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Nintendo’s E3 Direct set the stage for a Game Boy Advance renaissance

After years of dashed dreams, Nintendo finally delivered the Direct event fans always dreamed of. The company was able to overcome historically overblown expectations and delivered a memorable E3 2021 presentation that saved an otherwise weak show. From Metroid to Wario, it felt like Nintendo obliged some of fans’ loftiest expectations over the years. You know a Nintendo show went well when The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild 2 wasn’t even the biggest talking point when all was said and done.

Nintendo Direct | E3 2021

What was most surprising about the presentation was that it was steeped in a very specific kind of nostalgia. It was a show for Game Boy Advance fans, and that sets the stage for a long overdue renaissance for the classic handheld.

The Advance era

For longtime Nintendo fans, the Game Boy Advance has become a criminally underappreciated system over the years. The portable launched in 2001 and featured an incredibly strong library of games. It was an era that saw Nintendo and other developers putting out some of their most revered hidden gems and helped show that portable gaming wasn’t a gimmick.

While fans have fond memories of the Game Boy Advance days, Nintendo has been selective about preserving its library over the years. Currently, there aren’t a lot of GBA games you can play on the Nintendo Switch … in fact, there aren’t really any at all. While the system is loaded with NES and SNES games, Nintendo has rarely offered the GBA the same kind of reverence its oldest systems get.

Sa,us shoots an enemy in Metroid Dread.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

A sudden change

That changed in an instant during Tuesday’s excellent Direct presentation. The portable’s influence is all over the 40-minute show. By the end of 2021, players are getting a proper sequel to Metroid Fusion, a traditional Wario Ware game, and a remaster of the first two Advance Wars titles. It was a showing custom-built for gamers who just missed out on the SNES era and were raised more on the GBA. Twitter user Woney for Nothing joked about the fan reaction to the show, tweeting: “Nintendo E3 direct grade, based on your age: For people over 35: A-. For people under 25: D+.”

This is a brand of hardware nostalgia that Nintendo has yet to dabble in, which is what makes it so exciting. A return to the GBA era opens a door for a whole list of revivals that have felt like pipe dreams for the past decade. Suddenly, it’s not a stretch to think we could get a remaster of a game like The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap or a continuation of the Golden Sun series someday soon. Perhaps a localized Mother 3 is even a reality now, too (OK, let’s not get out hopes up too much here).

Image used with permission by copyright holder

A hopeful moment

It’s a hopeful moment for fans who feared that a prolific era of portable game design was going to be lost to time. With the company moving away from handheld gaming and folding it into its console strategy, it felt like there might not be space left for those dedicated portable experiences designed for the small screen. After all, why produce a brand-new 2D Metroid game when players will be able to take a full console experience like Metroid Prime 4 on the go? Games like Metroid Dread and Advance Wars 1 + 2: Re-Boot Camp show that there’s still gas left in the tank for handheld classics.

Whether or not Nintendo continues to revisit its Game Boy Advance era likely comes down to how well these titles sell this holiday season. If Wario Ware: Get It Together! flops, that may signal that players have a more shallow nostalgia for the era that would be better served with a GBA Classic-style release. However, if titles like that manage to salvage Nintendo’s weak 2021, we may finally see the GBA treated with the same respect the SNES gets.

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Giovanni Colantonio
Giovanni is a writer and video producer focusing on happenings in the video game industry. He has contributed stories to…
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