The Game Boy Advance has gone from has-been, to fond memory, to desirable old-school console. The DS predecessor was essentially a Super Nintendo you could cram in your pocket, and its library of games is one of the strongest in portable gaming. W
ith so many incredible games, narrowing down the list to the top 25 was a harrowing task, but these are the games that stood out and stand up against the test of time. Even if you might not agree with each game’s specific placement within the top 25, we’ll bet you’ll be hard pressed to deny these titles’ inclusion within the best games for the Game Boy Advance.
1Super Monkey Ball Jr.
Developer: Realism Publisher:SEGA Year Released: 2002
Though THQ gave the Game Boy Advance rendition the moniker “junior,” there was nothing small about this portable product. The series began in the arcades and on the GameCube as a Marble Madness-inspired action game with tons of unlockable features and modes, and for the Game Boy Advance version the UK development studio Realism managed to squeak out every ounce of potential in the GBA’s hardware to offer that same fun and frantic experience. The GBA version might not stand the test of time when compared to the rising power of other handhelds, but when it was released Super Monkey Ball Jr. managed to really show off what the system could do, and it’s rare to see a third-party developer pour so much effort into so many game modes on the portable system. Though the development studio couldn’t survive very long after Super Monkey Ball Jr.’s release, Realism went out with a bang with one of the finest console-to-handheld ports on the GBA.
Developer: Camelot Publisher: Nintendo Year Released: 2001
One of the first “hyped” games on the Game Boy Advance, Camelot — who had been making much of its money with Golf and Tennis games on the Nintendo 64 and Game Boy — returned to its RPG roots with an original adventure that could give Square’s teams a run for their money. This game pushed amazing visuals, a dynamic soundtrack, and a complex story, and even though it focused on the archaic “random turn-based battles” mechanic for half of its gameplay, it was still a fulfilling console-style experience on such a small system. Its sequel, Golden Sun: The Lost Age, tweaked and streamlined a bit, and actually enabled data transfers from the first game in the series…but it was the original release that made the biggest impact for Game Boy Advance gamers.
Developer: Hudson Publisher: Konami Year Released: 2003
A bad name with even worse box-art, Ninja Five-O hit the scene with a collective shrug by the gaming population. And then, suddenly, people started playing the game within. It’s a completely old-school inspired action design that melds such classics as Capcom’s Bionic Commando, Sega’s Shinobi, and Namco’s Rolling Thunder, and what’s more it’s incredibly fun and challenging — a side-scrolling arcade-style game that could only really thrive these days on the 2D-happy Game Boy Advance platform. It’s one of the toughest games to find in the used cartridge market; finding it won’t make you rich, though. It’s only valuable in the “awesome gameplay” sense…and in this case, it’s worth its weight in gold.
4Mario vs. Donkey Kong
Developer: NST Publisher:Nintendo Year Released: 2004
Way back in the black and white Game Boy days Nintendo updated its classic Donkey Kong arcade design with a contemporary design that fleshed out the barrel-jumping, hammer-whacking mechanics into a huge assortment of full-screen puzzle games. That concept was the basis for this NST-developed production. The added power of the Game Boy Advance not just enhanced the visuals, but the team managed to squeeze in a bunch of new puzzle ideas in the update. It’s a great game that fits the Game Boy Advance’s pick-up-and-play environment since players could whip out the system, solve a puzzle, and put it away for later.
5Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town
Developer:Marvelous Publisher: Natsume Year Released: 2003
You would think that hoeing the fields, milking the cows, and other menial tasks would make for an unbelievably boring videogame experience, but Natsume’s Harvest Moon series manages to suck gamers into its economic-focused gameplay. “Addictive as crack” would not be a strong enough term for this game, and the Game Boy Advance version works extraordinarily well because you can take the experience with you. The goal is to live a full life on the farm, and you’ll find hours upon hours just drifting away as you try to reach that mark. If you’d rather play as a girl, Natsume released Harvest Moon: More Friends of Mineral Town with slight tweaks to the translation and gameplay, and it was also a foundation for the Nintendo DS version of Harvest Moon, but its the original game that made the big splash.
6Legend of Zelda: Minish Cap
Developer: Flagship Publisher: Nintendo Year Released: 2005
Every Nintendo system needs a Legend of Zelda game. It’s almost the law or something. It took the Game Boy Advance several years before a development team hunkered down to create an original adventure for the portable system, and the one that was created was an incredibly fun and charming adventure that brought back a lot of the familiar 2D overhead game mechanics established in past games on the Super NES, NES, and Game Boy. The inclusion of the ability to shrink and grow was explored to some really good results, giving Link and players the ability to explore a world that would have normally gone unnoticed at the character’s feet. There’s a huge world to explore when you’re the size of a bug, and the designers pushed some great ideas in this adventure.
7Mario Kart Super Circuit
Developer: Intelligent Systems Publisher: Nintendo Year Released: 2001
Mario Kart Super Circuit was, literally, the premiere game for the Game Boy Advance. Though the game took several months after the launch of the system to be released, it was the game Nintendo spotlighted at the debut of the hardware. It was the game that showed gamers that the Game Boy Advance had the ability to bring Super NES experiences to a portable, and in a way that blew away the visuals and audio of the 16-bit console. The game mechanics of Mario Kart were tweaked for Super Circuit, but the heart of the Super NES game was clearly here. The designers even exploited the GBA’s single cartridge multiplayer function so that four players could hit some classic SNES courses without the need to buy a copy of the game. And after the competition? They went out and bought a copy anyway. Awesome work.
Developer: Intelligent System Publisher: Nintendo Year Released: 2002
By the time of Metroid Fusion’s development, the franchise had already been snagged by the GameCube as the ultimate first-person adventure. But for those who really wanted to go back to the roots of the series, and that’s the void Metroid Fusion fills — the game is a throwback to the gameplay mechanics of the classic Metroid, Super Metroid, and Metroid II, but it moves the story forward and gives Samus a sleek new look. It was an incredibly fun adventure with the traditional “Metroid Twist.”
9Super Mario Advance 2: Super Mario World
Developer: Nintendo Publisher: Nintendo Year Released:2002
Super Mario World was easily one of the top games in the Super Mario platforming series as it introduced new game mechanics to the mix, including branching paths, multiple exits, multiple endings, and, most importantly, Yoshi! Like the other Super Mario Advance games on the handheld, the original game didn’t lose a whole lot in the shrinking from console to portable ten years later, which meant that you could get the same brilliant platform experience on the go.
Developer: Intelligent Systems Publisher: Nintendo Year Released: 2003
Nintendo teased gamers with a couple of super secret hidden character in Super Smash Bros. Melee, Marth from a game that was in Japan exclusively: Fire Emblem. Before then, most American gamers didn’t have a clue to what the game was, and what they were missing out on. It was Fire Emblem on the Game Boy Advance where Nintendo used the opportunity to bring this unique RPG-focused strategy game to the states. And thank god they did — this is easily one of the top games in the GBA library — though much of the gameplay mechanics had been recycled in the more familiar (and available) Advance Wars game, the addition of characters who will die — permanently — really changed up the way players had to adjust their techniques.
11Mario Tennis Power Tour
Developer: Camelot Publisher: Nintendo Year Released: 2005
Camelot already proved itself in the realm of tennis and golf on the original Game Boy Color, so when the team announced that it would be creating a follow-up to the game on the Game Boy Advance, we weren’t surprised that the sequel ended up as awesome as it did. The game featured a much more fleshed out single player experience and also brought forth more Mario characters and moves for this update. The power moves we’re a cool addition, but luckily they didn’t need to be in play at all times if you just wanted to hit the courts to play a much more traditional version of the sport.
12Final Fantasy Tactics Advance
Developer: Square Publisher: Nintendo Year Released: 2003
At this point in the Game Boy Advance’s life cycle, Square Enix wasn’t quite ready to bet the farm on the Nintendo handheld. The studio was carefully testing the waters, and one of its early games, Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, brought back a really excellent PlayStation game’s theme in a new and original storyline. This GBA game offered some great strategy, some excellent characters, and really challenging gameplay in a take-anywhere form.
13Ultimate Card Games
Developer: Cosmigo Publisher: Telegames Year Released: 2004
When you have a Game Boy Advance on you, you want to have a cartridge that has a tremendous amount of replay value, and one with pick-up-and-play appeal. Telegames managed to create one of the few “must have” third party games in the GBA line-up with a collection of card games that are near impossible to put down. Solitaire, Cribbage, Poker, Black Jack and a good number more are available in this cartridge, and what’s more, any multiplayer game can be sent to other systems without the need for an additional cart. On top of all this, the game has fantastic statistics tracking and a pretty awesome soundtrack to accompany the gameplay. If you haven’t picked this one up, why the heck not?
14Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga
Developer:Alphadream Publisher: Nintendo Year Released: 2003
The Super NES had Super Mario RPG. The Nintendo 64 and GameCube had Paper Mario. And the Game Boy Advance? This is the portable equivalent. Both Mario and Luigi work together in this unique action RPG game that borrows heavily from the Super Paper Mario design. The way players manipulate both plumbers together gives the game a very unique feel, especially when you have to do very traditional Mario Bros. mechanics using both GBA buttons to do the jumping. The battles feature some real-time elements that add an extra element of player involvement to spice up the gameplay. And the adventure’s also funny as hell. A can’t miss, gang.
15Super Mario Advance 4: Super Mario Bros. 3
Developer: Nintendo Publisher: Nintendo Year Released:2003
Even though this Super Mario game came before the time of Yoshi and other cool elements that were introduced in Super Mario World, this was one of the top games in the series. I mean, you could dress Mario up like a raccoon! Seriously, this game featured some of the most tough-as-nails level designs in the series. And if they weren’t enough, you could go out and buy a second Game Boy Advance, an e-Reader, a link cable, and a pack of cards to upload some brand new level designs that weren’t built into the original cartridge. It was a concept ahead of its time — hopefully the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection and the Nintendo DS can bring back the idea of post-release level updates. But for now, you’ve got Super Mario Bros. 3.
Developer: Game Freaks Publisher: Nintendo Year Released: 2003
We couldn’t do a top game list without Pokemon being in there somewhere, and the first official update to the incredibly deep Pokemon RPG franchise — Ruby and Sapphire — squeak in there with a place in the Top 10. And rightfully so, too. Yes, the game’s clearly aimed at the younger crowd, and yes, it’s really cool to hate on the hundreds of cute little critters and the millions upon millions of gamers who’ve enjoyed the design since the late 90s. But the Game Boy Advance game offers so much strategy…and everything you do in the package can be moved over to the console versions of the Pokemon battle games. The game might not be a visual or audio marvel, but it’s got it where it counts: gameplay.
17Metroid: Zero Mission
Developer: Nintendo R&D1Publisher: Nintendo Year Released: 2004
Metroid Fusion may have brought the franchise to the Game Boy Advance, but it was Metroid: Zero Mission that really validated its existence. The design, touted as a remake of the game that started it all — Metroid on the NES — was far more than that. It was a visual upgrade with familiar areas, but the designers took liberties with where the game went. And even when it ended, it didn’t — there was something else waiting for gamers that was fresh and new, bringing a different style of gameplay that fit the overall Metroid theme. It was a wonderful surprise, and that element’s actually being referenced to in an announced, upcoming Wii title. No spoilers here, nope!
18Final Fantasy VI Advance
Developer: Square Publisher: Nintendo Year Released: 2007
Of all the remakes of the Final Fantasy series on the Game Boy Advance, none stands taller on the system than the brilliant Super NES to GBA conversion of Final Fantasy III. The numbering structure has changed to mirror the Japanese releases, but Final Fantasy VI is a remake of the final Final Fantasy game released on the 16-bit system in the US more than a decade ago. Awesome graphics, even better soundtrack, and the traditional Final Fantasy gameplay that can’t be missed. It’s known as the best 2D game in the series by the fans, and the fans have spoken: the game is the best one on the GBA as well. Even today, the GBA version of Final Fantasy VI stands as the definitive version to many die-hard fans.
19Super Mario Advance 3: Yoshi’s Island
Developer:Nintendo Publisher: Nintendo Year Released: 2002
We’ll go to the grave believing that Yoshi’s Island is close to, if not the best 2D platform game ever made. The original Super NES game introduced so many new gameplay elements that utilized the power of the FX chip to drive these ideas. The Game Boy Advance had enough power under the hood to bring back these elements without the need for additional processing hardware, and for those that missed out on the original console release nearly a decade prior, the Game Boy Advance does a brilliant job bringing the award winning gameplay and level designs to the handheld. It’s a shame that Touch Fuzzy Get Dizzy had to be destroyed in the move to portable. Otherwise, this is an incredible conversion that absolutely needs to be experienced on the GBA.
Developer: Camelot Publisher: Nintendo Year Released: 2004
On the Game Boy Advance, “pick up and play” style gameplay is king. And nothing’s more pick up and play than the sport of golf. Mario Golf Advance Tour is a portable follow-up to Camelot’s incredible Game Boy Color golf game, which was a port of the Nintendo 64 console design. Almost mirroring that strategy, the GBA version took all of the elements of the GameCube game and shrunk them down for play on the portable. There were tons of course designs with tons of cool little hidden tricks that just couldn’t be done on the real-world courses. Even with its 2D restrictions, Mario Golf Advance Tour ended up the finest take-anywhere game of golf then created. And we’re still waiting for a development team to best Camelot’s design on the Nintendo DS.
21Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2
Developer: Vicarious VisionsPublisher:Activision Year Released: 2001
Back in 2001, Nintendo led us to believe that the in-development, soon-to-be-released Game Boy Advance system would be on-par with the Super NES for its gaming power. That’s a pretty good place to be, since, for years, we’ve been playing Nintendo handhelds that were on the level of the NES system. We were certainly looking forward to playing lots of multi-layered side-scrolling platform games and racing titles using the system’s Mode 7.
And then Vicarious Visions, best known for producing some great Spider-Man games for the Game Boy Color, stepped in with something absolutely breathtaking: a portable rendition of the brilliantly fun Neversoft Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2. Even though, due to system limitations, the game had to remain in a fixed overhead perspective, the Game Boy Advance version created by the VV team retained the look and feel of the skateboarding action game. It was an absolute stunner of a launch title for the handheld, and it’s amazing to see how well it’s held up over the years — even after a half dozen sequels over the course of the GBA’s life-span, it’s still a thrill to see the series’ portable origins.
Developer: Intelligent Systems Publisher: Nintendo Year Released: 2001
In Japan, Nintendo fans had a series they could call their own: Famicom Wars, a turn-based strategy game that never made the localization move to North America. Which is a darn shame because the design’s US premiere, Advance Wars on the Game Boy Advance, was one unbelievably deep and fulfilling design that challenged console players in a unique way.
The game offered it all: tough-as-nails strategic gameplay, an extensive single player campaign with tons of memorable characters and situations, tons of user customization in the form of a map creator, and full-on four player multiplayer mode where only one copy of the game is required for the network.
Advance Wars had unfortunate timing on its release, shipping during the time of 9/11 in the US. The game was actually a US-exclusive release for quite some time, which was a surprise considering the game’s origins as a Japan-only release on previous systems. The sequel added a few new gameplay elements that were followed up on a dual-screen version a couple year’s later on the Nintendo DS, but the original game made the biggest splash on the GBA, by far.
23Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past with Four Swords
Developer: Square Publisher: Nintendo Year Released: 2003
The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past with Four Swords is, admittedly, a “mere” portable conversion of a Super NES game. But if any Super NES game deserved to be milked, it’s A Link to the Past, easily one of the top, most memorable adventures in Link’s career of saving Zelda. The GBA hardware handled the game admirably well, retaining the look, sound, and feel of the original Super NES game with very little compromise in the move to the handheld. The awesome classic remained a classic on the GBA.
What made this game truly awesome was the multiplayer mode, Four Swords. Multiplayer Zelda? Are you serious? How could that be any fun? Only said by people who couldn’t find four GBAs, four copies of the game, and enough link cables to keep everyone connected. This mode was a brilliant combination of cooperative adventuring and competitive ass-kicking, an idea that was expanded on in the GameCube game Four Swords Adventure. Traces of the Four Swords idea continued in the original GBA Zelda game Minish Cap, and we’re sure there will be many more instances of the Four Swords influence for many years to come.
24Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow
Developer: Konami Publisher: Konami Year Released: 2004
Konami backed the Game Boy Advance horse right from Day One when it produced Castlevania: Circle of the Moon on the handheld as a launch title. The GBA series started out with a bang, and by the time the third game hit the system with Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow, it ended with a tremendous boom. Three games hit the system over the course of the GBA’s life, and even though all three were amazing action adventures that offered something new with each iteration, Aria of Sorrow was the one we all remember the most. And it’s not just because it was the final game on the GBA. All the new gameplay elements, all of the additional characters, all of the enhanced visuals, and all of the amazing soundtrack pieces combined to produce one of the best games in the Castlevania series…for any system.
25Wario Ware Twisted
Developer: Intelligent Systems Publisher: Nintendo Year Released: 2005
If there was that one game that we would force into anyone’s Game Boy Advance library, of all of the hundreds upon hundreds of games released for the system, it would be, without a doubt, Wario Ware Twisted. Wario Ware: Mega Microgames might have started the whole “five second gameplay” genre that’s been sequeled and cloned over the years, but Wario Ware Twisted took the concept in a completely amazing direction that just couldn’t be missed.
A gyroscopic sensor housed inside the cartridge turned the GBA into a twistable controller, and game designers had all sorts of fun coming up with awesome little challenges using this concept. Dial a phone. Turn a world upside down. Even play a modified version of Super Mario Bros. We should have seen it as a sign of things to come: the technology in the cartridge is what we’re now enjoying in the Wii Remote. And the Game Boy Advance got it two years prior.