GT Advance Championship Racing is the US version of the Japanese game Advance GTA, which is a well-executed racing game for the Game Boy Advance that, much like Gran Turismo, boasts licensed vehicles from manufacturers such as Honda, Toyota, Nissan, Mazda, Mitsubishi, and other Japanese car makers and features a robust championship mode that will reward you with unlocked tracks, additional cars, and performance parts depending on how well you race. For the most part, GT Advance Championship Racing remains unchanged from its Japanese counterpart with the exception of one seemingly minor oversight: the lack of a battery-save feature.
While this might initially seem like no big deal, its significance quickly becomes apparent after picking up the game. In a cost-cutting effort, THQ has replaced the battery-save feature of GT Advance with a password system that completely hinders the loading and saving aspect of the game. Whereas saving and loading is done automatically in the Japanese version of GT Advance, the US version forces you to retrieve a 16-digit string of upper- and lowercased letters, numbers, and symbols every time you unlock a new track, new car, or new performance part, which happens quite often throughout your championship career. In fact, unlike other racing games that require you to complete an entire season before they reward you (by unlocking certain elements of the game), the championship mode in GT Advance will unlock a new track when you place third, a new performance part every time you place second, and a new car every time you take the checkered flag on any given race. That means you'll spend a lot of time jotting down and looking for passwords every time you play the game. The password system makes even less sense when you consider that GT Advance is a handheld game--after all, it's not very convenient to carry a paper and pencil for passwords everywhere you go.
The unfortunate lack of the battery-save feature aside, GT Advance is, at its core, a very robust and graphically impressive racing game. In all, there are 48 cars in the game--all of them licensed--although only about half are available to you from the start. You can enhance the performance of all of these cars by upgrading certain components, including the engine, suspension, muffler, limited-slip differential, ECU, chassis, body, air filter, and even the seats. These parts are interchangeable between all your cars, so once you unlock the stainless steel muffler, for example, all your cars will receive that upgrade. In another nice touch, these upgrades will, in some cases, change the physical appearance of your car. Adding an aero kit to a Nissan Skyline GT-R, for instance, will give it a taller wing and a more aggressive chin spoiler. Additionally, some upgrades have multiple levels that can be unlocked more than once for an added boost in performance.
The game's championship mode has four different classes, each of which has eight different racetracks, for a total of 32 courses in GT Advance. These tracks are divided into five categories--circuit, highway, city, winding, and dirt--and they all vary in difficulty and length. Only the beginner class is available to you immediately, though, as the three others have to be unlocked. Control is fairly straightforward, with the A and B buttons controlling your cars' gas and brake respectively, while the L and R shoulder buttons control your cars' manual transmission. The digital D-pad gives a surprising amount of control over your steering, and the game actually incorporates some more technical aspects of racing, such as oversteering and maintaining a proper line.
The game's graphics are what you would expect from a first-generation Game Boy Advance game. While the cars aren't 3D polygons, they're drawn with numerous sprite frames, so their 3D appearance is believable nonetheless. There aren't many peripheral objects--like trees, buildings, or grandstands--along the Mode 7-like tracks, but the backgrounds and track surfaces are detailed enough to keep eye-candy fans happy. GT Advance also offers a significant amount of replay value thanks to its versus mode, which lets two Game Boy Advance units connect to one another using a link cable, and anyone who manages to play through all four classes in the single-player championship will be treated to a kart racing mode as well.
It's really a shame that THQ opted to adopt a password feature instead of the battery-save option, because it has added a lot of hassle to what would otherwise be a very fun game. Those of you who can afford to spend a few extra dollars for the Japanese version of the game should do so, since the menus are entirely in English--plus, there's no lockout feature to keep Japanese games from playing on US Game Boy Advance units.