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 Afringe Home / Features / The Other Camp Game Boy Advance 08/21/2014 
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Animefringe Coverage:
The Other Camp Game Boy Advance
By Jake Forbes


On March 25th Nintendo held the Camp Game Boy Advance press day in Pescadero, California at the beautiful Costanoa lodge. They unveiled many unannounced games and had the US editions of most of the Japanese launch games available to play all night long. Everybody who's anybody in the gaming press was there. IGN, Daily Dadar, Gamespot, Next-Generation, you name it. Animefringe, however, was not invited.


I need help.

That didn't stop me from packing my camping gear and a few camping essentials and driving to the remote location to join the conference anyway. It was only an eight-hour drive, no big loss for the chance to play the new system before the imported units started arriving. My first game conference! Fresh from my attendence of the special Square Pictures Final Fantasy screening, I was beginning to feel like a legitimate journalist! As I pulled off Rt. 1, drove up the winding country road towards the majestic lodge, my anticipation was running high. I could almost feel the new system in my hands. And I was dying to play next to the warm, inviting fireplace indoors. It was freezing cold out here, not to mention a little bit drizzly, and I was sure glad they were holding the camp indoors.

But then the men in the black sunglasses and suits came out and blocked the road. They didn't have weapons in hand, but their suits had the telltale bulges that showed they were packin' heat. I didn't realize just how serious Nintendo was about its security. Big mistake. The guards had me get out of my car and explain just where I thought I was going. Foolishly, I told them the truth. After roughing me up a bit, the security guards told me that Nintendo had set up a separate camp for little, non-commercial entertainment websites like mine, and they sent me along a dirt path towards the outdoor campgrounds.

There was only one GBA unit for the dozen or so small-press gamers at the secondary camp. Fortunately the other journalists had all been devoured by bears by the time I arrived, allowing me solo access to the system. And luckily for my growling stomach, the bear seemed to have filled himself on the journalists, leaving behind the marshmallows and graham crackers that the guy from Nintendojo appeared to have died protecting. With a stack of smores on hand and my Coleman lantern buring, I decided to see if this new system was really worth the effort.


The box... wow...
The Unit

The GBA is a very attractive unit. The curves, shoulder buttons, and colored trim make this one sexy little handheld. There aren't a lot of colors to chose from right now, but the colors Nintendo chose look great and are all unisex (more important than you might think! Girls are an important part of the handheld market, and Turbo Express, Lynx, and Neo Geo all used very masculine colors).

The wider spacing between hands, due to the horizontal format, makes the GBA much more comfortable to hold than the Game Boy Color. It's almost like holding a regular console controller; much more natural. The shoulder buttons are a wonderful addition, and while they are easy enough to press, I think it would have been slightly more comfortable had they been placed lower on the back like the ones on the Dreamcast controller. The only other design complaint I have is that the speaker is right underneath the A and B buttons, meaning if you have a big thumb, the sound will be muffled. Overall, this is the best looking, best feeling, easiest to use layout of any handheld system ever.


The Legend of Stick

The extra wide screen (the widest of any handhold system ever, though not as tall as the Neo Geo Pocket) does an excellent job of maximizing size in the limited space. It does suffer the same problem that the GBC and NGP have, as it can be difficult to get rid of glare and get the right amount of light. Coleman lanterns are not the best light sources to play under, nor are ordinarly incandescent bulbs. Direct sunlight and florescent bulbs work best. A lot of people bemoan Nintendo for not using a backlit screen. I have to agree with Nintendo that pocket size and 15 hour battery life are preferable to backlighting. Afterall, if you're going to use a backlit system like the Game Gear or Turbo Express with an AC adapter, you might as well play a console on your TV.

The Graphics

This looks familiar...

The GBA launch titles have graphics comparable to first and second-generation SNES games. They are light years ahead of the Game Boy color, but only slightly better than the SNES. The launch titles are also rather inconsistent in graphics quality. F-Zero and Castlevania look like below average SNES games, while the upcoming Tony Hawk rivals anything the SNES ever produced. Some of the Japanese games look little better than a GBC game. Nintendo has a history of finding new tricks to push their hardware's limits throughout the life of the system. Just look at Majora's Mask compared to Mario 64, or even Mario 3 compared to the original Mario. While the GBA graphics won't blow you away, they are more than adequate and will doubtless be improved upon by leaps and bounds as developers better learn the hardware.

Sound

If you've read other reports on the system, you've heard this before: To fully appreciate the sound on the GBA, you need headphones. The speaker sounds very tinny and hardly better than the GBC (although voice sampling is clearer), but with stereo headphones, it all becomes very clear and crisp. I can't wait for Konami to come out with Dance Dance Revolution GBA so I can hear "Butterfly" in glorious 32 bit sound! Overall, the sound is probably the weakest improvement on the GBA, but the tinkling melodies did prove popular with the wildlife of the Pescadero park.


Look, mom! No hands!
Conclusion

Despite Nintendo's cruelly leaving animefringe.com off of their guest list, I am grateful for the chance to have played the new system. It's quite remarkable how strongly the gaming media has taken to the system, considering that the Game Boy Color has been considered filler material for most gaming magazines. 16 bit nostalgia is here; a lot of people are growing tired of the latest 3-D engine, so the 2-D simplicity that the GBA promises is refreshing. I hope that the easier and cheaper development costs for the GBA don't make it the home for all the crappy movie/cartoon tie-ins that the GBC has become, but it's probably inevitable. Fortunately, gamers have a lot of quality NES ports (and probably some Genesis ones too as SEGA has hinted!), and hopefully a few game designers will put their A-list talent into making handheld games. I'd say the future's looking bright, but as the GBA has no backlighting, I guess I'll just say the future's looking pretty.

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