Review: Nintendo Game Boy Advance SP

Manufacturer: Nintendo | Year: 2003 | List Price: ~$44.99 | Buy from Amazon

Game_Boy_Advance_SP_Red_ModelThe Game Boy Advance SP was the first game console I ever owned. I got it as a present for Christmas in 2004. It’s hard to believe, but I’ve had it for almost 10 years now and still play it from time to time. I don’t need to say, then, that the Advance SP is probably my favourite game console of all time. But is it still worth buying today when so many newer, more capable handhelds exist on the market?

I certainly think so. Although clearly inferior in computing power to newer Nintendo handhelds such as the DS and 3DS, The Game Boy Advance SP’s main draw comes from its immense library of games released between 1989 and 2008. That’s almost 20 years of video game history! It’s also interesting to note that because the GBA is more powerful than the Super Nintendo home console of the early 1990’s, a large amount of SNES games were re-released on the GBA. Of course, exclusive GBA titles are where most of the fun is had, with amazing titles such as Pokemon Emerald, Fire Emblem, Advance Wars, and Mario Kart: Super Circuit.

Design: The Game Boy Advance SP was released as a redesign of the Game Boy Advance, originally released in 2001. Although it was a reiteration, it actually introduced a couple of new concepts that have become a staple of Nintendo handhelds. First of these is the unique clamshell design that Nintendo have used ever since, with the DS and 3DS. This protected the screen from scratches and cracks when storing or carrying around in the pocket. It was the first Nintendo handheld not to use AA batteries, opting instead for a rechargeable battery. Also, some GBA SP models (the AGS-101 ones) featured a backlit screen, making them a lot brighter, with a crisper display. I actually have an AGS-001 frontlit model, which I actually prefer due to its better battery life and the fact that it can be played in sunlight (frontlit models actually benefit from being used in a well-lit environment rather than in a darker room). The buttons are pretty standard for a Nintendo console. The D-pad and face buttons are responsive and rather clicky, which I personally like. The trigger buttons take a bit of getting used to, but hold up well under extended stress, unlike the DS Lite’s L and R buttons. There is also a brightness button that turns the frontlight on and off on the AGS-001 model, and adjusts screen brightness on the backlit AGS-101 model. Based on my experience, the GBA SP is extremely durable, and although I have many scratches on mine from drops and bumps, it still functions just as well as ever, which is more than I can say for my DS Lite. (Great)

Library: The Game Boy Advance has access to one of the largest game libraries of any game console, barring perhaps the PS2 and the GBA’s successor, the DS. This is because, although is own exclusive library is no slouch, it can also play the hundreds of games released on the Game Boy and Game Boy Color platforms that preceded it. This lets you play classics like Tetris, The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening DX, and Super Mario Land. I mentioned earlier that many SNES games were ported to GBA, due to their having similar processing capabilities. Highlights of this category are Yoshi’s Island: Super Mario Advance 3, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, and Final Fantasy VI Advance. Finally, there are lots of amazing games only on GBA, and although you can play them on the original DS and DS Lite as well, they are best played on their original console. My personal favourite games playable on GBA are Pokemon Sapphire, Pokemon FireRed, Final Fantasy VI Advance, and The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening DX. (Excellent)

Value: At only roughly $35 to $55 used online, the GBA SP costs about the same amount as a single game for a modern console. Due to its massive library, you’ll find no shortage of good games to play on it, though these can often be priced between $30 to $50 themselves. If you shop smart and grab deals when you see them, however, the Game Boy Advance SP can hardly be called an expensive console today. And because of its durability, you’ll be playing games on you GBA SP for years to come. (Great)

Should you buy it? Yes, if … you are even remotely interested in playing any game from the Game Boy, Game Boy Color, or GBA lineup. Yes, you can get a Game Boy Color for a couple bucks less, but that doesn’t play GBA games. And an original DS can play GBA games but not GBC or Game Boy games. So, while perhaps it no longer has mass appeal and kids today may find its outdated graphics jarring, any retro gamer worth their salt really has no excuse not to own a GBA SP. It was the last major 2D console, and really feels like a culmination of all the innovations that came from that era of gaming.

List Price: ~$44.99 | Buy from Amazon

Do you have a Game Boy Advance SP or are you looking to get one? Let us know what you think in the comments!

You can see all our other video game reviews here, and see the always-up-to-date list of my favourite video games here! Many of them are GBA games!

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