5. 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 is fantastic, whether juxtaposing Mario's courage with Luigi's cowardice, or using their numerous special abilities in and out of battle.
The two guys are as malleable as Silly Putty, and whether it's 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.
4. Pokémon Ruby/Sapphire/Emerald
Many fans initially complained about Ruby and Sapphire's incompatibility with Pokemon Gold/Silver, and for good reason--to date, they're the only sequels in the main Pokemon series that don't allow you to import your beloved Pokemon 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 Pokemon 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.
3. 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 GBA's most iconic series
2. 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.
1. 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.
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