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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Ranking Nintendo's Systems: Part 6

We continue our look at Nintendo's best and worst systems. Click to read part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4 and part 5.

Game Boy Advance

History: As the long-in-the-tooth Game Boy series wound down, Nintendo needed a successor. They unleashed the Advance, which was, at the time, the most powerful handheld system ever seen. The original incarnation had some issues, so Nintendo revised it with the Game Boy Advance SP.

Results: The Game Boy Advance sold over 100 million units during its lifespan and propped up Nintendo during the lean Gamecube years. Great games came out at a furious clip, the likes of which no one had seen up to that point. It served to further help legitimize handheld gaming.

What Went Right: Nintendo had previously experimented with downwards compatibility with the Game Boy Color, allowing users to play original Game Boy games with the system. Now, with the Advance, they truly unleashed its power.

When the Advance launched, not only did it have Super Mario Advance ready to go along with a stable of other quality games, but the entire library of the Game Boy at its back. Combined with the cheap price of the Advance, it just made sense to get one.

Because it leaped out to such an early lead, game after game came out for it. We saw platformers, sports games, RPGs, action games, you name it. And here's the thing: Because there was money to be made, most of these games were actually really good.

Nintendo kept up the onslaught as well, with the Advance Wars and Golden Sun series both making a splash, as well as the Fire Emblem series seeing release in the States for the first time. We even saw a new Metroid game in Metroid Fusion, which was glorious.

They also set to work re-releasing a lot of their old favorites, with the Super Mario Bros. games all getting released as the Super Mario Advance series, as well as the original Metroid getting remade and released as Metroid: Zero Mission.

What Went Wrong: The original hardware was poor. The screen wasn't backlit, so it made it hard to play in all but the brightest light. This led to a company, Afterburner, selling a backlighting solution that relied upon opening up your GBA and soldering in a light. It wasn't for the faint of heart.

In 2003, Nintendo fixed those problems with the GBA SP, which was a clamshell design that included a rechargable battery. It's one of the best hardware redesigns Nintendo's ever done and fixed the vast majority of the GBA's issues.

They tried one more redesign of the GBA toward the end of its lifespan with the GBA Micro. It was a really small system, but it didn't sell very well. The GBA SP was just that good that most people didn't feel the need to replace it with a different model.

One issue that lingered, though, was the remake issue. While it was great to be able to play Super Mario World on a handheld for the first time, game after game was re-mastered and re-released for the GBA. Sure, it was nice, but it was a little excessive. Still, being able to play Final Fantasy III on the go was worth it.

Lessons Learned: Nintendo kept themselves alive during their rough patch with the Gamecube. If it wouldn't have been for the GBA, who knows what would have happened?

Nintendo used the GBA SP redesign principles when designing the followup to the GBA, the Nintendo DS. The clamshell design has stayed permanently for their handhelds, as well as the rechargable battery.

They also were reminded that the principles they learned during the making of the Game Boy would hold true through all their handhelds: Keep the price down, keep battery life reasonable and provide good games and consumers will beat a path to your door.