Malik (4/20/04)

Gameboy Advance SP


This review originally was presented on lazy.GEEKS (6/30/03)

Back in the day, I was a hardcore fan of portable systems since I love RPGs and often had to go on long car rides as a kid with my family. This meant while I would normally stare off into space for 6 hours on the way to visit grandparents, I could instead play a little SaGa (for those who don't know, Final Fantasy Legend games were actually SaGa games), some Mana (Final Fantasy Adventure was the first game in the Secret of Mana series), a little Shining Force, or Defenders of Oasis (a truly great Game Gear game). With time, tough, I no longer went on many long trips, and those I went on, I was the driver. Thus portables no longer had a purpose to serve in my life. 

Then I was introduced to GBA, and I was thoroughly disappointed...I liked what I saw except for the fact that I couldn't see (that was one dark screen). Not to mention the fact that almost all RPGs on GBA are typically ports of games I already have (I know, Golden Sun 1 & 2 rock...not arguing with that at all...except they are slow as hell...hehehe)...note, I hate action games for the most part on portables since the screen blurs so easily. 

I thought I'd just let GBA live out it's little life in it's own way, and I'd live mine my own way, never to cross paths again. Then, I saw Metroid Fusion and Castlevania Harmony of Dissonance. Also, I decided to get my woman Animal Crossing for Christmas. The GBA was looking mighty tempting, and thus I asked for and got one for Christmas. 

I enjoyed playing, but I still hated the way that I couldn't see anything, even with a flood light pointed at the screen (I got an indoor flood light setup just to play the GBA) and that the screen was so vulnerable that I didn't want to risk playing more than absolutely necessary (games are dark enough with a scratch-free screen...). I even contemplated getting an Afterburner (a front light kit for the GBA...great little item if you feel like doing a little do-it-yourself to your GBA), but just couldn't justify it. 

That's when a friend hooked me up with a GBA SP. At first, I thought cool, but was skeptical about how well the light would work and thought I'd still have only so much fun with it since all the games I've played so far are only so-so at best. Well, I soon learned that was simply because I was not playing in the right light. With the front light screen of the SP, I soon learned what I was missing out on. 



I start here since this is the one major thing that makes the SP far better than the original GBA. The display on the original was too hard to see even with proper lighting to play most games (especially Castlevania Circle of the Moon). With the front light of the SP, even the games I thought of as pretty good, show drastic improvement. The screen is truly lit up as well as you'd expect any games to look on a TV. Additionally if you feel you could see the game without draining the little bit of your battery that the front lights consumes, you can tap a little switch in the middle of the control area and out goes the light. This is great execution of the one thing that Nintendo had been lacking from portables for almost 15 years...light! I cannot begin to say how much of an improvement the light is over those gay little worm light deals you can buy separately and hook up to your old GBA or GB. 

Another great feature with the screen is how easy it is to protect it from scratches. Now, you can close your system by folding it up like a large cell phone. By doing this, you can keep your screen dust-free and scratch-free without having to worry about buying a special cover or case. 


On the same note, by folding up your GBA SP, you not only can protect the screen, but the system becomes small enough to fit in your pocket...well, maybe not yours if you're a small person, but it fits in my pocket...'cause I roxor...yeah. Anyways, after being folded up, the SP becomes the size of approximately a large mans wallet. True, you'd look like a geek with that box shape sticking out from your pants pocket, but this means it can fit just about anywhere a portable cassette player could fit. 

Another portability feature that is probably most important is the longevity of your game playing experience. With a lot of portables that included back/front lighting and had processors of more than 4 color 8-bit (like the Gameboy), you had to limit your play time to about 15 minutes (Atari Lynx...why? WHY!?!? And on 6 AA batteries, no less) to an hour on 4-10 batteries. I'm not an eco-freak, but I know this is not good for the environment or for my patience. That's why I was happy to see how the GBA SP was designed. 

With the SP you have a non-replicable internal lithium ion battery that charges in a relatively quick time with the included AC adapter/batter charger. The people at Nintendo promised something like 10 hours off of a single charge...well, they were wrong, but in a good way. I usually find that even with the front light on and sound all the way up, I can get over 12 hours before I usually decide to recharge (I have never had the battery run out before I decided to play it smart and recharge). This is great since it beats the battery life of previous portables and at the same time eliminates waste products (dead batteries). Bravo, Nintendo. 


The control of the GBA SP is quite similar to that of the Gameboy Pocket. Which is to say that the front looks a lot like a classic NES controller with a d-pad on the left, the A and B buttons on the right, and the start/select buttons sitting in the middle. The L and R buttons are on the top of the base near the hinge that the screen unfolds from. This is a good layout, and that shouldn't be surprised since it should be hard for Nintendo to mess up with only 4 (not counting start/select) buttons. The only downside is in something that contradicts Nintendo's marketing approach. "Huh?", you say... 

Nintendo released the SP with a suave new look (the folding design with very little flashiness) to try to attract a more mature audience. The one problem is the "mature" audience usually will have matured physically. This is my round-a-bout way of saying that while it's good for a portable to be small, this is too small for many hands. I, for one, have medium sized hands (according to my glove size, anyways), and I usually end up with a cramp in my hands after an hour of playing since the control section is too small for my hands. Unfortunately, this was a lose-lose situation since either you make a larger portable (which would not have suited to purpose for the SP's design) or you screw over your target audience. Oh well, it's not too bad, as long as you take a break every once in a while. 


Speaking of minor issues, here comes one. The sound on the SP is pretty bad. The speaker is, fortunately, not in the same location as the original Gameboy speaker (under your right thumb), and is instead in the middle of the system, so you can hear the sound unobstructed. The problem is that the sound is incredibly low in volume and actually sounds distorted when it is at full volume (which is no louder than an average person speaks). I can't honestly say how it sounds under a different speaker, since Nintendo had another flaw in their design... 

Headphones, anyone? 

There is only one external input/output port on the GBA SP, and this serves as both the headphone and link cable connection sites. This means two things; 1) You cannot use headphones at all when playing with a dead battery; 2) You cannot use headphones without buying an adapter. If you don't see any problems with this, I won't explain it, but instead I'll say're an idiot. 


Well, as I mentioned earlier, Nintendo was trying to captivate a more mature audience with this system by giving it a sleeker and more sophisticated look...a.k.a. it looks like a cell phone meets a palm pilot. Which is pretty cool, since as I said before, this design allows more protection for the screen. It's not just better looking, but also functional. This also is a good thing since as a society, we tend to have a social stigma saying that video games in adults are taboo and only a geek or a kid would play games. This means we can feel a little cooler as we play our games while at break at work, or on the bus, or just chilling somewhere in public, and when we are done, we can flip it closed and put it in our pocket or portfolio or briefcase or whatever. The physical appearance doesn't weigh too much in my evaluation of the SP, but it makes it cooler none-the-less. 


The GBA SP shows us all once again why Nintendo is king of handhelds. It is functional, looks pretty nice, and brings new life (or is that "light"?) to some old games. It may have too small of a controller for me to use for hours on end, and may have some glaring sound problems, but with the functionality and the longevity of the batteries, this is a great handheld and a great gadget for any hardcore Gamecube fan who want to take full advantage of Nintendo's connectivity scheme.  Not to mention there is a pretty good game library out there right now with some more great titles coming soon (remake of Final Fantasy Adventure, the original Metroid, and some great new games). So, to wrap this up, I give the Nintendo Gameboy Advance SP a 9.0/10 (I personally would give the original GBA a 6.5/10).