New year gaming

Traci couldn’t find the GameCube games she was looking for (mostly Pikmin), so for Christmas she bought me a Game Boy Advance SP. This was a very unexpected surprise. I hadn’t really used a Game Boy since the original one I owned was stolen/lost a dozen years ago.

To cut right to it, I returned my GameCube system to the store and am now the happy owner of a handful of GBA games, with more on the way (a new Zelda comes out next week).

I’ve also played a fair amount of Halo (1) lately, and did a lot of game research over the holidays, trying to catch up on what the game market looks like today. It all put something in perspective for me: I like 2d games. The lure of Halo 2 and Grand Theft Auto is strong, but I won’t buy an Xbox or PS2 just to play those games.

Advance Wars The GBA has a number of things going for it:

  • Portability. It's a lot easier to flip open the GBA and play for 10 minutes wherever I am than dedicate time to sit in front of the television.
  • Inexpensive games. I bought Advance Wars 2 (see image) for $10 at Best Buy, but $25-30 is common for most new titles.
  • RPGs. It turns out RPGs work well on a portable system, and the GBA has a few good ones.
  • Good-enough graphics. While there are first-person shooters and 3d racing games, the system is much better at pre-rendered sprites, multiple backgrounds for depth, and that sort of thing.
  • Battery. 10-15 hours or more on a charge.
  • Hacking. An active developer community, mostly hobbyists. I wrote a test “game” over the holidays.

But, you ask, what about the Nintendo DS? Isn’t the GBA obsolete?

I hope not. The DS is an innovative system, but it’s not a new Game Boy. It’s too expensive, too big, and too different. Nintendo wants to position the DS as a higher-end portable to go head-to-head with the Playstation Portable, but new GBA games will still be released over the next year or two. We are also seeing new GBA add-on gadgets, such as the wireless adapter and upcoming movie player. Some people speculate that a real Game Boy to replace the SP may come out in 2006.

Joystiq has some good points about the DS and PSP:

“The fact is, Nintendo just needed a product to head off Sony’s entry into the portable market. They knew Sony’s attack was inevitable and they planned well for it. They know that, as long as the DS competes with the PSP, the GBA can continue to be the money-maker it is. The high-end DS and PSP can disappear for all Nintendo cares. They’ll still have their little gem.”

The Xbox and PS2 seem to dominate the press, so it surprised me that the GBA was the best-selling game system in North America in 2004, with good holiday sales despite the Nintendo DS introduction.

Here’s what Retrogaming has to say:

“However, now with the advent of the Nintendo DS, I’m a bit worried that nobody will continue making quality 2D games for the precious system for very long. Even Nintendo themselves have already put Advance Wars 3 out on the DS. I understand they want some good launch titles for the system to fend off the PSP, but I’m still worried.”

The biggest risk to the GBA is that developers will focus their effort on DS-only games. But for now, I want to play some fun games again, and the GBA accomplishes that quite nicely.

Manton Reece @manton