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Game Boy Advance SP

Review By:  Andrew Joy

Developer:  Nintendo
Publisher:  Nintendo
# of Players:  N/A
Genre:  Hardware
Accessories:  N/A
Date Posted:  9-7-03

As we all were, I was extremely excited when I first heard the announcement for Nintendo’s latest enhancement on its Game Boy franchise, more specifically and enhancement on its Game Boy Advance system.  Dubbed the Game Boy Advance SP, or Special, the system had everything we handheld gamers had hoped for all in one package, some of them never having been seen together before, at least not with out a duffel bag full of off-brand gizmos.  The system was said to be a collapsible, or portable, if you prefer to say that.  The GBA system was also supposed to have the long-hoped-for inclusion of a built-in rechargeable battery, with adapter included.  And the GBA SP was going to have the grail above grails; it was going to have a backlight.  Yes, all was right in the world…until we came to our senses again.  Sure, by morning everything still seemed like a great idea, except for a minor flaw or two.  First off, we all already owned a GBA system and, though it wasn’t backlit or rechargeable, it was still a pretty decent system.  And, second, there was no possible way to justify a second hundred-dollar purchase, after all, that original GBA was no drop in the bucket when it first came out either, sporting the same hundred-dollar price tag as the new SP.  However, fear not, for I found a way to justify my own purchase, and I only see fit to pass on my wisdom.

Now, while at first my wisdom may seem on par with men who walk on hot coals, you will soon find that, like those coal-walking lunatics, my wisdom, too, is enlightened.  See, in order to justify my own purchase of the GBA SP, I simply had to look at it as something else entirely.  So, I would now like to present not another handheld gaming system but, instead, the new Game Boy Advance SP, the pocket-sized, rechargeable and all-purpose – wait for it – flashlight!  Not only is the beauty available in not one, but two amazing metallic colors, it also just happens to play games and boast connectivity with your Game Cube, other GBA systems and more!  True, while the longer you look at my plan the more you see through it, you only need it for a little while, so work quickly; it only needs to last you during the purchase and past any sort of return time limit…Then you are home free!

Of course, you may be wondering if the system is even worth buying at all.  Now, that may be because you don’t own a Game Boy Advance yet at all, in which case I scold you and advise harsh punishment, or because your not sure whether a new and improved Game Boy Advance is really what you need.  Heck, you may not even need a flashlight that is both pocket-sized and rechargeable, not to mention one that just happens to play games, right now.  So, I will give you a little rundown on the finer points of your new flashlight, just to help you see the light.  While I list them, however, I will also be pointing out some of the inevitable downfalls that also happen to sneak their way into the latest innovation of portable entertainment and lighting.  So, without further ado, I give you the detailed list of Pros and the – Bum, bum, bum! (Note: that’s the sound of impending doom, not a drum roll.) – Cons!

When I write about this handheld, I just want to say that, with all its special features, like a backlight, that even bad games seem good…but that would be lying.  In fact, the only thing the GBA SP does for a bad game is make them seem brighter and, well, that’s it actually.  So you lose your excuse to stop playing those monstrosities at night.  Of course, that may also be all it does for good games, but you can see where I may be a little biased, right?  However, what ever you collection be, good or bad, at least you can reward, or punish, yourself at all hours of the day and under any circumstances with little worry for your eyes.  That is, of course, because you hardly bothered to look at the long-term effects of it anyway, so who cares!  But this is with the light on; during the day, though, with the off you can enjoy yourself outside with 18 hours of naturally lighted ecstasy.  Of course that’s not to say that 18 hours of day light even seem plausible anywhere two feet south of Alaska, but you get the point.

After your 18 hours of sun-lit play and you’re now faced with a dying hand held, fear not, for the GBA SP’s lithium rechargeable battery is just that! Lithium...And RECHARGEABLE!  And, in a mere three hours that means fun is at your fingertips once more!  For those of you who can’t wait, however, the wonderful new system allows you to recharge while you play (though the recharge time is, understandably, longer)!  Man, that’s a lot of exclamation points!  But we’re not here to discuss punctuation, so on to the other features!

Another big step for the GBA when it became Special was becoming truly portable.  No more portable-only-if-your-pocket-can-house-a-Volkswagen-Beetle-with-its-powerful-and-spacious-dome-shape kind of system.  This one is for a plain and simple, normal pocket.  Folding down into a structure that is, bear with me now because I don’t see it written anywhere in the manual and I am cursedly ruler-free, about three inches or so on each side, it, naturally, becomes taller when opened.  With this new shape comes a few changes in the control design.  Why, you ask?  Because the system would look damn eerie with buttons floating on either side of it.  The shoulder buttons have been drastically reduced in size and are just below the screen of the opened GBA SP, now.  The action buttons, A and B, have been brought closer together along with the directional (D) pad and, to top it off, they welcome a new member to their ranks, a minute button used for turning the light Off and On (the default).  That button is at the top of the second half of the GBA SP, above the speaker, which is just about in the middle, just above the Start and Select keys.  That’s not all that has changed in the design either, now the cartridge slips in through the bottom of the system.  This ahs apparently been a source of great distress to some gamers, as it is said to hinder the game pay and mechanics of certain games, like Kirby’s Tilt-N-Tumble.  Having never played that game, I cannot say whether or not that is a good or bad thing.  Any cords, like the link cable and adapter, go in the top between the two shoulder buttons, like most used to.  On the right is your Power button and, on the left, is your Volume, um, thing.  In order to adjust the volume, you must use a strange sliding dial of sorts that is impossible to tune to any level of comfort without aide from tiny NASA nano-robots.  The Power-On light, which also tells you when your battery is low, is now moved to the right side, with your Power switch and has been joined by an indicator light that tells you when you are charging.

The system still plays any classic Game Boy games, with the screen size still adjustable by those typically useless shoulder buttons, and it also plays any new games, though both with potential for admitted difficulty.  While there is still plenty of time left for the Game Boy Advance, and its Special friend, to shine, I don’t see Nintendo switching the market to yet another new handheld system again any time soon, but there are plans for a series of more GBA SP colors soon.  So, if Cobalt, that’s the blue, or Platinum, that’s the silver, aren’t your colors, keep your eyes peeled for Onyx and Flame, a black and a red GBA SP.  And now, with all of that done, time to summarize…


  • It’s the true portable handheld, with a compact, foldaway design.
  • It’s the Game Boy Advance, but backlit!
  • It has a rechargeable Lithium battery good for 18 hours of play, or 11 with the light on.
  • The battery charges in three hours, and even allows you to play while you charge.
  • Lots of goodies; not only does it have an adapter, it comes with a ton of instruction booklets.  Yay!
  • Um, nice colors?
  • Doubles as a flashlight or nightlight, of sorts.  No, really!


  • Wait a minute, there is now headphone jack, and I have to buy an adapter for it?
  • You are going to advertise the adapter to me after I buy this!
  • Another hundred-dollar handheld, and it’s only a variation of an old one.  The list you could do is offer a trade-in or something, Nintendo; I mean EB Games did for a while.
  • Unless you can shrink yourself, there are only two sound settings: High and Off.
  • Bottom-loading cartridges poses potential threat to unique games with built-in gizmos.

Final Verdict:

Truly a great system, though it is a mere advancement on the GBA, the GBA SP can be worth the money if you don’t have a Game Boy or Game Boy Advance yet, need two Game Boy Advances for some reason (say POKéMON R/S), or just like new stuff.  Either way, this new system could be the light of your life, not just another expense to account for.

Oh, though you may have thought I was kidding, I actually do use the GBA SP as a flashlight.  Its great if you need to find your way down a hall at night, drop your keys in the grass, or even read a book at night…Though we know that’ll never happen.

Overall Score: 9.0 - take a point if you already have a Game Boy Advance or add one if you also need a flashlight!
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