Nintendo had rested on its 8 bit handheld laurels for long enough. The original Gameboy was over 10 years old by the time Nintendo released an all new 32 bit handheld in 2001 (sorry, the Gameboy Color does not count as “all new”). The Gameboy Advance was an amazing technological achievement on par with the SNES but, oops….it wasn’t backlit. Why, Nintendo, would you make a handheld gaming system in the 21st century that couldn’t be played anywhere but well lit areas? I saw the GBA in the hands of others and was impressed, but not impressed enough to purchase the original iteration. Thankfully, Nintendo came to their senses and redesigned the GBA and released the Game Boy Advance SP (SP = special, not sorry partner) in 2003. The SP not only was backlit but it also came in a compact square flip-phone or laptop like design with the bottom half holding the controls (directional pad, two buttons) and the top half housing the screen.
The Gameboy Advance was wildly successful and housed a number of amazing full color games. Here’s the brilliant part, the GBA was backward compatible for the entire Gameboy/Gameboy Color library. That was something Nintendo must have felt like they needed to do knowing that millions and millions of potential GBA buyers had been owners of the original GB and likely had a sizeable game library. The good will of including backward compatibility alone was worth the possible extra cost to program & design. The GBA SP also came with a rechargeable battery, which was another insanely smart decision. If I would have been an early adopter of the Gameboy Advance and realized that all the things I didn’t like about the first model GBA were being fixed in a redesigned version only two years after purchase, I would have been pissed. I’m not sure why Nintendo didn’t have the foresight to make the GBA SP the first version from the get-go but I’m just thankful I held off until ’03 to purchase. A couple years later, in 2005, Nintendo would release the Gameboy Micro, which was yet another, much smaller redesign of the GBA. The SP was already pretty small and I’m not sure why yet another, smaller version of the GBA was necessary. For me, the GBA SP is the model to own if you’re going to add just one version of this system to your library but I might also be a bit biased.
The Gameboy Advance SP was the first handheld gaming system I ever owned while in it’s current generation. It would be over 10 years after the release of the original Gameboy before I would finally own one for myself and it was just as long from time of release until I owned the Game Gear & Lynx as well. By the time the GBA SP came out, I was a working adult with disposable income and a desire for gaming anywhere I wanted. In bed? Yes! In the living room? Yes. On an airplane? Absolutely. In the bathroom? Yeah, that works too! I quickly fell in love with the GBA and to this day, its my favorite handheld system.
Currently in my collection: Gameboy Advance SP – Platinum w/ manual, box, advertising pamphlets, AC adapter & link cable