In 2001 we were given the Game Boy Advance (I know, I feel old too) and it brought us some of the best portable gaming of our young lives. Now handheld consoles have touch screens, joystick pads, and figurines to collect. With all these major advances, I decided to take a step back. I want to bring you some of the best GBA games and series that were ever created. Of course, we can’t talk about Nintendo and the GBA without bringing up Pokemon, Zelda, and Mario so you’ll see all those titles in this best Gameboy Advance games list. Time to dust off that old console, whether it be the original or a Gameboy Advance SP. Or if you were unlucky enough to not own a GBA, check out the Nintendo Wii U virtual console catalogue and get to downloading these great titles. We’ll also talk about Gameboy Advance ROMs and Emulators.
We can’t talk about portable consoles without bringing up Pokèmon. Since its beginnings in 1996, Pokèmon has been one of the best series Nintendo has to offer. It has lasted through 8 different consoles, creating 7 generations and recreating 6 of its most popular titles.
Ruby, Sapphire, and Emerald
With the Game Boy Advance came the third generation of the Pokèmon series (my personal favourites), Ruby, Sapphire, and Emerald. This brought about a whole host of new Pokèmon, items, gameplay mechanics, a new world, great music, and so much more. It was the first game to feature two slightly separate stories as well as the textbook game exclusives. It was so popular in fact that it actually was given a remake and remodel for the 3DS. With all this behind it, it’s no wonder that Generation three are some of the best GBA games of the time. But Gamefreak wasn’t happy with just one title on the newest console.
FireRed and LeafGreen
2004 saw the release of FireRed and LeafGreen, remakes of the original Pokèmon games. A bigger processor in the Gameboy Advance meant that the graphics could be updated from the black and white originals. It gained a similar style to the previously released Ruby, Sapphire, and Emerald. It also gained some of the items seen in the previous games. Items that were appreciated by fans, like experience share, were added to the remake to bring it forward into the 21st century. The originals were one of the best games on the Gameboy original and the remakes are one to add to your best GBA games list. Pokèmon is getting bigger and going better than ever, so make sure you read all about it.
Nintendo’s other major game series is the Mario games. With its variety and numbers, the Mario series brings us some of the best GBA games.
Super Mario Advance
Starting off with a port of the classic Mario games, Super Mario Advance was the perfect launch title. A direct remake of the SNES title and a fan favourite. People that were unable to get their hands on the console itself or a copy of the game finally had a chance to play the classic title. Super Mario Advance 2, 3, and 4 followed closely behind, bringing all the Super Mario games to a portable platform. But Nintendo didn’t just stop with the remakes.
Even More Mario
They brought Mario Tennis, Mario Kart, Mario Pinball, Mario Party, and more classic Mario games to the Game Boy Advance. Mario Kart was and still is a very loved game and could now be taken anywhere thanks to the GBA. The graphics were downgraded for the system but the fans were there for the thrill of the race. There was a whole host of Mario cameos in other games as well, including Donkey Kong and Game and Watch. Having all the classics, a heap of new portable content and numerous cameos, the Mario series definitely earned its spot amongst the best GBA games.
Wario Ware Twisted
Although Wario is a character from the Mario series, Wario Ware Twisted was such a great concept that it deserves it’s own paragraph. Twisted was a sequel to the original GBA game but with a whole new dynamic. It came with a tilt sensor that connected to your Game Boy Advance and gave rumble feedback based on the tilt of your device. The game itself was a collection of 5 second games that had you quickly tilting the device left and right to complete random objectives. The new mechanics and motion hardware made it a must have GBA game. But don’t fret if you can’t get your hands on it anymore. Nintendo Wii made a sequel to the popular game, WarioWare: Smooth Moves. It utilises the Wiimote motions to bring you a whole host of new 5 second games. You can check out some gameplay of the Wii version from popular YouTube channel Funhaus. Or check out this video of the GBA classic:
The Legend of Zelda
The Game Boy Advance brought a new story to the Zelda series as well as a whole lot of ports of the original games. With The Legend of Zelda being another hugely popular series owned by Nintendo, there was no way that the GBA was missing out on getting a few titles.
Zelda 1 and 2 got a port to the handheld console with no mechanic changes or graphical upgrades. Although these didn’t add to the series, they were a great way for gamers to get their nostalgic fix or possibly play the iconic games for the first time. Zelda: A Link to the Past also received a port to the console as well and came with a new Zelda multiplayer game; Four Swords Adventure. This was the first Zelda game to feature a multiplayer style, cementing it as one of the best GBA games ever.
The Minish Cap
Nintendo had one last GBA title though and released The Minish Cap, a new story in the Zelda saga, in November 2004. This story has Link fighting Vaati who has destroyed the Picori Blade and petrified Princess Zelda. Link also rescues Ezlo, a creature resembling a green cap and a new companion to the series. Ezlo has the ability to shrink Link to the size of the bug-sized race named the Minish. Although it retained the same general gameplay features, it added quite a bit to the series and had a great story. It was well loved by the fans and gained the title of the best selling GBA game in its debut week in Japan. This new portable Zelda title was a great hit, earning it a spot among the best GBA games.
Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town
There is a huge hype around Stardew Valley, a very recent game geared around running a farm. But we’re not here to look at latest and greatest. We’re here to find the best GBA games and Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town is one of them. To me, having sunk so so so many hours into it, this is the original Stardew Valley. Of course, being on a handheld console, the gameplay and mechanics aren’t as rich as the new title. But you still came up against a lot of the same problems, challenges, and successes. The graphics are quite similar to Stardew but that’s not what you’re playing this for. This is a great game to relax in and do what you want to do. There is a large overarching story but you can just farm every day if you want. A great GBA game to take with you on long journeys to make them a lot shorter.
Final Fantasy by Hironobu Sakaguchi at Square was his last-ditch effort in the game industry. Boy did it pay off. The series still lasts to this day and the Game Boy Advance was lucky enough to receive a few titles in the series.
Final Fantasy I, II, IV, V, and VI were all remade for the portable console. The Gameboy Advance allowed for a graphical upgrade for some of the older titles. However this was the only change, with the story, characters, and mechanics all kept the same. Although this seems like nothing different, it meant that fans of the series could get their hands on rare titles. Having 5 amazing classic games, each with a great story and all in the palm of your hands was a great move for the franchise.
Final Fantasy Tactics
Not only was the GBA a Final Fantasy fan’s nostalgic dream, it also got a new title, Final Fantasy Tactics Advance. This was not a sequel to the PlayStation’s Tactics game but had the same play style and used the same Final Fantasy tropes as all other games in the series. It was a wonderful tactical RPG which produced characters and places later seen in the series in XII. Fans were ecstatic for another tactics game and were overjoyed being able to take it with them in their pocket. One of the best Game Boy Advance games was so loved that it earned another portable title in 2007 on the PSP, War of the Lions. All of this coupled with the fact that characters have been reused makes this one of the best GBA games.
Fire Emblem Awakening was a highly anticipated 3DS title and 11th in the series, but nothing really beats the original. Of course, it wasn’t the first Fire Emblem game in the series, but it was the first released outside of Japan. Fire Emblem is a tactical role-playing game and I know what you’re thinking. Yes, it is another one but it brought a very interesting mechanic to the genre, permanent death. As well as a new story (for US and Europe) and a new world, permanent death was a new and exciting concept for the genre. It meant that you had to be more tactful if you wanted to experience and complete every challenge in this dense story line. There were hours of content with a rich fantasy setting, providing the game with a long lifetime.
Of course, we can’t talk about Fire Emblem without talking about Advance Wars. Made by Intelligent Systems, the developers behind Fire Emblem, the two games shared many similarities. Both are tactical games and both are some of the best GBA games out. But where as you grow and connect with the characters in Fire Emblem, Advance Wars is just that, all out war. You are in control of an army, trying to reclaim the world that has been shattered by warring factions. Advance Wars comes with an array of different weapons, more than 115 maps, a map editor, and multiplayer. Although this game fits in the palm of your hand, it doesn’t mean that it was any small feat.
Fan made Gameboy Advance games
Gameboy Advance emulators let you play classic GBA games on your computer or portable device. Bringing the GBA to the PC meant that fans could make games for the GBA. The Pokemon series was so expansive that fans couldn’t stop making homebrew Gameboy Advance games for the series. Pokemon Light Platinum is a remake plus some. Based off Pokemon Ruby, Light Platinum offers greater graphics, Pokemon from the next generation, and cool new mechanics. Another fan favourite is Pokemon Ash Gray. Fans of the Pokemon Anime series will love this homemade Gameboy Advance game. The game follows the story of the anime directly, pitting Ash (you) and Pikachu against the same events from the anime. There are so many more fanmade Pokemon GBA games out there so why not download an Emulator and try them all?
So where can I get the best Gameboy Advance games?
There are numerous ways to get your hands on some of these great titles. The obvious route is to go to any independent game store and see if they have any old consoles and/or games. A lot of them stock old school games and systems so you might be able to find the one you want. Of course with some of them being so rare, you’re never going to get your hands on all of them. To find a new copy of Advance Wars, you’re looking at spending more than a limited edition of a recent triple A title. The Wii U now has a virtual console where you can play old Nintendo games that have been ported over. This includes a lot of the games mentioned here, including Fire Emblem and the Minish Cap. Not only does it have those GBA games plus more, it also has a whole host of NES, N64, and even DS games. You can check out the full list of games here and also find the full catalogue on your Nintendo Wii U or 3DS.
What about Gameboy Advance Emulators and ROMs?
Unfortunately, I can’t tell you where to look for these products as they are illegal. Emulators let you emulate a system on your computer and are perfectly fine if you can make your own ROM from a game you already own. Downloading a ROM from the internet is illegal as you aren’t paying for the game. It might be a cheaper and easier way of getting the games you want but it’s not the same. You won’t get to hold a physical console while playing your old school favourites. I would highly recommend going with the avenues suggested above. Nintendo is adding more and more titles to their library at a very reasonable price. You support the developers and the industry when buying from a legal source.
Moment of Truth: What is the best GBA game?
It all comes down to the player. I would personally rank the Pokèmon series as my favourite Game Boy Advance series. It opened up a whole new world to me which I still love and play to this day. Harvest Moon stole many hours of my time as well. Although I wasn’t set on the storyline, I loved just farming day in and day out, as well as fishing, mining, and other activities. Your favourite GBA game might not even be on here. This is only a list of some of the best to give you a variety of games to check out. So dust off that old GBA (or boot up your Wii U or 3DS) and try out some of the best GBA games to see what you like.
Of course, this is a very short list. There are already a lot of great lists of the top GBA games out there if you search around. IGN released an article of the Top 25 Game Boy Advance games which I greatly agree with. Games Radar recently wrote a best GBA games article with a lot of games I definitely want to try out. Guess it’s time to go and find my old Game Boy Advance, put in Pokèmon Sapphire, and embrace the memories. Happy retro gaming!