Game Boy Advance SP

Game Boy Advance

Review by Matt Paprocki



The Game Boy Advance SP : A review

The general consensus on the Game Boy Advance is generally positive. Great ports of classic Super Nintendo games plus a few new classics made it a must-own console early on in it‘s life. There was a dark side to all of this fun however…the screen. With no backlight and a highly reflective screen, playing the console in low lighting was impossible and all of the 3rd party lights caused massive amounts of glare making any game unplayable. Stories have been told across the internet of playing through all 40+ hours of Castlevania: Circle of the Moon in their bathrooms simply to see what they were doing. Thanks to the cries of who knows how many gamers, Nintendo has answered us with the Game Boy Advance SP, the sixth iteration of the console here in the states.

But I already have one of those!

Yes, you probably rushed out and bought yourself a Game Boy Advance on day one. You may have paid a ton to import one which raises a question: Does the SP do enough to warrant another $100 purchase? Simply put: Yes and no.

Ok, uh, so I should buy one?

Yes, if only for one reason: The brand new front lit screen. Unlike past portable game consoles (such as the Game Gear), the SP’s light hardly takes away detail from the graphics and the black levels stay true to form. The screen is still a bit too reflective, but you’ll never know it in the dark. Just look at this comparison:

Oh no, I bought an afterburner kit!

In that case, the GBA SP may not be for you. However, consider that the console has a rechargeable lithium battery pre-installed, eliminating the need to run to Toys R Us and plunk down the cash for AA in those emergency situations. Also, the screen flips down for easy insertion into any pocket. This little console screams style. If you spent the cash and risked the installation process for the afterburner kit, then you probably won’t need the GBA SP.

Uh, what the hell is an “Afterburner?”

The Afterburner was designed by a hardcore gamer who was sick of playing his GBA in his bathroom. Through a tough (and risky if you don’t know what your doing) installation process, a light would be installed inside the small system. You can look at the GBA SP as a modified GBA with the light pre-installed.

Gotcha. So, I want one of these SP things right?

Well, maybe not. You must be aware that the console does NOT support headphones out of the box. Your required to purchase an additional adapter to use them, a cheap way for Nintendo to milk gamers for an extra $5. Also, the L and R buttons are ridiculously small and are located in the middle of the system (when it’s flipped open that is). These can really cause some cramps for players with larger hands. Also, the D-pad just doesn’t seem all that accurate.

I don’t care. I’m going to buy one. What do I get for $100?

When the tape seal is broken, you’ll find the system (Duh!), and AC adapter to charge the included battery, a bunch of manuals, and a registration card. Registering your system enters you into a sweepstakes to win a free game, a nice gesture. My personal system was ready to play right out of the box without any charging, but many of them will need a good 3 hour charge to last roughly 10 hours with the light on (18 without). The mono speaker is much louder than the regular GBA, allowing you to hear it in crowded places a bit better. Also, you’ll be stunned to see how small this thing is. There isn’t a pic in the world that can possibly prepare you for the moment you finally get it in your hands, but I’ll try…..

I don’t have any games!

You just might. The GBA SP plays all of the Game Boy and Game Boy Color games without any problems. There are a few specific games that have graphic/sound issues, but these are few and far between. As for which Game Boy Advance SP games you should buy, check out these few recommendations to get you started:

Advance Wars (turn based strategy), Castlevania: Circle of the Moon (action/adventure), Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance (action/adventure), Legend of Zelda: The 4 Swords (action RPG), Street Fighter Alpha 3(one-on-one fighter), and Tony Hawk 3 (extreme sports).

These are just a small sampling of what the GBA library has to offer. For more recommendations, head on over to the forums at

Are there any games specifically made for the GBA SP?

No. Since the GBA and GBA SP are identical, there most likely won’t ever be a game that is made exclusively for the system. Then again, knowing Nintendo…..

Anything else I should know?

Not really. Since this console is technically the same as a Game Boy Advance, very little besides the screen and design has changed. The system specs remain the same, so the changes are mostly cosmetic.

So tell me, really. Should I buy one of these?

Look, if I say yes, someone will buy one, hate the damn thing, track down my address, and kill me. That’s not a risk I’m willing to take. Seriously however, the system is a great upgrade. If you spent a nice chunk of change less that a year ago on the first rendition of the Advance, it’s a personal choice if the screen is worth that much of an investment. If you’re a collector bound and determined to own all 35,000,532,942 renditions of the console, then go for it. The screen really is THAT good, so you can believe what you hear. The bottom line goes something like this:

If you own a GBA w/out afterburner: YES

If you own a GBA w/ afterburner: Probably not

If you do NOT own a GBA: Definitely YES!

If you want to use your headphone out of the box: Your SCREWED!

You’re the coolest guy on the face of the Earth!

Yeah, I know.


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Last updated: Wednesday, December 10, 2003 02:24 PM