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
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
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
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
this...you'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).