If we're to look at its games, we'll be sure to find a few duds, like the Genesis Sonic port, but, as you know, bad games can be found on any system anyways. Yet, the GBA is blessed with a lot of good games, and you don't really have to dig deep to find those: the token Nintendo franchises, the three Castlevanias, some great arcade Capcom games ports...
I understand not being able to make out what's going onscreen would be a letdown though, and there's no denying the jump in quality when the SP came out.
Still, I found the original Game Boy screen difficult to decipher without a powerful source of light, like most people, but it didn't stop me to enjoy the library, long before improvements like the Light Boy, the Game Boy Light... even were available. And I'm not the only one, judging by its success. As bad as the screen may have been, few people would mention the GB as "most disappointing ever".
Compared to the first Game Boy, the original GBA screen is bliss, and it's a little hard for me to fathom millions of people unable to see the games in most lighting conditions. Experiencing difficulties at times? You bet. And I wouldn't want to play in full sunlight (I tried). But, those are small issues, especially at the time of release (few people had experienced things like the Pc Engine GT/Turbo Express, let alone the LT).
I'm aware of compromises they had to make every so often. The second Castlevania has more detailed graphics, but is rather average in the sound department, when the first Castlevania had state of the art sound. But again, when you look at other consoles, you'll find plenty of weird stuff like that, such as two versions of the first Final Fight on SNES lacking two player mode for example (and you had to have both versions in order to have access to all three playable characters).These issues can be annoying, but do they matter that much when it's all said and done? Hardware limitations, lack of memory, budget problems... have always been part of this industry, not just the GBA.
You got me interested, some people actually thought the GBA could deliver 3D, what, a la N64? I honestly didn't know, I suppose marketing went into play there.Anyone really interested in the system before release should have known what to expect, though. Anyways, taken from what it is, "a SNES on steroids", the GBA is one of my favorite systems of all time as well, and I felt the lack of 3D at a time when it seemed every other console had given up on 2D... refreshing. But, that's a matter of opinion, entirely.
I was disappointed with the GBA Micro revision, personnally. No Game Boy/Colour backwards compatibility, a screen on par anyways with the Backlit SP revision. Little to no appeal, beyond collecting purpose. But there
are certainly worst systems out there. Like the Hartung Game Master, but that's another story.