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Back That Light Up

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Top: GBA version.
Bottom: Original SNES version.

Different viewing media affect how colors look on them, but also are even further affected by how the medium is lit.

There are three main types of lighting that apply here:

  • Ambient, light is just filling up the area.
  • Front lit, the light source is directly between you and the medium.
  • Back lit, the medium is between you and the light source (medium can't be opaque, of course).

There are different ways to make the light, but those just change the exact look of the colors. Those three types change the contrast. Different colors wash other colors out depending on the setup.

One effect of this is that in a presentation, you would likely use different colors for the same graphs, depending on whether a graph is on printed paper, or on a PowerPoint slide.

Where this is particularly prevalent is in gaming, especially if you are playing on a handheld. Take the Game Boy line.

  • The original Game Boy had no light and a monochrome color setup. Thus almost all games were dark colors on a light background. This was also true with the Neo Geo Pocket. There was, however, a short-lived Game Boy Light which came with an electro-luminescent screen; however, it was a power guzzler, and it never left Japan. Various third-party devices, such as the Handy Boy, also attempted to introduce some light sources, with mixed results.
  • The Game Boy Color didn't have a light, but a full color scheme. Some games were also dark on light, such as Pokémon Gold and Silver/Crystal and the ports of Dragon Quest I, II, and III. Other games were light on dark, particularly NES ports. Same with the Neo Geo Pocket Color. There were, however, a lot of unofficial lights that could plug in the Link Cable port.
  • The Game Boy Advance has either no light (original model), a frontlight (first SP line AGS-001), or a backlight (second SP line AGS-101 and Micro). This can actually affect the contrast of the colors. No light is actually harder to see than the other systems. Front light is easy to see, but washes out all the colors a bit. Back light is most like a regular TV. Games made specifically for the GBA also had different color setups than ports from the SNES and other home systems.
    • The early development kits for the GBA did not display colors the way the GBA itself would display colors, resulting in the earlier games appearing too dark and harming the reputation of many early titles like Castlevania: Circle of the Moon. Nintendo quickly learned of the problems and sent updated devkits to all developers to mitigate the problem until the SP came around. Unfortunately, this resulted in these games looking oddly bleached when played with a backlit display; this was an especially big issue when porting SNES titles (as pictured above), with audiences arguing that games like Final Fantasy VI had their entire atmosphere altered for the worse as a result of the bleached graphics.
  • Handhelds that always had backlights, such as the Atari Lynx, Game Gear, Nintendo DS, PSP, have generally the same color setups as home console games. Unfortunately, backlit displays wash out completely in bright sunlight. At least you can see okay indoors, eh?


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     Action Adventure  

  • Castlevania
    • Castlevania: Circle of the Moon is difficult to play on the original GBA because the colors were too dark in the beginning, and using a light accessory doesn't help.
    • Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance attempted to correct this by having much more color saturation and giving Juste Belmont a blue glow that is hand-waved by stating in the supplementary guides that the Belmont and Belnades bloodlines mixed sometime shortly after Castlevania, giving Juste magical powers including the glow.
      • For 200% map completion in Harmony of Dissonance, you may have to switch to a lit system just to see the castle map better, since it is hard to tell which rooms you've missed on the original GBA.
  • Some complained that the GBA port of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past made the cracks in the walls, that you had to break through occasionally, too hard to see. At least they let you play with the SNES palette.
  • Inverted with the Boktai series. All of the GBA games require sunlight and the DS game can use sunlight. (There was an actual UV sensor in the cart that affected gameplay. After all, you are killing vampires in this game.) Anyone who has used a TV knows that sunlight + screen = glare. However if you play it on the original GBA (or SP 1 with the backlight turned off) the screen and colors are best in direct sunlight.

     Driving Game  

  • F-Zero: Maximum Velocity, one of the earliest GBA games, used an extremely high contrast between the road and the scenery. No matter how badly you were lighted, you could always see the road.

     Platform Game  

  • Happened with the Super Mario Advance games, ports of most of the titles depicted in Super Mario All-Stars, to account for the original GBA's lack of a backlight. The middle and bottom rows of this image depict the specific palette shift involved from SNES to GBA.
  • Even though they all were released after the GBA SP, the Donkey Kong Country ports for GBA were extremely brightened up from the originals.
  • Eek! The Cat for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System has a color palette dimmed down far more than most SNES games as well as the Amiga game it was dolled up from.

     Role Playing Game  

  • Final Fantasy Tactics Advance had several color settings supposed to even out the color differences between different forms of display. Not just for light and no light, but also one optimized for TV using the Game Boy Player.