Why should you pick up a Game Boy Advance in 2021?

Many people know the Game Boy Advance as a Pokemon machine, but little do people know the humble GBA can do much more than just catch pocket-sized monsters. To fully unlock the capabilities of the GBA however, I’ll need some assistance in the form of a flash cart. Using a flash cart comes with some moral and ethical problems but just as long as you are only using it to play games you already own, there isn’t any problem.

I opted for the Everdrive x5 Mini from Krikzz. They’re a great company that makes flash carts for all your favourite consoles from yesteryear, from the original Game Boy to the Sega Mega Drive. They are on the more pricey side of the flash cart scene but in return you know you’re getting one of the better flash carts out there especially when compared to some of the terrible “99 games in one” carts which you’ll be lucky if they survive shipping. Whatever you choose there, there’s a host of cool things you can do with a Flash Cart.

Make music

The Game Boy era produced some of the most iconic retro sounds, samples and bites used in 8-bit music, chiptune and just music in general. Now, with the power of flash carts, you can make your own Game Boy Advance into a sound-making machine that can be used as a musical instrument. The world of music and Game Boys can be overwhelming and a lot to learn. Coding, plugging your console into something bigger Djs may use and general technical knowledge is something this game boy does not have but with software like LSDJ this is now possible! There are also options to code your own software to make each button produce different noises but LSDJ seems like the simplest way forward to make taking over the musical world with bleeps and bloops possible. Move over Mariah, move over Ariana, there’s a new popstar who can go into whistle-tone… just with a Game Boy instead.

Play Japanese games in English

There have been many games on the GBA that have never left Japan. Problems with localisation have meant many games have never left the island leaving many that fans have only heard whispers about. Some of these include Pokemon TCG 2: Here Comes Team GR!, Tomato Adventure and the infamous Mother 3 just to name a few. Now, thanks to fans who have worked hard to create translations (which you can combine with a rom of the game), players around the world can enjoy many of the games that may have previously been unplayable. That being said, Nintendo, give us Mother 3! Officially!

Personally, I found some of these fan translations very much up to par with Nintendo’s own work but that’s not to say there aren’t a few mistakes here and there. The mistakes however were never anything to make the game unplayable; a double space in between words perhaps and problems with Japanese references and jokes that might go straight over the average English speakers head. Still, it’s truly a blessing to be able to play some of these otherwise region-locked games the way they were intended to be played, on a Game Boy Advance.

Play fan-made games

Gone are the days of GBA games only being made by big companies. We live in an age now where more and more talented developers are popping out of seemingly nowhere. This has led to a whole scene of newly starting developers and fans making their own games for the system which have been shared online and now known as the Homebrew scene.

One of my personal favourites is Lockjaw the Overdose, a game that could have never been officially made and licensed for the GBA due to its many drug references. That’s one of the beauties of the homebrew scene. This game is the Tetris we all know and love but with a trippy background and Tetris grid which moves around all over the screen. The game is very much inspired by drug trips and hallucinations and is reminiscent of an early version of Tetris Effect. Some other favourites include Blast Arena Advance which is a rhythm-based bullet hell-type game and Aguna, an old school Zelda-esque title that looks like it could have been a fully-fledged game from the GBA era. Having a flash cart really does open up the opportunity to play so many more hidden gems.

Watch stuff

Have you ever wanted to watch films and TV shows from the early 2000s on your Game Boy Advance? No? What about if I told you they were in the amazing quality of 160p? If you want to experience video on the GBA for nostalgic value despite that, then you’re in luck as Nintendo allowed for just that back in the early 2000s. So whether it’s Shrek 2 or Codename Kids Next Door, there’s something to satisfy any millennial wanting to relive the best years of their life. The quality is horrendous and I was shocked to see that in some places you can actually see the outline of pixels, while the jumpy frame rate almost makes this unwatchable in this day and age but I also don’t know what I was expecting.

Play unreleased prototype games

Thanks to developers uploading files online, there are a slew of unreleased games which are able to be played on a GBA thanks to the power of flash carts. Keep in mind however these are not finished games and more than anything it’s really interesting to see games from a variety of big companies in such an early, unfinished state. This is definitely going to appeal to the people looking to dig deep into the GBA’s forgotten history of what might have been.

Games like the cancelled Diddy Kong Pilot and Banjo Pilot are both airplane racing games which are just about playable. To see certain features like music and items not work properly in a Nintendo game really makes them seem like a small, unprofessional company after playing these poorly made, rushed prototypes. That’s not to say I still didn’t have a blast playing them. It’s deeply interesting to see what could have been in a world where Nintendo wasn’t the giant it is today.

Other great prototype games include a port of Resident Evil 2 and a very barebones Turok game, both of which were also cancelled. The main thing a lot of these cancelled games have in common is that they were all in 3D. The GBA will forever be remembered for its great pixel art, while games in a 3D space didn’t fare too well on the console. These games have been speculated to have been used in pitches and never got too far into development before getting canned but are still a bit of video game history which you can now experience.

Hacks

Hacks and mods are another way to breathe new life into some of your favourite GBA games. They range from being able to change certain text fonts and graphics to altering certain game mechanics, creating a new yet familiar feeling. These mods can be played on your computer, but for that added kick of authenticity with the aid of a flash cart, they’re best played on a Game Boy Advance system.

Some of my favourite mods are the Pokemon ones. It’s a beast of a franchise, but the relatively low amount of Pokemon game content doesn’t match up to the demand of the millions of fans. For a long time fans such as myself would have to resort to playing the same mainline games over and over, but with the help of some very talented and skilled creators, there are many Pokemon mods that change the games by taking the assets from the series and creating whole new stories, levels and gameplay. One of my favourites is Pokemon Wally Edition, which takes the story of Pokemon Emerald and lets you play the game as Wally from his perspective. The world of Pokemon mods is huge and expansive, you’ll be surprised as to just how much effort fans have put into some of these mods, making them rival even the mainline series.

Of course, there are other mods for different games too like replacing Bowser from Mario Kart Super Circuit with his sprite from Super Mario Kart and turning the brightness down on the Donkey Kong Country games which were originally designed to be played on the original non-backlit GBA. The world of hacks and mods is a community which is still thriving today so have a search around the internet and enjoy!

Play Game Boy Advance Games

Let’s not forget the main reason to have a flash cart. To enjoy your whole Gameboy Advance library on one cartridge! The ease of not having to carry around multiple chunky blocks of my favourite games is so satisfying and something especially handy for collectors who may not want to break into their game boxes too often.

I’ve managed to pick up Mario and Luigi Superstar Saga, a game from the now shut down company AlphaDream. Many sequels to this game have come out since but fans regard the original GBA version the best and for good reason. Did you also know Capcom made a Legend of Zelda game? The Legend of Zelda Minish Cap is exactly that and encompasses the best of what the GBA has to offer, great pixel art, great storytelling and a great pocket-sized adventure to take anywhere. The GBA’s output was often very experimental when it came to game ideas and nothing says this more than the WarioWare series. This game has gone on to provide my friends and I countless hours of fun on newer consoles but the GBA original is nostalgic, wacky, weird and I’d have it no other way.

As I have said earlier the use of all the games mentioned in this article were games I owned, and none of it would have been possible without the Everdrive X5 Mini. Unlike the previous models from Krikzz, this one fits into the cartridge slot perfectly and compared to other flash carts I’ve tried it’s a lot sturdier, well-designed and feels like it will last a very long time. Matching it with a 4GB Micro SD card was more than enough to fit all the games mentioned in this article and then some. I even surprised myself at just how much more life was breathed into my old GBA and I love it just that little bit more now. Turns out you can teach an old dog new tricks.

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