I held the standard US Postal Service package in my hands. But how could this be Nintendo's Game Boy Advance? It felt as if the box was only filled with packing peanuts, and as I started to open the shipping box I had thoughts that the importer made a mistake and only shipped me a game, and that my GBA was still stranded in Japan an entire Pacific ocean away from me! I spilled the contents onto the floor... and to my astonishment it... was all there.
I imported a (Glacier) white Game Boy Advance and a copy of Mario Advance, both in there original boxes that are SO small that no pre-launch news article can truly prepare you for. I just can't get over the size of the GBA, (but don't worry... small in a good way.)
THE GAME BOY ADVANCE
The system is designed to be held like the NeoGeo Pocket or Sega Game Gear. And is as wide as the original 1989 Game Boy is tall, and fits quite comfortably in the hands. Your fingers immediately rest on the addition of the Left and Right shoulder buttons, and for the size of my hands, they seem to be well placed and easy to use during gameplay. All around very good shape and feel to the GBA.
The size of the D-Pad and A and B buttons are another size shock, and take a bit of getting used to. The A+B buttons aren't too bad... but the D-pad seems tiny at first glance, and after extended play I found my thumb to be sliding around along its surface. A joystick, like on the NeoGeo pocket would have been welcome, but you get accustom to the shape in no time.
The Color Wide Screen is 1.5x2.9 inches and seems to be a stretched out version of the Game Boy Color's screen. e.g. No backlighting, so your always trying to find the perfect place in your home that gives a awful lot of lighting so you can actually see these fantastic colorful graphics that this little wonder pumps out. The screen is not a true direct copy of the Game Boy Color. Advances have been made... The screen is said to have a high refresh rate that allows for up to 60 frames per second, and kills allot of the blurring and "ghost-like trails" you see when objects quickly move around on screen. The original Game Boy Color Worm Light will work with the GBA, but seems a bit dimmer while playing the new advance cartridges-- so you may wave to wait till a better 3rd party solution arises.
Sound wise the hardware is the same... same small squeaky speaker. And because of its placement, right under the A+B buttons-- your thumb is always moving over it and affecting the sound coming out of the system. The only thing I can suggest is plugging in a pair of personal speakers or headphones if you really want to hear what's going on.
The sound engine itself is well done and adds new life to handheld games. It also supports TONS of sampled sounds, real world sound effects, and many of voice samples. (In the case of Mario Advance-- they are used so much... it gets to the point of being annoying. But I can only guess that it's some kind of Japanese thing, to be yelled at by tiny pixilated Italian stereotypes.)
The GBA can play most of the already released GB and Game Boy Color games. And with use of the Left and Right shoulder buttons you can play the games at original screen size, or stretched out to fit the whole GBA's screen-- a feature that I found only to be useful for a handful of games, like Street Fighter Alpha.
Another really cool addition is the green power light that will change color to red when your batteries start to die on you. Something that I think is better at grabbing your attention then a small LED gradually fading.
Even thought I have brought up some small annoying point about the Game Boy Advance-- That's all they really are... small annoyances that anybody can live with, or future products may even remedy.
I LOVE MY GBA, and have always considered myself a portable gamer first... and a console player second. The graphics are fun and bright-- The sound is better and far more complex than that of the Game Boy Color. As for battery life, I have been playing this baby non-stop for the last two days and have yet to change them! However, my once pure white Game Boy sure does get dirty quickly.
WHAT THE FUTURE HOLDS
Like the original Game Boy, you're going to have a lot of cheap Television and Movie tie-in games that MUST be avoided. However, every so often you're going to find a really fun game that can make that long road trip to Auntie May's house just fly by. Who knows? Maybe GBA can continue on the Game Boy tradition for another 10 years on the market. One thing is for certain, I am very impressed.