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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:

  1. Ambient, light is just filling up the area.
  2. Front lit, the light source is directly between you and the medium.
  3. 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.

This is particularly prevalent in gaming, especially if you are playing on a handheld.

Compare and contrast Green Boy Color, which is when video game graphics emulate the Game Boy's iconic monochromatic green palette. Contrast Who Forgot The Lights?, games where you can't clearly see what's going on without adjusting your monitor's brightness.


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    Gaming Consoles 
  • Game Boy:
    • The original has 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 doesn't have a light, but a full-color scheme. Some games were also dark on light, such as Pok√©mon Gold and Silver/Crystal and the ports of Dragon Quest, 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.
    • Game Boy Advance:
      • It 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?

    Video Games 


  • Boktai: Inverted. 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 SP1 with the backlight turned off) the screen and colors are best in direct sunlight.
  • Castlevania
    • Castlevania: Circle of the Moon: It's difficult to play on the original GBA because the colors are too dark in the beginning, and using a light accessory doesn't help. Later systems and subsequently ports lack this issue.
    • Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance:
      • It attempts 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, 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.
      • This over-saturation causes blood to look pink.
  • The Legend of Zelda:
    • The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past: The GBA port makes the cracks in the walls, which you have to break through occasionally, too hard to see. Fortunately, it can be played with the SNES palette.
    • The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap: Several color settings are included to account for the different ways the game can be played. On television with the GameCube's Game Boy Player, on Game Boy Advance, on Game Boy Advance SP, etc.

Driving Games

  • F-Zero: Maximum Velocity: As one of the earliest GBA games, it uses an extremely high contrast between the road and the scenery. No matter how badly you are lighted, you can always see the road.

Platform Games

  • Eek! The Cat: It has a color palette dimmed down far more than most SNES games for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. s well as the Amiga game it was dolled up from.
  • Donkey Kong Country: Even though they all were released after the GBA SP, the ports for GBA were extremely brightened up from the originals. In particular, this makes Glimmer's Galleon in 2 and Floodlit Fish in 3 much easier due to the brighter lights.
  • Sonic Advance Trilogy: The third game has different color settings to suit different Game Boy Advance backlight arrangements.
  • Super Mario Advance: When it gets featured in Super Mario All-Stars, ports of most of those titles 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.

Role-Playing Games

  • Final Fantasy:
    • Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Playing the original title with the original GBA means it's not always easy to see what is going on in your info screen.
    • Final Fantasy Tactics Advance: It has 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.


  • Doom:
    • The Game Boy Advance version has more than one color scheme to compensate for the different lighting possibilities of that system.
    • An early patch adds several "gamma correction" settings to lighten the game, to help compensate for the terrible backlighting of CRT monitors commonplace at the time.