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North America

Game Boy Advance

by Justin Nation - June 21, 2001, 10:14 am EDT


While it may be relatively irrelevant to even post, Justin Nation writes up PGC's debut hardware review for the Gameboy Advance

It should be noted that writing this review is a painful experience, as in many ways in this case the primary concern ends up not being with the hardware itself but with what you’ll be doing with it. Indeed, as many of the Nintendo faithful have already made their decision on, and even their purchase of, this latest incarnation of the little console that could (and still does with a vengeance) this review could even be seen as pointless. However, in the interests of helping out the few folks out there who haven’t already made their decision on whether this unit is a must-have or not, here we go anyway.

The first thing you’ll notice, without a doubt, about the Gameboy Advance (GBA) is the size and the clarity of the new screen. Even graphically simple games like Mario Advance display an abundance of color and with games that push the hardware you will be shocked how good games can look on a handheld—much moreso than with even the Gameboy Color. That being said, another almost immediate thing you’ll notice, once you take the unit to different locations, is that the type and intensity of light available to you will be absolutely crucial. If you’re in a particularly bad room the problem can be even worse, as even with light you’ll find yourself having to contort your neck and body into odd, almost tantric positions in order to keep away the enemy of glare while getting the light level just right for enjoyment. While this is certainly a design flaw, once you’ve come to accept this problem and begin coming up with solutions (optimum spots in the house to play in, getting used to perfect angle you’ll want to hold your hands at) it is something you’re capable of dealing with. The reason you’ll go through this is because already there are a handful of titles that have launched with the system that you won’t be able to help yourself from wanting to play. You will believe you have, at a minimum, a SNES unit with its own screen in your hands while playing games on the GBA… and with games like Tony Hawk and some others already making people’s jaws drop one can only wonder what will be seen on this handheld in the coming years.

Getting away from the visual side of things there is a mixed bag of things that are good, things that are great, and things that will vary from person to person.

While the GBA sports stereo sound for games that support it, audio enjoyment with the GBA is often dependant on a good set of headphones being available. While the sound produced by the unit’s speaker is tolerable, it fails to reproduce some of the subtleties that can be found in the excellent music developers are already creating on the system.

In order to accommodate the new screen and to mark the evolution of the system in general from its predecessors, you will now be holding your GBA horizontally as opposed to the traditional vertically-oriented scheme previous units used. This design change is a good thing for the most part as holding the unit seems a bit more comfortable than it was before and it also lends itself better to another major change in the system, the addition of two shoulder buttons. While the A/B buttons on the unit aren’t very different than they ever were before, the shoulder buttons have a very distinctive feel, especially when compared to the shoulder buttons on old SNES controllers. While opinion on which feel is better may vary, the new GBA shoulder buttons do have a feel of durability to them and give some healthy resistance, showing the designers understood that many people’s fingers would likely rest on the buttons in general in order to hold the unit in place while they played. Looser buttons may have resulted in unwanted button pushes being registered by the games so in the end the design is very practical. While some have criticized Nintendo for not putting on an additional 2 front-facing buttons to bring the total up to 6 for the system (making it more ideal for traditional fighting games) it pays to keep in mind that recently Nintendo, as displayed by the large central ‘action’ button on the GameCube controller, has begun working once again towards simplicity in controller design. While two more buttons would have benefited some titles, already developers have shown creativity in getting around these limitations, making the issue seem irrelevant in the overall scheme of things.

In terms of power consumption the GBA is extremely reasonable considering it can be powered with only 2 AA batteries. While hardcore gamers will, of course, end up needing to keep a rechargeable pack nearby to avoid spending all of their money on batteries, most casual gamers should be pleased to find that changing batteries will occur infrequently. This concern with providing a power-conscious unit likely contributed to the decision not to make the GBA backlit, and in the end for most price-conscious consumers this was probably the right way to go.

At the end of the day, as with many reviews of consoles themselves, this review is very likely irrelevant. Either you’ll feel the need to buy the unit based on the games you’ll be able to play with it or you won’t. That said though, considering Nintendo knew this would be an outright success regardless of almost anything it did, the Gameboy Advance is a very powerful handheld unit with enormous potential… and at a launch price of as low as $90 it truly is a steal.


Appearance Comfort Quality Value Construction Final
9 7 8 7 10 9.5

Right off the bat Nintendo has launched with a handful of different colors and with the announcement of the new Celibi Limited Edition unit it is apparent there will be many more to come. The unit is small, looks slick, and probably is the least toy-like in appearance of the systems to date.


The bigger your hands are the more trouble you'll have with finger/hand cramps from playing. That said, its new layout has made it more comfortable to play on than past units and there are also third party devices for making it a bit bigger and more comfortable to boot.


From the big picture standpoint Nintendo has delivered a very fine product, especially considering it is pretty well without competition. The screen is crisp and clean (though it does smudge and scatch without much effort), the system can produce some incredible sound (though not necessarily through the unit speaker), and its power consumption is very reasonable compared to just about any past system.


Since the unit is made for playing games and not necessarily for abusing this is a tough area to be hard on. All the same with that large screen and a light system weight it does feel a little on the fragile side. Not something you'd want your little brother or sister playing rough with.


Honestly folks, for $90 some places if you look hard enough this unit (if you're interested in portable gaming) is absolutely a steal. It is take it anywhere gaming at its best and most compact, it already has an impressive library with hordes of games still to come, and the fact that it will interface with the GameCube makes it an even bigger deal. You can't beat what this little package offers for the price of admission.


So it has a few flaws when it comes to its on-board speaker (a cost issue) and its not being back lit (another cost issue related to power consumption). Short of those flaws, which have valid counter-arguments against them, this is pretty well the best handheld effort ever and it is incredibly affordable to boot. If you want the best there is in terms of gaming on the go there simply is no other practical choice.


  • An outright steal at $100 or less
  • Even launch titles have shown the incredible power this handheld posesses
  • Like there is any other realistic choice in handheld gaming...
  • Gamers with larger hands will likely still have problems holding the unit as it is still very small
  • Some object to the lack of 2 extra front-facing buttons
  • The screen/light problem can be annoying until you get used to it
Review Page 2: Conclusion

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Developer Nintendo

Worldwide Releases

na: Game Boy Advance
Release Jun 11, 2001
aus: Game Boy Advance
Release Jun 22, 2001

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