An original Game Boy Advance SP with an IPS display

The Majestic Beauty of Game Boy Advances with IPS Displays

I rarely play handheld games these days. But occasionally, I get the itch to thumb through my humble library of Game Boy Advance cartridges, and a flood of heartfelt memories ensues.

In many ways, the Game Boy Advance is still the perfect handheld system for my needs. Released in 2001, its 32-bit hardware is incapable of rendering (truly) 3D games. But decades later, that technological restriction has its graces.

Strange Beauty

If I’m going to play a handheld game while languidly lounging or before bed, a full-blown 3D title like Mario Odyssey is often too involving. But because they eschew that extra dimension, Game Boy Advances games are often easier to process and play. There’s something very calming about only being able to move your character in four directions, or even just side-to-side, a la Space Invaders.

Visually, the Game Boy Advance’s low-resolution display also has its charms. The system’s technological restrictions meant developers had to render their games in a pixelated, cartoonish style. But the resulting visuals aren’t a compromise: They’re undeniably charming and inventive, with brightly coloured, dynamic sprite work that twists and flows at a respectable sixty-frames per second.

Wario overlooks a temple in Warioland 4

Warioland 4

A camp scene in Tactics Ogre: The Knight of Lodis

Tactics Ogre: The Knight of Lodis

The Game Boy Advance would be the last system to embrace this style: Nintendo released it in the latter days of 2D, and their next handheld, the Nintendo DS, would largely favour 3D visuals.

True Colours

I just gushed about how the Game Boy Advance’s limitations make it so charming. But technological restrictions also marred the system’s true beauty.

The first generation Game Boy Advance wasn’t even backlit, making it near-impossible to feast your eyes on the 32-bit goodness unless you were in an extremely specific lighting environment.

Two original Game Boy Advances outside in the sun with barely visible screens

Can’t see shit! (Photo credit: Paul Alvarez)

In fact, the screen’s narrow viewing angle and external lighting requirements are so exacting that it’s not unlike that map room scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark. Everything has to line up just right:

Map Room scene from Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark

Nintendo would address the lighting issue with the Game Boy Advance SP, which featured a built-in front light. But even this fix wasn’t quite right. The system’s visuals became brighter and easier to see, but at the cost of looking “washed out” and muted.

Frontlit Game Boy Advance SP

(Photo credit: realgeeeoff on Reddit)

Thankfully, modders have stepped in and elevated the Game Boy Advance to true greatness. By swapping out the system’s antiquated LCD screen for a higher-resolution IPS display, they’ve allowed the Game Boy Advance to show its true colours — and the results are glorious.

An original Game Boy Advance with an IPS display

(Photo credit: darkounetpigs on Reddit)

Various specialty shops sell pre-built Game Boy Advances with IPS displays for a few hundred dollars. I don’t have one myself, but I’ve been tempted to get one since discovering them. Seeing the Game Boy Advance games of my youth reinvigorated with such vividity would be a resplendent joy, indeed.

(Featured photo credit: MGT – Max Games Tech on YouTube)


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