August is nearly upon us. That’s the month when Nintendo will finally, officially unveil the Game Boy Advance to the Japanese public at its Space World 2000 expo. The Game Boy has been around for more than a decade and we’re all prepped to take the next step in portable gaming. The Game Boy Advance will rock, no doubt about it. But why?
Today: Backward compatibility.
In the Game Boy’s decade lifetime, the system has been redesigned and upgraded twice. The first system — in case you can’t recall that far in gaming’s past – is referred to as the Fat Boy in gamespeak nowadays. Then, Game Boy Pocket came around, shrinking the system down as well as offering a clearer LCD screen. The third incarnation is what’s taken over the handheld market quickly – the Game Boy Color. All three have one thing in common – the newer version is compatible with the older versions. That’s why they’re still called Game Boy.
When the Game Boy Advance is released next year (this year in Japan), the system will continue the trend – the Game Boy Advance will be 100% compatible with all games made for the Game Boy and Game Boy Color. Plug the original Game Boy version of Tetris in the Game Boy Advance, and Tetris will pop up on the screen – unenhanced of course, but fully playable and sharper than if you played it on the original Fat Boy or Game Boy Pocket. Plug in Super Mario Bros. Deluxe (a Game Boy Color-exclusive title), and the same thing – Super Mario Bros. Deluxe will pop up on the Game Boy Advance screen, completely playable.
Like the Game Boy Color, the Game Boy Advance is a step above its predecessors while remaining fully compatible. The Game Boy Advance is a much bigger step in graphic and gaming quality over the Game Boy Color than the Game Boy Color was over the Game Boy Pocket and original Game Boy, but you get the idea.
Built into the Game Boy Advance’s circuitry is a single chip – engineers have shrunk the Game Boy Color chipset into a single chip. When you plug an original Game Boy or Game Boy Color cartridge into the Game Boy Advance, the Game Boy Advance will check to see what type of game it is. If it recognizes the cartridge as a Game Boy or Game Boy Color title, the system will boot up as a Game Boy Color. What’s not known is how the game will look on the wider Game Boy Advance LCD screen – the Game Boy Advance screen has a 240×160 resolution, compared to the Game Boy Color’s 160×144. We’re pretty sure that the game will be put in the middle of the screen, with empty or black bars bordering the image. We doubt the system will stretch the game to fit, since it would distort the image and make things look weird.
Since the Game Boy Advance will not have an infrared port on the system, Nintendo will have to make a peripheral that will enable this function to talk wirelessly to the Game Boy Color system. But since not a whole lot of games used this port, it’s no big loss. But games from UbiSoft, for example, will lack the UbiKey feature on the Game Boy Advance until a peripheral is made. But the link cable port? Fully compatible with the Game Boy Pocket and Game Boy Color.
The best part? The Game Boy Advance will have a horizontal configuration – meaning, the system will be wider than it is high, like the now-extinct NeoGeo Pocket Color, Game Gear, and Atari Lynx. For the past few years big-handed gamers had to play the Game Boy Pocket and Game Boy Advance all cramped up at the bottom of the system. With this new configuration, hands are spread further apart, offering a much more comfortable way of holding the system. Which also means, anyone into the Tetris marathons won’t cramp up like they would on the Game Boy Color or Pocket.
Even though everyone knows and loves the Game Boy in its familiar vertical format, it’s time for a change. We want comfort in our Game Boy gaming, and the Game Boy Advance is going to offer this, especially for us who still love to play the old games.