Yesterday, I bought a Game Boy Advance (GBA) to replace my much-loved Game Boy Color (GBC). Other people that are considering upgrading might be interested in the differences (and similarities) that I found between the two consoles.
If you're thinking of upgrading, it's because you want to play GBA games, so I needn't tell you how technically impressive they are by comparison to the old Game Boy games. Suffice to say you will have no doubt that you are playing with a vastly superior bit of kit.
From the pictures I'd seen, I'd somehow assumed that the GBA was significantly bigger than the GBC. Not so; size-wise, there's almost nothing in it. They're both wonderfully cute little packages.
The GBA controls are essentially the same as the GBC's, with the addition of two faintly cheap-feeling shoulder buttons. The GBA d-pad is slightly lighter to the touch and less spongy.
At 61 mm by 41 mm, the GBA's screen is fractionally taller and significantly wider than the GBC's 43 mm by 39 mm. (However, this isn't a bonus for older games - see the 'Backwards Compatibility' section below).
As has been extensively documented elsewhere, the GBA's screen is noticably harder to see than the GBC's under poor lighting conditions. I must stress that in daylight, it looks beautiful. When the sun goes down, though, it can be really hard to find a comfortable angle that reflects enough light. I find myself using my Nyko Worm Light regardless of how many electric lights I switch on in the room.
Hopefully, the upcoming Afterburner kit will improve matters.
Being able to use your old games (and in some cases, accessories) is a huge plus point with the GBA. Here's what I've found putting this into practice.
The old style cartridges (or Game Paks as Nintendo insists on calling them) are about twice as large as the new GBA cartridges. This means that when you put an old cartridge into the GBA, it protrudes by a full 3 cm out of the top. It looks a bit silly but the only real problem is that you'll have to take the game out before you stow the console away in its case.
As for actually playing the older games, they run perfectly (as well they should, given that the GBA essentially has an entire GBC built-in for this purpose).
However, because the games were designed for the lower-resolution older machine, they can't make full use of the GBA's larger screen. They appear with large black bars down the sides of the screen, and narrow black bars across the top and bottom. In fact, this 'virtual' screen measures 41 mm by 37 mm, making the display fractionally smaller than it would be playing the same game on the GBC.
While playing an old-style cartridge, the shoulder buttons can be used to toggle a mode that stretches the display horizontally to the width of the whole screen (although it does not stretch it vertically, meaning there are still narrow black bars at the top and bottom). I can't imagine wanting to use it in this mode though, since as well as being distorted, it looks just as blurry and ugly as any other LCD screen does in its non-native resolution.
The GBA does not have an infrared port like the GBC did. Since virtually no games used the infra-red port this isn't really a problem.
The GBA has a different shaped extension port (the socket where you plug link cables and lamps and so on) to the GBC:
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However, it's actually backwards compatible. If you look at the shape of it, you can see that the idea is that anything with a GBC-style plug will fit either socket, but anything with a GBA-style plug will have a knobbly bit that stops it fitting into a GBC socket.
You can use your old GBC link cable but only if you are playing old-style games. For example, for the original Tetris, a GBA linked to a GBC or another GBA is fine with the old cable. But if you want to play Mario Kart Advance multiplayer, you need to fork out for the new GBA link cable.
Irritatingly, the vertical orientation of the GBA's extension port is opposite to the GBC's. This meant that when I plugged my GBC Nyko Worm Light into the GBA, the lamp was rather unhelpfully positioned behind the GBA, ready to illuminate the battery compartment rather than the screen.
Now, my response was to rather forcibly pull the lamp around to the front. Happily, it works perfectly well, but frankly, I was surprised that I managed this without damaging the lamp, so if you try it, on your own head be it. Obviously, any of the more elaborate GBC lamps that clip onto the plastic surround aren't going to be any good on the GBA.
The GBA has no socket to take DC power (because Nintendo are cheap bastards, I surmise). Absolutely zero chance of re-using your old GBC mains adaptor then.
Nevertheless, you can still buy GBA mains adaptors. They come with a pack that plugs into the battery compartment. This is a nuisance because it means you can't just unplug from the wall and walk away - you have to unplug the power pack, find the batteries and the battery compartment cover, and put them back in.
I would urge you to avoid the 'official' Nintendo mains adaptor as it appears to be vastly overpriced. (For the record, shopping at Game I got an adaptor that doubles as a rechargeable battery pack for £8, whereas the official Nintendo adaptor (that's just a mains adaptor) was priced at £25).
The GBA is virtually the same size as the GBC, so if you have an old GBC case, it should fit in that just fine (unless it's a very snug fit to the GBC). I mention this because I very nearly blew a tenner on a new case when I was buying the GBA, which as it turns out would have been a total waste of money since my old case is ideal.
Overall I'm very happy with my new toy. I'd never have bought it if I couldn't play my old games on it, but it's also great that I can re-use my old lamp, link cable, and case. The only disappointment is the lack of a decent mains power solution.
Thanks to WWWWolf for information about link cables.