by Goran Damnjanovic, Gaming Columnist
Published in Gaming on 25th April, 2019
Check out some of the best games you can play on the Game Boy Advance, a revolutionary handheld console that paved the way for the Nintendo DS and, ultimately, Nintendo Switch.
Nintendo struck a huge gold vein with the original Game Boy and instead of trying to reinvent the wheel the company simply took the super popular handheld console and built upon the original.
Game Boy Pocket offered slimmer form perfect for carrying it around with you everywhere you go (the name says it all) along with bright colors that were much prettier than the original design. Game Boy Color brought colors to the world of handheld consoles but the real revolution came with the Game Boy Advance line.
The first version features additional shoulder buttons along with a bigger, widescreen display that featured a whopping 256 colors (that was huge back in 2001) and powerful insides that could rival the Super Nintendo console.
The improved model (Advance SP) came with, now famous, clamshell design that would later become standard for Nintendo handheld consoles.
But more importantly it was the first handheld console to come with rechargeable battery making parents around the world ecstatic for they wouldn't have to spend a small fortune each month on new batteries anymore(the original GBA was capable of sucking two AA batteries dry in about ten hours).
Although the console didn't have an extremely long lifecycle its library was filled with quality titles. Many games were ports of SNES games and games from other platforms of the time (similar to the Nintendo Switch) but the console also had a rich collection of exclusives.
One of the standout features was support for Game Boy and Game Boy Color cartridges making the game library even bigger and allowing longtime fans to continue playing their favorite titles on the new console.
Game Boy Advance ended as one of the most successful handheld consoles of all time selling more than 80 million units worldwide.
Today we will talk about some of the best games released for the system. There are lots of ports but the list also features lots of notable exclusives many of which are worthy of playing today.
Advance Wars was a game changer, a title that showed handheld consoles can have hardcore exclusives aimed at core gamers. The game features cartoony visuals, relatively simple story, and basic divide to good and bad guys.
The only thing that makes your army different from your enemies' is the different color of troops and vehicles, but that becomes completely unimportant once the battle starts.
Advance Wars was the best turn-based strategy for the Game Boy Advance and is one of those games that hold their ground even today. Incredible maps allowing for tons of different approaches, excellent mechanics when it comes to units, their diversity, different abilities and options each unit offers to the player allow for incredibly complex tactical gameplay.
This is one of those games where "just one more turn" doesn't mean you will spend another hour playing. Here, that infamous term means you will play the game until batteries die.
The sequel brought a slew of new missions and while it didn't feel like a proper, full-fledged evolution of the original formula the fact is that it really didn't have to bring many changes because the original was already near-perfect turn-based strategy.
All we wanted back then were more missions and the same feel of challenge the original offered. Advance Wars 2 delivered just what fans wanted, and that was more than enough.
Game Boy Advance received three Castlevania games during its lifecycle. The first game was launch title a bit rough around the edges, the second offered better visuals along with some nice gameplay improvements and the third and final one mixed previous two in the best way possible, making Aria of Sorrow one of the three best Castlevania games ever.
Fabulous visuals of Harmony of Dissonance combined with an amazing soundtrack and unique souls mechanic that saw the player collecting souls of various opponents in order to obtain new powers hit all the right cords with players making this one the triumph of the series on Game Boy Advance.
But Aria of Sorrow offered so much more. For instance, the story was set in the future with the main protagonist living through some completely unexpected plot twists. Combat was amazing because Soma Cruz was capable of flying, summoning hellish creatures, even using some good old guns to solve problems.
And the exploration part of the game was spot on, rewarding but challenging enough to make players think before wandering into unknown places they just found.
Finally, boss battles were better than ever, tough as nails but the feeling of joy after defeating bosses in this game was priceless. Another gem of the GBA era and another game that still feels great to play, even today.
What to say about these two? The phenomenal Donkey Kong Country kept me awake through numerous nights, a kid enchanted by otherworldly visuals, hyper-addictive gameplay and level design that was better than most Mario Bros. game (there, I said it).
The sequel wasn't as exciting but that didn't stop me from beating it at least dozen times.
And then both games came to the GBA and the addiction returned and I spend most of my allowance on getting fresh batteries to power the poor console that saw monkeys jump and break barrels for months at a time.
Both games looked amazing on the Game Boy Advance and they played as good as on the SNES. But this time I could play Donkey Kong wherever I wanted, which was bonkers! Some of the best platformers for the console and amazing ports of the original games.
Final Fantasy wasn't highly prominent on the Game Boy Advance but the port of the famous PlayStation game managed to garner huge popularity. It offered deep strategic combat combined with signature Final Fantasy visuals but this time RPG elements were pushed to the side with turn-based combat taking the main stage. And it worked, it worked perfectly.
The slower pace of the game was spot-on for a handheld console and the fact that the majority of the game was about hardcore turn-based combat, challenging enough for modern gamers to make them burst in rage (really, combat here was as hard as it gets) made Final Fantasy Tactics one of the hidden gems of the GBA era.
I remember playing this one, trying to build the perfect team, testing hundreds of combinations, being swept over and over. But once you get the hang of it the game turns into an endless stream of hugely enjoyable set pieces that surely instigated many a shortage of batteries at local convenience stores around the world back in the day.
Fire Emblem series was hugely popular in Japan but the West saw the first game on the GBA even though GBA Fire Emblem was actually the seventh game in the series. That made understanding story a bit difficult but who cares about the story when you play a turn-based tactical RPG that cannot be put down.
The game's deep strategic layer wasn't for everyone but those who embraced the game and stick to it discovered that once you git good the game becomes one of the most enjoyable GBA titles. Sure, visuals weren't top notch and the general confusion most of us had while playing the game made the game a bit less enjoyable but as a package, Fire Emblem for the GBA rules.
I played the original F-Zero for the SNES for hundreds of hours, mastering every track (that huge jump on the frozen track gave me more headaches than any other race game I've ever played), finishing every cup, playing for days just for the fun of it. And then I saw F-Zero: Maximum Velocity on a friend's GBA and I was mesmerized like never before.
The game looked like it came from the future. Rich colors, detailed sprites, tracks that looked miles ahead when compared to the SNES game, and brutal difficulty that made the SNES title a breeze in comparison.
Animation and the sense of speed were much better here, and new ships gave the game a unique look that I really dug after spending hundreds of hours inside the SNES F-Zero.
This is one of the best racing games of the time, and the second best racing game for the Game Boy Advance (you probably know which one is on the first place). Graphics were amazing, racing felt much better than in previous games, and the difficulty was punishing but extremely rewarding once you learn how to drive like a pro.
Woah, what to say about these two behemoths? The first Golden Sun was the best JRPG offered on a portable console. The world was humongous. So many locations, so many quests, so many battles, and so many stuff to discover.
The story was amazing, over the top but richly written, combined with interesting characters and amazing quests. And visuals were ahead of time, with excellently animated characters, amazing world design, and incredible dungeons that put all other GBA games to shame.
The sequel continued the saga and felt even more epic than the original. Visuals were just a tad improved and the world was as amazing as in the first game.
Battles were as enjoyable and various spells and Djinn gameplay mechanics worked as good as in the original. I remember playing it for three days straight, with occasional bathroom breaks and about three meals eaten during that weekend. Those were the days.
Mario RPG game that saw Luigi joining the fight was one of the standouts of the Game Boy Advance library. It was crafted specifically for the portable console but it didn't offer simplistic gameplay that would be perfect for short gaming sessions.
No, this one was a core game with tons of depth and extremely satisfying gameplay.
And the gameplay was the king in Superstar Saga. The combination of Mario and Luigi guaranteed some crazy moments where brothers combined their powers in unexpected and often extremely creative ways.
While the combat embraced turn-based mechanics the classic platforming elements were included during battles and puzzles, evoking fun times spent in Super Mario Bros. titles.
And when you have a game that plays that good you don't have anything else in order to enjoy it. But Superstar Saga had excellent visuals, amazing world - the Beanbean Kingdom was new and exciting, excellently designed and original while at the same time similar enough to Mushroom Kingdom to make the world feel inviting and familiar - and more than a solid story, all of which added to its fantastic gameplay creating one of the best Mario RPG games of all time.
Mario Golf: Advance Tour is an amazing golf game, better than the majority of games found on home consoles and the PC. It had unmatched visuals for the time, it came with crazy good courses and featured gameplay that was easy to learn and perfect for short gaming sessions while you're outside and don't have much time to game.
On the other side, the campaign was rich in content, varied in its challenges, and challenging but fair, making this the ultimate portable game.
You could play a couple of holes when don't have the time, maybe try tackling a couple of challenges. Perfect for a handheld game. But once you get home the game could be played for hours on end.
This is why Mario Golf: Advance Tour was so good. It offered a variety of game modes, each suited for different situations, making the game a perfect companion for both a quick session while taking the bus to school and a long weekend at grandparents.
Yes, this is the racing game mentioned above, the best racing game found on the GBA. If F-Zero offered challenging gameplay that pushed players to their limits, Mario Kart: Super Circuit offered fun times bursting with laugh out loud moments and coated in some of the best visuals GBA has ever seen.
The sense of speed, the joy of picking up a powerup and then hitting driver in front of you (or making someone slip on your oil trap) was like climbing a mountain for kids around the world.
The game had some truly memorable tracks and the colorful roster of drivers made it super hard to pick a favorite. And there was a ton of tracks that meant you would never get bored of the cartoony cart combat disguised as a racing game.
The timeless combination of arcade racing, crazy powerups, and superbly designed courses made the game a best-seller and one of the strongest titles for the console. And for a long time, this version was the best Mario Kart around.
Both Metroid games for Game Boy Advance were amazing and they both deserve a spot on this list. Nintendo always had amazing first party titles for its consoles (yes, even the Wii U had a large first party library and most of those games are amazing) but one of the best jobs the company has ever done was the two Metroid titles released for the portable console.
The first one was a sequel to the cult classic Super Metroid and it built upon the original with new gameplay elements, even better and bigger world to explore filled with secret areas and cool rewards, superb gameplay with snappy controls, and a great story.
The game was a perfect example of a 2D game that rewards exploration and that comes up with something new all the time, keeping players hooked right until the end, a feature not found in many games. It ended as one of the best GBA titles ever released.Zero Mission, on the other hand, was a remake of the original Metroid game for the classic NES system and while it wasn't an original game it was a Resident Evil 2 Remake of the times.
A perfectly reimagined classic that offered improved visuals and much better gameplay and controls, keeping levels and the world similar to the original while introducing just enough new content to make the game feel like a new entry and not just a simple rehash of the original. Another huge win for Nintendo and another gem of a game for the portable console.
Game Boy Advance has great Pokemon games but the first two were a bit underwhelming. Ruby and Sapphire were fine but not as good as previous entries and fans wanted more.
So Nintendo decided to release remakes of the first two games in the series in the form of Pokemon FireRed and LeafGreen. And those were excellent titles that brought back the glory days of Game Boy. But the pinnacle of Pokemon games on the Game Boy Advance was Pokemon Emerald.
Pokemon Emerald was an enhanced version of Ruby and Saphire and it offered new gameplay elements like the new 2vs2 fight system with slightly updated visuals.
And since it combined the first two games you could experience all of the content without having to pay for two separate titles. The game could be played for months and its huge world was a joy to explore. Not the best Pokemon game ever but the best one on the GBA.
I never liked Super Mario World as much as Yoshi's Island but you can bet I played it for hundreds of hours. The phenomenal level design featured gameplay loop that simply cannot grow old (which is backed up by numerous Super Mario Bros. games, all of which feature similar gameplay and all of which are excellent video games) and the game world along with excellent campaign got me hooked.
And the game transferred perfectly to the portable console. Everything worked as intended, technical problems were exactly zero in numbers, and it was amazing to play the campaign again on the go.
The second best Super Mario Bros. game for the Game Boy Advance topped only by the next title on this list.
Yoshi's Island is my favorite game on SNES and this port is one of the best ports made for the Game Boy Advance and probably the best pure platformer for the console.
The game worked perfectly, controls were snappy and responsive, and the visual design was a perfect match for the small portable device. Bright colors with clear borders separating objects and various level pieces were great for the small screen of the console, making the game look and play beautifully.
And since technical parts were nailed the game become a smashing hit because the original was an iconic title in Super Mario history and everyone wanted to play the portable version of this superb game.
Game Boy Advance had many Super Mario Bros. games ported to it but this one was the best. Definitely one of the best choices when it comes to platformers on Game Boy Advance. It's a shame I never had the chance of trying this on GBA back when I was a kid but I managed to get the hold on it about a decade ago and playing Yoshi's Island on the GBA was as good as I thought it would be.
A cap that allowed Link to shrink and grow back again is the main ingredient of The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap, a major gameplay element that is responsible for one of the most original adventures in the land of Hyrule. Capcom was responsible for this GBA exclusive and boy did they deliver.
The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap is one of the most original titles of the series, with cool mind-bending gameplay, action-packed combat that was on the arcade side but nevertheless highly enjoyable and pretty visuals that gave this game tons of charm.
But The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap wasn't just a one trick pony; puzzles were expertly designed, levels offered many hidden areas, and the story was refreshing in the way that it featured a different main villain ( Sorcerer Vaati instead of Ganon).
Yes, A Link to the Past was also great, but this one was different and built specifically for the Game Boy Advance so it deserves to find its place on this list before its more famous sibling.
Back in the Game Boy Advance times, Tony Hawk games were games played by cool kids. Everyone loved pulling up tough tricks and trying to achieve bigger and bigger combos.
Just reaching the score needed to advance to the next stage wasn't enough - you had to make all your friends jealous by chaining tricks non-stop, building crazy long combos that put all other kids to shame.
And then you find out that you can play a Tony Hawk game on the GBA and all hell breaks loose. This was a game that was played at school, especially during lunch breaks where the kid who had the game would be looked upon as a god.
The action was so good and graphics, while not really representative, did an excellent job on making the game playable and pretty to the eye (pseudo-3D look of the game was pretty cool back in the day).
This was one of the most satisfying games to play on a GBA because controls felt so good and filling up that combo meter at the bottom of the screen was like a drug for kids back then. The ability to play this one wherever you go was just the cherry on top.