noiseredux vs.

Posted on Jun 15th 2011 at 05:45:44 PM by (noiseredux)
Posted under Game Boy Advance

Welcome to a special co-production of the Transitions Blog and Game Boy Player Land. We teamed up to investigate the launch of the Game Boy Advance, a system which was released ten years ago this week in North America and went on to sell over 80 million units worldwide over the next decade.

Continue reading on dsheinem's blog: http://www.rfgeneration.c...y-Advance-Launch-1772.php

Posted on Jun 9th 2011 at 12:13:57 PM by (noiseredux)
Posted under Game Boy Advance, Shmups

Just a quick heads up! An article I orchestrated for is now up. The piece is an overview of the Game Boy Advance's library of shmups. We tried to be really thorough and go over imports as well as compilations and even borderline shmups.

Check it out here:

Posted on Apr 13th 2011 at 01:54:13 AM by (noiseredux)
Posted under Game Boy Advance

An article I wrote about the games that defined the Game Boy Advance was published on http://Racketboy today. Check out the rather sprawling article here:

Posted on Mar 29th 2011 at 01:10:52 PM by (noiseredux)
Posted under Game Boy Advance, podcasts

I'm a huge fan of the Retronauts podcast, and was devastated when it stopped. Thankfully it soon resurfaced as Retronauts Live with a whole new format. The revised podcast is now a call-in show rather than strictly a round-table. Episode 6 was released this week and the show is all about celebrating a decade of the Game Boy Advance. With that in mind I'd have to urge you all to listen. I even managed to call in and plug the GBPL blog. Enjoy!

Posted on Mar 9th 2011 at 01:15:36 AM by (noiseredux)
Posted under Zelda, Game Boy, Game Boy Color, Game Boy Advance

Last month The Legend Of Zelda turned 25. And because of this every single retro-gaming related website ran a bunch of features related to the series. So I figured I'd wait for the celebration to die down and then get into it here. Or rather, I just got sidetracked and forgot to get around to it until now. Whatever. But the series is certainly important to me. And as such it's important to this blog. Seeing as how the blog started as a way to showcase lesser known Game Boy carts, it should be noted that my purchase of the Nintendo Game Boy Player attachment for the GameCube was based almost solely on the fact that doing so would suddenly mean that there were a pile of Zelda games that I could play on my TV. So let's take a look at all those Zelda games that found their way to a Game Boy handheld.

The Legend Of Zelda was re-released as part of the Game Boy Advance's Classic NES series. That choice was certainly a no-brainer. The game is of course not only a high-point of the NES, but of gaming in general. It basically created an entire genre that meshed action with elements of role playing. The GBA port is excellent and cheap-n-easy to find on the after market. All GBA enthusiasts should have this one.

Surprisingly the sequel Zelda II: The Adventure Of Link also made it to the Classic NES line. Strange considering the phrase "black sheep" being almost synonymous with the game. Though for all the flack it receives, I'm a longtime fan of this one. The truth is, Adventure Of Link was actually my first Zelda game. I got it for my birthday soon after its release. At the time the first game was impossible to find in local toy stores, so this was my introduction to the series. Say what you will about it. There's a very unique and daring quest within. The GBA port is wonderfully faithful to the original, and considering it's probably the cheapest GB-related Zelda game to find in the wild, it's worth giving it a go even if you don't remember loving it the first time.

A Link To The Past is my favorite game ever. So I'm totally biased when I say that everybody should own this game either in its original SNES form, or here on the GBA. It looks fantastic on a GBA SP screen, although suffers slightly from a few oddly annoying voice samples that were added to the re-release. They aren't nearly as overdone as in the GBA port of Super Mario Bros. 2 though.

The GBA re-release is also notable for including a bonus game, the brand new Four Swords which would be the first multi-player Zelda game. It recycled sprites from Link To The Past which was welcome artistically, but it was also somewhat of a burden to play. Sadly unlike its GameCube sequel, there's no single-player campaign on the GBA game. This means that some of us (me) who don't have local gamer friends with their own GBA's and copies of the game never got the chance to delve in to this one.

Link's Awakening was released for the Game Boy in 1993, and was a total revelation. Although the GB's hardware was lesser than that of the NES, the graphics, gameplay and story of this one actually aligned with the SNES' Link To The Past. Playing the game on Game Boy hardware back then was stunning to say the least, as nobody realized that the handheld was capable of such things. Even to this day the title remains a cult-classic in the Zelda series, often considered the standard by which to judge all portable outings.

Link's Awakening received a Game Boy Color re-release in 1998 which adds to the game by giving it vibrant colors, an extra dungeon and even compatibility with the Game Boy Camera.

Perhaps the two most overlooked titles in the official Zelda cannon, Oracle Of Ages and Oracle Of Seasons are the definition of ambition. What began as an attempt to port the original Legend Of Zelda to the NES somehow turned into an original game, then three games, and eventually scaled down to two games. The misconception among gamers seems to be that these are two takes on the same game -- like Pokemon Red and Blue. But that's not the case at all. The two Oracle games are completely different and original quests. One relies heavily on puzzles, the other on action. One toys with time, the other with nature. But each of them are remarkable little gems that should get a bit more attention than they do.

Minish Cap would be the final Zelda game to come out on a GB handheld, and it's a solid affair. Admittedly it's the one that I've spent the least amount of time with as I personally got slightly bored with the shrinking and growing gimmick. However, I can certainly say that it's artistically great, borrowing heavily from A Link To The Past's art style and features some jaw-dropping visuals on the GBA. Fans of the heavy-puzzle side of the series will enjoy this one quite a bit, though the game's biggest criticism tends to be its brevity.

So there we have it -- the GB side of Zelda. What are your favorites and why?

Posted on Jul 18th 2010 at 01:13:50 AM by (noiseredux)
Posted under Game Boy Advance, Homebrew

Hooray for indie developers! Not only do they sink hours of their time into a game that possibly nobody will ever play, but they do it with such unselfish motivations. I certainly assume that Nathan Tolbert, the man behind the GBA title Anguna: Warriors Of Virtue spent so much time on his game not to be rich and famous, but instead to pay homage to games that meant a lot to him -- namely the Legend Of Zelda series obviously. And that's commendable. So many of us talk crap about weak games. We talk about what we would have done had we been the ones making the game. But how many of us actually sit down and spend the time to code a new GBA game. Well, not me. That's for sure. So I salute the Nathan Tolbert's of the world because they are the ones who now have the power to keep our dead consoles alive. You see, Anguna was released in 2008, the year after Nintendo themselves killed the Game Boy Advance.

Anguna is a very impressive independent release. It certainly looks far more professional than many homebrew games. And there's an incredible amount of detail included. Obviously the graphics are well-done as evident by the screens pictured. But what's really great is all the extras -- there are numerous secondary weapons to pick up, maps to find, a fully working save-feature, and even a catalog of the monsters you've come in contact with. Furthermore the game features five full dungeons to complete. This is really a deep Adventure RPG considering it was a labor of love that was worked on in free time. I'm certainly not saying it's as sprawling as a Zelda game, but it's easily the most vast GBA homebrew game I'm ever seen.

What's even greater about the game is the amount of post-release love the developer has devoted to it. There is a wonderful website kept at that hosts downloads of the game in both GBA and DS format, intakes bug reports, and even offers up maps and FAQs should you happen to get stumped.

If you're a Game Boy Advance collector you may want to order a physical copy of the cart as well while they're still available. Of course you could have the ROM for free, but a cart version not only makes a nice collectible, but it shows a bit of support for a hard-working indie developer. And I for one want to encourage game designers to continue to make new GBA releases. Speaking of which, I asked Nathan if he had any plans to make an Anguna sequel, and he basically said that he had been planning one for a while but couldn't find an artist. He's currently working on porting Anguna to some other consoles, but doesn't rule out another GBA release in the next few years. So head on over to and check out Anguna for yourself, and if you really enjoy it why not encourage Nathan to continue to help keep the GBA alive?

Posted on Jul 11th 2010 at 10:57:00 PM by (noiseredux)
Posted under Game Boy Advance, Fighters

Join the Game Boy Player Land blog in its ongoing quest to survey the arcade-centric landscape of the Game Boy's history in this latest installment that is so creatively titled Some GBA Fighters. As you might imagine, this post is going to focus on GBA Fighters, but as usual I'd like to point out that it's not a comprehensive list of every GBA Fighter. Nor is it a Best-Of or Worst-Of list. All it really is is me talking about games that I have. So let's get it on...

Dual Blades is a nice little original game that seems to pay pretty good homage to the Arcade Fighting craze of the early 90's. There's no doubt that this game borrows heavily from the Samurai Shodown series for inspiration. However it's certainly refreshing to see an original title make its name on the GBA and do something so interesting. As you can see from the screens above, the 2D graphics are spot-on and the blood flows heavily. The music is also like a soundtrack to a game you've played in an arcade, but can't put your finger on. Having said all that, the controls feel a bit clunky and awkward. I never really feel like I know what I'm doing 100% while playing this one, which brings it more into the button-mashing realm than the sort of strategy-learning-curve kind of concept that makes other classic fighting games, well... classics. I wouldn't say that this game is no fun, but it's definitely pale by comparison to some of its competition.

King Of The Fighters EX: Neo Blood is a pretty good entry in the long-lasting King Of The Figthers series. It certainly looks and plays similar to the older 16-bit iterations, which is welcome. The roster is deep, which is something fans of SNK Fighters should come to expect at this point. It uses the tag-team style of choosing two fighters that can be swapped in and out throughout matches. How you feel about this is up to you. I've never really been of a fan of this concept myself. However, the game is a lot of fun for the most part and has a big enough roster to keep you busy for a while. My only real complaint is the visually underwhelming backgrounds and overly generic music in a lot of the stages. I suppose I just expected more, though I've heard that the sequel more than makes up for all of this. Sadly I haven't played the second installment yet myself, though as it was published by Atlus, I certainly plan to pick it up as soon as possible.

Mortal Kombat Advance is basically a port of Mortal Kombat 3. Visually and audibly, the GBA does a stunning job emulating the PS1 or similar hardware that most players were used to seeing Mortal Kombat 3 on. The characters (and there's a lot of them!), the backgrounds, the music and sound effects are all great. Sadly, there's one majorly unforgivable problem with Mortal Kombat Advance. The AI is way too fucking hard. I mean really, unbelievably, brutally hard. You will not beat anyone unless you either (A) get super lucky, (B) figure out some repetitive cheap move that sucks the fun out of the game, or (C) set it to Easy. I have no idea who the game testers were on this one, but whoever they were they ruined what could have been an amazing game. Too bad.

I should confess my bias up front on this one. Super Street Fighter II: Turbo Revival is most likely my favorite GBA cart of all time. So I'm definitely going to say nice things about it.

Turbo Revival does an amazing job of bringing what I loved so much about Turbo on the SNES to the GBA. Amazingly, it takes the 6-button format that Street Fighter II is so well known for and converts it quite naturally to a 4-button layout without losing any of the comfort or intuition. The character sprites, levels, music and sound effects are all wonderful. This is in my opinion one of the first carts that any new GBA owner should pick up. Trust me.

Street Fighter Alpha 3 is incredibly impressive and shockingly ballsy. It pulls a huge roster into a GBA cart and manages to keep up quite well with it's PS1 and Dreamcast brothers. I personally never played the console editions myself, but I am a fan of Capcom Vs. SNK 2 EO which was released for the Gamecube. Incredibly this GBA port seems to hold up even against that title as well when discussing the sprites and fluidity of the controls. Although nostalgia keeps me a bigger fan of Street Fighter II, there's absolutely no denying what an incredible GBA title this one is.

Tekken Advance is brilliant. Or at least Namco is. What they did was take the roster and gameplay mechanics of Tekken Tagteam Tournament which had been released on PS2 and then completely de-made it into a 2D Fighter that would work to the strengths of the GBA. The result is amazing. The characters look just as awesome as they did in their original PS1 incarnations -- again demonstrating the true 32-bit power of the GBA -- and since the game wasn't forcing the GBA to pull off any 3D trickery that it wasn't capable of, instead we get a fantastic 2D Fighter that plays perfectly. Highly recommended.

So as you can see, with the exception of the completely destroyed Mortal Kombat Advance, there are some fantastic games out there for GBA if you're a 2D Fighter fan like myself. Personally, I'd still like to find King Of The Fighters 2. Also, I'm slightly interested in how well the quasi-3D Mortal Kombat titles are. But what other GBA Fighters am I missing out on? And which are just terrible?

Posted on Jul 10th 2010 at 12:42:03 AM by (noiseredux)
Posted under Game Boy Advance, Basketball

With Lebron James signing with Miami this week, the web's been abuzz with basketball talk. And though there's no denying that the James-Miami deal was totally newsworthy no matter how you feel about him or the Cavs, I was far more concerned about Paul Pierce becoming a free agent. You see I'm a big Celtics fan. And Pierce is a pretty big deal to me -- a big enough deal that I bought Backyard Sports Basketball 2007 solely based on the fact that it was the only GBA basketball game to feature Paul Pierce on its cover. Certainly that makes it a nice collectible for me, but how does it stack up as a playable game?

Backyard Sports Basketball 2007 features "NBA pros as kids" as its gimmick. But really, what you're getting is super-deformed (big-head-little-body) character sprites. That's perfectly cool with me. It's really just the same formula that developers have used to port fighting games to the Game Boy and make the sprites usable on such a small screen. Similarly, it's not too different from what the upcoming NBA Jam revival title is expected to look like. So while it's easy to pass this one over because it looks like a "kid's game," really it's a lot closer to classic arcade basketball games like Double Dribble or NBA Jam.

Mainly Backyard 2007 is a straight up arcade-style game, as made evident by it's three-on-three format. It also features the sort of power-ups (cyclone speed, on-fire ball, etc) and literally unbelievable dunks found only in the arcades. However, the game differentiates itself from the simple concepts of most arcade b-ballers by offering up a rather deep customization menu. Not only can you adjust the difficulty level or the length of the quarters -- you can also toggle fouls, power-ups, fatigue and shot assistance on or off. Basically you can adjust just how "arcade" or realistic you prefer the game to be.

Just as impressive as the in-game customization is the rest of the games options. You can create your own player, pick your team roster and manage substitutions. Your team has its own page with pictures of your players hanging out together and fully updated stats based on how your crew is performing throughout the season. Oh, did I forget to mention that? Although it's arcade style basketball, it allows you to follow your team (or three) throughout an entire season. If they're having a tough time keeping their shit together, then you can practice them on three skill-learning mini games.

Ultimately my feeling is that Backyard 2007 is an incredibly impressive and advanced basketball disguised as a so-called "casual game." In fact, up to this point I've yet to find a better basketball game for the GBA. Oh and if you're wondering, my Celtics team naturally features Pierce and KG, but we also picked up Lebron -- and kept him on the bench.

Posted on Jun 28th 2010 at 02:40:20 PM by (noiseredux)
Posted under Game Boy Advance, Sega, Classic Gaming

July's game for the Together Retro game club at was the Sega classic Outrun which I revisited with glee. Outrun is one of the games I remember always wasting a few quarters on back in the early 90's arcade at my local mall. It's a game of great simplicity -- drive a cool car as fast as you can, or lose. But even looking at the (dated?) game now, it's easy to see the appeal that it would have had on a pre-teen version of myself. Remember, the arcade version put you literally behind the wheel of a Ferrari and let you gun it toward the beach with a blonde in the passenger's seat. Any avid follower of Saved By The Bell and its ilk would have been drawn in.

The GBA port of Outrun is excellent in my humble opinion. It has a very 16-bit feel to it that holds up quite well to how my brain remembers the arcade original. The music, which you cannot forget to mention while discussing Outrun is just as great as ever. In fact, I'm now on the hunt for the soundtrack recording by the SST Band, as Outrun is often mentioned in discussions of best-soundtracks-of-all time. And rightly so. The GBA controls are responsive and satisfactory as far as I'm concerned.

Speaking of which, when I first started playing the game this past month I decided I would do so using a GameCube racing wheel in an attempt to recapture the feel of the arcade. The wheel I chose was this one, made by Intec. It's a nice smaller sized wheel that doesn't take up a ton of space if you don't have a huge game room. It features lots of buttons on both the left and right side, making it ideal for both lefties and righties -- or for switching between control schemes on the fly while making some crazy turns. Also, its built in suction cups cause it to firmly plant itself on my Ikea desk and integrate itself quite seamlessly with my Game Boy Player set up.

Unfortunately as fun as bringing the arcade home was, it turns out that I just could not beat the damn game with the wheel. So eventually I resorted back to my trusty Hori pad. The thing about Outrun is that it's not a terribly long game by any means. I beat it at least three or four times throughout the month in fact (see high-score picture below right for proof!). But what's nice is the choose-your-own-route dynamic of the courses. When you get to the old Robert Frost-style forks, you decide which way to go. I didn't end up beating every combination of courses myself, as I really couldn't keep track of which ones I had done.

I'm not sure if a score of 25359300 is actually any good, but it was my (recorded) high score of the month. I can't say I really even mastered the game as the truth is I never even figured out when it would be advantageous to hit the brake. Really my only strategy was to put it in high gear as often as I could take it, and to just ease off the gas whenever I had to take a sharp turn or make a daring pass. Somehow this worked out for me. At any rate, I can definitely say I had a lot of fun with this game, and it's certainly one of my favorite arcade racers of all time.

Posted on Jun 23rd 2010 at 05:59:18 PM by (noiseredux)
Posted under Game Boy Advance, Classic Gaming

For the first time of the Summer this year, my wife and I hit the beach this past weekend. We brought drinks and a nice lunch. The water still seemed a bit too chilly for swimming, but it certainly felt nice just laying under the sun. My wife is an avid reader, so she brought a book to pass the time. Surprise! Surprise! -- I brought my Game Boy Advance.

Now the art of selecting a beach game is tricky. As far as I'm concerned I usually need something that isn't too graphically intensive. Remember, you're sitting under a bright sun, so there's considerable glare no matter how you position yourself. Anything that has lots of detail is going to be a burden. Also, I a pause-button or turn-based game is a must. You have to be able to stop at any moment when you're at the beach because of the aforementioned glare, or well... just because this is relaxing time. Not intense time.

My beach game of last Summer was Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo. It worked well because each round generally doesn't last that long, you can pause at any time, and although it is a puzzler, it relies more on strategy than on agility. Also, there isn't an overwhelming amount of detail -- really just primary colors.

This year I decided on an RPG. It seemed like since I'd just be laying on the sand, I wouldn't mind taking the extra time to read the text and get into a story. Similarly, the battles would be turn-based, so I wouldn't have to rush anything. So now I'm three hours into DemiKids: Light Version and absolutely loving it.

DemKids is a spin-off of the popular Shin Megami Tensei series of games which also includes the cult-classic Persona series. The DemiKids games are certainly influenced by other games, but the result is nothing short of awesome. The game follows a group of elementary school children on a quest that overlaps both the year 20xx and another dimension ruled by demons. The current-day kid vibe seems to be reminiscent of the Mother series. And although I'm not a big Pokemon fan personally, the gimmick of recruiting a party of demons to do your battling for you is intriguing and not overly annoying in a gotta-catch-em-all sort of way either.

I know it's still early in the game, but so far I'm having a great time. A lot of times I won't bother starting an RPG because I feel like I don't have the time to commit to perpetuating the storyline, so I'll eventually lose interest. Of course having it as a beach game just might help.

What are your beach games? What criteria would you use to describe a beach game? Or do you just think I'm nuts for bringing a Game Boy so close to sand and ocean?

Posted on Jun 15th 2010 at 01:30:03 PM by (noiseredux)
Posted under Game Boy Advance, GBA, Bootlegs

Since I've been keeping the Game Boy Player Land blog, I've gotten a fair share of messages sent to me with various Game Boy related questions and comments. I love this sort of thing. People might send me a heads up on a rare cart popping up on eBay at a good price, or let me know about a title I've never heard of that I might like. Other times I get questions about various accessories, or technical specs, or similar subjects related to the Game Boy line. However the other day I got a really interesting message that got me thinking that I should share some information here for everybody who may have similar questions.

Here's a quote:

...something I need your help with.

I was very excited to find this at Gamestop and not so excited when I got home. Final Fantasy VI Advance. It has a completely different label on it. I thought it looked weird, but I didn't know what it was supposed to look like. If you study the case hard enough you can notice very small differences. It looks like a professional reprint or whatever you want to call it. The chip inside looks different than I've seen before, but I'm no expert on GBA games. I've only opened a few. It does have Nintendo printed on the chip. Anyway I've included photos. Mainly curious to see if the chip is legit. I'll probably return it either way. Let me know what your input is on it. Thanks a ton!

I no longer have my GBA, so I'll have to wait until I get my Gamecube hooked up before I can test it.

Thanks for the help! Take care!

Best Regards,

Dale was also thoughtful enough to take some very good pictures of his Final Fantasy Advance VI cart for my inspection, which he was nice enough to give me permission to use in this post:

Now right away the label on the cartridge gave me cause for alarm. Every single copy of every installment of the Final Fantasy Advance series that I've ever happened upon has been the same plain-Jane black-text-on-white label. However, that doesn't necessarily mean that this is a bootleg cartridge. Of course there exists limited edition releases, promotional copies, imports, etc. I'm certainly not going to pretend that I've seen every GBA cart in existence.

But that brought me to my first real red flag. I've gotten many messages in the past where people have shown me a picture of a GBA cart label that has Japanese text on it and asked if I could figure out what game it might be. And that's always a breeze. You see every cart has an AGB number on it. The AGB number is like a game's specific catalog number which can very easily be Googled. It's as easy as that.

Example, when I type AGB-AKWE-USA-1 into Google, the first thing that pops up is Konami Krazy Racers. Similarly, when I typed in AGB-ALLE-USA and expected to get Lunar Legend for my example, instead I learned that my copy of Lunar Legend is a bootleg that had fooled me until now.

Which brings me to my next item to look for. Once I realized that the AGB number on my Lunar Legend cart brought up nothing, I flipped the cart over and looked at the chip board under a bright light. Sure enough, the little green board did not say Nintendo. Generally this is a quick and easy test. However, this isn't always the case. Check out that picture above that Dale took of his Final Fantasy VI chip board. You can see that it actually does say Nintendo. And right next to it is an AGB number, which by the way was how I figured out for sure that his cart was a bootleg. Googling AGB-E06-02 brought up a Yahoo! Answers thread about a copy of Pokemon Emerald bought off eBay that -- sure enough -- turned out to be a bootleg.

And what was the telltale sign for our Yahoo! Answers Pokemon Emerald victim? The damn game won't save! That's a very common problem with GBA bootlegs. And in my opinion, it's the biggest problem with them. There's many collectors out there who feel ripped off because they're not getting the official Nintendo-approved product. To be honest, that's not my issue. Sure I enjoy finding a complete-in-box game, but it's not necessary. I have many cart-only games as I'm generally pretty cheap and I'll take what I can get. But if a game won't save, that makes me furious. Especially if it won't save because it's a fake. I should point out that my (apparently bootleg) copy of Lunar Legend saves just fine. Perhaps some bootlegs are of higher quality than others? But who knows how long it'll keep its saves for.

If you're a collector and feel concerned that a game you're after on eBay or at the local flea market might be a bootleg here's a few tips and pointers to help you get better at spotting phony carts in the wild.

First, a few pictures taken from Nintendo's own website on Anti-Piracy, found at





Notice the poor quality of the labels, especially in the case of Super Mario World. This is similar to the weird "fiery" version of Dale's Final Fantasy Advance VI above. But of course, this -- like all of the signs -- are not always present. Such as the case with my Lunar Legend. The label on that cart was very convincing.

Another helpful guide is found on eBay itself, since so many bootlegs carts seem to get distributed there, either knowingly or unknowingly. The full text can be found at and much like the Nintendo guide, it offers up similar pictures to compare.

Perhaps you noticed that both the Nintendo guide and the eBay guide both used Golden Sun as an example? That brings us to another valid point. Generally, the more popular the game, the more likely it is that it would get bootlegged. That is to say that there are far more Zelda bootlegs floating around out there than there are Urban Yeti fakes. So keep that in mind when you're out hunting for the classics.

Using the info that I've posted here, as well as the linked articles you should get a lot better at spotting fakes. But you'll also figure out that it's not always quick and easy to notice them. Many boot-jobs are rather well done, and can fool you until you really take the time to inspect it. Case-in-point, my Lunar Legend bootleg that revealed itself to me while writing this very post.

Oh, and if you're wondering how our friend Dale made out with his Final Fantasy VI bootleg that he unwittingly purchased, he sent me this update message just as I was finishing up this post:

Well I took the FFVI game back. I took it to a GS I've never been to before. I went there cause I had to pick up MGS: Twin Snakes. Anyway the people there were really cool about it. They were like "that is definitely a bootleg". They said it was a shame since it was such a good game. I was happy they didn't hassle me about it though.

Also... I think this copy is a little better than the other one.

Posted on Jun 1st 2010 at 12:25:20 AM by (noiseredux)
Posted under Game Boy Advance, Books

To celebrate the launch of the Game Boy Advance in 2001, Nintendo Power magazine decided to start a series of quarterly special editions known as Nintendo Power Advance. These quarterlies were significantly more expensive ($14.99) than the monthly magazine, and as you might have guessed -- focused solely on the Game Boy Advance. Sadly for we GBA enthusiasts only four volumes were ultimately released. And though certainly the reviews may have been a bit biased, each issue is actually a really awesome little time capsule of the year that was the GBA's first.

Generally speaking, each issue would feature in-depth walkthroughs and strategy guides for a handful of major releases. Then they would have a "buyer's guide" that would give half-page previews of upcoming titles. Sprinkled throughout would be various GBA-related news, advertisements, tricks & tips. So let us take a journey through the magazines' short lifespan.

Volume 1 (aka: the Premier Issue) (130 pages) was intended to announce the arrival of the Game Boy Advance system. Accordingly, the issue opens with an article entitled Introducing Game Boy Advance which offers an "actual size" picture of the new handheld, along with a breakdown of its specs, features and various accessories that were already available.

The featured games in this issue were:

Super Mario Advance
F-Zero: Maximum Velocity
Rayman Advance
Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2
Castlevania: Circle Of The Moon

The Buyer's Guide features:

Earthworm Jim
Super Dodge Ball Advance
Pinobee: Wings Of Adventure
GT Advance Championship Racing
Bomberman Tournament
Ready 2 Rumble Boxing: Round 2
Tweety And The Magic Gems
Hot Potato!
Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure
Fire Pro Wrestling
Top Gear GT Championship
Army Men Advance
ChuChu Rocket
Konami Krazy Racers
Iridion 3D

Volume 2's (130 pages) cover featured Mario Kart: Super Circuit. It also came with a subscription card that offered "Your Choice Free!" of either a Mario Kart: Super Circuit T-shirt, a pair of Nintendo Power Advance headphones or a  Pokemon Crystal Version Player's Guide. (Note:  If anyone has those headphones, I'd like them for myself.) This issue is of particular interest to me due to the inclusion of a full moves list for the entire roster of Super Street Fighter II, which is easily one my all-time favorite GBA releases.

The games featured in this issue were:

Mario Kart: Super Circuit
Advance Wars
Super Street Fighter II: Turbo Revival
Jurassic Park III: Park Builder
Lego Bionicle: Quest For The Toa

This volume also includes a section entitled Sports Arena which features:

ESPN Final Round Golf 2002
High Heat MLB 2002

The Buyer's Guide includes:

Mega Man Battle Network
Namco Museum
Jurassic Park III: The DNA Factor
Final Fight One
Klonoa: Empire Of Dreams
Tang Tang
Lady Sia
Lego Island 2: The Brickster's Revenge
Pac-Man Collection
Back Track
F-14 Tomcat
Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius

Volume 3's (138 pages) cover is dedicated to Golden Sun, Nintendo's very own 16-bit RPG retro throwback. And if that doesn't get your RPG mouth watering, the issue also features a section on the GBA re-release of the SNES cult-classic Breath Of Fire. The issue comes with that same subscription offer (still want those headphones).

The games highlighted in this volume were:

Golden Sun
Wario Land 4
Harry Potter And The Sorcerer's Stone
Breath Of Fire

Though the issue contained less featured games upfront, it seems appropriate due to the vast coverage required of two RPG's. The issue also added considerably more bulk to the Buyer's Guide this time out which included:

Tekken Advance
Midway's Greatest Arcade Hits
Disney's Donald Duck Advance
Jackie Chan Adventures
Spyro: Season Of Ice
Columns Crown
Tom And Jerry: The Magic Ring
Road To Wrestlemania
Spongebob Squarepants: Supersponge
Rampage Puzzle Attack
Cruis'n Velocity
Shaun Palmer's Pro Snowboarder
Mat Hoffman's Pro BMX
Madden NFL 2002
Monster Rancher Advance
Midnight Club Street Racing
Planet Of The Apes
Mech Platoon
Alienators: Evolution Continues
Dave Mirra Freestyle BMX 2
Tiny Toons Adventures: Buster's Bad Dream
Super Bust-A-Move
Hot Wheels: Burnin' Rubber
ESPN Great Outdoor Games: Bass 2002
Star Wars: Jedi Power Battles

The fourth and final volume was unique in that it only featured one game. Volume 4 (130 pages) served as a complete strategy guide to Super Mario World: Super Mario Advance 2. In fact the first 100 pages of the issue were spent offering in-depth walkthroughs for each level and breaking down the enemies, power-ups and minutia of my personal favorite Mario Bros. sequel.

The final Buyer's Guide included:

Sonic Advance
Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3
The Powerpuff Girls: Mojo Jojo A-Go-Go
Razor Freestyle Scooter
E.T. The Extraterrestrial
Puyo Pop
Nancy Drew: Message In A Haunted Mansion
Moto GP
M&M's Blast
Batman Vengeance
The Flintstone's: Big Trouble In Bedrock
American Bass Challenge
An American Tail: Fievel's Gold Rush
Motocross Maniacs Advance
Broken Sword: The Shadow Of The Templars
Salt Lake 2002
NBA Jam 2002
Inspector Gadget: Advance Mission
Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six: Rogue Spear
Jonny Mosely Mad Trix
Disney's Peter Pan: Return To Never Land
Ecks Vs. Sever
Bomberman Max 2: Red Advance and Blue Advance
Mike Tyson's Boxing
Monsters, Inc.
Planet Monsters
Zone Of The Enders: The Fist Of Mars
Guilty Gear X: Advance Edition
High Heat Baseball 2003
Breath Of Fire II

Sadly there was no Volume 5. Looking back it's unclear why. Perhaps it was the elevated price tag, considering that the same games were probably at least somewhat featured in the far cheaper monthly Nintendo Power magazine? Perhaps there weren't enough people like me who were interested in free Game Boy Advance headphones? Whatever it was, it wasn't a waning interest in the GBA system, as an overload of games would be released for the handheld over the following six years. And these four brief volumes of Nintendo Power Advance serve as a great overview of a year when one of the absolute greatest handhelds of all time was still in its infancy.

Posted on May 28th 2010 at 01:02:20 AM by (noiseredux)
Posted under Game Boy Advance

I've never been much of a PC gamer. And there's no real reason for that, except that maybe I just always preferred the plug-n-play ease of use offered by a console or a handheld. I never wanted to spend time screwing around with plug-ins or updating drivers. However in the early 90's there were a handful of PC games that I did have; ones that seemed too awesome to ignore. One such game was X-COM: Terror from the Deep. It was an extremely deep strategy game that focused on aliens in the ocean. The graphics were incredible and the battle system was complex. In fact it was too complex for the 14-year-old version of me. So I really never got very far with it. But it still always stuck in my mind as the sort of game I would really enjoy.

When it was announced that the Together Retro game club over at would be playing the original X-COM for the month of May, I thought to myself now wouldn't it be awesome if there was an X-COM port or sequel for the Game Boy Advance? And as I started doing a little research it turned out that there sort of was.

Rebelstar: Tactical Command was created by Julian Gallop, the creator of the X-COM series. Even more interestingly, it's actually a sequel to the original Rebelstar series, which was Gallop's line of games that predated and ultimately inspired the X-COM games. This may all sound a bit confusing, but what you really need to know is that regardless of what the title is Rebelstar: Tactical Command plays like a portable X-COM. Which is great news for fans of the series.

The game tells the story of a breed of aliens called Arelians that are controlling humans through some kind of brain-implant. It's definitely b-movie fodder, but at the same time the story is really only there to get the ball rolling. All that matters is your rebel force and the aliens arranged on a grid and ready to outsmart each other.

Graphically the game looks similar to other grid-based strategy games like Final Fantasy Tactics Advance. The sprites and backgrounds are simple -- almost reminiscent of a 16-bit RPG, though with slightly more detailed animations. Generally it appears that the simple graphics are usually the biggest plight that people have with this game. As far as I'm concerned the graphics are perfect. The characters are simple, but manage to show emotion when need be.

As far as the audio goes, I almost can't judge fairly. As it turns out the Options Menu allows you to turn the music on and off. By the time I discovered this I had already logged quite a few hours with the music turned off without realizing this. I just assumed there was no music for whatever reason. The music that I did hear was subtle and mostly ambient and moody. It was nice, but nothing amazing. For the most part I've played with the music off which leaves you with just sound effects -- guns firing, explosions, screams when some one dies.

The battle system is impressively deep. Not only is there the usual turn-point management necessary to a strategy game; there's also individual skill learning for members of your party, deployment based on characters' strengths and weaknesses, and even the possibility that a member of your party will panic if you don't keep the morale level high. In some ways the game is as intuitive as a game of chess, but in others it's amazingly complex. In a good way.

Luckily the first five missions are a rather in-depth training course that helps you learn all of the important battle and management techniques that will be needed in the following twenty missions. You'll find that as the game progresses the difficulty of each mission ramps rather steadily. Indeed I found that there were several missions that I had to replay several times. Because I really wanted to commit to this game without using a FAQ or guide, I even found that some missions I would have to save in the middle of and step back from for a while. I'd catch myself working on my strategy while driving the next day. That's certainly the sign of a compelling game.

When you really allow yourself the time to get sucked into this game, it definitely becomes amazing. I can honestly say that Rebelstar: Tactical Command has become a favorite Turn-Based Strategy game for me. Because I wanted to go through the month playing it without a guide, I didn't get to finish it. But I still plan to.

Posted on May 27th 2010 at 01:07:04 AM by (noiseredux)
Posted under Game Boy Advance, Shmups

In keeping with my recent obsession with playing various arcade-centric genres with the Gamecube Fighting Stick, I can't help but return to the Shmup in all its glory. As it turns out, there's plenty more of them released for the GBA that I stumbled upon since my first GBA Shmup post. A few of which I even got my hands on, so let's take a look at few more, shall we?

In my last GBA Shmup post I raved about Iridion II, although I had never played the first game. As it turns out Irion 3D is really quite different than the sequel. It should be noted off the bat that the graphics in Iridion 3D are excellent. The backgrounds are all extremely detailed and definitely show off what the GBA was capable of. In fact, visuals are even more impressive when you realize that Iridion 3D was a GBA launch title. Likewise, the music is fantastic. The game features a slightly generic, but nonetheless hyper and fun techno soundtrack. There's no denying that such music goes hand in hand with futuristic Shmups.

Having said all that, the truth is that Iridion 3D is far more awesome in theory than it is in reality. As incredible as the game looks and sounds, it really doesn't play all that well. First of all the controls utilize the inverted Y-Axis scheme -- meaning you have to push up to go down. Admittedly, that might be a bit nit-picky and more of a preference thing. The game also chugs along rather slowly, which seems to kind of go against the grain of the chaotic shooter formula. However the biggest problem with the game mechanic is the point-of-view. The camera is behind the spaceship, similar to the classic Star Fox on the SNES. Unfortunately it doesn't work as well here. Instead it makes aiming at anything far more work than it should be, and ultimately you find that your ship often gets in the way of your line of vision -- resulting in you crashing and burning because you never even saw the enemy fire. Iridion 3D is basically a solid effort that sadly just fell short (but was completely redeemed in its second installment).

Phalanx was originally released for the SNES in 1992, although it's generally more remembered for its bizarre and misleading cover-art rather than its gameplay. That's really too bad, because as I have just recently discovered from the 2001 port, Phalanx is an unbelievably perfect 16-bit Shmup. The controls are responsive, the scrolling is hyper without being overwhelming, the weapon upgrades are awesome and the bosses are robotic versions of marine life. What else do you really need?

There's certainly no denying that Phalanx borrows heavily from other popular Shmups of the day. All the genre cliches are there right down to the aforementioned robotic seafood. But what makes Phalanx work so well is the feeling that the developers were not trying to duplicate something successful just to cash in on it. Instead Phalanx plays out like an excellent homage to the classic Shmups in the vein of Konami's "holy trinity" of Gradius, Darius and Parodius. If you are a fan of such games, I can't recommend this one enough. It's easily one of my favorite GBA Shmups ever.

When Konami released their Arcade Advanced collection in 2002 it included a completely revamped version of the 1981 arcade classic Scramble. By simply inputting the trusty Konami code at the title screen you can play a brand new version of Scramble with all new graphics and sounds.

The gameplay is ultimately the same exact thing as the original. This means it's not incredibly fast paced, but it is still challenging. The big gimmick in Scramble is the fact that your ship is continually burning up fuel, so it's almost more important to be refueling rather than shooting stuff. Though this isn't exactly the ultimate Shmup, it's definitely a novel diversion for fans of the genre.

In 1989 there was a rather awesome NES game called The Guardian Legend that managed to incorporate elements of an action game with Shmup segments. The game is generally well remembered by a certain cult audience, and for good reason. In 2005 Namco attempted to make a sort of spiritual successor to The Guardian Legend called Sigma Star Saga.

Oh Namco, how you tried.

With Sigma Star Saga Namco attempted to combine an RPG with a Shmup. Maybe this isn't a completely insane idea. Both genres have rabid cult followings. But at the same time, they are two radically different genres, that present themselves in polar opposite gameplay atmospheres. Let me put it this way: when I play a Shmup, I mainly want to just shoot a bunch of shit without thinking about a story. And when I play an RPG, I want to slowly explore things and think about each move carefully. See the dilemma?

In the end though the main fault with Sigma Star Saga is that no matter how good Namco's intentions were (and I give them props for trying), really even if the visuals are spot-on, the Shmup portions don't amount to a very good Shmup. And unfortunately the same can be said of the RPG elements.

Okay, so after playing through all these GBA Shmups and the ones before I can say that really the only one I'm still really after is Darius R. Unless you know of another that I absolutely must get my hands on? Or is there another that's so bad I should avoid at all costs? Any comments are welcome!

Posted on May 18th 2010 at 12:19:53 AM by (noiseredux)
Posted under Game Boy Advance, Qwak, Jamie Woodhouse

Followers of my blog who happened to read my post about independent developer Jamie Woodhouse last month surely know that I'm a fan of his game Qwak. I was lucky enough to get one of the GBA cartridges when they were available for sale, but they recently went out of print. Those of you who were bummed out that you missed it -- and especially those of you who badgered Jamie (you know who you are) -- this is your lucky day: the GBA Qwak ROM is now officially available for any price you wish do donate. This was a bit of a surprise, and who knows how long it'll last, so scoop it up post haste at before it's too late!

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