargeable battery, I see no reason to turn it off. The charge will suffice for even the hardcore gamer.

Finally, Nintendo has been pushing the Gamecube-Game Boy Advance connectivity hard in recent months. The Game Boy Advance SP more than lives up to the challenge. You can now play games that require both a Gamecube and a Game Boy Advance without having to sit in an awkward area of the room to see the GBA screen. The adapter hooks up right between the L and R buttons, but don't interfere with gameplay in any way.

The development of the Game Boy Advance SP is symbolic of Nintendo's commitment to entering the adult market. As the people who played the original Game Boy grew up, Nintendo failed to grow with them, and thus lost a large portion of its installed userbase. With the release of the SP, Nintendo has now opened the doors to becoming an electronics company instead of just a video games company.

The truth is, Nintendo has become the distributor of one of the hottest must-own portable devices on the market.


Special Edition Game Boy Advance SP

  • CPU: 32-bit RISC-CPU
  • Size (closed): Approximate 3.3" height/3.23" width/0.96" depth
  • Screen: 2.9" (diagonal) reflective TFT color LCD
  • Light source: Front light integrated with LCD
  • Resolution: 240 x 160 pixels
  • Color: Can display 511 simultaneous colors in character mode and 32,768 simultaneous colors in bitmap mode
  • Weight: Approximately 5 ounces

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