Review: Nintendo's Game Boy Advance

By<a Href="mailto:ed.mazza@abc.com">edward Mazza</a>

June 11, 2001 -- The Game Boy and Game Boy Color have long been the best option for those of us who have the urge to destroy aliens, race cars, or arrange falling bricks during life’s duller moments.

But while they’re far superior to those silly little Tetris key-chain games and beat the tar out of poker on a Palm device, Game Boy games often come packaged with a sense of déjà vu: You’ve played this game before.

Most come down to the same basic elements: tiny, vaguely recognizable characters, or a tiny, vaguely recognizable vehicle, moving through a scrolling environment, shooting and/or avoiding things.

That’s about to change.

Handheld Enhanced

Game Boy Advance is a 32-bit handheld system. Nintendo says it’s a dozen times more powerful than the Game Boy Color, introduced just three years ago.

The screen is 50 percent bigger than that of the earlier color unit and can produce about 500 times as many colors — a total of 32,768, for those of you keeping score. It will also act as a controller for the upcoming Nintendo Game Cube, a replacement for the aging Nintendo 64 and the company’s challenger to the PlayStation2 from Sony and the Xbox from Microsoft.

It will allow you to control the mind of anyone within 50 feet. Just kidding.

But the gameplay is great. The images are crisp, fluid and recognizable. The environments are evocative and detailed. The overall effect is often compared to that of the home-based Super Nintendo unit — in fact, many of the early titles will be new versions of old favorites.

But you’ve never had as much fun playing old games.

Familiar Faces

Longtime gamers will remember Pitfall, an adventure game first introduced by Activision for the Atari 2600 home video game system in 1980. The SNES sequel, in which Pitfall Harry must be rescued by his son, Harry Jr., has been ported to the Game Boy Advance as one of its first titles, Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure.

All the favorite Nintendo characters will likely make it onto this platform, too. One of the first titles available is Super Mario Advance, which brings back Mario and Luigi, two characters first introduced in 1985. Donkey Kong, the barrel-throwing ape of 1981 video arcade parlors, is also expected to appear in a Game Boy Advanced title in the near future.

Don’t expect only ’80s flashbacks, though. Some 60 titles, which will sell for $29.95-$39.95 each, are promised by the end of the year. When the $100 device hits stores on Monday, Game Boy Advanced buyers will have a stable of 17 titles to choose from (See Sidebar).

And then there will also be the inevitable accessories. The $12.99 Game Boy Advance Game Link cable, for example, connects up to four units for multiplayer action. And there’s good reason you may need one.

Nintendo hopes to sell about 24 million units worldwide over the first year. And to get the word out, the company expects to spend $75 million in marketing by year’s end.

But even if you don’t want to connect with other players for some head-to-head game play, Game Boy Advance offers another trick: it plays all the old Game Boy and Game Boy Color games. In reality, they’re the same games, of course — but the larger screen and better grip enhance the experience.

And it plays a mean game of Tetris.

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