The Game Boy Advance took all the greatest of past Game Boy generations and squashed it down into a new form factor with much improved graphics and new shoulder buttons. The resulting handheld console continued Nintendo’s domination of the mobile gaming market. Nintendo’s closest competitor, the N-Gage, was a strange phone-console hybrid that barely sold a fraction of the units the Game Boy Advance did.
Hitting the world in 2001, the Game Boy Advance was living in a world of home gaming consoles with advanced 3D graphics by this point — the PlayStation 2, GameCube, and Xbox all came out in 2001 as well. You might not think that a puny 32-bit handheld like the Game Boy Advance could survive in this climate, but it did. In fact, it thrived.
The Game Boy Advance sold over 80 millions copies over the course of its lifetime, including in its later forms as the Game Boy Advance SP and Game Boy Micro. The original Game Boy Advance swapped in the vertical design of the previous generation’s Game Boy Color for a horizontal design that allowed for a slightly bigger screen and the addition of L and R buttons on the shoulders of the device.
In 2003, the Game Boy Advance was redesigned and called the Game Boy Advance SP. This newer device reverted to the vertical design of its past generations, but this time it had a hinge in the middle that allowed for the user to fold the device in half like a tiny laptop. This meant that the shoulder buttons could remain nestled behind the screen, and the physical size of the device when shut was significantly smaller. Plus, with the screen folded down, there was less chance of damaging the screen when not in use. It also introduced the idea of backlighting, solving a problem that had plagued all previous versions of the Game Boy: lack of light. Many accessories came out for the original Game Boy Advance that lit up the screen, but the Game Boy Advance SP made it simple with a built-in light.
After the release of the Nintendo DS, the Game Boy Advance’s successor, in 2004, Nintendo introduced a new smaller version of the Game Boy Advance called the Game Boy Micro — much like how they had released redesigned versions of the NES and SNES after their successors had come out. The Game Boy Micro, however, sacrificed backwards compatibility with Game Boy Color and Game Boy games to achieve the small size, and it never quite caught on in the way that the Game Boy Advance and Game Boy Advance SP had.
And backwards compatibility was no small thing to sacrifice. In addition to the massive library of Game Boy Advance games that accumulated in the Game Boy Advance’s lifespan, there was an even larger number of Game Boy Color and Game Boy games that could be played on it — even though the larger cartridges stuck out awkwardly from the back of the Game Boy Advance. With such a massive collection of high quality games at its disposal, it’s no wonder that no other company was unable to come close to challenging Nintendo in the handheld arena.
Not to mention that Nintendo always had its most popular series close at hand: Pokemon. The Game Boy Advance saw the release of Pokemon Ruby, Sapphire, and Emerald, and well as remakes of the very first Pokemon games titled Pokemon FireRed and LeafGreen. Ruby and Sapphire introduced many new features including a staggering 135 new Pokemon in the brand new region of Hoenn, a new two versus two fighting mechanic, and a new Pokemon contest game — although they did make the strange decision of removing the day and night feature that was present in Gold and Silver. Several spin-offs were also made, including another Pokemon Pinball game as well as Pokemon Mystery Dungeon, which allowed players to play as the Pokemon themselves rather than as a trainer for the first time ever.
On top of all the Pokemon greatness brought to the Game Boy Advance, the handheld game console saw many other successful games such as Mario Kart: Super Circuit, Super Mario Advance, Sonic Advance, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past and Four Swords, and Kirby: Nightmare in Dreamland. These games and many more continue to be emulated on the console to this day on emulators freely available on PCs, tablets, and smartphones.
Emulation has allowed the Game Boy Advance to live past its official lifespan. Some games are still supported through the Virtual Console for the Wii U, but that selection is very limited and not even on a mobile console. Many great emulators for modern smartphones, tablets, and PCs allow gamers to experience all the classic games from the Game Boy Advance even today — and it’s really not an experience you should miss.