ByLiv Sommerlot, writer at
Liv Sommerlot

Still have that old Game Boy Advance hidden away in a box somewhere? Can't bring yourself to get rid of it what with all those great memories the two of you shared together in the back of your parents' station wagon? I can relate!

The GBA was the first handheld system that made us feel like we could carry around a full-fledged console in our pocket, what with its 32-bit memory and dual 8-bit stereo sound. For the first time we could play even the most epic of games on the go! And companies took full advantage of our handheld euphoria by putting out some truly great games.

So many little gray cartridges, so little time...
So many little gray cartridges, so little time...

Whether you're a fan of tactical warfare, story-rich RPGs, or even a little action/adventure, there's a whole wealth of games to play on the Game Boy Advance—games you might have missed, games you've played ten times over, games you told yourself you were going to play at some point but then the NDS came out so you never did—which is why we've devised this handy list of some of the best games released for the GBA.

As a quick note, this list doesn't include ports and remakes of games from older systems as I want to focus on games made exclusively for the Game Boy Advance platform (otherwise I might as well just make a best of SNES list!), but that doesn't mean I love them any less.

I still love you 'Super Mario Advance 4: Super Mario Bros. 3'! ...why the hell do these games have such long names?
I still love you 'Super Mario Advance 4: Super Mario Bros. 3'! ...why the hell do these games have such long names?

At any rate, sit back, relax, and whip out that little purple brick—it's time to get our nostalgia on!

All-Time Best Game Boy Advance Games (in no particular order):

Advance Wars

  • Developer: Intelligent Systems
  • Publisher: Nintendo

I've played so much Advance Wars (as well as its sequel, Advance Wars 2: Black Hole Rising) in my time that to this day, I can still replay Andy's, Drake's, and Sensei's theme songs from memory. Advance Wars was fun, addictive, and the most energetic take on tactical warfare ever released in game form.

Pit your army against the forces of other nations' by overtaking cities, bases, and ports, manoeuvring your troops and expertly launching air and sea strikes in turn-based combat across massive maps. It's not uncomplicated, but if you're new to these types of games (as I was when I first played) there's an in-depth tutorial to walk you through its mechanics.

One of Advance War's main draws is its colorful cast of characters (many too young and inexperienced to ever actually be given command of an entire army, but I digress), its music and the quality of its animation. War has never been this fun!

Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga

  • Developer: AlphaDream
  • Publisher: Nintendo

Mario's first non-Paper-Mario RPG since the original Super Mario RPG back in 1996 comes in the form of Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga. In fact, Superstar Saga was actually developed by original members of the Super Mario RPG team, which explains the brilliance of its storytelling, tongue-in-cheek wit and music. It would go on to spawn three sequels as part of the "Mario & Luigi" series, as well as a crossover sequel with Paper Mario.

Superstar Saga is an RPG that stars Mario and Luigi, pitting the brothers against the nefarious Beanish witch Cackletta in the Beanbean Kingdom. Similar to its spiritual successor, Super Mario RPG, the villain is NOT in fact Bowser (a welcome change from the Mario series as a whole). The writing and localization are brilliantly done and will keep you entertained for the entirety of the game. Not to mention the fact that the unique twist on RPG battle systems is a refreshing escape from beaten-to-death turn-based fights.

If you're on the lookout for a new Mario game to play, a new RPG to try out, or simply an amusing, colorful romp that will leave a smile on your face, Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga is a good bet.

Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire

  • Developer: Game Freak
  • Publisher: Nintendo

There's no way we couldn't include a Pokémon game on this list, and Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire is more than deserving. Pokémon FireRed and LeafGreen were wonderfully done remakes of the original Pokémon Game Boy games, but as we're limiting this list to original games Ruby and Sapphire take the cake. For the first time we could play Pokémon in 32-bit with the full-color graphical overhaul such a beloved series deserved.

Ruby and Sapphire follow the general flow of their predecessors—become a Pokémon trainer, capture Pokémon, travel around to eight different gyms, defeat the Elite Four, be the best there ever was—but this time we're introduced to the Hoenn region and its 135 all-new Pokémon. A number of new features were also included to add more depth to the world of Pokémon, such as the Double Battle system, Pokémon contests, and Pokémon abilities and natures, both of which enhanced overall customization.

While perhaps not the best Pokémon games ever released, Ruby and Sapphire were solid entries to the Pokémon saga that took the world of catching monsters to a new level of immersion and introduced a number of series standards.

Final Fantasy Tactics Advance

  • Developer: Square Enix
  • Publisher: Nintendo

Final Fantasy has long been a household name, and fans of its first tactical outing on the original PlayStation had long been clamoring for a sequel. They received it in the form of Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, the not-quite-sequel but not-quite-not spin-off that returned players to the world of Ivalice—a world that would live on in not only future tactics games, but would even go on to enjoy the limelight in main series release Final Fantasy XII.

Final Fantasy Tactics Advance follows the story of four children—Marche, Mewt, Ritz and Doned—who are magically transported to a world called "Ivalice" upon discovering an ancient book. It turns out this world was created by Mewt in an attempt to better the lives of him and his friends, but Marche knows the world isn't real and attempts to set things right again. In doing so, he recruits allies, destroys crystals and takes on the evil keeping them trapped in this make-believe world.

With its in-depth battle system, epic story and rich cast of characters, Final Fantasy Tactics Advance was a great new addition to the Final Fantasy Tactics saga. Fans of RPGs, tactics games, and Final Fantasy in general won't want to miss this high-fantasy jaunt through the world of Ivalice.

Golden Sun

  • Developer: Camelot
  • Publisher: Nintendo

No Game Boy Advance list would be complete without Golden Sun. One of the first major RPGs released for the GBA system, it's still heralded today as "arguably be one of the best 2D-based Japanese RPGs created for any system." While its story and characters abided by many of the genre's major tropes and tendencies, its gameplay and battle system were pretty revolutionary at the time, and have yet to be recreated as successfully in other games.

Golden Sun follows the quest of Isaac, Garet, Ivan, and Mia throughout the fantasy world of Weyard as they attempt to reclaim the four Elemental Stars (the key to unlocking alchemy) from a band led by villains Saturos and Menardi. The characters in the game, as well as the four major elements of the game world, are divided into four categories: Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Mercury (earth, fire, wind, and water, respectively), and Djinni of each element can be found throughout the world and equipped on characters to modify hit points, Psynergy points, and other statistics (as well as teach certain skills).

Golden Sun would go on to spawn two sequels, Golden Sun: The Lost Age, which is almost essential if you've played the first game, and Golden Sun: Dark Dawn, set years later and following the plight of the characters' descendants.

Mega Man Zero

  • Publisher: Inti Creates
  • Developer: Capcom

There's no one who hasn't at least heard of Mega Man (or "Rockman" in Japan), though unless you've played the Mega Man X series you may not be as familiar with his ally Zero. This first installment of the Mega Man Zero series for the GBA retains all of the best features from previous Mega Man and Mega Man X games while introducing new features (and a new plot) to further flesh out the series.

Run, jump, slash, shoot, and hack away at enemies as the blonde bombshell Zero after he's awakened from a 100 year sleep following the events of Mega Man X. Human scientist Ciel has recruited him to aid her and her band of intelligent, self-aware androids called "Reploids" as they're hunted by an army of android Pantheons led by Zero's former ally X. While most of the gameplay elements are similar to its predecessors, new features such as the Cyber Elf System—single-use aids with either temporary or permanent effects on Zero or the game's levels—add new levels of depth and customization to the standard Mega Man song and dance.

Be prepared for twists and revelations in the storyline, as well as some seriously difficult gameplay—many players and critics have labeled this the hardest game in the Mega Man series—but if you're up for the challenge, the reward is well worth it (along with all that well-deserved pride).

Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones

  • Developer: Intelligent Systems
  • Publisher: Nintendo

Though the Fire Emblem series never saw the popularity here in the west as it did in Japan (nor the same amount of releases), what games were released outside the land of the rising sun fostered enough support for the series that new installments are now brought over without question, and for good reason! The Fire Emblem games are vast, epic, rich with story and characters, and have one of the most extensive, tactical-based battle systems of any RPG series (it was actually the inspiration for future tactics-based games such as Ogre Battle, Final Fantasy Tactics, and Disgaea).

Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones was the second Fire Emblem game released in the west, as well as the second Fire Emblem game for the Game Boy Advance. It further developed and expanded on the features of its predecessors, but followed a story and continuity unique to itself. Play as royal siblings Ephraim and Eirika as they defend their homeland of Renais and attempt to stop Grado from destroying the world's five Sacred Stones and unleashing their sealed demons upon the world.

With its sweeping story and engaging battle system, Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones is an installment of the epic saga you won't want to miss.

Metroid Fusion

  • Developer: Nintendo R&D1
  • Publisher: Nintendo

There's no way any fan of Nintendo franchises or the Metroid series missed this gem when it was first released in 2002, but for those who actually need a reason to play this fourth installment in the Metroid series, just ask any game critic—it was given three separate awards of excellence upon its release and is still widely praised for its action-oriented gameplay. If that's not enough of a reason to pop it in your old GBA, I'm not sure what is.

The Metroid series follows the adventures of bounty hunter Samus Aran, and her most recent exploit in Metroid Fusion has her facing off against a vicious species of virions known as the X Parasites aboard the Biologic Space Laboratories space station. Developed by the same team that worked on Super Metroid for the SNES, the gameplay and feel of this GBA iteration are vastly similar (after all, why fix what's not broken?) but with new features, such as mission-based objectives and animated cutscenes that further develop the more-plot-heavy series successor.

Whether you're a fan of the Metroid series or not, Metroid Fusion is an action-filled romp that makes full use of the Game Boy Advance's hardware and abilities.

Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow

  • Developer: Konami
  • Publisher: Konami

No list would be complete without a Castlevania game and Aria of Sorrow is considered by most to be not only the best Castlevania game for the Game Boy Advance, but also a well-respected contender alongside top-lauded Castlevania games such as Symphony of the Night. With its combination of side-scrolling gameplay and role-playing elements, it's a unique amalgam sure to appeal to fans of excellent games and gothic horror alike.

Aria of Sorrow is the third and final installment of the Castlevania series on the Game Boy Advance (but the 22nd Castlevania game overall if you take into account all its iterations and Japanese releases). Its story follows Soma Cruz, a transfer student in Japan who just so happens to have been selected as a potential vessel for Dracula's reincarnation, thus granting him occult powers. He uses these powers upon being summoned to Dracula's castle, where he must do battle with others who would wish to inherit Dracula's powers. While the gameplay is similar to its predecessors, Aria of Sorrow adds a new feature called Tactical Soul, which allows Soma to absorb enemies' souls to gain additional abilities.

Go ahead. Be a hero. Erm. Dracula... reincarnate...

The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap

  • Developer: Capcom
  • Publisher: Nintendo

The Legend of Zelda series has produced at least one game for nearly every Nintendo console, and the Game Boy Advance is no different. While a port of A Link to the Past had already been released on the GBA, coupled with a new, multi-player Zelda adventure entitled Four Swords, The Minish Cap was the first (and only) stand-alone new Zelda game on the GBA. While not the most exemplary or paradigmatic of the series, it brings with it the typical Zelda charm and addictive gameplay we've all come to know and love.

The story follows Link and his new companion Ezlo, the bird-like talking hat with the ability to shrink Link down to the size of the Minish. Over the course of his quest he'll take on Vaati and restore the Four Swords, both of which are key plot points further developed in the Four Swords and Four Swords Adventures games. While much of the gameplay is similar to previous Zelda installments, The Minish Cap introduces a few new features such as Kinstones and figurines.

In the end, though, it's a Zelda game, and who can resist a Zelda game?

Boktai: The Sun is in Your Hand

  • Developer: Konami
  • Publisher: Konami

Quite possibly one of the most original, unique games ever to be released on the Game Boy Advance (or any console ever), Boktai is a mixture of action-RPG and stealth tactics all wound up in a story about hunting vampires. What is it that makes the game so unprecedented? Well, the cartridge itself includes photometric light sensor that measures the amount of sunlight exposed to it. Fill that sucker up with sun, and vampire hunter Django's "Gun Del Sol" charges, allowing you to fire bolts of sunlight at your UV-sensitive enemies.

This interactive, environment-sensing addition to the game (along with the in-game clock that keeps track of the sun's position in the sky) makes things fun and immersive, but at the same time frustrating—after all, who has that much time to spend outside in daylight? And what if it's cloudy? Raining? But Boktai can still be played without these UV boosts if you play the stealth game right (and make good use of the sporadically placed in-game recharges!).

Of course, if you happen to be emulating the game, that takes out the whole fun of the sun mechanic altogether, but that's an entirely different story.

Ninja Five-0

  • Developer: Hudson Soft
  • Publisher: Konami

What a quirky finish to my list! This "sleeper hit" of a "weird, fun, challenging" ninja game may seem at first glance like some slipshod ninja knock-off whipped out from some kid's basement over the course of a weekend, but when you actually play the game your entire world will be turned on its head... ninja-style.

Even the plot sounds like a bad action movie: "ninja cop" Joe Osugi battles a group of evil ninja masters and the terrorist cells under their control. Described by some as a mix between Shinobi and Bionic Commando, in Ninja Five-0 you'll swing, grapple, and jump your way through banks, airports, harbors, caves, and secret enemies bases using your unlimited supply of shuriken and collecting power-ups that will allow you to shoot fire and lasers! You'll feel like a real ninja in all your skulking about and silent enemy assassination.

Everything about this game is so well-executed and so addictive, you won't even care when you die! That just means you get to slice-and-dice all over again!

Was your favorite Game Boy Advance game on here? Any games you feel were missing from this list? Let us know in the comments!


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