GBA enhanced GBC games: The Game Boy Color had a great library of games but always served as a stopgap between the then ageing Game Boy and the upcoming Game Boy Advance.
The Game Boy Color released in October 1998, almost ten years after the original Game Boy but was replaced with the Game Boy Advance in only 2 and half years later. A lot of games that were in development for the Game Boy Color ended up being moved over to the GBA. Some of these late GBC games came with special enhancements if played on game boy advance and each game holds up today pretty well. There are 4 Game Boy Color games that have Game Boy Advance enhancements and they are: –
GBA Enhancement: In Shantae, you will unlock and expanded colour palette and a unique Tinkerbat transformation.
The Tinkerbat transformation allows the Shantae to fly and somewhat breaks the game in my opinion. When played on a Game Boy Color, unfortunately, you will always have a blank space in your dance transformation menu. The 3DS port is the same game in a Game Boy Color emulator so it does not support any of the enhancements afforded by the GBA.
Wendy – Every Witch Way:
GBA Enhancement: Every Which Way adds a whole additional world, aptly named ‘Advance World’ consisting of three levels. I think it is a shame that 20% of the game is locked away unless you are playing on a Game Boy Advance, I cannot see any technical reason why these levels would not work on GBC.
Legend of Zelda Oracle of Ages/Seasons:
GBA Enhancements: The Advance Shop. In this GBA exclusive shop, every item costs 100 rupees. This store can only be accessed when either game is played using a Game Boy Advance. Like Shantae, the shop is missing in the 3DS Virtual Console ports due to the games running in a GBC emulator, sadly locking out any GBA enhancements.
The shop sells three items, an Advance Ring, a Gasha Seed & Magical Ring.
The Advance Ring will become the GBA Time Ring in Ages or the GBA Nature Ring in Seasons once appraised.
As far as I know, these are the only games that included exclusive functionality when played on Game Boy Advance hardware. With them being so late in the GBC’s library, they are pretty well made. Developers at this time had mastered GB and GBC hardware and were putting out some really impressive games. Naturally, being so late in the GBC’s life cycle some of these games are quite tricky to pick up due to limited releases, especially Shantae which sells for a lot online!
How Does a GBC Game Know to Run in Enhanced Mode?
For these enhancements to work, your Game Boy Advance will need to know if an enhanced game has been inserted. It does this through a resister check, you can find more technical information here: –
& here: –
The shortened version is, the GBA runs a check on start-up to check what kind of mode it needs to boot into. If a regular GBA game is inserted it will boot into GBA mode, however, if a Game Boy Color game is inserted it will load in Game Boy Color mode. These GBA enhanced GBC games contain a flag which will run with enhancements if played on GBA but will not on GBC.
Game Boy Color GBA Enhancement Hacks
Some good news is, these enhancements do not actually take advantage of the Game Boy Advances hardware, meaning they can run on regular GBC with some editing of the registers in each game.
This means you can access the Advance Shop in Zelda Ages / Season, unlock that final dance transformation in Shantae and access the barred off additional levels in Wendy: Every Witch Way.
To do this you will need to patch your game using something like LunarIPS, please let me know if you would like to write a guide on how to do this. The best place for all rom hacks is romhacking.net.
You can find the patch for each game here: –
Zelda Oracle of Ages GBA Patch
Zelda Oracle of Seasons GBA Patch
Shantae Force GBA Patch
Wendy: Every Witch Way Force GBA Patch
As well as unlocking additional game content, these patches will also include the custom palettes used for the GBA version which are brighter and more vibrant.
How to Play GBA Enhanced GBC Games Without a GBA
Another option would be playing your patched ROM on DE-10 Nano board running MiSTer FPGA. MiSTer is a great project for any retro game enthusiast to get into. MiSTer will allow you to play the game at pretty much 100% accuracy on your TV and Game Boy Color integer scaled through MiSTer looks amazing!
One last method to play GBA enhanced GBC games would be via emulators. Most Game Boy Color emulators will play games exclusively in Game Boy Color mode, so no enhancements. Luckily for us, we can either patch the ROM like above or use the emulator lr-mgba. With lr-mgba you have the option to change the model you’re emulating, so set GBA and you will get the enhancements.
Are There Only Four GBA Enhanced GBC Games?
As far as I know, there are only four games that were made to have enhancements when played with a Game Boy Advance.
Nintendo’s handhelds later had a feature where you could insert your GBA game into the Nintendo DS to unlock certain items in-game, which feels somewhat reminiscent of the old enhanced GBC games. WarioWare let you unlock a unique video in the DS version and Advance Wars Dual Strike had additional wallpapers from each respective game you inserted, Advance Wars or Advance Wars 2.
If there are any other enhanced games out there, please be sure to let me know. This quirky feature is emblematic of a strange period in gaming history, the gap between generations and I think it’s quite interesting.