Nintendo’s Game Boy tore up the market and proved its worth as a successor to the popular Game and Watch handheld upon initial release in 1989. The numbers are impressive – the original console, Game Boy Pocket and Color shifted nearly 120 million units in total worldwide before being retired. The Game Boy Advance stepped up in 2001 with a couple of extra buttons, better graphics and sound, racking up just over 80 million sales of all versions produced.
These handhelds might be dusty, broken and out of batteries by now – but luckily you can now enjoy every original, Color and Advance game on your PC with Visual Boy Advance (VBA). Development may have ceased a few years ago but VBA is still available, still serviceable and 100% free!
Grab Your Version
I’ll be testing the Windows version of the Gameboy Advance emulator here, which is easy enough to setup. Simply download the .ZIP from the downloads page and move the executable file you find inside to a location of your choice. You can now run VBA at any time by double clicking this program.
Linux users can also download source versions for compiling from here, or by checking their distribution’s repositories for the binaries. The most up-to-date Mac OS X version I found lives here at Softonic, although older versions are hosted on the official downloads page too.
VBA-M is a fork of the (now discontinued) VBA, although amongst the changes are UI tweaks so if you’re following this vanilla guide, things won’t quite look the same. Those of you with a GameCube or Wii may be interested in a fork of VBA-M that works on their consoles, hosted at Google Code. There’s even a PSP version!
Features, UI & Games
First up, I’m using version 1.7.2 on Windows here – not one of the more recently updated forks. The reason for this is that the emulator works painlesslly as it is, and if all you’re interested in is a quick game of Tetris or Dr Mario then it’s unlikely you’ll need much else.
Support is extensive – original Game Boy (*.GB), Game Boy Color (*.GBC) and titles optimized to use the Super Game Boy adapter are all present, as well as GBA (*.GBA) titles too. As is the golden rule with all our emulation articles, I can’t tell you where to find ROMs, and I must add that downloading ROMs that you do not rightfully own is technically stealing.
Of course, if you’ve got a box of cartridges in the attic and nothing to do with them, ROMs are the answer. If you’re really stuck and can’t find your childhood classics try a few private BitTorrent trackers, but remember the legal stuff.
The emulator itself is fairly straight forward, albeit with a lot of extra options that you’ll probably never mess with. With VBA open simply click File then Open… and locate a ROM to begin playing. The Options drop-down list provides a quick way to change the default joypad layout (arrow keys with Z/X as the A and B buttons and A/S as the left and right triggers) or tweak graphics options.
Every single Game Boy and Game Boy Colour title I ran worked flawlessly, with perfect sound and graphics. The main issue I found was the initial size of the screen, with a tiny resolution by default everything is really small. A quick visit to Options then Video should help you sort it out (and unleash the pixels).
Game Boy Advance games also worked without a hitch, and certainly provides improved graphics and sound. As you’d expect, all ROMs can make use of save states which allow you to return to anywhere in the game by taking a “snapshot” of what’s going on. If you like to show off (speed-runs, that kind of thing), you can also record .AVI video or take snapshots from the Tools then Record menu.
Don’t let that tiny screen you’re greeted with upon opening up a Game Boy ROM put you off, sometimes you simply have to revisit the classics. Gameplay over visuals, right? Nintendo fans with a DS might be interested in our two-part homebrew guide, and if you’re after more emulators then we have it covered:
- 7 Great Cross-Platform Emulators For 5 Classic Computer Platforms
- 6+ Nostalgic Emulators For Vintage Video Gaming Enthusiasts (1972-1980)
- 10 Retro Emulators To Play Early 80s Home Consoles On Your PC (1981-1986)
- 10+ Emulators To Play Old-School 16- And 32-bit Consoles On Your PC (1987-1993)
- 8 Great Emulators To Play Modern Home Consoles On Your PC (1994-2001)
Have you tried Visual Boy Advance? Is there any better GB/GBA emulator? Any favourite titles from the system? Remember all that time you spent playing Tetris? Confess in the comments, below.