The Fascinating World of GBA Music Albums
BY PAD CHENNINGTON
On my YouTube channel, I’ve had the opportunity to showcase and review some fascinating music releases; The “two-of-a-kind” Macintosh Plus Floral Shoppe Reel-to-Reel and the mystifying b e g o t t e n 自杀 Box Set and all the mystery that came through with that release, just to name 2 of my favorites, but today... Do I have something truly special for you.
You and I are going to be taking a look at an online music label that specializes in releasing albums on Game Boy Advance cartridges. Yep, you heard that right!
OasisLtd. Is dropping full visual albums playable on your GBA that also come with full box art and an insert to house the cartridges, and you and I are going to be taking a look at it all today from the packaging to the process of how this husband and wife team over at OasisLtd. has brought that classic nostalgia of opening a boxed Game Boy Advance game into the music world, all paired with an exciting new way to experience an album release.
As of right now, OasisLtd. Has released 3 albums on GBA cartridges, those being: mingkurray’s holographic, Be Careful’s Liminal Cove, and TUPPERWAVE’s Vaporwave / Future Funk mega-classic from 2018 To you baby, with love.
Beginning their label last year in 2020, the North Carolina-based OasisLtd. First got the idea for a GBA-related music release thanks to the artists Sleep Pattern and mingkurray. While they were in the early stages of prepping for ming’s release of holographic, Sleep Pattern and mingkurray stumbled upon some TikTok videos of an old cartridge of SpongeBob episodes on GBA. For those who remember or had them at the time, back in the 2000’s Nintendo’s official GBA video lineup featured a handful of cartoons and movies like Shrek 2, and seeing these after so many years gave Mingkurray an idea.
mingkurray immediately reached out to OasisLtd. And told them “We need to put holographic on GBA. Sleep Pattern says it’s possible”. The group then fell into a massive GBA homebrew rabbit hole all through the night and figured out that a visual album on Game Boy Advance would actually be 100% possible!
Fueled by the nostalgia of picking up those GBA boxes off a shelf in a store and rushing home to unbox them, as well as 2021 being the 20th anniversary of the GBA system, the team got to work in bringing this idea to life.
“Sourcing cartridges was the trickiest thing we had to figure out - initially we came across some that worked with microSD, which were pretty expensive, and for whatever reason didn't work with GBA SP models... So we dove deeper and found out how people load their ROMhacks onto cartridge to share around or put up for sale on marketplaces like Etsy & eBay around the web. We picked up the best GB cart flasher in the game - the JoeyJr. from BennVenn.com - and scooped a few Pokemon ROMhacks off Etsy to test it all out.” - OasisLtd.
Thanks to the GBA homebrew community and all of the advancements that have been made over the years in GBA modding, getting the content onto cartridges was actually quite easy for the label once they understood how to do it. Everything was built off of the same stuff powering the SpongeBob episodes on the GBA, and thanks to the homebrew program known as AVI2GBA, as well as a video tutorial from the dude who Christopher Nolan’s latest movie “Tenet” on Gba (which is absolutely hysterical), the label was able to successfully flash their first cartridge with their own video ROM.
From there, it was a matter of sorting out ROM playback quality vs the limitations of the GBA hardware, cartridge size vs sourcing reliability, available packaging vs. customs solutions, and in the end, OasisLtd. Settled on a fully made up double-cart format, all paired with replica GBA boxes that included insert trays to prevent the carts from moving around on the inside.
One of the first things I noticed when popping the cartridges out of the inserts was how the side A and side B of the albums are signified through the ESRB rating in the corner, such a clever touch that made me crack a smile the first time seeing it. Tupperwave’s To you baby, with love is, in my opinion, an already certified Vaporwave classic, and seeing this fan favorite drop on such a unique format was definitely going to guarantee these were all going to sell out very fast… which they, of course, did.
The games also come with full back art as well, mingkurray’s holographic for example, featuring some screenshots from the visual art present on the GBA cartridge as well as the full tracklist, all just really making this truly feel like a complete game you’d, you know, pull off a store shelf from back in the day. For fans of super chill hip hop instrumentals and tranquil, atmospheric beats, holographic is 100% for you. These airy and grainy grooves are perfect material for a rainy day or staring out into the cosmos on a starry night. “as she sleeps”, featuring darien shields, is one of my favorite cuts on the album, definitely check it all out when you get the chance.
Be Careful’s Liminal Cove is another stellar release you can find on the OasisLtd. Catalogue, more atmospheric trap percussion and mellow moods spawning images of endless virtual jungles and rainy seashores in your head, a really nice 1-2 combo to go with holographic. With a handful of collaborative efforts on the album as well, the tracks feature a wide range of styles and attitudes that perfectly coincides with the imagery on the album cover. What setting will you want to conjure up next?
Another nice touch is that the albums come housed in protective cases; anytime a label provides a plastic sealable pouch for cassettes or a poly bag for vinyl releases, I always find that to be the cherry on top, so OasisLtd. doing this for the GBA cartridges is definitely a baller move in my book. Good looks on that.
OasisLtd. Re-shells each cartridge they order with a different color shell to fit the vibe of the album. Currently, there are 5 Pokemon GBA colors available for them to order, but RetroModding.com is working on some cool things to enable them to go even wilder with their creations.
After re-shelling, the label flash their custom ROMs and check to make sure each cartridge boots up on a GBA. After this, they cut and fold each insert tray and box to house the carts. In the beginning, each GBA copy took over an hour of involved hands-on time to put together, which they quick began to notice wasn’t very sustainable, so for To you baby, with love and onwards, they figured out how to tweak their design templates and program their own little die-cutting machine to at least tackle the lengthiest part of the assembly process - the cutting and scoring. As of today, OasisLtd. Is still figuring out how to source more carts quicker and work with even larger multi-ROM cartridges to increase fidelity and runtime, as well as looking into GBA booklet prints to include for future runs. Just another addition in making this feel like a true Game Boy Advance release.
When speaking to OasisLtd. and asking them if they have any future releases aimed to be on GBA format as well, they told me they got 9 more releases currently on schedule, I was maybe expecting them to say 1 or 2 more or a repress of these 3 if anything, but 9?! Absolutely wild.
The label is aiming to make their second year of existence more focused on visual albums, GBA cartridges and VHS tapes which they do as well are super important to them.
“It's always been our commitment to make a physical version of everything we put out available from Day 1 and both VHS & GBA format releases have been incredible for providing the artists involved with real, tangible rewards for their efforts.” - OasisLtd.
The duo are also dreaming up releases on every console they can possibly think of, casting a wide net in terms of nostalgic interest vs. feasibility of course, and plan on taking this whole
“music albums on video game format”-idea to the next level in the upcoming months.
“music albums on video game format”-idea to the next level in the upcoming months.
“Our intent was never to be a platform for super established folks like Saint Pepsi, George Clanton, or the other HUGE names that we all love, but to help foster all the crazy talented emerging artists that're still pouring into the vaporwave scene and pushing boundaries 10 years after it's inception. Pretty much everyone we've engaged with or met online or through our submissions email has been an inspiring, incredible human being and the connections we've made along the way are something we wouldn't trade for anything, especially coming off a year in which human interaction felt so increasingly rare. So we do our absolute darnedest to be as artist friendly as possible and always keep sight of the actual, brilliant human individuals behind the alias.” - OasisLtd.
I luckily still have my old Game Boy Player attachment for the Gamecube from back in the day, so I hooked everything up to see these carts on the big screen and what a cool experience it was, every time I think i’ve seen it all in regards to weird musical formats, something else just comes my way and blows my mind, and OasisLtd., give yourselves a pat on the back because these are incredible. They have also made the GBA ROMs for the album releases available over on their Twitter for those who are interested in checking out the visual material or for those who just missed out on the physical releases.
From the packaging to the colors of the carts themselves, there is so much potential here for really, really cool releases on this label, and they are already taking it to the next level; check out the Hyper Limited GBA Console Bundle they did for mingkurray’s holographic, 2 custom hydro-dipped and refurbished Gameboy Advance consoles that were made to celebrate the release of holographic, big shout out to the lucky fan who was able to pick these one of a kind items up, and I can’t wait to see what OasisLtd. has in store for us in the future.
Until next time, stay safe and keep on groovin’. Much love, ur boi, Pad Chennington.
"Also known as "Youtube's Vaporwave Valedictorian", Pad Chennington is a content creator who has created a substantial following on YouTube for his videos discussing all things Vaporwave. Starting in the Fall of 2017, Pad's videos range from reviews to breakdowns, interviews to unboxings, and much more, always revolving around odd and interesting music genres found throughout the internet. Pad has also recently released an album in February titled "CONTRAST" that is available as a free download via the My Pet Flamingo label."