On March 21, 2001, stores in Japan began selling the first units of the Game Boy Advance. There are few sentences that can better describe how far video games have come in the past decade than that.
Ten years ago, the words "Game Boy" were still synonymous with not just Nintendo's handheld domination, but the company's target market: children. Seeing how the DS and now 3DS are being marketed today make it seem like the Game Boy Advance came out one hundred years ago.
The Game Boy Advance, or GBA, was Nintendo's third major video game handheld system, after the original Game Boy and its successor, the Game Boy colour (the Virtual Boy, despite carrying the "Boy" moniker, wasn't exactly portable). And for the first time since the release of the original Game Boy, it brought with it a significant hardware upgrade; where the Game Boy looked like a NES you could put in your pocket, the GBA was a SNES you could put in your pocket.
Between 2001 and the gradual demise of the GBA around 2008-2010, over 80 million Game Boy Advance units were sold worldwide, making it one of the most successful video game platforms of all time. And yet, things didn't start off so well for the unit!
The Game Boy Advance most people ended up owning was the Game Boy Advance SP, a version released in 2003. This revision was necessary because, in a rare slip-up from Nintendo, the original GBA was a bit of a mess on the hardware side of things.
With a wide, flat body, the original GBA was uncomfortable to use, especially for the little hands it was being marketed towards. More critically, though, its 2.9 inch "reflective thin-film transistor" LCD screen simply didn't work very well, suffering from a lack of backlighting and glare issues.
The SP, with its "clamshell" design (that Nintendo still uses for its handhelds to this day) fixed both those problems, and also had the added benefits of looking classier and being easier to slide into a pocket or bag.
Two years later, in 2005, the third model of the Game Boy Advance - and what would prove to be the last Game Boy ever made - was released. The diminutive Game Boy Micro, which measured a tiny 50 x 101 x 17.2mm, was never a real commercial success for Nintendo, but its sleek design, size and ability to play GBA games (though sadly not older Game Boy cartridges) make it a cult favourite with Nintendo fans to this day (I play my Micro more than I play my DS, for example).
So happy tenth birthday, Game Boy Advance! I won't raise a glass to your continued success, since you and your entire family are, well, dead. Instead, I'm going to go fire up Minish Cap on my Game Boy Micro and waste the night away...