15. Golden Sun/Golden Sun: The Lost Age
Golden Sun and Golden Sun: The Lost Age may sound like two separate games, but don’t be fooled. They comprise more of an early experiment in episodic gaming than they do a series of related sequels. While playing them back to back is necessary to actually understand the story about a world defined by Alchemy - elemental magic and psychic powers, not the mythic pursuit of immortality mind you - both games offer the same spectacular adventuring and turn-based fighting.
Developer Camelot has a penchant for making role-playing games out of unusual subjects (hello Mario Golf) but Golden Sun also highlights their ability to capture and twist the best of classic JRPG tropes. From the beautiful pixel world to collecting weird little sprite creatures to learn new magic, Golden Sun feels both instantly familiar but totally unique thanks to its odd world and expressive characters. The story seems to stop right in the middle at the end of Golden Sun, enhancing its feeling as an incomplete game, but Lost Age is also a surprising second chapter with a shift in perspective that keeps both games cooking.
14. Final Fantasy 6 Advance
Final Fantasy 6 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.
13. Mega Man Zero
Battle Network might have been Mega Man's most popular (or at least prolific) reimagining on the GBA, but it wasn't the only one. Taking a darker bent than its Pokemon-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, Pokemon-like creatures called Cyber-elves that could enhance Zero's 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 we're singling out here.
12. Tony Hawks Pro Skater 2
In 2001, Tony Hawk's name still carried serious weight in gaming, so a handheld adaptation of THPS2 in the GBA's 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 Skater's 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.
11. 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 Yoshi's 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 Martinet's 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 World's cape feather, or the throwable turnips of SMB, breathed new life into the game and helped make SMA4 much more than just another remake.
10. 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 game's 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 IS's 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 isn't that the whole point of a strategy game?
9. Mario Kart: Super Circuit
It's 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.
8. Final Fantasy Tactics Advance
Most of us probably would've been happy if this had been a straight handheld port of the PlayStation's 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.
7. 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 is 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. That's 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, it's not a stretch to call this the best one on the system.
6. 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.