The Game Boy Advance was a tiny powerhouse that single-handedly defined portable gaming in the first half of the 00s. During its years of absolute handheld dominance, the GBA produced some of the best games ever to hit the portable market. Many of them were ports of Super Nintendo games (which were mostly leaving out of this article), but plenty were able to stand up to the best of other consoles on their own merits. With so much quality to pick from, its not easy to single out the 50 best. But we pulled it off, and you should see the results...
50. Super Robot Taisen: Original Generation 2
This was the long-awaited, stateside debut of the Robot Wars franchise. The game might not do anything too original (we all know what the robot-infested future looks like, thanks very much), but it does it with a cast of all-new characters so as to sidestep licensing issues that kept previous entries from coming to the US.
Setting aside your unfamiliarity with the title, you'd do well to embrace the humungous-robot-war aspect, because you'll be rewarded with a deep tactical RPG. Fun fact: Original Generations was so enjoyed in its native land that it received a Japan-only PS2 remake.
49. Fire Pro Wrestling
Shifting the long-running Fire Pro Wrestling series to a handheld platform for the first time, the Game Boy Advance iteration also marked the first time Japan's popular franchise strutted its lycra-clad stuff for an international audience. And a successful debut it was, with a sequel soon continuing the series' western run.
American combat-in-tights fans will note the Japanese title's greater emphasis on strategic, grapple-based fighting, though international disciplines such as MMA and UFC make a showing alongside the game's roster of Asian brawlers.
48. Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories
With the Kingdom Hearts series garnering every bit of publicity and fan-love you'd expect from a Final Fantasy/Disney crossover, it's easy to forget the game's first sequel slipped by on the humble GBA. But continuing directly off the PS2 original and setting the stage for that platform's Kingdom Hearts 2, Chain of Memories is no throwaway spin-off.
Besides introducing plot and gameplay elements that would become key to the later series, Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories also managed to raise eyebrows with uncommonly high production values for a GBA game--including some of the platform's first and best-implemented FMV sequences.
47. Pokémon Pinball
More welcoming than its Game Boy Color predecessor, Pokémon Pinball: Ruby/Sapphire is also more intuitive, friendlier to newcomers, and any other synonym you can think of for "it's not quite so stupid-difficult." Which isn't necessarily the worst sin, being as Pokémon is a kid-friendly franchise and as the original Pokémon Pinball really was downright "Nintendo hard."
Besides allowing you to feel like a better pinball player than you may actually be, Ruby/Sapphire introduces a stack of minigames and variations on the theme of "hit flippers while looking at Pokémon," and takes both genres into a whole different place again.
46. Mega Man & Bass
When Mega Man had already made the transition to Saturn and PlayStation, creator Keiji Inafune decided to give the character one last 16-bit hurrah for the dogged SNES holdovers. The result was as worthwhile as you'd expect a final 16-bit Mega Man to be, and soon saw conversion to GBA.
While Mega Man's 16-bit swansong was aimed at younger players who couldn't afford an upgrade, the biggest complaint for many players was the title's persistently steep difficulty--the very same thing that keeps players coming back to the series today. So you can safely give it a go, right?
45. Street Fighter Alpha 3
As spot-on a Street Fighter as you're ever likely to see on a machine that supposedly doesn't even have enough buttons, Street Fighter Alpha 3 on the GBA has no compunction standing alongside full-size iterations of the title like those seen in arcades and PlayStation collections.
Packing over 30 fighters--including three system exclusives--plus a full complement of game modes and unlockable extras, this has to be one of the most necessary GBA carts for fighting fans. Purists may wail at the thought of scaling all your attacks down to four buttons, but if developer Crawfish Interactive can downsize the game this effectively, surely you can figure out that one compromise.
44. F-Zero: Maximum Velocity
Enjoy the old-time Mario Kart games, but feel the series' challenge has become diluted by several generations' worth of obligatory outings? Maybe what you're after is a few races on F-Zero X, a GBA retread of Nintendo's other Mode 7-powered racer from the days when the SNES still had plenty to prove.
As the name suggests, this title's uninterested in the high-flying escapades of later F-Zero entries; going as fast as possible is the goal here, which you'll accomplish through twitch-heavy speed-runs through a succession of authentically flat 'n' twisty arenas. Blue-shell junkies need not apply.
43. Boktai: The Sun Is in Your Hand
You could count on one hand the number of Game Boy Advance games that've actually used the system's portability as a key gameplay feature--and you'd still have a free hand to play GBA games, inside, next to your TV. Boktai: The Sun Is in Your Hand changes all that, with a stroke of the vexing ingenuity for which producer Hideo Kojima will forever be known.
Equipped with a built-in clock and solar sensor, the vampire-hunting Boktai challenges you to charge your in-game weaponry with IRL solar energy--and ramps up the difficulty during the hours of darkness. It's an intriguing twist on player immersion, and more importantly, it's a lot of fun as well.
42. Puyo Pop Fever
Here's a game where a variety of pieces fall from the top of the screen and you have to sort them into bundles before they pile up too high. Why would you want another one of those exactly? Because for once, Puyo Pop Fever manages to rise above the legions of Tetris clones available on pretty much every platform since 1990.
Fans of the Genesis' beloved Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine will know what to expect, that game and this one both having their origins in Compile's Puyo Puyo series. Developed after the series was passed onto Sega's Sonic Team, this is as competent an iteration of the legendarily twitchy puzzler as a GBA fan could desire.
41. Mario Golf: Advance Tour
"Why, oh why," you've doubtless asked during rounds of Tiger Woods PGA Tour, "why doesn't this golf simulator include more top-down JRPG elements? It's as if they didn't know why people play golf games at all!"
Happily for you and all your very real, not-just-invented-for-journalistic-purposes friends, Mario Golf: Advance Tour developer Camelot has elected to remedy the glaring lack of golfing games that double as item-heavy, level-based RPGs. And happily for anyone still unsold on such a formula, the developer has done it near-flawlessly, turning out the GBA's best golfing title in the process.
40. Kirby & the Amazing Mirror
Seen most recently among the freebies handed out by Nintendo to placate early 3DS adopters, Kirby & the Amazing Mirror's already in fine company. The title earns its prestige with a twist on the usual suck-'em-up Kirby formula, one which paid off.
Contracted out to Minish Cap developer Flagship, Amazing Mirror forgoes the left-to-right platforming action in favor of a Metroidvania-style quest incorporating a large game world and multiple Kirbies. Fans of the character--or of anything Metroid-esque and Nintendo-approved--ought to keep an eye out for a copy.
39. Wario Land 4
A title that lucky 3DS Ambassadors can enjoy today, Wario Land 4 continues the series that began life as a Mario Land spin-off and has since blossomed into its own sneering, garlic-reeking, treasure-grabbing epic entirely.
Developed by Nintendo R&D1 and released when programmers' prowess with the GBA was really hitting its stride, Wario Land 4 is a late-period throwback to the golden age of side-on platforming. As such, the title's design may be more traditional than the open-world likes of other Advance hits like Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow and Metroid Fusion, but it's no less ingenious for it.
38. Super Monkey Ball Jr.
Yikes! Who'd have thought the humble GBA capable of supporting a series as 3D-centric as Monkey Ball? One minute, the console's turning out titles only a little better-looking than their SNES forebears, then the next thing you know it's churning out polygons and 3D spaces for an experience usually associated with the likes of the relatively superpowered GameCube.
What this means, of course, is that you have little excuse not to accept the challenge thrown down by developer Realism. And a challenge it is: With more than 60 stages plus the usual unlockable score-attack minigames, it's a good thing the developer's come up with a control scheme that makes some allowance for the GBA's non-analog inputs. Aiai and friends have never been so mobile.
37. Advance Wars 2
Nintendo and Intelligent Systems' Advance Wars came seemingly out of nowhere to emerge as one of the best reasons to own a Game Boy Advance. When players dug into the Famicom Wars' long and storied Japanese history, the obvious question was: When do we get some more of this great thing?
Without much further ado, an answer appeared less than two years later. Advance Wars 2 doesn't do much to rewrite its predecessor's winning formula; but as you'll recall from some 24 words ago, "some more of this great thing" was exactly what we wanted, and that's what you get. More characters, more powers, more arenas, more battles... it's more Advance Wars, and that's just great. If only it was a little easier.
36. WarioWare Twisted
Having conquered your thumbs with the original WarioWare, the irrepressibly cretinous Wario returns for a merciless assault on the Y-axis with this uncommon gyroscope-augmented cartridge. Suddenly your Game Boy Advance knows when you're holding it perfectly still and when you've snuck off for a sandwich... and it's not letting you get away with it anymore.
You'll soon dispel any worries that the game can only do so much with the basic theme of "turn your console around while playing it." Twisted! has a stack of clever variations upon this basic tactile theme--and by the time the game has you locked into its groove, you'll wonder how all those other games got by without such a feature.
35. Tactics Ogre: The Knight of Lodis
The Ogre Battle franchise remains a hidden gem in the west, never commanding the same fevered enthusiasm as your Final Fantasies or Elder Scrollses. But for those in the know, Quest's series occupies a special place in the history of the tactical-JRPG genre.
Drawing inspiration from the Balkan conflict of the early '90s, creator Yasume Matsuno laid the foundations for Ogre Battle before developing the acclaimed Vagrant Story, Final Fantasy Tactics, and FF12 for Square Enix. The Knight of Lodis was developed after Matsuno left the company, but it's still a fitting continuation of his first tactical masterwork.
34. Klonoa: Empire of Dreams
Quick, name five Namco properties. Did you say Pac-Man? Tekken? Riiidge Racer? We could do this all day, but the point is you probably neglected to namecheck Klonoa. And that's a shame, because Namco's grabby-eared, dream-jumping mystery-animal had "mascot potential" written all over him.
Following on from the similarly underplayed Klonoa 2: Lunatea's Veil on PS2, Empire of Dreams is a trip you ought to take. Like the rest of the series, it's another excursion into a brightly colored anime dreamscape--the setting for a series of tight, imaginative 2D platforming challenges. Give it a whirl and rescue poor Klonoa from the ignominy of hosting his own Beach volleyball tournament
33. Ninja Five-0
This was a game seemingly nobody played, but that almost everybody should have. A bizarre little action-platformer gem, Ninja Five-O (or Ninja Cop in the UK) had a lot in common with the original Shinobi games, as ninja officer Joe Osugi slashed and shurikened his way through bank robbers and terrorists--some of which had hostages, and many of which used some form of cover.
Never mind the action, the upgradable ninja powers or the maze-like levels, though. The games real appeal came from its grappling hook, which clearly aped Bionic Commando, but added a little more flexibility and inertia, enabling you to do things like latch onto the bottom of a platform and swing over the head of a bad guy above, then shoot him on the way back down. It added a dimension of finesse and freedom that turned what might have otherwise been a dull side-scroller into something memorably great.
32. Dr. Mario & Puzzle League
Sometimes you can't be bothered with inventive power-ups or innovative level design or relatable characters. Sometimes you just want to strap a stethoscope to a plumber and hurl pills into a bottle of bacteria until your eyes glaze over. And with this solidly realized port of Dr. Mario, you can do that on the bus, in the bathroom, wherever.
Someone at Nintendo sure must like you, because they packed in something extra. A good deal better than Dr. Mario, Puzzle League is a bare-bones version of the title sometimes known as Tetris Attack and Pokmon Puzzle League. It may lack any new frills. but the addicting puzzle challenge is still at the top of its game.
31. Mario Tennis Power Tour
Like the GBA version of Mario Golf, this is a solid sporting title with an emphasis on arcade fun over technical precision--but no less demanding for it. And like Golf, this one also incorporates an RPG-style quest progression that'll add plenty of variety to your on-court escapades.
Developed by GBA wizards Camelot Software Planning--auteurs of series such as Shining Force and the GBA's Golden Sun--this is a great GBA title to hunt down, whether you're a tennis aficionado. a Mario completionist, or an RPG lover looking for a new twist on the genre.
30. Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town
New to Harvest Moon? Then what you need to know is that this series is considerably more engrossing than one might expect from a game whose basic premise is "like a JRPG, but without the fighting or plot." Harvest Moon knows its lack of magic swords or monstrous bosses may seem like a sticking point, but the game is eager to accept that challenge.
And if you're not new to Harvest Moon, you're aware the game packs an admirable amount of charm and challenge both. The series has commanded a cult following since its inception in the SNES days, and this GBA conversion of the PlayStation iteration is a perfect entry point--or, for aficionados, more of what you love.
29. Mega Man Battle Network 2
He's probably the most thoroughly exploited character in all of gaming, so it wasnt a question of IF Capcom would put Mega Man on the GBA, but when. However, instead of creating another familiar platforming entry, the Mega team crafted an entirely new series for the little guy. Mega Man Battle Network meshed the Blue Bomber with tactical RPG gameplay in a new and fun way, even if it wore its Pokmon influence on its sleeve.
BN2 continued the story of young boy Lan and the MegaMan.EXE program that lived in his NetNavi (basically a proto-iPhone) as they battled evil programs out to destroy humanity one hack at a time. Once you jumped from the real world to the Internet, MM battled with new foes and familiar enemies redesigned for web 2.0, in tense, action-strategy combat, with card collection added for flavor. The series was eventually run into the ground, but Battle Network was a breath of fresh air on GBA, and thats how we'd rather remember it.
Doom changed the world of gaming when it first hit PCs. It so defined gaming that at one point many referred to any FPS game as a Doom clone, despite entries in the genre existing years before Doom. The twitchy, violent fun is still plenty engaging today on modern computers, so good that it can even work on a handheld, as the GBA port proved.
Is the GBA edition of Doom the definitive version? No, but it did come together beautifully. The guns, enemies, levels, and feel were replicated splendidly, introducing a whole new group of gamers to the iconic world of demon-infested Mars. Add in deathmatch over link cables, and youve got the best FPS on the GBA.
27. Super Mario Advance 2: Super Mario World
If someone asks if you're interested in playing some Super Mario World, you should always say yes. If you're at home with a SNES or Virtual Console, you can dive right in. And if the urge strikes while you're out of town, merely break out Super Mario Advance 2 and satisfy your urge that way.
You can't ask for a more classic example of the side-on platformer than Super Mario World, after all. Coming on the heels of Super Mario Bros. 3's triumph, Super Mario World managed to show just how much untapped potential the series still had. With the addition of Yoshi, the high-flying cape, and a whole world's worth of secret levels, the game's almost too generous with the fun. Almost. Hey, do you fancy playing a couple of levels?
26. Drill Dozer
We love Pokmon games as much as the next potential collector, but its always nice to see series creator Game Freak try something new in addition to the monster collectors it keeps pumping out. Drill Dozer ended up being quite the departure for Game Freak, thanks mostly to its interesting approach to platforming, that mostly involved drilling everything around you.
Protagonist Jill and her highly customizable drill explored many impressively expansive stages, and the storytelling reminded us of our favorite manic anime series. The game was made more even more impactful thanks to the rumble pack attached to the cart, a feature exploited in few games, and one that Drill Dozer uses with panache.
25. Mario vs. Donkey Kong
Donkey Kong remains one of the most well-known games around, and the Game Boy reimagining of the original is one of the best Game Boy games. When the GBA rolled around, Nintendo decided to revisit the series once again, this time with its newly formed US studio, Nintendo Software Technology. While this series didn't supplant the original, it did have some fairly clever new approaches to puzzle platforming.
Each stage gave Mario new challenges to reaching the kidnapped Pauline from DK, but the real expansion of the franchise came from the Minis. The Mini-Mario's march through Lemmings-like stages, and you're responsible for building a path to safety for the little guys. Later titles focused exclusively on the Minis, though Mario vs. Donkey Kong balanced those puzzles with the gameplay we loved in the arcade classic.
24. Golden Sun: The Lost Age
Game Boy Advance role-playing doesn't get much better than Golden Sun--Camelot Software Planning's confident, accomplished revival of the top-down JRPG genre beloved in 16-bit days of yore. Boasting sumptuous graphics, as fine a soundtrack as the tinny little portable could muster, and a story rich in mythic call-outs, the game was screaming "franchise potential" before the end credits had rolled.
No hastily churned-out follow-up, The Lost Age still hews fairly close to the formula established by its predecessor. Then again, once upon a time we'd have happily played a half-dozen of these things as long as there were new characters, realms, and magic spells to master each time, and it's in those areas that the title delivers in spades.
23. Final Fantasy VI Advance
Final Fantasy VI is a masterwork that forever changed the way people think about the RPG genre, with story and characters that still captivate us. FF6 was one of the most influential games of the SNES era, and discerning GBA owners really owe it to themselves to see how well it's aged, even if this isn't the best version of it.
While lacking the multimedia sweeteners of the PlayStation version, this solid SNES port still manages to incorporate a few tweaks: Japanese naming conventions overwrite the established Woolseyisms and uber-completionists can opt for the added challenge of bonus dungeons not included in the original.
22. Pokémon LeafGreen/FireRed
If you'd like a mark of how long Pokémon has been a thing, consider the fact that when the original Pokémon Red, Blue, and Yellow came out, their host console--and the world's biggest handheld at the time--was a machine that couldn't actually render any of those colors. That's ages ago, right? Time for a remake, surely.
Few titles have managed the kind of handheld success story represented by Pokémon: Beside providing a new billion-dollar IP for Nintendo, the original, monster-collecting Game Boy releases (and accompanying anime) captured public attention in a way few video games have done before or since. If that sounds like something worth investigating--or if you feel like you missed the boat first time around--start your Poké-adventure here.
21. Super Mario Advance 3: Yoshi's Island
Yet another 3DS Ambassador offering, the Game Boy Advance version of Yoshi's Island is the perfect way to enjoy this accomplished SNES masterpiece. Besides all the platforming intricacy and pastel-tinted gorgeousness of the original, this version includes perks such as extra levels, minigames, and a bonus ending.
Baby Mario--introduced in the SNES original--may be one of the most frustrating little tykes ever to grace an escort mission, but the game's cast of shyguys, koopas, and assorted weirdos conspire to keep the difficulty curve on track. Follow-ups like Yoshi Topsy-Turvy and Yoshi's Island DS were fun in their own way, but the genuine article is all you need.
20. Gunstar Super Heroes
Treasure collected its cult audience over the decades by developing some of the most hardcore-pleasing games around. The company's shooters and action games earned a devoted following, but for many years Treasure chose to not give said fans direct sequels to its most popular titles. When the devs changed their minds and finally made a follow-up to one of its earliest critical hits, Gunstar Heroes, it was well worth the wait.
Just like the original, Gunstar Super Heroes combined dynamic platforming and action set pieces with Contra-style shooting and action-packed boss fights. GSH was also an incredible visual treat, thanks in no small part to audio and graphics that gave tribute to a bygone 16-bit era. GSH never got the sales it deserved, but on the plus side, it helped Treasure retain its indie cred.
19. Mega Man Zero
Battle Network might have been Mega Mans most popular (or at least prolific) reimagining on the GBA, but it wasnt the only one. Taking a darker bent than its Pokmon-inspired sister franchise, the Mega Man Zero games were set a full century after the Mega Man X series, with an amnesiac Zero fighting alongside a resistance group in a post-apocalyptic, robot-filled hellscape.
While the Zero series kept most of Mega Mans trappings--big side-scrolling levels, bosses hiding behind retracting doors--it introduced a lot of its own touches, like weapons that leveled up with use and collectible, Pokmon-like creatures called Cyber-elves that could enhance Zeros abilities. It was also extra-hard, even by the standards of older Mega Man games. Despite this, Zero proved popular enough to get three sequels on the GBA. The first game is generally regarded as the best though, so its the one were singling out here.
18. Metroid: Zero Mission
As fantastic as the original Metroid was for its time, its gameplay feels a little clunky in a post-Super Metroid world--and lets be honest, it was never a very pretty game to begin with. Rather than just leaving Samus Arans original adventure to molder away as an occasionally exploited classic, however, Nintendo dug it up and created a full-on remake.
Zero Mission added new story elements, bigger bosses, nicer visuals, and--most importantly--updated gameplay, complete with a map screen (something the original never had). Better still, once youd finished the original story, Zero Mission added an entirely new chapter in which Samus is stripped of her armored suit and has to sneak through a Space Pirate ship while relatively defenseless. And if you decided you didnt like the changes (or just wanted to play the original), Zero Mission included the NES version of Metroid as an unlockable. Considering Nintendo went on to release the original as a standalone cartridge for $20, that was a pretty great deal.
17. Tony Hawks Pro Skater 2
In 2001, Tony Hawks name still carried serious weight in gaming, so a handheld adaptation of THPS2 in the GBAs launch library was a pretty big deal. Its still a pretty big deal, actually, if you consider what a challenge it must have been adapting Pro Skaters kick-flipping, rail-grinding 3D action to a 2D handheld. THPS2 pulled it off brilliantly, though, delivering an isometric, kinda-3D-looking game that felt uncannily like its console counterparts.
The sense of gravity, the responsiveness of the tricks, the depth of gameplay, and even the layouts of the levels were all carried over faithfully from the real THPS2. Sure, it could sometimes be a little hard to make out whether certain objects were convex or concave, and one of the console versions biggest selling points--its soundtrack--was necessarily left out. But the gameplay was all there, and it was proof positive that the GBA was going to deliver some amazing things in the years that followed.
16. Final Fantasy V Advance
As the GBA entered its fifth year of dutiful handheld service, Square Enix finally began porting over three 16-bit Final Fantasy games that helped define 90s RPGs. The Final Fantasy IV conversion was actually a bit sloppy, and you've already heard about how much we liked FF6. Final Fantasy V Advance gets added kudos for being a strong port of an already-strong game. More importantly, it marked the first time FF5 appeared on its own in the US, as the original entry never made it out of Japan and a later PlayStation release bundled the game with FF6 (and a sub-par translation).
Even without this historical footnote, FF5 has our respect for employing one of the best job systems of all time. Even though the story and characters were silly, the underlying gameplay was more addicting than any other Final Fantasy game to date; instead of predetermined protagonists, you could create a custom-built team of heroes who could adapt to any challenge. This feature was introduced in FF3 (which also languished in Japan until 2006), but FF5 evolved it and made it truly notable. Sure, the job system takes some of the characters' personality away, but hey, weve got eight other FF games chock full of defined characters--who cares if one values gameplay over story?
15. Super Mario Advance 4: Super Mario Bros. 3
Nintendo rereleased three other Mario games for GBA under the Super Mario Advance label--Super Mario Bros. 2, Super Mario World, and Yoshis Island. And while those were all pretty good, none of them generated quite as much excitement as the final SMA entry, which beautifully remastered what many still consider the best Mario game ever made: Super Mario Bros. 3.
That Super Mario Advance 4 updated SMB3 with nicer graphics and Charles Martinets voice was enough for some, but the games real potential could only be unlocked if you had an extra GBA and a Nintendo e-Reader. If you could get all the needed elements together, it was possible to swipe special cards through the e-Reader and transfer new items, levels, developer play-throughs, and even gameplay elements from other Mario games into SMA4. Being able to play through SMB3 with Super Mario Worlds cape feather, or the throwable turnips of SMB2, breathed new life into the game and helped make SMA4 much more than just another remake.
14. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
We know, we know--we were trying to stay away from SNES ports, and we've done our best. But A Link to the Past was special. Not only was it a (slightly) remastered version of one of the best games of all time, but it added an entirely new, Capcom-developed multiplayer mode, Four Swords.
Four Swords had its problems--chief among them finding three other people with copies of the game to play it with--but it was still pretty strong for what was essentially a pack-in extra, with randomly generated dungeons that scaled their puzzles to fit the number of active players. Strong enough to spawn its own GameCube sequel, too. Of course, the real draw was still A Link to the Past, which held up remarkably well for a then-10-year-old (and now over 20-year-old) game. And it still holds up pretty well today.
13. Fire Emblem
Though big in Japan for over a decade, the Fire Emblem series had never made it to the US, possibly because it was seen as too hardcore for Americans when the first games came to Famicom and Super Famicom. That all changed when FE star Marth appeared in million-seller Super Smash Bros. Melee, after which tons of English-speakers heard of the series and wanted a taste. So Nintendo made sure that the next installment for the GBA would finally give the series some international exposure.
Made by Intelligent Systems, Fire Emblem shares a similar top-down map and turn-based gameplay with ISs Advance Wars. The narrative focused on warring countries in a classic fantasy setting, and you had to learn the seemingly simple rock-paper-scissors-style advantages and disadvantages of every class to stand a chance. Some no doubt disliked the fact that if a character died in a fight, they were gone forever, so every mistake either meant accepting that loss or completely restarting an hour-long battle. Ultimately, though, that loss made every decision hugely important. And isnt that the whole point of a strategy game?
12. Golden Sun
There were so many RPG remakes, brand-new JRPG titles/franchises were few and far between on the GBA, so it's lucky that Golden Sun was such a solid one. It feels comfortingly familiar, but at the same time introduces some surprisingly fresh concepts.
The djinn system is more than just your average elemental magic system. Collecting various djinn and equipping them to your characters affects almost everything about them, including their stats, spells, and summons. Outside of the 72 djinn to find and collect, the story and graphics could back up the Pokmon-style collecting to make a story for all ages.
11. Mario Kart: Super Circuit
Its hard to imagine a Nintendo system without a Mario Kart game, but Super Circuit was quite the trailblazer when it hit the GBA. Kart games had been hit or miss on previous consoles and this was Nintendo's first attempt at translating the console hit to a smaller screen. Despite those doubts, Super Circuit encapsulated that classic gameplay by combining new ideas with much of what made previous entries great.
The racing was the same simplistic car combat that featured racers blasting one another with shells and banana peels, and the race tracks were just as familiar. The game had 20 new tracks, but it earned the Super in the title by recreating all 20 courses from the original Super Mario Kart. And while the pre-rendered graphics haven't aged too well, the racing remains as tight as ever.
10. Final Fantasy Tactics Advance
Most of us probably would've been happy if this had been a straight handheld port of the PlayStations Final Fantasy Tactics, but Square Enix wasn't about to stop at that. Instead, Final Fantasy Tactics Advance gave us a Neverending Story-esque plot about a group of kids from the real world who get magically transported to the land of Ivalice and must then raise an army and fight to eventually return home.
Tactics Advance wasn't just a new story with brighter colors, either. It expanded the original Tactics roster of character jobs from 20 to 34, and added the restrictive Judges, who'd show up before every battle to enforce absurd rules meant to keep you from relying too much on one strategy. Rather than riding the originals coattails, it distinguished itself in all kinds of interesting ways, quickly becoming a must-have for any strategy fan with a GBA.
9. Sonic Advance
Much as we love to lament that Sonic the Hedgehog just hasn't been the same since his series went 3D, the fact is that--in the first half of the last decade, at least--his handheld games were pretty amazing. Especially the first one ever to appear on a Nintendo console, Sonic Advance. Blazing fast and brilliantly 2D, it nailed all the core elements that made Sonic great, even if it did feature Tails and Amy Rose as playable characters.
Not even Sonics usual menagerie of sidekicks could ruin this one, though. (And to be fair, playing as them could be kind of fun.) Sporting slick new sprites and smooth animation, it had everything that made the 16-bit Sonic games great: the intense speed, the giant levels that could be freely explored or just blasted through in seconds, and the simple joys of jumping on springs and tearing ass through loops. It also featured the tiny chao garden mode, enabling you to transfer your teardrop-headed Chao virtual pets between Sonic Advance and the GameCube Sonic Adventure games. As interesting as that is, though, its the simple, near-perfect hedgehog action that makes this one great.
8. Astro Boy: The Omega Factor
We've brought up our love for this game before, but it bears repeating, because Astro Boy: The Omega Factor was fantastic. A product of the combined efforts of 2D-gaming gods Treasure and Crazy Taxi creators Hitmaker, Omega Factor was enormously fun, deep, and generally much better than any cartoon-licensed game really has a right to be.
Thats partly because Omega Factor wasn't a licensed game in the strictest sense. It featured Astro Boy and his usual cast of supporting characters, but produced an entirely new, surprisingly dark story that revolved around time travel and included just about every character ever invented by legendary Astro Boy creator Osamu Tezuka. The actual gameplay was great as well, mixing together platforming, brawling, and space-shooting, frequently all at the same time. Given that the GBA was host to a seething mass of (mostly) mediocre licensed games, its not a stretch to call this the best one on the system.
7. WarioWare, Inc: Mega Microgame$!
If you'd told us when the GBA launched that one of its most enduring new franchises would be a series of random minigame collections starring Wario, we probably would have feared for the future. If you've played WarioWare, however, you already know just how endlessly fun the concept is: An assortment of microgames, each about 2-3 seconds in length, flashes before you in rapid succession. The challenge comes from figuring each one out (usually from a one-word hint, like Pick!) before the time runs out, after which you move on to the next.
While that might sound pretty bare-bones to someone who's never played WarioWare (you know there has to be someone out there), the concept turned out to be rich in personality, with each microgame collection built around coherent characters, themes, and (simple) storylines. The microgames themselves, meanwhile, are hugely varied and numerous, and yet they're usually weird enough to stick out in players minds for years afterward.
6. Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga
Before the GBA rolled around, Mario had a proven track record with approachable, well-executed RPGs in titles like Paper Mario and Super Mario RPG. But when dev AlphaDream focused its efforts on making the first portable role-player for Mario, the team kept that core gameplay but added a whole new element that gave the game its own unique edge. That X-factor was Luigi.
The interplay between the brothers was fantastic, whether juxtaposing Mario's courage with Luigi's cowardice, or using their numerous special abilities in and out of battle. The two guys were as malleable as Silly Putty, and whether its Luigi squishing Mario to half his size, or Mario somehow turning Luigi into a surfboard, the title was exceptional because of those two working together. It was only improved by a top-of-the-line translation that always kept the game funny, and a copious amount of Mario fan-service. And don't even get us started on the supremely awesome bad guy Fawful. Even though it stars the most familiar plumbers on earth, Mario & Luigi was one of the most original games the GBA saw.
5. Pokémon Ruby/Sapphire/Emerald
Many fans initially complained about Ruby and Sapphire's incompatibility with Pokémon Gold/Silver, and for good reason--to date, they're the only sequels in the main Pokémon series that don't allow you to import your beloved Pokémon from the previous generation. However, this break in lineage allowed Game Freak to make massive additions and improvements to the game mechanics, and over time it proved to be a trade-off that was well worth it. Ruby and Sapphire introduced more new features than any Pokémon game since, all of which are still integral to the series, including abilities, natures, double battles, and the refinement of the IV and EV system. While not being able to transfer your shiny Gyarados was a huge bummer at the time, we have Ruby and Sapphire to thank for the richness and depth we continue to enjoy in the series today.
4. Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow
Castlevania went through something of a renaissance on the GBA, which quickly proved to be the ideal platform for the series Metroid-inspired, exploration-centric action. Circle of the Moon was an amazing (if hard-to-see) launch game, and Harmony of Dissonance had some nice visuals, but Castlevania's real pinnacle didn't come along until Aria of Sorrow. Set in the year 2035, it focused on a new hero, Soma Cruz, who by the end of the game was revealed as nothing less than a reincarnation of longstanding series villain Dracula.
As, essentially, a reformed Dracula, Soma brought a unique approach to the action, in that he gained new powers and attacks by absorbing the souls of defeated enemies. He was also capable of things the previous GBA games whip-wielding heroes couldnt do, like flying, summoning monsters, and shooting guns. Really, though, everything about Aria of Sorrow was an improvement over the previous games--the visuals looked better, the characters were more interesting, and the play was much more varied, making this easily the best installment of one of the GBAs most iconic series
3. Metroid Fusion
As impressive as Metroid: Zero Mission was, it wouldn't have existed if not for the success of Fusion. And even though it came before, Fusion was arguably even more impressive than Zero Mission. Chronologically the last game in the series, it gave Metroid a little more personality than were used to, adding a secondary character--Samus's computer, Adam--and a more coherent story that sees Samus set loose in a space-research station filled with evolving, creature-mimicking X-parasites.
Samus herself got a new look for the adventure, although there was more to it than just adding blue glop to her costume. An X-parasite infection early on in the story forces doctors to fuse her DNA with the baby Metroids. This grants her the ability to absorb parasites after destroying their host bodies, which in turn is key to earning new abilities. It was a more conventional turn for the series, but it was fun, and it helped make Fusion one of the greatest revivals of a classic series the GBA ever saw.
2. The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap
The Minish Cap is easily one of the most--if not the most--underrated and underappreciated entries in the entire Zelda series. Although it's one of the few Zelda titles developed by Capcom rather than Nintendo itself, it completely nails what the series is best at, presenting a perfect balance of old and new that simultaneously feels like a Zelda game yet also sets itself apart as unique.
The overall structure of Minish Cap is wonderfully reminiscent of A Link to the Past (that in itself should speak volumes), while Link's ability to shrink and explore the teeny-tiny world of the Picori feels totally novel. Curmudgeonly Ezlo, the titular Minish Cap, is one of Link's most loveable companions, too. To this day it remains Link's best portable adventure.
1. Advance Wars
Not only is Advance Wars easily one of the best tactical RPGs of all time, but its bright, cheery style belies a more realistic take on combat in contrast to the genre's usual fantasy-centric fare. Instead of controlling fanciful mages and paladins, you manufacture and deploy all manner of ground-, air-, and sea-based combat units, like infantry, tanks, missiles, transport copters, bombers, fighters, subs, and so on.
Despite the array of weaponry at your disposal though, the CO characters are really what set Advance Wars apart. Not only are the COs endearing and memorable as characters, but each wields special powers to suit your personal playstyle. For heavy-hitting brute force you could go for direct combat specialist Max, or if you'd rather infiltrate and capture enemy resources to succeed, you could go with infantry specialist Sami. Some tactical games fall into the trap of having an optimal strategy you can exploit again and again, but experimenting with each CO's power really does yield results. The difficulty level is spot-on, too--Advance Wars manages to be nails-tough without being punishing, which is a rare feat among its peers.
Have an issue with our ranking? We'd love to read your opinions in the comments!
And if you're curious how other Nintendo handhelds rank, check out our other lists detailing Nintendo's portable history. There's the best DS games, the best 3DS games, the best Game Boy games and the best Game Boy Color games.