I put my blood, sweat and eyesight into these games for you, you know

Game Boy Advance (2001)

I came to the depressing realisation a number of years ago that I’m a slave to screens. I would spend, and continue to spend, pretty much every waking hour looking at a screen of some description. I go from my work PC to the TV to the games console, with healthy amounts of phone thrown in. And I came to this conclusion even before smartphones were “ubiquitous”, so you can only imagine what it’s like for me now.

I’ve read before that human thumbs are becoming slightly mutated, thanks to modern tech interferences like phones, doorbells and stress balls. In 100 years, we’ll have Thumb Gigantism, becoming more crab than human. You fancy that? Well, I’m asking: what’s going to happen to our eyes in future? My mother used to joke that if I kept playing games for so long, my eyes would turn square. Her hours of television every day didn’t seem to equate to this, strangely.

But what if she was right? Sometimes, after a particularly lengthy gaming session, I swear I can feel my mince pies starting to become cuboid, and that effect is doubled if I’m playing Minecraft. At this rate, what will the average human look like in 100, 200 years? A heavily hunchbacked creature with square eyes, poor vision without the use of coke bottle glasses, steamed hams for legs and hands that are more thumbs than manuals.

It’s no wonder my vision has gone down the swanny. But that’s not just me, take a look around your workplace and observe just how many people around you wear glasses at their PC – unless you work down a mine, in which case your vision is gonezo anyway.

Of course, the beauty of humanity is that we can always invent our way around our bad habits, in the most insane of ways. It’s no problem if our vision is bad, you can just get a couple of high intensity laser beams fired between the eyes, a few hours in the dark and then you’re good as new. Now, if that type of thing is possible, you cannot tell me that the anoraks can’t eventually come up with something to help us through global warming, or cancer.

I wear glasses too, which is little wonder really when you consider that these days I even double up on screens. Not having two screens to work on is an absolute bark, and then of course there’s the DS and its derivatives. I sometimes even combine screens, an old 3DS in one arm, a high-brightness phone displaying YouTube rubbish in the other, and the TV on with Shrek in the background. How much sensory overload do you need?

All those staring contests I’ve had with the sun won’t have helped either. Well, they always told me it’s important to get sunlight, you know? And since I’m far too self-conscious to wear my glasses out of the house, I spend much of my outdoors time squinting, trying to make out the drinks promotions or the prices down the chipper, and I suppose the more practical things like hazards on the road while I’m driving.

I know where it all went wrong for me, of course. Watching the TV is one thing, that’s nice and backlit and a few feet away. It’s probably not so good watching telly in a room that’s not well-lit, but who can beat the atmosphere of watching some murder mysteries in the dark of night? Therefore, I don’t put the blame for my becoming Hans Moleman on TV or PCs.

No, what really did for me was the original Game Boy and Game Boy Color, which you’ll be aware hasn’t got any kind of backlight to help you see. So, as a young child, if I wanted to play my beloved, addictive handhelds at night, I’d have to quite literally lean out of the bed, holding the Game Boy in front of the open door, trying to pivot it against the scant bit of light that would come in from the upstairs landing. Naturally, I also had to do this when my mother wasn’t coming upstairs, or she’d rumble in a most embarrassing fashion.

You sometimes see people talking about their childhood and hiding their DS underneath their pillow when momma came a-calling – that would have been a luxury for me, mate. I did later upgrade, or more accurately Santa Claus upgraded me, to one of those light-with-magnifying-glass contraptions that hung out of your Game Boy like some sort of lab apparatus that’ll fall apart in a second if you look at it funny. Look at it funny I did for many nights, until I eventually became a glasses-wearing little dweeb. But you wouldn’t know that if ever you saw me in public, which makes all the difference.

That’s why I was all over the Game Boy Advance when that got announced, a fact conveyed to me in the latest edition of the Nintendo propaganda magazine I’d used to read. Of course the screenshots looked juicy in the magazine, all colourful and lit up. it was advertised as a mini PlayStation, because allegedly it was a 32-bit machine. Well, that was a whopper of a lie, but it was at least a mini SNES… sort of.

I don’t think it ever got up to the power of the Super Nintendo – you wouldn’t want to have played the GBA version of R-Type III, that’s for sure. And I doubt you could have got Chrono Trigger running well on it, which is why they left that until the DS. And you don’t even want to bring the Super FX chip into the conversation. But the GBA had plenty of top quality ports of some of the Super Nintendo’s best, including Super Mario World, Yoshi’s Island, Link to the Past, and the Donkey Kong Country games.

But never mind ports – that’s a job for the Nintendo Switch – what can the GBA do by itself? Well, it was a lot more normal than some of the mad shit that was happening on the GameCube. To wit, you’ve got 2 excellent Metroid games, three Fire Emblem games if you’re into that sort of thing, a rather underrated Mario Kart, a Wario game from both the Wario Land and the WarioWare ends of the spectrum, large helpings of Pokémon from the 3rd Generation, a Zelda game that probably came a bit too late if you skipped LTTP, and probably nine million licensed games with not an iota of quality among them.

You’ve also got a smattering of Sonic games, something you would have thought unthinkable (does that make sense?) only 5 years earlier. Those ones are of varied quality, but one thing that is consistent among the Sonic Advance titles is that the sound is pretty duff, owing to the subpar aural capabilities of the GBA. Some games can make it sing a beautiful tune – I’m looking at the excellent Advance Wars games, three beautiful F-Zero games and especially Mother 3 here. But some of it sounds so tinny, scaldy-down-the-back-of-the-bus sort of thing, which is a shame.

But having sat down and written this piece, it’s only now that I realise just how many great instalments of Nintendo franchises were on here. If you like Sonic, have a trilogy. If you’re a big F-Zero fancier like me, here’s three more, or if you’re more about Fire Emblem, have three more of those as well. Some of this stuff is Japan only, but that’s not the point.

And hey, this’ll kill two bird screens with one stone for you – there was a bizarre series of GBA videos available on cartridge, which allowed you watch episodes of Sonic X, Pokémon, or even the whole Shrek movie on your GBA. I’m not joking you on that, either. You have to understand what a dark age it was before movie streaming and widespread internet.

But a movie on your Game Boy, that’s no good in the dark, is it? And it all goes back to that crucial flaw that the GBA had, its lack of backlight. Now they did finally rectify that with a new edition, the GBA SP, and you can go even further down the timeline for the silly little Game Boy Micro. But you wonder how it took Nintendo so long to light the way.

Still, what a great wee console this was – quite underrated, in my sincere opinion. It just happened that the DS eventually came along to crush it. But the Game Boy Advance, with its bigger screen, better battery life, backwards compatibility and snazzy graphics, proved a worthy successor to the GB/GBC line. And these days, if purists will forgive me for saying it, it’s pretty easy to emulate on any portable device you own. Just make sure you play it in a well-lit room, eh, four-eyes?

5 May 2023

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