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Gameboy Advance: Should the bombs fall, future waste-dwelling generations shall prostrate themselves and worship.

When I play a Warioware game my fingers and eyes get a little itchy and a state not unlike the Zen no-mind takes over my body. My eyes itch from not blinking and my fingers itch from some sort of cowboy-gamer alternate reality where the quick draw is the difference between life and Game Over. The game starts at a reasonable speed, demanding you quickly complete menial tasks one after another. The tasks are all somewhat absurdist, from avoiding being stomped by a giant foot to forcing Wario to eat a hotdog to playing a second of Mario Brothers. The truly absurd nature comes from the rapid juxtaposition of these tiny tasks. Gradually the game speeds up and menial task after menial task must be completed in a fraction of a second. Over and over and over you must do the evil Wario’s bidding so that, if I understand the game’s story correctly, Wario can sell more copies of his Wario world game. It has the same mental effect as a long session of Tetris does but without the reliable structure that falling blocks provide. It is like Tetris if sometimes the blocks were ducks and sometimes tacos and sometimes blocks. The game lives in my Gameboy Micro which is the newest incarnation of the GBA, Nintendo’s eight year old and just retired handheld game system.

I picked up a Gameboy Advance prior to moving to Seattle. I did not own a handheld game system at that time. I had my PS2 and that was it. I picked the first GBA up dirt-cheap along with a copy of Final Fantasy Tactics. I knew that upon arriving in Seattle with little money and no job I would need s
ome sort of cheap diversion and was pretty sure that Final Fantasy Tactics would fit the bill while I looked for work and a permanent place to live. My PS2 was put into storage with everything else I owned except some clothes, my bicycle, some important papers to get said job and home, and my brand new used GBA. This was not the first handheld I had ever owned. That honor goes to a Gameboy Color. Technically, my first GBA was not even the first system added to the collection, since I hadn’t yet started a collection, per se. I am on my second GBA. My first GBA is now somewhere in Turkey where it was sent, as cheap entertainment, with my ethnomusicologist friend Gabe and spouse Jessica. They had let me stay with them for a couple weeks and house-sit for a couple more when I first came to Seattle. I bummed around Seattle buying records and coffee with all of my savings, figuring out how to navigate the bus system, and lying on the floor of their apartment playing Final Fantasy tactics. When it came time for Gabe to go overseas to work on his dissertation and I was somewhat employed, the time was right to send the GBA away. I figured if Gabe and Jessica were going to go into a similar situation of little money and no immediate home, they probably needed a GBA. “Remember me, here is a GBA for luck” I should have said. Between sending the original GBA to Turkey and adding another GBA into my collection I had obtained 3 other systems that play GBA games. This puts my personal count of Nintendo branded machines that play GBA games up to 5. FIVE! To me this proves, without a doubt, that either Nintendo really does have some sort of luck inducing properties or is an out of control juggernaut that must be stopped.*

Whatever the case, Nintendo is effing ingenious! Instead of just buying the final product I have been suckered into buying endless iterations of a device that can play GBA games. From a commercial standpoint it kind of makes sense to reissue an upgraded version of a successful product. As styles, tastes, and demands changed, the GBA SP, Brighter SP, and Micro came into being, keeping alive a platform that should by all rights have died and/or received a serious upgrade much sooner. Aside from better lit screens, the upgrades were almost entirely cosmetic. The hardware was the same hardware playing the exact same games! Even more amazing is that the GBA is basically a tiny SNES with less buttons! Somehow Nintendo can do this. It’s not just systems either. Their front man is a plumber with a 70’s porn star mustache wearing the same red shirt and pair of overalls he’s has since the 80’s. Nintendo’s big idea to make things edgy and modern is to introduce his evil cousin/clone/nemesis Wario who now stars in his own series of mini-game based games. These mini-games, as mentioned before, are often remakes of classic Nintendo games reinvented or truncated. Everything old is new again…I think I am starting to sound like a broken record. All these different versions of the GBA also means that I need to get cracking writing about these systems because I am going to have to write about them again and again and again.

This is not so bad really. The GBA has awesome games! I don’t mind typing about something cool over and over again. It’s handy to have several on hand because they make great presents to give to people traveling overseas (a GBA for luck). They can be easily and cheaply obtained so you can stockpile them. Most importantly they add bulk to a collection of handheld game machines.

My GBA is purple. My coworker reports that his spouse rides the bus to work with a woman who wears only purple. She has purple shoes and purple hats and a purple pants-suit and a purple “toga”. Every day she wears purple and only purple. Invariably if his spouse should happen to wear something, anything, purple she will receive a compliment. As an example: “My, my, what a lovely scarf.” Of course she is gracious and responds appropriately. I would be thinking the entire time, “Of course you think that you giant nutty grape fruit!” What does this have to do with the GBA? Nothing really. It is not even telling that purple is considered a royal color since the GBA was released in many colors. A bit of research tells me that the GBA was released in the following colors: Indigo, Arctic, Glacier/Milky White, Fuchsia/Milky Pink, and Spice as well as a large number of special edition colors. One can extrapolate the design philosophy behind the original “shiny black” PSP or the “I-pod White” DS Lite but I can’t figure out what color the original GBA was when it was released or what the color meant back in 2000. Whatever it was, I’m fairly sure it was far better than the original DS’s “utilitarian silver finish” and well beyond the original Game Boy’s “PC grey shell” as far as cool goes. GBA’s purple color scheme kind of says, “I am a toy.” It is, so that’s ok.

In order to adequately assess the original GBA, I booted up my copy of Wario Ware Twisted. The GBA fits just perfectly in my hands in a way that the fancy flip top GBA SP or tiny Gameboy micro does not. The unit does not have all the extra buttons and extraneous screen that makes playing a GBA game on the Nintendo DS feel somehow wrong. The system is just about perfect until it is actually turned on. Once turned on you cannot see what is on the screen. GBA is from the days before backlight was a requirement for any self-respecting game system. I begin to piece together why I was so wowed by the PSP and NDS. It was not just the quality of the games but the brightness of the screens that got me interested in handheld gaming. The original GBA is on the cusp of being a modern handheld game system. It is a powerful enough system to play some rudimentary first person shooters and basic 3D type games that exist somewhere just above what was possible on the SNES. By all rights the technology makes it a dinosaur. But the library of games is just modern enough to have a familiar contemporary design philosophy.

Though the side scroller is more and more becoming anachronistic, the system is littered with quality side scrollers galore. There are of course the classic Mario and Metroids as well as Castlevanias that still are affecting gaming today. But there are also some lower profile side scrollers like TMNT, Gunstar Heros, and a most excellent Ninja 5-0 (Pictured to left, me playing Ninja 5-O) that should not be missed. Techwise the pinnacle is probably Ecks vs. Sever which manages to stuff a FPS onto the tiny box. Frankly the game is pretty underwhelming and probably was when it was released. GBA is not a 3D powerhouse. As far as the 3D games go, what the GBA offers is not awesome graphics but great game-play from the likes of Monkeyball and Mariocart.

Honestly the GBA only brings the rock in one area. It is the perfect vehicle for RPGs and there are some most excellent ones. Both the Zelda games and Golden Suns are timeless classic RPGs that don’t suffer at all for being on the handheld. GBA is also home to some of the best strategy RPGs ever like Fire Emblem, Ogre Battle, Final Fantasy Tactics and Advance Wars. Screw all the non-RPGs on the GBA! There I said it! The GBA was made for role playing games. Sure you can play other games on it but why would you?

Ok, ok, so there is Warioware which is Satan crank for your soul.

*Not by me though. I am their man whore. I always get confused with prostitution-related analogies so I might be the John in that one. I’m the one spending the money and probably um, taking it from behind.

2 comments:

  1. I didn't know you were going to quote me that soon.

    M-- really likes Wario. But who doesn't like the franchise? Who can't get behind the adventures of a drug-addled plumber?

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  2. I'll quote you whenever I damn well please! I am not so sure about the rhetorical question "Who can't get behind the adventures of a drug-addled plumber?". Sure a coke addled HVAC man might be a laff riot but you do not want someone on drugs messing with your plumbing... Seriously.

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