I love the Game Boy Advance. This little portable was truly one of the last major hurrahs in traditional 2D gaming. It was a platform in which development progressed much as it did during the 90s – an old style of game development. Unfortunately, it was also a platform limited by the hardware itself. Each iteration of the handheld is limited in some way that makes approaching it in 2015 a bit difficult. Sure, I’ve swapped in a GBA SP+ backlit screen into an original “phat” GBA shell which is, of course, the most comfortable way to play GBA games on real hardware – but it’s still not optimal. What I’ve always wanted is a great way to enjoy GBA titles on a television screen. When Nintendo announced the Game Boy Player, I thought it was to the answer, but the reality is very different.
The Game Boy Player just isn’t a great product. It does a poor job of displaying GBA games on the big screen. While actual GBA hardware was used internally, the refresh rate differs from what the GameCube itself was outputting resulting in a refresh rate mismatch that results in a duplicate frame popping up every few seconds. The means stuttering during gameplay – something you wouldn’t expect from a Nintendo product (at least until Mario Kart 8). On top of this, the actual image quality was dull and dim in a way that prevented games from truly looking their best.
Video quality is also an issue. This player was released during the CRT days yet was limited to either 480i or 480p output – both of which utilized scaling resulting in softer, less attractive output. 480p should have been razor sharp but, even with the included “sharpness” setting, the image looks processed and ugly. The results are even worse when 480i output is paired with a scaler as it becomes difficult to to maintain sharp pixels in a low resolution title when scaled to 480i.
The last real issue centers on input lag. Even on a real CRT, games simply didn’t feel as responsive as they should when running through the player. Mario just wasn’t as responsive as on an actual GBA and that made playing the games less enjoyable.
Ultimately, nothing felt quite right yet there was nothing that could be done – patches were not available on consoles and the disc was never updated. We were stuck with this software and left with a sub-par solution. In comparison, Nintendo’s own Super Game Boy ran rings around the Player with full 240p output, responsive input, and plenty of options. It was a fantastic way to play Game Boy games while the Player couldn’t even compare to a decent emulator.
Things improved a bit when the GameCube loading software SWISS added 240p support for the Game Boy Player. Improved image quality and less frequent skipping (due to a change in refresh rate) helped create a more enjoyable experience. Yet, it was still dull looking and relatively laggy.
Now, though, there is a proper solution. That solution is Game Boy Interface.
You can find it at the above link and it’s excellent. Each and every problem has been dealt with and the end results are exactly what I had hoped for almost 13 years ago. It’s fast, responsive, and beautiful. You can see it in action in the video I’ve put together alongside this piece. The creator, Extrems, seemingly worked on the SWISS software as well. It’s nice to see an active GameCube homebrew community still alive and well today.
There are three versions available (standard, low latency, and ultra low latency). The standard version offers a number of additional features including zooming but I prefer the ULL version. This version runs at a refresh rate remarkably close to a real GBA screen and, as such, runs at the correct speed without any frame skipping. It also produces less than 1 frame of input lag resulting in a very responsive experience.
Of course, this isn’t something you can just pop-in and use straight away.
You’ll need a method for loading homebrew GameCube software from an SD card or a modchip of some variety. In my case, I purchased the Datel SD Media Launcher. It’s basically an Action Replay disc with a GC memory card to SD adapter. Simply load up your GameCube with the disc inserted and you’ll be presented with the contents of the SD card. Choose the DOL file (think EXE) of your choice and away you go.
With Game Boy Interface, the software loads up whichever cart is inserted into the Game Boy Player. It’s much faster to start than the Game Boy Player in 240p mode and really only requires a single user input before starting up. Of course, if you’re using a modchip, it’s possible to burn the software to disc and boot straight into the game.
The only real issue I can level at the solution stems from the fact that many GBA games were created with color palettes designed to appear visible on the original, non-backlit GBA. As a result, garish hues sometimes mar otherwise beautiful visuals. This isn’t usually a huge problem but it definitely has a negative impact on certain games. It’s something to consider. At least Castlevania Circle of the Moon finally looks just right.
It’s a strange time for the GBA these days. It hasn’t quite caught on in the typical retro game fashion. Prices are still reasonable and it’s easy enough to get a hold of most games. It’s for this reason that I feel it’s the perfect time to jump back into the system and really explore its library. I put a hold on collecting for the system a while ago but, with GBI, it’s pushed me to start up again. Definitely give this a shot.