On September 2, 1999, Nintendo Co. Ltd. formally acknowledged the development of a 32-bit successor to its current 8-bit Game Boy, Game Boy Pocket and Game Boy Color handheld systems. Called the "Game Boy Advance," lest anyone get the wrong impression, the color handheld was to feature a 32-bit RISC CPU developed by a UK-based company named ARM Holdings, whose previous experience came from designing CPUs for cellular phones.
In a strong departure from previous models of the Game Boy, the new Game Boy Advance features a horizontal orientation to accomodate a wider screen size (an estimated 50% larger than the Game Boy Color's). Like the Game Gear and Atari Lynx portable systems, the directional pad is positioned to the left of the screen, while two buttons are located to the right. An additional two shoulder buttons appear along the top edges of the handheld.
The Game Boy Advance uses the same TFT screen as the Game Boy Color. For those unfamiliar with the TFT (Thin-Film Transistor) display, it is a highly reflective LCD screen that can pick up light more easily than previous versions of the system. A drawback to the TFT screen is that a light source is needed in order to see the games, but the technology has kept the unit under the $100 price mark (an MSRP of $89.95). Nintendo formally announced the price of the Game Boy Advance on March 6, 2000.
Among the notable features are the system's ability to display up to 32,000 simultaneous colors (compared to the Game Boy Color's 56 out of a palette of 32,000) and compatibility with existing Game Boy Color and original Game Boy titles. Also of note is a new partnership forged between Nintendo and Konami to create games for the Game Boy Advance and GameCube. The new developer, Mobile 21, will initially be composed of staff members from both Nintendo and Konami, with new employees added later.
Fifteen titles are scheduled to launch with the system on June 11, 2001. F-Zero: Maximum Velocity and Super Mario Advance represent the two first-party releases, while the rest are from nine third-party publishers: The 3DO Company, Kemco, Atlus USA, Inc., bam entertainment! Majesco, Midway, Sega, Activision, and Ubi Soft. A total of 60 titles were planned to be available by the end of 2001.
The launch titles include Army Men Advance, High Heat Major League Baseball 2002, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2, Super Dodge Ball Advance, Fire Pro Wrestling, Top Gear GT Championship, Tweety and the Magic Jewel, Fortress, Iridion 3D, Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure, ChuChu Rocket! Ready 2 Rumble Boxing: Round 2, and Rayman Advance. According to Nintendo, each cartridge for the system will retail between $29.99 to $39.99.
Three colors of the Game Boy Advance were available at launch: Arctic, Glacier, and Indigo, while a fourth color (Fuchsia) was scheduled for release in July 2001. Multiplayer games also support an optional link cable that allows up to four players to participate simultaneously using a single cartridge. In addition, the Game Boy Advance functions as a controller for the GameCube console.
And Nintendo said: "Let there be light." Finally, as of March 23, 2003, Game Boy Advance aficionados can game anytime anywhere regardless of external lighting conditions with the "SP" system. Though it doesn't sport a true backlit screen (a la Sega's Game Gear), the Game Boy Advance SP has a light mounted inside the screen casing just below the screen, providing luminance without need for any add-on accessory (such as the glare-causing Worm Light). Initially retailing at $99.99, the SP (for "special") unit cost $30 more than the standard Game Boy Advance, even though the system is not a true upgrade (graphics and sounds are the same).
The system is backwards compatible with virtually all previous Game Boy games, though one title in particular -- Kirby's Tilt 'n' Tumble -- doesn't function properly because of the SP's new design, which is smaller (though the screen size is the same) and folds out in laptop-like fashion. Regrettably, there is no built-in headphone jack, meaning an adaptor (which fits into the AC adaptor port) must be purchased separately. On a more positive note, the SP system sports a rechargeable Lithium Ion battery and doesn't need standard batteries. ~ All Game Guide