Grand Theft Auto Advance (as named on the title screen; the box art simply calls it "Grand Theft Auto") is a 2004 Grand Theft Auto title released exclusively on the Game Boy Advance. Notably developed with little to no involvement by Rockstar North, but by Digital Eclipse, the game is an eclectic mix of top-down gameplay from early 2D GTAs and stylistic design and gameplay elements from contemporary GTA games, with other unique features, such as speed indicators and significant variance in on- and off-road performance, added into the mix. The game is also the first GTA (set in the 3D Universe, anyway) to be released on a handheld console, predating its prequel Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories.
Taking place a year before Grand Theft Auto III, the game's plot begins with Mike and Vinnie, two Liberty City criminals, seeking to leave the city and retire from their mob life with what money they have earned from several small-time jobs. Before their planned departure, Vinnie convinced Mike to do one more job for the Mafia, during which he is apparently killed in a car bomb, talking the duo's money with it. The game then centers on Mike's quest to seek out those who have killed Vinnie, working for multiple Liberty City underworld bosses for clues.
Advance was originally conceived as a GBA port for III, before Digital Eclipse settled on the idea of a new Prequel storyline for III. However, the game's technical issues stemming from the limitations of the GBA (mainly its classic but still clunky top-down gameplay, choppy 3D graphics, and content downgrade), poor publicity, and its near-simultaneous release alongside big-hitting Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, led to the game being poorly-received and falling into obscurity. To this day, none of the characters unique to the game or any plot development in the game are ever acknowledged in succeeding GTA games, and the game itself is very much non-existent in the eyes of the official developers.
Although the official GTA website makes no mention of this game, its official website is still hosted in the Rockstar Games' domain here.
Grand Theft Auto Advance contains examples of:
- Bittersweet Ending: Mike is able to leave behind the criminal life and start over, but he had to kill his mentor to do it.
- Body Armor as Hit Points: Interestingly, one of the first two GTA games to start averting this, alongside the concurrently-released San Andreas. Whereas that game only allowed falling damage to bypass your armor, this game - which doesn't have falling damage because it's a top-down game - instead makes it so armor doesn't protect you from melee hits.
- Bond One-Liner: Mike is fond of spouting these after injuring/killing an enemy during missions.
- Canon Discontinuity: The game has by large been ignored by the official developers and fans alike, and is never directly referenced in subsequent games in the series.
- Disc-One Final Boss: Vinnie. A majority of the game is spent trying to find out who killed him and then you find out he faked his death. Mike kills him that same mission. There are five missions afterwards where Mike has to deal with King Courtney.
- Expy: Mike is one of Claude.
- Foregone Conclusion: Because the game is supposed to bridge itself to the beginning of III, it's expected that King Courtney survives after his final confrontation with Mike and custody by the police, and 8-Ball becomes Claude's paddy wagon mate in the introduction to III and escapes.
- Game-Breaking Bug: There's a glitch where if the player explodes too many cars at once, glitch cars can spawn on the road. Some of these glitch cars include those that were Dummied Out, where they take on the appearance of a Brit (hatchback based on a Mini), and others can cause the game to softlock if they spawn.
- Genre Throwback: To an extent. This game is played in the top-down perspective of the original Grand Theft Auto and Grand Theft Auto 2, and features songs and vehicles that were previously featured in those games.
- Greed/Evil Is Petty: The motives of the Big Bad Ensemble, Vinnie faked his death to steal Mike's share of their final pay, and when Mike steals it back, King Courtney calls a hit out on Mike for it.
- HeelFace Revolving Door: In one mission, Mike abducts Asuka Kasen's niece for the Columbian Cartel. In a later mission, Mike rescues that same girl for Asuka.
- Karma Houdini: King Courtney narrowly avoids getting killed due to the arrival of the police.
- Minimalistic Cover Art: The cover art itself consists of nothing more than an inverted version of the famous GTA logo backed by a grey background. It is one of the first post-III games not to adopt a comic panel-styled cover art.
- Money for Nothing: Much like 'III', money is meaningless late in the game, and there's little to spend it on.
- Tank Goodness: The "Tank", which is prominently used in the final mission to reach Cisco's plane.
- Top-Down View: Advance is the last GTA in the series to (as in permanently) feature the type of top-down perspective which characterized early GTA games. Though Chinatown Wars does have rotating cameras in isometric panned top-down views, the classic top-down views won't return until a certain mission in Grand Theft Auto Online.