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The 25 best GBA games of all time

GamesRadar logo GamesRadar 17/09/2021 Darran Jones
Best GBA games © Provided by GamesRadar Best GBA games

Following in the footsteps of the Game Boy and Game Boy Color, the Game Boy Advance continued on what made its predecessors so great. You just have to look at the best GBA games list here to see why with some fantastic titles that show off the numerous enhancements of the console. The Game Boy Advance packed greater graphical power, the ability to link up to the GameCube, and fantastic third-party support from the likes of Square, Capcom, Konami, and later, Sega. Not to mention a whole host of stellar exclusives such as The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap and Mario Kart: Super Circuit. 

As well as being a more powerful machine that could run portable versions of classic SNES games like A Link to the Past, The GBA was home to a variety of unique games like Drill Dozer, Bokai: The Sun Is In Your Hand, and more. So settle in as we revisit the best GBA games to come to Nintendo's powerful little console. 

25. Double Dragon Advance

Million’s remake of the classic arcade game is not only one of the best games in the series, but the best brawler on Nintendo’s handheld. While it includes overhauled versions of the original four stages of the arcade hit, it adds four more, greatly expanding the fun in the process. Combat mechanics are also expanded, with Million looking to later games in the series for inspiration and introducing new weapons to spice up the already robust gameplay. As with many scrolling fighters, Double Dragon Advance really comes alive with a second player, but considering the high price of the game nowadays that may be a little difficult to achieve.

24. Gunstar Future Heroes

Treasure's marvelous run-and-gun is as much a homage to classic Sega games of old as it is a revisit of the Mega Drive original. While its combat mechanics have been pared back somewhat, it still manages to offer plenty of tactical action as you switch between your available weapons and shoot your way through numerous levels, taking apart gigantic, often spectacular-looking bosses as you do so. Many of the levels will be instantly familiar to fans of the original game, but you'll find plenty of new sections that reference a number of classic Sega hits, from After Burner to Thunder Blade. The only real criticism is that it’s painfully short with just six levels.

23. Kirby And The Amazing Mirror

While Kirby’s original outing on the GBA was an enhanced remake of his first NES adventure, his second was a far more ambitious affair. Traveling through Mirror World is essentially like traversing a gigantic maze and Kirby will often have to call on three other Kirbies (via a cute mobile phone) in order to solve certain puzzles and continue his quest. It’s a neat idea, but it does admittedly work better when you team up with three other human opponents. Mechanically, it’s otherwise just like any other Kirby game, but it’s bolstered by its nods to the Metroidvania genre and some very entertaining mini-games.

22. Sonic Advance

Sega’s hedgehog may have performed heresy by moving over to Nintendo’s handheld in the eyes of certain fans, but everyone else discovered that Sonic had lost none of his trademark speed or flair in the once unthought-of move. Dimps and Sonic Team’s platformer effortlessly recaptures the fast pace and clever level layouts of the earlier Mega Drive games, and there’s a tightness to the stages that aren’t found in the two sequels. Best of all, Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, and Amy Rose all play differently to each other, so you have plenty of reasons to return once you’ve completed its six zones.

21. Rhythm Tengoku

Nintendo’s last first-party GBA game never reached the west, but it’s an absolute blast to play that requires little knowledge of Japanese to enjoy. Like WarioWare it’s a collection of quirky mini-games with a unique visual style, but the focus of each crazy task is based on keeping your rhythm as much as possible. Mini-games range from punching objects to plucking whiskers from hairy vegetables and using sea animals to jump all the way to the moon. It’s utterly bonkers, but the tightly crafted controls and excellent tunes will cause your feet to tap as much as your fingers.

20. Harvest Moon: Friends Of Mineral Town

While they’re typically classed as RPGs, the Harvest Moon games are more about resource management and none will test your abilities as much as this one. It's essentially a portable remake of the PlayStation game, Back To Nature and it's a ruddy good one too. You quickly realize that the biggest challenge you face is time itself and it becomes a real task to tend your crops, feed your livestock and still find time to woo the girl of your dreams. A later release called Harvest Moon: More Friends Of Mineral Town also exists, but swaps the lead character for a female one.

19. F-Zero: Maximum Velocity

Although Nintendo’s console had a number of polygon-based racers in its later years, the games that attempted to replicate the Mode 7 stylings of the SNES fared best. Maximum Velocity is perfect proof of this, wowing gamers on launch with its slick racing and snazzy-looking tracks. While it’s set many years after the original game (meaning no regulars like Captain Falcon and Samurai Goroh) it retains the same mechanics, including progress-based speed boosts and F-Zero’s elimination-based format. It works perfectly and the end result is one of the best racers on the system. Two sequels followed, but both are prohibitively expensive, particularly the Japanese exclusive F-Zero: Climax.

18. Kuru Kuru Kururin

Nintendo’s handheld was a great haven for puzzlers, but few will boil your blood like this maddeningly tricky gem from Eighting. Kururin’s brothers and sisters have gone missing and it’s down to the intrepid duck to leap into his helicopter and navigate some incredibly tricky levels in order to find his missing siblings. Unfortunately, many of the areas Kururin must enter leave little room for his helicopter blades so you need careful timing and deft manipulation of your speed to ensure Kururin doesn’t blunder into nearby walls. Sequels headed to both the GBA and GameCube, but unlike the original, they never left Japan.

17. Golden Sun and Golden Sun: The Lost Chapter

Okay, we’re technically cheating here, but Camelot’s stunning RPGs are so intertwined that they’re essentially two sides of the same coin. While the choices you make in your journey aren’t as impactful as Camelot would have you believe, there’s no denying the richness of the story or the many entertaining characters that you meet. Mechanically it’s excellent too, with combat revolving around the securing of the Pokémon-like Djinn, which you can find via exploration or besting them in battle and then use to enhance the combat prowess of your party. It’s all topped off by some of the finest pixel art to feature in any GBA game.

16. Drill Dozer

During the 2000s, Game Freak focused almost exclusively on Pokémon games, but it did find time to turn out this gem of a platformer. Coming across like a stylized manga, Drill Dozer works thanks to a sharp localization, challenging and exotic bosses, and inventive mechanics that revolve around the use of the titular drill that protagonist Jill uses. The GBA’s often forgotten rumble capabilities are cleverly used to highlight the intensity of your drill’s power, while the inventive level design and well-thought-out puzzles ensure you’ll always be finding new ways to get the most out of your hydraulic tool.

Gallery: Top Nintendo Switch games 2021: Best Switch games every gamer must own (Pocket-lint)

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15. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2

It's two decades on now and we're still working out how Vicarious Visions pulled this off on Nintendo’s diminutive handheld. Yes there are obvious concessions (the licensed soundtracks are short instrumental renditions) and yes the dinky visuals can strain the eyes at times, but that doesn't detract at all from the excellent pickup and play gameplay which is just as addictive here as it was on the bigger home console versions. Despite a new isometric viewpoint, all the original levels are perfectly captured and instantly recognizable. Mechanically it's excellent too and while the move set has been dialed back a little, it remains just as enjoyable racking up insane scores.

14. Mario Vs Donkey Kong

This charming 2004 release is effectively a spiritual successor of the earlier 1994 Game Boy game, Donkey Kong. Many stages typically consist of Mario trying to retrieve a key to open a checkpoint and then rescue a stolen toy Mario against a strict time limit, but the plucky plumber also needs to guide the retrieved toy Marios to safety in a separate stage and then face an inventive battle against Donkey Kong. It's a neat concept with a tremendous presentation that will test both your platforming skills as well as your old grey matter. Several sequels followed on later systems, but the original remains our favorite.

13. Metroid: Zero Mission

Alongside Capcom’s magnificent GameCube remake of Resident Evil, this remains one of the best remasters of the generation. Rather than simply remake the original NES classic (which is included as an unlockable extra), Nintendo R&D1 took the core of the pioneering 8-bit game and subtly retooled it. Samus’ journey is retold with brand-new cutscenes, while enhanced aesthetics greatly improve what was already a very atmospheric adventure. Best of all is that even when you get to the game’s end, Nintendo has one final trick up its sleeve, which allows you to experience Samus’ battle against the space pirates like never before.

12. Super Mario Advance 2: Super Mario World

While we like to keep lists like this to system exclusives, we’d be remiss if we didn’t celebrate a portable version of the greatest 2d platformer of all time. This is essentially the same slice of exceptional platforming excellence that appeared on the SNES but various tweaks have been made from brightening characters up to make them easier to see, to adding new Dragon Coins in stages that didn’t feature them originally. Oh, and Luigi is now a playable character as well. It’s not the most ambitious of updates, but as the recent Super Mario 3D All-Stars Switch collection proved, it’s very, very hard to improve on platform perfection.

11. Final Fantasy Tactics Advance

It’s no word of a lie to admit we’ve put nearly 300 hours into Square’s superb strategy hit. Rather than acting as a straight sequel to the PlayStation original, Square’s portable isometric epic is a standalone story set in the world of Ivalice and features a bunch of young kids trying to find their way home. A gargantuan adventure resides within Square’s tiny cartridge and you’ll discover many enhancements over the original PlayStation hit, including a far bigger roster of jobs and enhanced mechanics for learning new abilities. The biggest (and many would say best) change is the introduction of Judges who make players follow strict new laws which can instantly turn the tide of battle.

10. Pokemon Ruby/Sapphire/Emerald

While Pokemon FireRed and LeafGreen are excellent Pokemon games in their own rights, we’ve somehow managed to clock up even more hours on this trilogy of RPGs. Many Pokemon aficionados weren’t happy with Game Freak’s decision to not import your earlier Pokemon (meaning this was the first time where you couldn’t actually catch ‘em all) but a new engine and not having to lean on the earlier games meant that the series could move in new directions, including adding dramatic new double battles and bestowing new Innate Abilities and Natures which further distinguished the cute critters you were feverishly trying to collect.

9. Mario Kart: Super Circuit

While the pre-rendered graphical style hasn’t really stood the test of time, the polished karting mechanics absolutely have. The beauty of Nintendo’s portable racer is that it doesn’t attempt to reinvent the wheel, but simply builds on the two games that proceeded it. You won’t find new power-ups or new characters, but you will discover 20 brilliantly designed tracks, challenging difficulty levels, and some excellent multiplayer options. In a slice of genius, it also allows you to unlock the 20 tracks of Super Mario Kart, a move that proved to be so popular, the franchise continues to revisit classic tracks to this day.

8. Fire Emblem

This is actually the seventh entry in Intelligent Systems’ tremendous strategy series and it serves as an excellent introduction to the highly-regarded franchise. Like its strategy stablemate Advance Wars, Fire Emblem looks cute on the surface, but is actually a resoundingly tough game, thanks to its challenging AI, exceptionally designed maps, and triangle weapon system that powers each combat encounter. Things are further complicated by you permanently losing members as they fall in battle, which is doubly impactful as the strong writing and engaging personalities make each character easy to connect with. The follow-up Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones is equally worthy of your time and cash.

7. Astro Boy: The Omega Factor

Treasure and Hitmakers wonderfully chaotic collaboration is not only a love letter to Osamu Tezuka’s classic manga series but also serves as an overview of his entire canon of work. At its core Omega Factor is a beat-’em-up, but it’s one that prides itself on dishing out as much damage as possible so you can quickly build up Astro Boy’s EX gauge and flatten your foes with outrageous special attacks. It’s a truly marvelous game, which is enhanced further by technically outrageous boss encounters, a surprisingly strong storyline, and light platform and shooting sections that nicely highlight Treasure’s technical wizardry.

6. Mario and Luigi: Superstar Saga

The GBA certainly isn’t shortchanged in the RPG department, but few hold a candle to this wonderfully witty adventure. While the outrageously funny story will hold your attention, it’s the finely crafted combat mechanics that make AlphaDream’s adventure so much fun to play. The flow of battle will be instantly familiar to anyone who has experienced Mario’s earlier RPGs, but fights are cleverly enhanced by the inclusion of Luigi. This brotherly love extends to the rest of the game too and the pair have a number of special moves that will enable them to navigate BeanBean Kingdom in their mission to rescue Princess Peach.

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5. Castlevania: Aria Of Sorrow

All three GBA Castlevania games deserve to be in your collection, but if you can only choose one then hunt down Sorrow. It’s not only the most aesthetically pleasing of the three games but is mechanically rich thanks to the brand-new Tactical Soul system that allows you to absorb the souls of defeated foes and use them to enhance the skills of protagonist Soma Cruz. You won’t find an inverse castle here, but you will discover spectacular bosses, an excellent soundtrack, and a silly amount of weaponry to experiment with. Soma’s adventures continue with Dawn Of Sorrow on the DS.

4. WarioWare, Inc.: Mega Microgames!

Few games reach the absurd heights of silliness that this collection of potty mini-games manages to achieve. The brilliance of Wario Ware Inc stems from its sheer accessibility and simple control system – you’re typically given a single word instruction and then a few seconds to achieve the required absurd task, which can range from balancing a set of tiles while riding a unicycle to sniffing a bogey back into a girl’s nose. Over 200 absurd games are spread across nine themed levels, including a stage celebrating classic Nintendo franchises, and the entire package is held together by a very abstract art style that elevates Nintendo’s game to even higher levels of weirdness.

3. Advance Wars and Advance Wars 2

Although the lineage of Intelligent Systems’ series can be traced back to the Famicom, Nintendo’s portable system feels like its true home. The diminutive troops and vehicles may make Intelligent System’s game look cute, but they’re simply a jolly front for some incredibly complex maps that will take a real tactical genius to master. Luckily the task becomes a lot easier thanks to a selection of commanders who are full of character and boast unique powers to master. Even when you’ve completed the lengthy campaign, the war is far from over and the engaging multiplayer maps will keep you playing till your batteries run out. The sequel continues the first game's story and is equally great, introducing eight more commanders, new powers, a brand-new Neotank, and numerous other quality of life tweaks.

2. The Legend Of Zelda: The Minish Cap

While it lacks the guiding touch of Eiji Aonuma who has been shepherding the series since Ocarina Of Time, The Minish Cap still feels like a traditional Zelda game. Flagship had already done fine work with the Oracle series on the Game Boy Color, and The Minish Cap builds upon those strengths by improving elements like dungeon design and giving Link brand-new sword techniques to master. The masterstroke of The Minish Cap however is Link's new ability to shrink down in size, which greatly improves the puzzle aspects of the series because you need to flip back and forth between forms to find new routes and solve various tasks. Ezlo, the game's titular talking hat is also a great addition, with his acerbic comments providing plenty of humor as you navigate Flagship's ambitiously designed world. Handheld Zelda games don't get much better than this.

1. Metroid Fusion

Many expected Super Metroid to be converted to Nintendo's portable 32-bit powerhouse like past Super Mario games had been, but series stalwart Yoshio Sakamoto had other plans. Metroid Fusion is the result and it’s a fantastic adventure that takes the series in interesting new directions. While it doesn't offer the same level of freedom as its older siblings, its more linear structure leads to a far stronger narrative than earlier Metroid games and explores Samus’ personality in a way that the later games would embrace. Its other strength is the introduction of Samus' nemesis SA-X, a deadly parasite formed from her old Power Suit. Samus herself is trying to regain her lost powers, meaning she’s constantly stalked by a far more powerful foe. It's a deadly game of cat and mouse which is enhanced by the game's atmospheric visuals and the claustrophobic nature of the GBA's small screen. It’s quite simply the best game you can experience on Nintendo’s handheld.

We've got you covered for the future too, with our list of all the upcoming Switch games so you know what to add to your wishlist for 2021. If you're here because you're considering a Nintendo Switch purchase, check out all the deals you can get on a Nintendo Switch bundle


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