Game Boy Advance Video Series Lets You Watch Shrek
I used to watch my cartoons on my Game Boy Advance.
You may have forgotten the The Game Boy Advance Video series, but I’m here to delve into it and remind you of it and all of its pixelated glory.
The Game Boy Advance Video series allowed gamers to watch shows and movies on their GBA. They came in opaque white cartridges instead of the classic gray color typical of GBA games, and were released in 2004 by Majesco. You could watch them in color and sound – although if you were using an SP you would have to live with the lack of a headphone jack.
There was a wide range of shows from Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network. Sometimes shows were given their own game cartridges, such as the SpongeBob Square Pants Collection, with four episodes on it. Other times, the collections would feature various episodes from multiple shows. Cartoon Network’s first Game Boy Advance video collection has The Sinister Adventures of Billy and Mandy, Johnny Bravo, Ed, Edd ‘n Eddy, and Courage the cowardly dog. (I’ve had Pokémon GBA Video: Johto Photo Finish, which featured two episodes of Ash and his battle with Gary in the Pokémon League.) Beyond video game spinoffs and family-friendly cartoons, there were even movies that came to it, like Shrek.
Watching videos on your GBA at 160p wasn’t great, but in a pre-Netflix and pre-tablet era beggars couldn’t choose. There is nothing quite like the sheer thrill of watching Pokémon, out loud without a headset, on an airplane. It probably bothered everyone around me and it was portable entertainment for a kid at its best! From my recollection, I would say watching 2D cartoons was bearable. However, looking today at images from films like Shrek, the low resolution was very noticeable as the pixels significantly blurred the 3D animation.
Nintedrew, a Nintendo enthusiast and retro game collector, posted a video sharing his full collection of videos and made a breakdown of the technology inside the cartridges. Most of the collections had an old regular ROM chip like in any other GBA game. However, there was a special exception where a combo pack of Shark story and Shrek had about three hours of content on them. And, while it’s fun to say, “You can watch Shrek on your GBA ”, it was actually a bit of a technological feat of its time.
Nintendrew gets into the nitty-gritty of tech, but basically the movie combo pack had a proprietary 3D memory storage system that allowed developers to expand the storage of a standard Game Boy Advance game and allow 64 MB of memory. For comparison, the average maximum storage on a normal ROM for TV packs was around 32MB, which makes the Shrek and Shark tales Movie combo pack the example of peak performance in the GBA generation. The developers still had to reduce the resolution to a paltry 112p, but even then it was at the forefront of what the GBA could do.
Today, streaming entertainment and game consoles are mingling like it doesn’t matter. The Nintendo Switch has Hulu and even a dedicated streaming app for Pokémon now. But that was not always the case. Before having tablets to download movies, before having consoles with streaming services, there was the Game Boy Advance Video, in mind.
While portable DVD players existed, they weren’t something you just wanted to take with you like a handheld. There was something admirable about the way the series pushed the capabilities of the GBA and really served as a first test case for the appearance and function of portable entertainment. It’s funny to think that maybe, Shrek on GBA was kind of a pioneer in portable entertainment.