The Game Boy Advance brought Nintendo’s iconic platform of handhelds to the 32-bit era. Its massive library of original games and its stellar selection of Super Nintendo classics make it one of, if not the, greatest Nintendo handheld of all time.
From its original 2001 iteration to the clamshell and backlit Game Boy Advance SP, to the peculiarly tiny Game Boy Micro, the Game Boy Advance family of systems holds a special place in many hearts. The GBA was the last iteration of the Game Boy line before Nintendo embarked on its dual-screen Nintendo DS in 2004.
In the spirit of nostalgia, let’s count down the 25 best GBA games of all time, all of which are still romping good times today.
Sports sims, especially those that lean into realism, have never done well on handhelds. Smilebit, a defunct division of Sega, changed that with 2002’s Baseball Advance. With licenses for every MLB team and player, Baseball Advance served as a worthwhile counterpart to console sims of the time. Sharp visuals combined with solid hitting, pitching, and fielding mechanics made for playing through a 162 game season a grand and exciting endeavor. Not counting Mario sports titles, Baseball Advance was easily the most impressive sports sim to come to GBA.
Kirby & the Amazing Mirror released at the very end of the GBA’s life cycle in 2004, and it reworked the Kirby formula in surprising and welcome ways. Abandoning the traditional level-based progression system, Amazing Mirror was structured more like Metroid games, featuring nine distinct worlds connected by a winding labyrinth that gradually unfurled. Amazing Mirror kept all the series’ cutesy charm, but it had a level of depth that few Kirby games both before and since have seen.
A spiritual successor to Donkey Kong, Mario vs. Donkey Kong was a clever rebranding of the classic puzzle platforming formula. Featuring a dearth of content — 48 levels and a bevy of secret challenges — Mario vs. Donkey Kong tested both your platforming and puzzle solving skills. The basic premise: securing keys, packages, and adorable mini-Marios en route to clearing rooms. Nintendo and developer NST even threw in classic boss battles against DK himself. The whole sub-series is great, but Mario vs. Donkey kicked things off in exciting fashion.
Mario Tennis: Power Tour brought back the RPG mechanics seen in the GBC’s Mario Tennis. Playing as Clay, an up and coming tennis star, users navigated their way through the Royal Tennis Academy in the Mushroom Kingdom. The leveling system promoted longevity and the core tennis gameplay shined in both singles and doubles matches. We’re not quite sure why Nintendo has largely abandoned the excellent RPG elements in recent Mario Tennis games, but Power Tour remains fun even today.
It’s still shocking just how good the GBA port of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 turned out. Besides a few minor tweaks, THPS2 came to GBA fully featured, including the superb career mode that tasked skaters with working their way through levels completing ten objectives within a time limit. The GBA port used an inspired isometric perspective that really hid the limitations of the GBA hardware. THPS2 remains one of the greatest extreme sports games of all time, and it held its own and then some on Game Boy Advance.
Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories came along when the whimsical Disney-Final Fantasy mashup still made sense. A direct sequel to the original, and the first spinoff in the now confusingly expanded series, Chain of Memories remains one of the best entries in the franchise today. Trading action gameplay for real time strategy mechanics paid off in a big way on GBA. Using an inspired card battling and deck building mechanic, Sora and friends made their way through Castle Oblivion, hopping from Disney worlds using Sora’s memories. Chain of Memories both looked and played great. If you want to play a prettier version of this excellent strategy game, the PS2 remaster is available in Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 Remix on PS4 and PS3.
Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong’s Double Trouble seems like a forgotten game in the DK Country series. It originally launched on SNES two months after the Nintendo 64 brought Nintendo games to 3D, which limited its exposure. But the adventure starring Dixie Kong and her lovable cousin Kiddy Kong got a second chance in its GBA port. Varied level design and challenging platforming gameplay made Dixie Kong’s Double Trouble a pure delight to play. The first two DKC games were also ported to GBA, but we have a soft spot for the hair-swinging Dixie and her constantly distraught young cousin.
Final Fantasy Tactics Advance might be the deepest game of the GBA era. A spinoff of the mainline series, Tactics Advance tasked players with assembling a clan of warriors to fight on grid-style battlefields in turn-based tactical combat. With customization options galore — including 34 unique jobs — creating a team that worked well for the long haul required tons of forethought and experimentation. Tactics Advance wasn’t for the faint of heart, though it was probably the best game on GBA for serious strategy game buffs.
A launch game, Castlevania: Circle of the Moon felt like an ode to early titles in the series. Armed mainly with a whip, Nathan, a vampire hunter, seeks out Dracula in order to rescue his mentor. Circle of the Moon, while obviously nodding back to SNES and NES Castlevania titles, also took cues from Symphony of the Night in its RPG elements. In the end, Circle of the Moon felt like an adventure tied to two eras, but somehow, it came together wonderfully, and got the GBA off to a rip-roaring start.
The best Mario game from the NES era, Super Mario Advance 4; Super Mario Bros. 3 is a must play for all Mario fans. Not only did it introduce numerous mechanics that have become Mario staples — sliding down slops, throwing blocks, and climbing vines — but it also brought Mario’s flying raccoon suit into the fold. The eight unique worlds featured some of the best variety in a mainline Mario game. Simply put, Super Mario Bros. 3 is an all-time classic that came back to life on the GBA.
We could just as easily include Pokmon Ruby and Sapphire on this list, as Emerald is the enhanced version of the third generation Pokmon games. We’re going with Emerald, though, since it included Pokmon from Gold and Silver. Like all mainline Pokmon games, Emerald tasked you with becoming the very best Pokmon trainer by working your way through eight gyms and the Elite Four. Emerald was a delightful time sink that compelled you to fill out your Pokdex and explore its large open world until, well, the next Pokmon games arrived.
At launch, one could argue that Mario Golf: Advance Tour was the best handheld golf game ever. A sequel to GBC’s Mario Golf, Advance Tour maintained the RPG mechanics and implemented an overworld in which players progressed through a series of challenges at four unique courses. Featuring great three-click arcade gameplay, a robust campaign rife with challenges, and multiplayer game modes, Advance Tour rivaled its GameCube counterpart, Toadstool Tour, which launched a year prior.
Ported from the SNES, Yoshi’s Island: Super Mario Advance 3 brought the absolutely gorgeous platforming adventure starring multi-colored Yoshis and one crying Baby Mario to a handheld. Amazingly, the game’s hand-drawn look carried over well to the GBA’s small screen. It played like a charm, too. In terms of SNES era platformers, Yoshi’s Island was one of the most complex in terms of design, with multi-part levels and secrets aplenty. Yoshi’s Island for GBA didn’t miss a beat, and we’re grateful for that.
The first Fire Emblem game to arrive in North America, Fire Emblem introduced western gamers to a strategy game with tons of depth, solid writing, and a medieval aesthetic gushing with personality. Fire Emblem‘s rock-paper-scissors, turn-based tactics gameplay is well-known by now, but we have Fire Emblem for GBA to thank for the fact that we continue to receive excellent games in the series outside of Japan.
We’d be remiss not to include Super Mario World, one of the greatest sidescrolling platformers of all time, on this list. Released as Super Mario World: Super Mario Advance 2, this GBA port of the SNES classic hit all of the right notes and introduced one of Mario’s most incredible adventures to a new generation of gamers.
Final Fantasy VI didn’t come to Game Boy Advance in North America until 2007, more than two years after the Nintendo DS launched. In many ways, it launched as a “thank you” to Game Boy fans for their longstanding support. As one of the best entries in the long-running role-playing series, Final Fantasy VI was a pitch perfect port that brought the epic story, strategic gameplay, and wondrous soundtrack to a handheld device for the first time. The GBA also received great ports of Final Fantasy I & II, Final Fantasy IV, and Final Fantasy V, but Final Fantasy VI rightfully earns a spot on our list. It’s simply one of the best RPGs ever made.
Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga kicked off one of Nintendo’s best Mario spinoff series’. Although starting in the familiar Mushroom Kingdom, the game quickly transitions to Beanbean Kingdom, a large world that the brothers must traverse to recover Princess Peach’s voice. Broken down to its core idea, Superstar Saga was a turn-based role-playing game. But Nintendo and developer AlphaDream layered the combat by adding timing based maneuvers that nodded back to Mario’s platforming roots. Controlling Mario and Luigi simultaneously also contributed to the game’s many fun area puzzles. Superstar Saga stands out today as one of the GBA’s best RPGs.
Building off of the frantic “microgame” formula of WarioWare, Inc.: Mega Microgames!, WarioWare: Twisted! added force feedback — one of only two GBA games to have the feature — and a gyro sensor. The result? An experience unlike any other on the handheld. Microgames required players to complete rapid fire tasks in seconds. None of the games were particularly complex, but all of them entertained. Even the plot, which involved Wario getting mad at a game on GBA and flinging the handheld at wall, fell perfectly in line with the game’s irreverent tone. On a scale of sheer “fun value,” you’d be hard pressed to find a more satisfying GBA game, especially if you played it in public, ferociously twisting and turning your GBA like a madman.
What do you get when you combine the atmosphere and nostalgia of the original Metroid with modern mechanics? Well, a darn fine game. Metroid: Zero Mission, a reimagining of the 1986 classic, retold the story of Samus Aran’s first adventure with the refined combat seen in Super Metroid and Metroid Fusion. Beautiful to look at and even better to play, Zero Mission made returning to Planet Zebes feel completely fresh again.
Intelligent Systems, the studio behind Fire Emblem, was also behind the greatest turn-based strategy game on GBA: Advance Wars. The premise was simple – a blue army faces off against a red army, each comprised of tanks, infantrymen, and artillery. Featuring tough strategic gameplay, a deep campaign, and a map creator, Advance Wars had everything a strategy fan could want. Like Fire Emblem, Advance Wars came from a Japanese exclusive series called Famicon Wars, so we’re quite lucky to have it North America. The GBA also received a sequel in Advance Wars 2: Black Hole Rising. While also great, it felt more like add-on content for its already robust predecessor.
Not much needs to be said about A Link to the Past, the classic top-down Zelda adventure for the SNES. The GBA port brought the mesmerizing Light and Dark Worlds of Hyrule to handheld perfectly. The port also introduced a new feature, however, called Four Swords. This cooperative mode let two to four players team up to solve puzzles and defeat baddies in dungeons. Although the main campaign is what ultimately earns A Link to the Past a high spot on this list, the addition of Four Swords made the GBA version the definitive way to play one of the greatest games of all time.
It’s no surprise Metroid Fusion was developed by the same team who made Super Metroid. Fusion practically felt like an unrelated sequel when it launched in 2002. Fusion featured a similarly lengthy open-world to explore, letting players scour and uncover secrets and ways forward at their own pace. The team at Nintendo R&D1 refined the combat from Super Metroid and introduced numerous new power-ups and mechanics in the process. It may be blasphemous to say, but Metroid Fusion is not just one of the best games on GBA; it’s the best 2D Metroid ever made.
The third and final GBA Castlevania game, Aria of Sorrow showed that it was still possible for the series to reach the level of greatness shown in Symphony of the Night. That’s right. First we said Metroid Fusion was better than Super Metroid, and now we’re putting Aria of Sorrow on the same pedestal as Symphony of the Night. Unlike its predecessors, Aria of Sorrow took the vampiric series to the future, placing users in the shoes of Soma Cruz, a teen with occult power who could bring about the reincarnation of Dracula. Aria of Sorrow has the non-linear exploration of SotN, meaningful RPG mechanics, a bunch of cool weapons, and a series of dauntingly amazing boss battles. Throw in the Tactical Souls mechanic, which tweaks gameplay and stats by defeating enemies, and Aria of Sorrow was the richest entry in the series to date. It still stands today as one of the best Castlevania games.
Camelot Software Planning, known for Shining Force and Mario sports titles, surprised everyone with 2001’s Golden Sun, a valiant attempt at delivering an original Final Fantasy-type experience to a handheld platform. And boy, did Camelot ever succeed. Golden Sun starred Isaac and three other adventurers in their quest to save the world of Weyard. It had all the trappings of a Final Fantasy game — a save the world storyline, random turn-based battles, and summons — but it also had a decent variety of overworld puzzles and much deeper story thanks to a wealth of dialogue and exposition. Its sequel, Golden Sun: The Lost Age, told the story through the perspective of the antagonists. Both games are excellent in their own right, but the original is not only the best GBA RPG ever; it’s one of the best turn-based RPGs released to this day. If you missed out on Golden Sun, find a way to play it (you can download it on Wii U). You won’t regret it.
The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap tops our list for a number of reasons: endless charm, brilliant overworld and dungeon design, smart puzzles and even smarter puzzle mechanics. The Minish Cap told the backstory of Vaati, the main antagonist and important figure in Four Swords. After Vaati petrified Princess Zelda, Link rescued a magic sentient hat with a bird head that, when worn, lets him shrink down to a microscopic size just like the Minish, the tiny creatures that have worked tirelessly to help remove darkness from the world. The hat, the game’s central quirk, made exploring Hyrule a much different experience than before. It opened up new places and offered new perspectives, illuminating just how majestic the world of Hyrule truly is. The Minish Cap had all of the prominent features of a successful Zelda game, from excellent dungeons to whimsical townspeople to the sheer delight provided when opening a treasure chest. And did you know The Minish Cap was developed by Capcom, not Nintendo?
Look, before you get mad that we placed Minish Cap above A Link to the Past, we wanted to prioritize the brand new experience. In terms of fresh experiences exclusive to GBA, Minish Cap takes the cake. Plus, Minish Cap has Tingle!