This Month In Retro

Nepiki By Nepiki.

Hello all and welcome to This Month in Retro! Today, we have a very special edition. Although I had not planned for it when I picked a random year to talk about, June 2001 is, in fact, the month when the Game Boy Advance was released in both North America and PAL regions! So today will be a celebratory piece about the handheld itself and all of the launch games.

This unfortunately means that yes, I won’t be talking about other games this month, neither from the western- or eastern side of the world. This article will already be completely filled with just the launch games alone, and I don’t want to turn this into a five hour long documentary. It is a shame, but I can also assure you that there weren’t too many interesting games to talk about this month regardless–either they are very well-known already like Sonic Adventure 2 so my commentary wouldn’t really add much, or they just aren’t… y’know, good. Especially on the Japanese side there was only one interesting game to talk about, which is Star Ocean: Blue Sphere. So yeah, I’ll just keep it to the Game Boy Advance for this month!

So how will this month’s edition be structured? Firstly, I will be talking about the legacy of the actual handheld itself, talking about how it came to be and what impact it had on the gaming industry as a whole. After which I’ll be going through several of the best releases, the worst releases, some hidden gems, and cover the achievement sets for the games if they are currently available on RetroAchievements. So without further ado, let’s take a look at one of Nintendo’s biggest successes in the handheld industry!

The Game Boy Advance

Rumours about a follow-up to the successful Nintendo Game Boy started as early as 1996, after which several magazines featured reports on a 32-bit successor codenamed Project Atlantis. This originally looked like how the Game Boy Color would eventually come to be, and due to the Game Boy still doing extremely well in 1996, that’s also what ended up becoming the true successor to the Game Boy. Why fix what isn’t broken after all? Project Atlantis was suspended one year later, and would eventually see the light of day again during Nintendo Space World 1999. Later that same year, it was officially announced alongside all of its specifications that… mostly mattered in Japan, like online connectivity through a cellular device. But not only were the specifications announced, but also a partnership with Konami that would work together on creating technology for interactivity between the Game Boy Advance and the next upcoming home console, the GameCube.

In 2000, the release date for both Japan- and North America would be announced, both releasing in 2001 with Japan getting it 3 months early in March. The system would come with a total of 10 launch games in Japan, though that number ended up being 24. 11 of these games also ended up being launch games for the western market, 3 would see a release later down the system’s lifespan and the remaining have stayed in Japan up to this date, but those are all a story for another day. The launch price followed a similar format to that of the Game Boy and Game Boy Color, releasing for $99.99. Furthermore, it also allowed people to play games from those before-mentioned handhelds to be played on the Game Boy Advance, with the neat addition to toggle between original aspect ratio and stretched widescreen with the L and R buttons due to the new format of the handheld. This also indirectly started the war between the chad original aspect ratio and the virgin widescreen.

The Game Boy Advance ended up being a good success, making it both the fastest-selling system at the time in North America with a total of 500,000 units in the first week, and also in the United Kingdom with 81,000 units. But it wasn’t a flawless handheld to say the least. Critics applauded the new format of the system with its landscape form factor, having the buttons next to the screen instead of underneath, but also heavily criticized the lack of a backlit screen. It was an awful screen to play on depending on the lighting conditions, and (unofficial) peripherals like the wormlights were not the ideal solution either. This was a massive complaint, and rightfully so as one of Nintendo’s previously released handhelds actually had a backlit screen, being the Game Boy Light.

Nintendo would address these complaints only two year later in 2003 with the Game Boy Advance SP, a revision of the original system that would include backlit. Although the new pocket-size folding laptop form-factor wasn’t as well-received as the original, this was the fix many people needed, and adding a rechargeable battery was the icing on the cake. As a result, it was even better received and was also the most-selling revision of the family… but it lacked a headphone jack to the annoyance of many people. The perfect revision just does not exist huh. But to be fair, Nintendo at least made an official headphone adapter as compensation.

Nintendo would go back to the initial form factor in 2005 with the Game Boy Micro, a smaller variant as indicated by the name. This system was designed for that reason, as well as the ability to switch between faceplates for customization, as the various limited editions for the previously mentioned versions were very popular. This didn’t really take off though, as it released very close to the Nintendo DS, which pretty much already was a death sentence right from the start. Regardless, it is a surprisingly nifty handheld, with the screen being even brighter than the SP and it surprisingly not even being that uncomfortable to hold. Due to its smaller size however, Game Boy and Game Boy Color games were not backwards compatible on the handheld.

The family of systems would see support for several years to come, as the Nintendo DS was backwards compatible with the Game Boy Advance as well. This was because Nintendo was unsure if they wanted the Nintendo DS to be a successor to the Advance, but given that it is the second best-selling system ever, those worries quickly faded away. Many people even see this dual-screened system to be the best way to play GBA games due to the better screen. Hell, some monsters would even rip off the top screen since only the bottom screen was used, and that made it similar to the original form factor of the Game Boy Advance. But although it is considered to be one the best options, the modding community has not held back either, introducing features into every previous model of the family. Adding a backlit screen to the first model for example is very popular, but also a headphone jack to the SP is often done. YouTube channel TheRetroFuture is a good source for just seeing what can be done with the system.

The system would see support until 2006 in Japan, with the very last game to be released there being Final Fantasy VI Advance, ending the system on a very high note as that is unquestionably the best Final Fantasy game out there. Sorry, I don’t make the rules. Meanwhile, the system would be supported up to 2008 in the west, with Samurai Deeper Kyo being the very last title in North America, and a compilation cartridge of Columns Crown & ChuChu Rocket! being the final game released in Europe. And I find that to be super ironic as ChuChu Rocket! is also a launch game for this system. According to Wikipedia, the total official amount of game releases ended up being 1538!

The Game Boy Advance is currently the 10th best-selling video game system, at a whopping 81.51 million copies sold. It didn’t outsell its predecessor, but that’s only really because the Game Boy and Game Boy Color were always seen as one, so arguments can definitely be made here. The best-selling game on the system ended up being, perhaps unsurprisingly, Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire at a total of 16.22 million units. As for the highest-rated games, that’s where we find some sort of loophole. You see, the Game Boy Advance didn’t just feature a lot of new games, but also re-releases of older games, like the currently highest-rated game on the platform, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. I’m absolutely not disagreeing with this as it is my favourite game ever, but to better represent the Game Boy Advance’s best original games, we have to dig a bit deeper. Titles such as Mario Kart Super Circuit, Advance Wars, Golden Sun, Metroid Fusion and Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow are all very much seen as defining games of the platform, and that’s only the tip of the iceberg. The system had many great games, and also kickstarted many new franchises such as the before-mentioned Golden Sun, Mega Man Zero and Battle Network, Mario & Luigi, and Fire Emblem for us westerners. To say it left its mark on the history of video games is an understatement, with it also being one of the more popular systems available on RetroAchievements.

GBA Launch titles

By combining both the releases from North America and PAL regions, there have been a total of 21 releases at launch. Now, out of those 21 releases, 6 can be considered mostly “ports”. I’m not going to diminish their true quality and what new mechanics they brought to the table of course, but I’d rather cover original launch games than talk about what changes these games have over their console counterparts. All of them (aside from Earthworm Jim and Pitfall) were on the higher end when it comes to the score ranking though, so I at least felt the need to mention them. And there is some interesting history behind some of them!

  • ChuChu Rocket! is the first ever SEGA game to be released on a Nintendo console, and would mark the start of a new era for SEGA.
  • Rayman Advance was intentionally made to be easier than previous versions. Thank the lord for that given how complete BS the original releases were.
  • Super Mario Advance is actually… Super Mario Bros. 2 from the All-Stars collection! There were a total of four games released in this series, and they all follow a very stupid naming convention and weird chronological order.
Game Score
ChuChu Rocket! (Game Boy Advance) 84% (Metacritic)
82% (GameRankings)
Earthworm Jim (Game Boy Advance) 72% (Metacritic)
66% (GameRankings)
Namco Museum (Game Boy Advance) 79% (Metacritic)
72% (GameRankings)
Pitfall - The Mayan Adventure (Game Boy Advance) 58% (Metacritic)
Rayman Advance (Game Boy Advance) 84% (Metacritic)
85% (GameRankings)
Super Mario Advance (Game Boy Advance) 84% (Metacritic)
82% (GameRankings)

With the ports out of the way, let’s talk about some of the most favoured games by critics. Two releases in particular still see themselves near the top of the average rankings for the system, which is an impressive feat in and of itself. Funnily enough though, the first game I’ll be talking about is a game that has seen many releases on other platforms, but is technically not a direct port. I swear I’m not bending the rules here.

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 (Game Boy Advance)
Release dates NA: June 11, 2001
EU: June 22, 2001
Sales 1,180,000
Average score 95% (Metacritic)
90% (GameRankings)

Hmm… well, this is an interesting game to talk about I suppose. I’m not really going to deny that I don’t care for anything skateboarding-related, but it’s undeniable how influential the second Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater game has been to the entire industry, still being amongst the highest-rated games of all time. And although handheld versions of home console games were often seen as inferior re-releases for a quick cash grab, that is absolutely not the case here. Developed by Vicarious Visions, the game takes an isometric overhead perspective with a slightly simplified control scheme due to the system having less buttons compared to the home console releases. The level editor and multiplayer were also taken out, and the licensed tracks were slightly altered to be instrumental due to system limitations. But aside from these understandable omissions, we have a package that can only be described as an impressive accomplishment. That said, it is tough to say whether this high score is because of it being a launch title, since there have been several Tony Hawk games on the Game Boy Advance since then that are often regarded as superior. After all, this was a launch title so it wasn’t able to take advantage of every single aspect of the system. But that is me just assuming stuff since it is really tough to find actual opinions about this game as it shares its name with a million other ports of the game. I tried okay, I’m sorry.

The game currently does not have a set on RetroAchievements yet, which makes it one of the few remaining ports without a set together with the Dreamcast version. There are sets available for the Game Boy Color, Nintendo 64 and PlayStation versions. On the Game Boy Advance, there is a set for one of the later released games, Tony Hawk’s Underground.

Well, let’s just talk about the other highest-rated launch game then. Fortunately for me, this is a game I very much love so hurray, I can actually talk about what I enjoy for once!

Castlevania: Circle of the Moon (Game Boy Advance)
Release dates JP: March 21, 2001
NA: June 11, 2001
EU: June 22, 2001
Sales 1,000,000
Average score 91% (Metacritic)
88% (GameRankings)

After the overwhelming success of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, the term “Metroidvania” was born. This new sub-genre would be the main gameplay style we would see in the handheld Castlevania games from here on out, with the first game being Castlevania: Circle of the Moon… or just Castlevania in PAL regions. Totally not confusing at all. Circle of the Moon is considered offensive over here, please don’t use those words together in one sentence. All joking aside though, this game did exactly what we wanted: take the game design of Symphony of the Night, and make another game like it. Although unlike its predecessor, this game feels more closely to a mix between Classicvania and Metroidvania, as main protagonist Nathan only has access to a whip instead of various weapons, and sub-weapons also make a return. Though as compensation, there is an extensive card system that brings a wide variety of effect by combining them, ranging from not useful at all to completely broken. You just need to be lucky to get these cards, which is a trend that continues with future games as the grind can be surprisingly heavy. And in true Metroidvania style, it is still a non-linear game through Dracula’s castle, complete with backtracking and progress-based power-ups. But unfortunately, the score given to this game is also one very reflective of the time it released, as Circle of the Moon is still seen as a good game, but often as one of the least favourite of all Metroidvania entries. It also doesn’t help that Castlevania creator Koji Igarashi was not involved with this game, and eventually removed it from the series timeline as well. This game paved the way for the future of the franchise, but more games followed that ended up overshadowing it. Though for me personally, Circle of the Moon is still a special game that I’ll always cherish.

The RetroAchievements set covers not only completion itself, but also getting every magic card and most of the important items that can be found. There are also multiple challenges, some involving the cards and others a particular play style. Do be warned though, because if you are planning to master this game completely, you will have to play through the game at least 5 times due to the unlockable modes after beating the game. Fans are overall pretty positive about the set, given how much potential the game has for achievements and also how much we’ve been getting closer to reaching the full potential within the past few years.

Scores are a weird subject, as seen with the past two games receiving outstanding scores that are definitely not agreed on nowadays. Surprisingly, they are also the most extreme cases, as pretty much every other launch game scored between 70 and 90% where most people can agree on… when people know the games at least. Only 5 games scored under 70%, and only 1 of them under 50%. You know the worst part about it though? …I actually have fond memories of that game in particular.

Tweety & the Magic Gems (Game Boy Advance)
Release dates JP: March 21, 2001
EU: June 22, 2001
NA: July 30, 2001
Sales Unknown
Average score 45% (Metacritic)

Yeah, this game actually came with my Game Boy Advance at launch and I’ve played through it occasionally, having a good amount of fun with it. I was also much younger at the time though, so perhaps it is just nostalgia blinding me as the reviews do point out completely fair issues with the game. Tweety and the Magic Gems is a party video game based on the Looney Tunes, where the players travel around the world to get each of the magical gems before the other player does. After all, why should someone else get the credits for saving a dear friend? Better just beat them at minigames instead of cooperating while your bird friend is turning into stone am I right? The issues most critics had with the game however, is that there is no real balance in game design; mini-games are really short, yet the board game itself is very long as you have to watch every CPU opponent’s moves in real-time. And yeah, from what I remember, some minigames can indeed just take a few seconds at best. Party games on handheld consoles always had a tougher time to begin with because multiplayer relied on every player having their own Game Boy Advance, as well as a copy of the game, and a link cable. Does this game deserve the low score it received? Probably, probably not; I can’t say for sure. I would like to play it again to give it a fair critical view, but unfortunately, the game does not have a set yet on RetroAchievements. I don’t foresee this happening in the near future either but hey, if I somehow still got you interested, maybe it can still happen!

So that was the worst game of the launch line-up apparently huh. Makes me wonder what’s next on the block… wait, what.

Iridion 3D (Game Boy Advance)
Release dates NA: June 11, 2001
EU: September 21, 2001
Sales 460,000
Average score 53% (Metacritic)
57% (Gamerankings)

Yeah, I wasn’t sitting here expecting to talk about a game that commercially did well (and isn’t a cheap sports game or licensed title) as the second-lowest rated launch game. Iridion 3D, as the name implies, is a 3D game in the Rail Shooter genre where players go through seven levels, defending earth from the alien Iridion. Though instead of being a true 3D game, the developer used realtime encoding to manipulate 2D sprites into feeling like a 3D game. At that they definitely succeeded though, as Iridion 3D was regarded as one of the best looking GBA games of its time. The gameplay is where most critics panned the game, calling it insults like “nothing more than a tech demo” or “a game only impressing with its graphics”. Is there some truth to what they are saying? I haven’t personally played the game, but fans themselves tend to not hold this game in too high regards either. Meanwhile the developer said it was the best game for the system that doesn’t have licensed characters. Big ego much? Regardless, it was a good enough financial success to get a sequel, which has seen much more positive acclaim.

Both this game and the sequel have sets on RetroAchievements, with the game of today testing your skill at the game. Simply beating every level won’t be enough for a mastery, as you also have to do it on hard difficulty, and also on hard difficulty without dying. The game has a life system and it’s game over upon losing them all, so practice, practice, and more practice!

So far all of the games I’ve talked about were properties not belonging to Nintendo. Aside from Super Mario Advance, they themselves weren’t really part of the launch line-up. That is, with two major exceptions:

F-Zero: Maximum Velocity (Game Boy Advance)
Release dates JP: March 21, 2001
NA: June 11, 2001
EU: June 22, 2001
Sales 1,050,000
Average score 86% (Metacritic)
83% (Gamerankings)

Like how F-Zero was a launch game for the SNES, F-Zero: Maximum Velocity keeps that trend going on a handheld often compared to the SNES. As a result, we have a game that also looks similar to the SNES game, but that has some interesting techniques used to take advantage of the Game Boy Advance’s limitations, like a pseudo-3D visual technique based on bitmap graphics to give an illusion of depth. The structure of the game is also similar: go through five laps on a race track without taking too much damage or being in last place. The high-speed futuristic racing action has made its way to the handheld well, and is still very much beloved by fans across the world. Out of all the games I’ve talked about so far, F-Zero: Maximum Velocity is the game that stood the test of the time the best, resulting in two more sequels on the same platform of which one is currently still Japanese exclusive.

The RetroAchievements set asks you to master every cup on every available difficulty, as well as every cup on the highest difficulty with every machine available in the game. Still, this high difficulty did not withhold many achievers from obtaining that mastery. There are also some cool achievements for skipping sections of a map that may end up being beneficial for when you’re going for the Master achievements!

Kuru Kuru Kururin (Game Boy Advance)
Release dates JP: March 21, 2001
EU: June 22, 2001
Sales 310,000
Average score 74% (Metacritic)

I initially thought for this to be a hidden gem given that it’s not talked about often, as well as not being released in North America. It’s not necessarily a well-known game either for that reason, as later games have never made it out of Japan either. Nintendo didn’t really give this game much of a chance in the west, and that is a real shame as I personally adore Kuru Kuru Kururin. It is a fun puzzle game where a constantly rotating stick has to make it through a maze without touching the sides, where stage-specific gimmicks can alter how this idea is approached. It gets much harder quite quickly, but it is also highly addictive. Critics overall agree with my opinion, stating it is a simple- yet effective game that you can pick up and play at any time. As mentioned before, it didn’t do half bad for a new IP, and got two sequels as a result. And since it is a first-party Nintendo franchise as well, a reference to the series has also been made in the Super Smash Bros. series.

I haven’t played the achievement set myself yet, but it is quite a popular one. Of course, I did not joke about the game getting quite difficult, as you’ll have to go through all levels on various difficulties and without taking damage. Still, it is a puzzle game at its core so if you master the mechanics and persevere, this is very much a doable mastery. The hardest achievement of this set is the “Master” achievement, where you have to beat the times for levels. Gotta go fast.

Amongst the launch titles, there are also a lot of games that aren’t really talked about often, some of them even being very unknown. Like, did you know that there is a kart racer game with Konami characters that predates Mario Kart: Super Circuit? I’m probably asking this question in the wrong community but I’m just going to assume it’s a hidden gem.

Konami Krazy Racers (Game Boy Advance)
Release dates JP: March 21, 2001
NA: June 11, 2001
EU: June 22, 2001
Sales 160,000
Average score 78% (Metacritic)
81% (Gamerankings)

Playing very similarly to other kart racing games, Konami Krazy Racers is a crossover between multiple Konami franchises such as Legend of the Mystical Ninja, Castlevania, Metal Gear and several other series. There are multiple items to grab to hinder opponents- or make yourself go fast, so everything that you expect from a kart racer is absolutely available here. But the best part about a crossover like this is that several of the items, music pieces, and tracks are based after Konami properties too, like the baseball stadium from the Power Pro series. The game definitely won’t blow your mind away as it doesn’t bring much new to the table, but it’s very much a competent kart racer that slightly went under the radar. After all, Mario Kart: Super Circuit was close to releasing as well and the rest is history.

Unfortunately, that also means Konami Krazy Racers does not have a set on RetroAchievements yet, although the task has been picked up a few times in the past. Personally speaking, I would definitely love to see a set for this game!

I’ve been going on for a while, but not many games are left now. So I figured it’s time for a fast round of games that I felt were worth talking about!

Pinobee: Wings of Adventure (Game Boy Advance)
Release dates JP: March 21, 2001
NA: June 11, 2001
EU: June 22, 2001
Sales 80,000
Average score 61% (Metacritic)
67% (Gamerankings)

The award for the most inoffensive- yet unremarkable game of the GBA launch probably goes to Pinobee: Wings of Adventure. This is a stylish 2D platformer, which is also where most of the praises from critics went to: the graphics. Most of the actual stages felt dry and boring according to them, which makes exploring them not as fun as the developers wanted it to be. But it does have several secrets and alternate endings, so if you’re looking for something completely new, this might be worth giving a shot. It does not have a RetroAchievements set yet though!

Super Dodge Ball Advance (Game Boy Advance)
Release dates JP: March 21, 2001
NA: June 11, 2001
EU: November 16, 2001
Sales 200,000
Average score 79% (Metacritic)
75% (Gamerankings)

Now, I am not 100% sure, but when I looked up gameplay for this game, I feel like I’ve played it before myself. As the name implies, it is a dodge ball game that is a spin-off of the Super Dodge Ball series, where the player controls a team through a tournament mode to throw balls into other kids their faces. You know, my favourite past-time hobby! The bigger critic outlets weren’t too positive on the game, but it still scored a total of 79% on Metacritic which is definitely not bad at all. And for this game, a RetroAchievements set is available! A lot of the achievements are based on the special moves players can do, like throwing a ball so hard it creates a black hole. I wish I could do that, but I suppose I still have a few years of training ahead of me.

GT Advance Championship Racing (Game Boy Advance)
Release dates JP: March 21, 2001
NA: June 8, 2001 (…wat?)
EU: June 15, 2001 (…wat 2.0?)
Sales 330,000
Average score 82% (Metacritic)
78% (Gamerankings)

Remember in the last issue when I talked about the forming of company MTO, known for making gamez with the epic letter Z? This game is also made by them, but I am severely disappointed it’s not called GT Advanze Championzhip Razing. All joking aside, this game features forty-five Japanese cars and thirty-two tracks from a 3D perspective, which is very impressive for a launch title. So much so that the game even ended up in a bidding war for publishers in the West, which THQ won. Then they realized they spent way too much money and replaced the save feature with a password system, which uh, fans didn’t really take lightly. Regardless, it is a very interesting title that got followed up by two more games, though none of these games have an achievement set yet unfortunately.

Army Men Advance (Game Boy Advance)
Release dates NA: June 5, 2001 (…seriously, what is with games releasing before the GBA came out)
EU: June 22, 2001
Sales Unknown
Average score 57% (Metacritic)

Now if we left critics out of the question, this game has a very high chance of being the actual worst game of the launch line-up. I’m surely not speaking for everyone but just a quick look at GameFAQs gave me the impression a lot of people hate this top-down shooter. I haven’t played it myself but when I looked at some gameplay (that doesn’t have any background music by the way), I can see why. Everything about the game is bland, from level design to actual gameplay. But if you are still interested in playing this game then please, don’t let me stop you, as there is a RetroAchievements set available. It looks to be a pretty simple set that mostly just involves the player playing through every level as both characters, with the hardest one being to beat the game on hard without dying. This game doesn’t have any masters yet, so if you’re interested in claiming the title as the first master of a game loathed by the internet, there you go.

And that’s it for the Game Boy Advance Launch line-up! There are a total of 4 games which I haven’t talked about, with most of them still doing good but they simply aren’t games I enjoy. It was already very tough for me to talk about Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2, so talking nonsense about games I don’t enjoy will just be filler text anyway. And even if you pay me money, I’m never going to talk about a football game, forget it. I’m totally letting by bias shine through here but if there’s one thing I hate more than Mondays, it’s football. Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this Game Boy Advance retrospective!

Game Score
Fire Pro Wrestling (Game Boy Advance) 80% (Metacritic)
77% (GameRankings)
Ready 2 Rumble Boxing: Round 2 (Game Boy Advance) 57% (Metacritic)
Top Gear GT Championship (Game Boy Advance) 78% (Metacritic)


It was interesting going through the line-up of Game Boy Advance launch games and seeing how two of the highest-rated games are still amongst the top for the system when it comes to critics, but probably not near the top when it comes to how they are viewed nowadays. Overall though, those two games as well as some others would make for a very solid line-up of games, that didn’t just have many highs, but also a lot of diversity. Ignoring my own bias against sports games (football in particular), almost every main genre has been covered here with at least one good game, aside from horror and RPG really. There were also many ports in the line-up, which would continue the trend of Nintendo’s handheld system being used for both original games and ports. Lots and lots of ports.

Although I did not cover the game due to it being mostly a port, Super Mario Advance is easily the most financially successful game of the line-up, crushing the competition completely with over 5 million copies shipped. I’m not sure about the least financially successful, but I’m going to guess either Tweety and the Magical Gems or Pinobee: Wings of Adventure takes that spot.

And that’s it for This Month In Retro! Next month we will be going far back in time to July 1991! Hope to see you there!