All grown up.
At some point in your life, you stop taking trips with your family and embark on your own vacations to distant, exciting places in which to get drunk. Despite this fact, however, your family will still look for ways to drag you along on their vacations, and the resulting tension can be brutal.
I recently went to New York and D.C. with my folks - the lure of having them pay for most of the expenses was just too tempting for my broke ass. We traveled in an embarrassing tour bus that would dump us off in front of various landmarks. Everyone on the bus would scramble to take photos and go to the bathroom, then it was back on the bus for more sitting and waiting.
It might not have been any fun, but it was very educational. I learned a lot about some important historical sites and memorials. I learned to appreciate our nation's heritage. And, of course, I learned to turn down all future family vacation offers, broke or otherwise.
The Game Boy Player
Most of all, I learned exactly how valuable a Game Boy Advance can be. Sitting in the tour bus, all I would do is Game Boy, Game Boy, Game Boy. Thank you Golden Sun and Advance Wars for saving my sanity.
But when I came home, the GBA went back on the shelf. When I have the choice between a big console screen or a little handheld screen, I will more often than not choose to super-size it. The GBA might be great for staving off family vacation irritation, but can it compete with the allure of the big home consoles?
With the release of the new Game Boy Player, that's a tough question to answer. The Player is essentially a device that connects to the bottom of your Gamecube, allowing you to play the entire library of Game Boy games on your TV. It's like the Second Coming of the Super Game Boy. With an S-video connection and the right games, the Game Boy Player is a good accessory that increases your console library by a bajillion for a decent price.
Installation is rather breezy. You simply remove the hi-speed port cover from the bottom of the Gamecube, then ease the protruding connector of the Game Boy Player into the cutaway slot of the port. Using a penny, you then tighten two screws and whammo, you're good to go.
The resulting machine is no more than an inch taller than before. The Player fits nicely with the Gamecube design, almost as if they had this idea from the get go. The Player even remains on the bottom of the Gamecube during normal use and does not need to be detached. Problematically, certain carrying bags are designed for the exact dimensions of a Gamecube, so you might need a new duffel (or lots of pennies).
To use the Player, you first need to start up the Gamecube using the Game Boy Player Boot Up disk. This is merely triggers the Gamecube system to accept the input from the Player, which includes all of the hardware components of a Game Boy Advance - sans screen, of course.
Cartridges are inserted label side down. All Game Boy series games can be played, whether they are from the original Game Boy, the Game Boy Color or Game Boy Advance, though Kirby's Tilt And Tumble will demand some extra work. Even the eCard Reader works. A handy ejection switch on the side enables the Player to easily expel a cartridge, which practically shoots out like a bullet.
I tried the Game Boy Player with three different televisions: a Philips/Magnavox 27-inch, an RCA 27-inch and a Sony Wega 32-inch. In all three cases the Player worked fine. However, the normal composite video lacks a bit of visual clarity to properly transition between the low-res GBA to the big screen. It was only when I tried an S-video cable (in this case, the one from Monster Cable) that I started to appreciate the finer points of the Game Boy Player. The S-video makes a big difference.
Of course, certain games translate better than others. I played quite a few games using the Player, but the ones that truly shined were from the Castlevania series. The detail just really comes to life with the full screen treatment, and it's simply much brighter and clearer. Other games that really benefit from the Player include Metroid Fusion and the Golden Sun games. On the other end of the spectrum, the Sonic games never felt right; perhaps they depend too much on the LCD screen for that last bit of "sonic blur."
Gamecube & Player
The original screen resolution of the Game Boy Advance is 320 x 240. The Game Boy Player allows you to swap between this and a higher resolution. The latter fills more of the screen, but even with S-video tends to look less pleasing, as if the image has been stretched too far. Reportedly, future games will also take advantage of the Game Boy Player to access higher resolutions
There are also three options for frame smoothing: Normal, Soft, and Sharp. These options only make a difference with motion and animation output. Normal and Soft tend to work best on most games, whereas Sharp seems to create almost an artifact look to the intermittent frames.
They've also included twenty different kinds of visual frames. About half of them are positively ridiculous, but the ones that replicate the polished shine of a real Game Boy Advance look just fine. I don't understand why they decided to keep the "Press Z button for menu" at the top right. It's just imprinted on the frame, as if someone would forget about it so quickly.
The Z-trigger menu allows you to access other features, including hot swapping your games. By selecting this option, you can freely eject a game without turning off your Gamecube. This comes in handy when you have a big pile of GBA games to play through.
The Gamecube to Game Boy Advance link also gets some mileage out of the Game Boy Player. Since the Gamecube combined with the Player is essentially a big GBA, you can theoretically plug four Gamecubes with Players into one Gamecube. After you find a way to put five TVs in a room, you can play Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles! Of course, this would be both insane and stupid. Plus, the game has been delayed, so tough luck.
More logically, you can use the Gamecube to GBA link to turn your GBA a Gamecube controller. It works very well and allows you to retain the original control feel of the GBA. The L and R buttons are simply more responsive than the analog L and R of the Gamecube controller. As another option, the Gamecube L and R buttons can be remapped to the X and Y face buttons, proving especially useful for fighting games. There's also a Hori controller that duplicates the size and feel of the original SNES controller; the only difference is that the face buttons are shaped in the Gamecube configuration.
If you have a Gamecube and a large library of Game Boy games and are more interested in playing them at home like a shut-in than on some giant tour bus, the Game Boy Player is a cheaper solution at $50 than either the basic GBA or the new GBA SP. I think the price could have been even more competitive if they included a free game, but as it is, the Player is still a good deal. While you won't be able to take it with you on the next vacation you've been forced into, you will be able to start your very own Game Boy Vacation at home.