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The Sure Thing

These are confusing times for console gamers. It seems like every time you turn around someone’s announcing a new game system with bigger and better hardware specs. Heck, I wouldn’t be surprised if Intellivision and Atari tried to make a comeback. To make matters even more complicated, old systems are being repackaged in an effort to maintain sales and further confuse gamers (PSone anyone?). As it stands, consumers really have 3 next-gen systems to choose from: X-Box, PS2, and GameCube. And at $200-$300 it’s a pretty pricey gamble. Do you go with the best specs, largest library, or lowest price? I can offer no advice in this area. Fortunately, there is one sure bet on the market with an incredible line up of launch titles: the Game Boy Advance.

There hasn’t been a whole lot of fanfare surrounding this little guy. There have been no massive line-ups on launch day, and no outrageous bidding wars on eBay. One might be fooled into thinking that Nintendo’s little system is no big deal in the gaming world, but hype doesn’t make might. It was pretty clear even before launch that the GBA would be the biggest thing in the gaming community. Having spent some hours on the system, I’m even more convinced that the Game Boy Advance is the one truly must-have system of 2001.

I’ve been seeing a few complaints pop up about the system like its price, recycled titles, and lack of 3D support. Let’s be realistic. You can’t have everything and then expect it to fit into the palm of your hand. In fact, I expect that the limitations of the system will be responsible for fostering more creativity and tightness in gameplay. The system is a little pricey, but it is only a little more than the Game Boy Color.

It doesn’t matter how good a system is if it doesn’t have the games (PS2 anyone?). My main problem with earlier incarnations of the Game Boy lay in the games. One can only play so many versions of Tetris. In the entire lifespan of the Game Boy Color there may have been 5-6 games that I actually wanted to play. The Gameboy Advance has already doubled that number with just their launch titles. In fact, I want to play as many of the launch titles as I can get my hands on. My time with Tony Hawk Pro Skater 2 has been some of the most rewarding playtime of the year.

While some may balk at the $30-$40 dollar price range for the games, we have to remember that we are paying for full versions of games, not watered-down afterthoughts. Game Boy Color games were never about getting the best value for your money. I honestly believe that a significant number of GBC games were developed to maximize advertising dollars. I can see marketing executives sitting around in a boardroom saying, "Well, we’re taking out this full page add for the X-Men game, why don’t we throw a Game Boy version into the mix?" Whereas the GBA is a system that people are actually excited about developing for.

Perhaps one of the reasons I’m so excited about the GBA has to do with the fact that I completely missed out on the Super Nintendo wave. The Super Nintendo came out at that time in my life where I was feeling just a little too old for video games. My NES system was gathering dust, and I was more concerned about girls than Mario. It wasn’t until Super Mario 64 came out that I realized I’d never be too old for video games. So there is an entire generation of video games out there that I have never experienced. Some people are a little disappointed by the lack of a 3D chip in the system, but if the PS2 has taught us anything it’s that graphics do not make the game.

I still can’t get over how small and comfortable the system feels. I was surprised by how tiny the box was. The increase in screen size and resolution is also noticeable. Making the transition from Game Boy Color to Game Boy Advance will take a little getting used to, but everything about the GBA makes Nintendo’s older handhelds seem bulky and awkward. Every now and again I find myself forgetting about the left and right buttons because they are so new. My only real complaint about the system is the lack of a backlight. It takes some work to angle the system just right to get the maximum amount of light with the minimum glare.

I don’t know who’s going to win the console war (and it will be a war), but I wouldn’t be surprised if the interconnectivity of the GameCube and the GBA becomes one of the major selling points for Nintendo’s Next-Gen system. I know the possibilities of combining the two systems have me excited. I also know that my PS2 will be suffering from a lot of neglect as I sample the diverse launch titles for my GBA. If you want to wait out the console wars to see who’s left standing, the Game Boy Advance will keep you plenty entertained.

Jason Frank

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