Back when the first Nintendo Gameboy launched in 1989, gaming was restricted to a living room, and you were tied to a TV set. We’ve come a long way since then, with handhelds like Switch transforming the landscape. But the Gameboy set forth this revolution in gaming, and it did so with janky old 8-bit games.
Nintendo’s Gameboy faced stiff competition upon its initial release. It had to beat the Sega Game Gear, Atari Lynx, and NEC TurboExpress. In terms of processing power, the Gameboy was nothing special. But portability and pricing were its main strengths. Thanks to its monochrome, non-backlit LCD display the Gameboy sipped electricity and had 5X the runtime compared to its rivals. It was also smaller, and the older tech meant it cost less money to produce.
Towards the end of the 90s, Nintendo realized that their Gameboy console was getting a little long in the tooth. And they fixed that with a serious hardware upgrade that gave us the Gameboy Advanced. It had a processor that was faster than the one in the SNES, packaged into a tiny shell. And this time you even had color! Still, no backlight. Which is a shame (that was fixed with the “SP” edition).
It’s extremely difficult to condense the history and significance of the GBA down to a few games. After all, this is the console that laid the foundation for portable gaming. Still, here’s my best attempt at a list of the top 50 all-time GBA (Gameboy Advance) games that you must play. Let’s start things off with the best GBA game.
Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow
- Developer: Konami
- Release Date: May 6, 2003
Definitely the finest Castlevania game for Nintendo’s Gameboy Advance console. While it does bear similarities to its predecessors- Circle of the Moon and Harmony of Dissonance, this game manages to combine the best elements of the two. It strikes a fine balance between light-hearted fun and serious action.
Aria of Sorrow is thematically similar to previous Castlevania games, you fight your way out of Dracula’s castle by defeating all sorts of mythical monsters. Armed with a variety of medieval weapons, you make your way through hallways and corridors while on the lookout for foes. However, this game is set in a futuristic timeline instead of the past like previous Castlevania games.
- Developer: Nintendo SPD, Intelligent Systems
- Release Date: May 23, 2005
What makes this game so unique is the built-in motion sensing gyro within its cartridge. That’s right, the game cartridge itself is designed to sense motion input. And Twisted isn’t a single game, it’s a bunch of tiny minigames packaged into a single launcher.
All of these minigames make use of the gyro sensor in their own unique ways. The games themselves are only a few seconds long and are more like challenges, where you have to follow the screen prompt. Whether it’s shaking Mario’s hand or feeding an alien, you have a limited number of lives/ attempts. Each minigame is its own stage, and there are boss stages.
If you love retro games and intrested in Game Boy as well than you must check out my other list Top 50 All-time Game Boy Games That You Must Play
Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past with Four Swords
- Developer: Nintendo EAD
- Release Date: December 2, 2002
When I did my list for the top 50 SNES games of all time, I crowned Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past as the number 1 title. And that game basically captured the essence of the original NES Zelda game while adding several new features and gameplay elements for the more powerful SNES.
In that same vein, A Link to the Past with Four Swords is an evolution of the original game for a newer console. This time, it’s the Gameboy Advance. Link now has audio cues for when he attacks, and there is a brand new multiplayer element called Four Swords.
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2
- Developer: Neversoft
- Release Date: June 11, 2001
This is the world’s first 3D skating game on a handheld console, featuring Tony Hawk. Despite being a port of an existing game, there are little to no changes in level design or visuals. It has all the game modes you found in the regular PlayStation version, along with the same skater choices.
An impressive amount of detail is found in the pre-rendered 2D backgrounds, with proper 3D player-controlled characters in the foreground. It’s impressive how they managed to get this game working on the GBA. Although I must admit the poly count is low compared to the PlayStation version.
If you enjoy playing retro video games and want to play them everywhere, check out my post Top 30 Handheld Retro Consoles- Emulator Comparison & Review
Super Mario Advance 3: Yoshi’s Island
- Developer: Nintendo
- Release Date: September 23, 2002
Much like Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2, this is a port of an existing console game. Yoshi’s Island was originally released for the SNES system back in 1995, yet it was somehow ported over to a much smaller system without losing any detail. Technologically, it was a marvelous achievement for the time.
You play as Mario’s favorite green-colored dinosaur friend, carrying him and Luigi on your back. Navigating through level after level of traps, enemies, puzzles, etc. you must deliver them safely to the finish point. Yoshi can jump, stomp enemies, and grab objects with his tongue. In certain sections of the game, he can even transform into a vehicle (car, helicopter, etc.).
Final Fantasy VI Advance
- Developer: Square
- Release Date: February 5, 2007
Arguably the best Final Fantasy game of the 2D era, it holds up surprisingly well even today. Today, we consider the 7th entry to be the pinnacle and it is indeed a marvelous achievement. But the last 2D Fina Fantasy is a masterpiece in character design and storytelling.
Thankfully, the GBA port of this game is also one of the best ways to enjoy it. The story is presented in a very engaging way, which captures plays on your emotions even though the narrative is quite simple. Random enemy encounters do get tiring after a while, but they’re punctuated by fun activities and NPC quests in villages.
If you love retro games and are interested in Sega Genesis Games as well then you must check out my other list Top 50 All-time Sega Genesis (Mega Drive) Games That You Must Play
Metroid: Zero Mission
- Developer: Nintendo R&D1
- Release Date: February 9, 2004
An enhanced, updated version of the NES Metroid game for 21st-century gamers. It was designed for the GBA and gets its name from a section of the game in which Samus is only wearing her Zero suit without the Power Suit. You’ve got space pirates trying to enslave an alien race known as Metroids who can drain the life energy from other organisms.
And Samus, a bounty hunter is out to stop them at the behest of the Federation Police. Zero Mission isn’t just a remake of the original 8-bit NES game. Instead, it takes inspiration from the first game’s level design and uses it to create an entirely new experience.
- Developer: Nintendo R&D1
- Release Date: November 18, 2002
One of the best action games for the GBA, Metroid Fusion is a tightly written and thrilling adventure from start to finish. The graphics are exceptionally good considering the platform and time period in which this game was released. You have tight corridors and suspenseful music which almost gives it a horror vibe.
The game has Samus dealing with an infection slowly creeping through her body. And there’s dialogue, unlike previous Metroid titles. You start out with basic abilities, gradually gaining new powers + weapons as you progress through various levels.
If you love retro games and intrested in PlayStation 1 as well than you must check out my other list Top 50 All-time PlayStation 1(PS1) Games That You Must Play
The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap
- Developer: Capcom, Flagship
- Release Date: January 10, 2005
Designed from the ground up to be a Zelda game for the GBA, this is one of the finest RPGs you can play on the go. The Minish Cap introduced a ton of new items and abilities for Link while retaining a similar gameplay structure to previous Zelda titles. If you just plow throw the dungeons and main quests, you can complete the campaign quickly.
However, start exploring a bit and you will find out the world in this game is quite deep. There are plenty of locations and optional side quests that add tons of content to keep you engaged across multiple playthroughs. The single-player campaign for this game borrows a lot from Four Swords.
- Developer: Intelligent Systems
- Release Date: November 3, 2003
Most other JRPGs of the time were standard turn-based affairs in which you had the main character leading their party. However, Fire Emblem combined strategy with role-playing and packaged all of it within a royal fantasy setting. The world of Fire Emblem has kings, dragons, backstabbing politicians, and heroes who save the day.
Fire Emblem has a “support” system in which you use up one turn to communicate with another member of your party, planning for future moves instead of attacking. Permanent death is also a mechanic, so if a character dies they are gone forever. These design choices combined with the interesting story and witty dialogue make the game extremely enjoyable, even today.
If you love retro games and intrested in NES as well than you must check out my other list Top 50 All-time NES Games That You Must Play
Mario Kart: Super Circuit
- Developer: Intelligent Systems
- Release Date: August 27, 2001
It’s the Mario Kart we know and love, reinvented for Gameboy Advance. You get multiple classes- 50cc, 100cc, and 150cc. And there are multiple cups or tournaments in which you can participate, each cup has its own unique tracks.
There are over 40 tracks to choose from, and you have different game modes- GP, Time Trial, etc. Like previous Mario Kart games, you have access to multiple characters from the Mario universe. Competing in higher classes (100cc and 150cc) means you will face tougher AI.
Final Fantasy Tactics Advance
- Developer: Square Product Development Division 4
- Release Date: September 8, 2003
Want a strategic action game set within the Final Fantasy universe? Check out Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, because it blends good storytelling with turn-based strategy in a way few other games do. You have a wide roster of characters to choose from at the start of each battle, and you can have a total of 6 per party.
Depending on the jobs your characters have, they will have unique abilities. Unlike the previous Tactics game, not all jobs are available to each character. Now a character can belong to one of 5 races, and they will be assigned jobs based on their race.
If you love retro games and intrested in PS2 as well than you must check out my other list Top 50 All-Time Playstation 2 (PS2) Games That You Must Play
Super Mario Advance 2: Super Mario World
- Developer: Nintendo EAD
- Release Date: February 11, 2002
A refinement of the gameplay elements from Super Mario Bros. 3 is what you should expect from Super Mario Advance 2. It starts out with princess Toadstool being kidnapped by Bowser, and you must go through level after level of platforming action to rescue her. One thing unique to this Gameboy Advance version is the option to choose Luigi at will from the world screen.
Just like in Super Mario Bros. 3, Luigi can jump higher and float better compared to Mario. Super Mario Advance 2 also introduces a status screen that tells you how many levels you’ve finished, what secret paths you’ve found, etc. Thanks to this new addition you can see which secret paths remain undiscovered.
Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town
- Developer: Marvelous Interactive
- Release Date: November 17, 2003
Well, it’s a farming simulator for your Gameboy Advance. Is it boring? Not at all, if you pay attention to the game mechanics which are pretty deep.
There isn’t much of a story honestly. You are a little boy and when an old man dies he leaves you in charge of his farm. It’s now your duty to take care of it by planting crops, growing livestock, and befriending NPCs within the village.
If you love retro games and intrested in MS-DOS Games as well than you must check out my other list Top 20 MS-DOS Games That You Must Play
Mario vs Donkey Kong
- Developer: Nintendo
- Release Date: May 24, 2004
A fun little platformer with 6 different worlds to explore. You play as Mario and try to retrieve some stolen toys from Donkey Kong. The game is a bit of a puzzle platformer, it has two sections per level.
In the first section, you must find a key and unlock a hidden door. In the second section, you have to retrieve a Mini Mario toy that Donkey Kong stole. And in the final level of each world, you have a boss battle with Donkey Kong.
- Developer: Dimps
- Release Date: February 3, 2002
There’s something odd about seeing Sega’s mascot running around on the screen of their largest rival. Nevertheless, Sonic Advance is an extremely entertaining platformer with tons of content. You even get the Chao Garden minigames to keep you occupied when you get tired of the main game.
With the Link Cable, up to 4 players can enjoy this game’s multiplayer mode. And there is so much variety in level design. Some levels have you bouncing around inside a pinball while on others, you are sliding across icy mountains.
If you love retro games and intrested in Nintendo 64 as well than you must check out my other list Top 50 All-time Nintendo 64 (N64) Games That You Must Play
Kirby And The Amazing Mirror
- Developer: HAL Laboratory
- Release Date: October 18, 2004
It may seem like a by-the-numbers platformer at first. But take a closer look and you’ll find out that this game takes a very open-ended approach to level design. Less linearity and more player freedom is the theme.
Even the story is unexpectedly mature, venturing into realms of darkness within alternate universes. There are tons of hidden paths that take you into entirely new worlds, and you can access all of these from a central hub. The Amazing Mirror has a new and improved Kirby who can suck up enemy abilities for brief periods, making him feel like a superhero.
Double Dragon Advance
- Developer: Million
- Release Date: November 13, 2003
Beat ‘em up as a genre was massive during the 80s, but its popularity faded as gaming culture shifted into the 3D era. If you want some good old 80s arcade action on a portable console, this is the perfect game for you. But if you’re looking for deep plots and interesting characters, play Final Fantasy instead.
This game can be boiled down to macho men beating up endless waves of enemies in hand-to-hand combat while trying to rescue a woman. But sometimes good old fashioned action is all you need, as long as the gameplay is fun. And boy, is the combat fun in Double Dragon.
If you love retro games and intrested in Atari Games as well than you must check out my other list Top 60 All-time Atari 2600, 5200, 7800 Games That You Must Play
Pokémon Ruby & Sapphire
- Developer: Game Freak
- Release Date: March 19, 2003
Maybe you watched Pokémon as a kid. In which case this is one of the most interesting RPGs you will play. Like previous Pokémon games, you have a top-down perspective and roam the world trying to capture all Pokémon.
Your end goal is to be the champion after defeating the Elite Four and to do that you must make your Pokémon stronger. Combat is turn-based, and you can use items or abilities depending on which Pokémon is fighting. XP gained from battles causes your Pokémon to evolve into a more advanced form.
Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance
- Developer: Konami
- Release Date: September 16, 2002
Harmony of Dissonance lets you play as Simon Belmont’s grandson, a vampire slayer called Juste who has magical powers. You are the one who must put a stop to Dracula’s reign of terror this time around after he has woken up from his century-long slumber. At the start, you find out that your friend Lydie has been kidnapped and is being held captive at Dracula’s castle.
So like any good vampire slayer, you strap on your boots and head out to hunt Dracula’s little minions. The castle itself is gigantic with tons of explorable areas and dozens of enemy types. You get rewarded with experience which you can use to upgrade your abilities.
If you love retro games and are interested in Original Xbox as well then you must check out my other list Top 50 All-time Original Xbox Games That You Must Play
Astro Boy: The Omega Factor
- Developer: Treasure, Hitmaker
- Release Date: August 18, 2004
An action-packed side scroller that everybody must play through at least once. It has everything from multiple weapons and mobility options to ingenious boss designs. And there’s is a ton of diversity in levels, not just in the visual aspect but also in the way you navigate through the terrain.
You can use basic punches, your machine gun, or the incredible finger laser. Beating up enemies with basic moves will recharge the bar that lets you use your special weapons. Some bosses are massive while others have multiple transformations and require special strategies to defeat.
Wario Land 4
- Developer: Nintendo R&D1
- Release Date: November 19, 2001
Mario’s evil counterpart returns once again for this Gameboy Advance title. Wario reads about a newspaper report about a pyramid that was abandoned by researchers because the interior was too dangerous. However, the rumors of treasure stashes within this pyramid make Wario race to it in hopes of striking gold.
Within the pyramid, there are 6 sections with 4 levels each. Within each level, you must find 4 gems and return to the starting point before a timer runs out. Wario feels a lot more mortal compared to previous entries since your health running out means restarting the entire level.
If you love retro games and are interested in GameCube as well then you must check out my other list Top 50 All-time GameCube Games That You Must Play
Final Fantasy V Advance
- Developer: Square
- Release Date: November 6, 2006
Final Fantasy explores the role-playing aspect of the series in much more depth compared to any previous title. It has fluid class changes that you can make on the fly. Experience is acquired separately for abilities and overall stats.
This game also introduces some exotic new professions and provides you with the opportunity to set up some sick combinations. If you switch to “Freelance” you can mix abilities from various professions. The GBA version of Final Fantasy V has 4 new classes- Gladiator, Necromancer, Cannoneer, and Oracle.
- Developer: Game Freak
- Release Date: February 6, 2006
Nearly half or more of the GBA’s library is comprised of remakes, ports, and sequels to existing franchises. However, Drill Dozer is an original IP with a brand-new take on platforming. It is a breath of fresh air for a console that had begun to feel stale and boring.
Drill Dozer has professionally designed cutscenes, excellent UI, and tons of high-quality animation. Your main weapon is a drill that lets you do several different things- jumps, attacks, defense, etc. And each level is unique in the sense that it presents you with new ways to use your drill.
If you love retro games and are interested in SNES Games as well then you must check out my other list Top 50 All-Time SNES (Super Nintendo) Games That You Must Play
Mega Man Zero 3
- Developer: Inti Creates
- Release Date: October 5, 2004
Just like Mega Man X was supposed to be an evolution of the original Mega Man for NES, Mega Man Zero wanted to be its own thing. It was inspired by the “X” games but never copied them. Even the story for the first Mega Man Zero tells you that X’s sense of justice couldn’t stand the test of time.
The Mega Man Zero series of games are a reflection of their designer’s philosophy that nothing lasts forever. This was reflected in the darker, more mature storylines. Zero 3 takes this concept to its logical extreme, both in terms of narrative and gameplay.
Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Red Rescue Team
- Developer: Chunsoft
- Release Date: September 18, 2006
Red Rescue Team is a fun Pokémon adventure with turn-based combat that focuses more on dungeons compared to previous installments. The series was never a true dungeon game, it was essential a cluster of hubs tied together by forests and villages that you could explore.
In this game, you have just one village with a few interactive NPCs and Pokémon. Most of what you do, whether it’s catching or fighting Pokémon takes place in dungeons. There are about 16 of them, and you play from the perspective of a Pokémon (a human that got turned into a Pokémon).
Gunstar Super Heroes
- Developer: Treasure
- Release Date: October 25, 2005
In the original Gunstar game, two heroes fight against a supervillain called the God of Ruin. He is defeated on the Moon, and the resulting explosion creates 4 new moons. His loyal followers look to resurrect him several years after the events of the first game.
Now in Gunstar Super Heroes, you must stop him again. Once more, you have the choice to play one of two characters. Both are pretty much similar, except for the primary weapons.
F-Zero: GP Legend
- Developer: Suzak Inc.
- Release Date: September 20, 2004
Building on concepts introduced within F-Zero: Maximum Velocity, GP Legend adds a few new tracks and game modes. It also features a few changes to driving mechanics and a brand-new Maximum Velocity system. Boosting your vehicle now feels tighter and more controllable.
There can be up to 30 racers on one track at the same time but in reality, you never see more than 4 on your screen. This is due to hardware limitations on the GBA. Plus, the attack system doesn’t work very well and you can’t reliably take out opponents with it.
Super Mario Advance
- Developer: Nintendo R&D2
- Release Date: June 11, 2001
With every new Nintendo console release, we expect a next-generation Mario game that showcases its technical prowess. But Super Mario Advance is no giant leap forward. If anything, it’s a retread of past experiences that date all the way back to the 8-bit NES era.
Super Mario Advance is essentially a remade Super Mario 2 packaged with Classic Mario Bros. And there are a few extras, like the 4-player mode and improved graphics + sound design. Plus, characters have digitized voices now.
Car Battler Joe
- Developer: Ancient
- Release Date: October 21, 2002
Okay guys, hear me out on this one. A car fighting game with role-playing elements and lots of destruction. Sound interesting?
Clearly, the developers of this game thought that was a good idea. And they were right- it’s simply awesome. You’re a professional car battler and you take on other car battlers in Deathrace style duels.
Townsfolk offer you quests, fulfilling these gives you new parts to upgrade your car. There is a semi-open world design going on, plus something resembling a plot moves the entire thing forward. Look, it’s not exactly deep but you’re going to have tons of fun playing this game.
The Pinball of the Dead
- Developer: Wow Entertainment
- Release Date: June 18, 2002
Remember rail shooters in which you had a character glued to a predetermined path, moving through pixelated environments? Well, this is one of those games with a slight twist. It isn’t a shooter at all.
In fact, it’s a regular old pinball game. But how can you make Pinball interesting? You put the whole thing inside a House of the Dead set, and voila- zombie pinball.
Boktai: The Sun is in Your Hand
- Developer: Konami
- Release Date: September 16, 2003
I assume you’ve heard of Hideo Kojima. He’s the game designer behind legendary titles such as Metal Gear Solid. But before making stealth shooters he was producing fantasy adventures for the GBA.
One of those fantasy adventure games is Boktai. You’re a vampire slayer, using the power of the sun to destroy an ancient evil. There’s a twist- the cartridge for this game has a sunlight sensor built into it.
So whenever the sensor picks up sunlight, your in-game sunlight meter goes up. And that increases the demon-slaying ability of your character. Now that’s what I call genius game design.
Harry Potter: Quidditch World Cup
- Developer: EA UK
- Release Date: October 28, 2003
It’s Harry Potter, and he’s playing in the Quidditch World Cup. If you have seen the Harry Potter movies or read the books, you know what this is all about. There are wizards and witches flying around on magical broomsticks, playing air football.
You can choose from any of the 4 houses within Hogwarts, and there are multiple characters from the movies/ books. You can play as Potter, Malfoy, Krum, and more. The graphics aren’t bad for a GBA title, and the sound effects are pretty good too.
- Developer: Digital Eclipse
- Release Date: June 11, 2001
Rayman seems to be one of those classic platforming heroes forgotten to time, overshadowed by legends such as Mario. But he is in fact a French copy of Mario and has been around for almost as long. Rayman is an edgier, faster-paced version of Mario with trenchcoat-wearing villains.
The game spikes quite hard in difficulty after a few initial levels, but you also unlock additional powers as you progress through the world. Graphics and art design are leagues above most other GBA games, which is why Rayman Advance plays so well even in modern times.
Spyro 2: Season of Flame
- Developer: Digital Eclipse
- Release Date: September 25, 2002
Spyro: Season of Ice was the first Spyro game for the GBA. In a way, Spyro 2 continues the story told by its predecessor. But it also introduces new game mechanics.
The new Spyro has both ice and fire breath which gives you a ton of options in dealing with enemies. Some enemies need to be frozen first; others can be burned to a crisp on sight. You have to decide which approach is the best depending on your situation.
Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories
- Developer: Square Enix
- Release Date: December 7, 2004
One of the earliest GBA games to use full-motion video, Chain of Memories is a well-designed game with a slightly confusing plot. It sold 104,000 units within 48 hours upon its Japan debut. Despite that, it wasn’t as successful as previous Kingdom Hearts titles.
The game is essentially two genres packed in one- collectible cards + action roleplaying. You collect XP through battles to level up character cards, and combat is done with cards. Exploration is done with an isometric perspective, and you can “synthesize” explorable areas on the map using map cards won from battle.
Metal Slug Advance
- Developer: Noise Factory
- Release Date: December 2, 2004
Remember the SNK Neo Geo? You probably don’t because they jumped out of the portable console market in June of 2000 due to disappointing sales figures. Thankfully, some of the best Neo Geo games remained to be sold on another platform.
One of those games is Metal Slug, a shooter with goofy over the top action and funny characters. Oh, and guns too. Really big guns.
Metal Slug Advance has no puzzles, keys, or any other boring stuff to get in the way of blowing stuff up. It’s like an 80s action movie in video game form- unapologetic and awesome. You simply mow down waves of enemies with extremely large firearms until the boss shows up, ready to get his butt kicked.
Digimon: Battle Spirit
- Developer: Dimps
- Release Date: January 13, 2003
Basically a fighting game in the vein of Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat. But instead of scary-looking people, you’ve got Digimon. These digital monsters cannot be trained like in a regular Digimon game.
Instead, you simply engage in 1 vs 1 fights against other Digimon, clearing stages. At the end of each stage, you have to fight Impmon.
Simply connecting moves and using combos won’t win the fight. Instead, you collect the orbs they drop. At the end of each round, the player with the most orbs shall win.
- Developer: Atari
- Release Date: November 18, 2004
Despite being produced with the best of intentions, this game ended up underperforming in sales. Part of it was due to the design itself, but the time of release was also to blame. Beyblade the TV show was losing popularity when this game came out, and it wasn’t going to grab people’s attention.
Still, you get to do everything you expect from a Beyblade game. You play as one of the several popular characters- Tyson, Daichi, and Kenny. Winning battles in championships lets you buy new launchers and ripcords; you can also choose when to call out your Bit-Beast.
Final Fight One
- Developer: Sun-Tec, Capcom
- Release Date: September 26, 2001
While Double Dragon might have invented the beat ‘em up genre, Final Fight perfected it. It has you taking on multiple enemies at the same time, beating them up with nothing but bare fists. And during battles you get to execute many cool moves like tossing a bad guy into his buddies, taking out several enemies with a single well-timed blow.
Mario Tennis: Power Tour
- Developer: Camelot Software Planning
- Release Date: December 5, 2005
How do you make a tennis video game interesting in the 21st century? Simple, you throw in some Mario to spice things up because you’re Nintendo. Mario Tennis is the type of game that everyone from your son to your mom can play and enjoy.
This is essentially an upgraded Mario Tennis from the old Gameboy Color. The graphics have been stepped up, and the audio is of higher quality too. You get access to more playable characters and minigames, not to mention extra game modes.
Super Monkey Ball Jr
- Developer: Realism
- Release Date: November 19, 2002
I can almost imagine what was going on inside a Sega executive’s head as he came up with the concept for Super Monkey Ball. “Let’s take a golf course and put it up in the sky. And instead of golf balls, we will use giant bubbles with monkeys trapped inside them”.
And it worked wonderfully because monkeys inside giant balls rolling through a maze-like structure high in the sky rocks. You have to take the ball to the end of the course. But it won’t be easy because of all the curves, banks, and obstacles.
- Developer: Hudson Soft
- Release Date: April 2003
Everywhere else this game is called Ninja Cop but for some reason, it’s called Ninja Five-O in the States. Personally, I prefer Ninja Cop because it sounds cooler. Oh, and the game title tells you everything you need to know.
You are a special cop with ninja skills and access to weapons like throwing stars. You take down petty criminals and small-time gangs in the early levels. But as you advance, things start to get really weird.
Level design is fairly non-linear and you’ll need keys to access certain sections of the stage. Your enemies begin to get tougher too, and you will need more powerful weapons to take on them.
Kuru Kuru Kururin
- Developer: Eighting
- Release Date: June 22, 2001
Is Kururin a penguin? Or a weird-looking blue duck? It doesn’t matter, because his brothers have gone missing and now you must make your way through complicated mazes in your helicopter to rescue them.
Oh, and the helicopter is just a giant spinning fan blade with a seat stuck in the middle. Physics and movement play a big role in this otherwise simplistic game. Every time your helicopter blades touch the walls, you lose health.
Mega Man Zero 4
- Developer: Inti Creates, Natsume
- Release Date: October 4, 2005
It plays like previous Mega Man Zero titles, which isn’t a bad thing. But it does highlight the lack of innovation, and some long-time Mega Man fans didn’t like that. Nevertheless, Mega Man Zero 4 is a very entertaining action side-scroller from beginning to end.
Getting upgrades and new weapons is easier compared to previous entries. One of the new features introduced in this game is the ability to select the weather before entering a level. You can switch between favorable and unfavorable weather which changes both the backdrop and material of the terrain.
Super Street Fighter II: Turbo Revival
- Developer: Capcom
- Release Date: October 30, 2001
Capcom managed to milk Street Fighter 2 for more than a decade, which is an accomplishment in itself. That said, each successive iteration of this legendary fighting game introduced new characters, mechanics, etc. Super Street Fighter II: Turbo Revival is a good fighting game that preserves all its arcade goodness despite being on a handheld platform.
Previous ports of Street Fighter II had to cut corners because console hardware of the time couldn’t handle true arcade quality. The GBA version has little to no cut content, there are no missing animations or sound effects. Plus, you get pressure-sensitive controls and a new “easy special moves” option.
Mega Man Zero 2
- Developer: Inti Creates
- Release Date: October 14, 2003
Everything you would expect from a sequel. Mega Man Zero 2 takes what made the first Zero good and turned everything up to 11. The story picks up from where we left it last time, humanity has turned against the reploids.
Turned into outcasts, you must prevent humans from destroying the few reploids strongholds that are left. Mega Man Zero 2 has longer levels, better graphics, and more action compared to the first Mega Man Zero.
Street Fighter Alpha 3
- Developer: Crawfish Interactive
- Release Date: December 1, 2002
The original Street Fighter Alpha 3 was released on arcades in 1998, followed by home console ports. The PlayStation, Sega Saturn, and Dreamcast all got their own versions. But when Nintendo released the GBA, Crawfish Interactive got really ambitious.
Somehow, they managed to cram the full fat Alpha 3 experience within a tiny handheld Nintendo. Yeah, backgrounds are slightly less detailed and some character animations are simplified. But the gameplay remains solid, no features or mechanics have been removed.
Sonic Advance 2
- Developer: Dimps, Sonic Team
- Release Date: March 9, 2003
The first Sonic Advance was Sega testing the waters, trying to bring in players who missed out on the Dreamcast version of Sonic. It didn’t really take advantage of the GBA hardware. However, things really changed with the 2nd Sonic Advance which was intended to push boundaries.
It has large levels than its predecessor, you have 5 playable characters with unique abilities. And depending on which character you choose; your exploration strategy will change. Sonic Advance 2 isn’t just about jumping through hoops and avoiding spikes, there are hidden paths and power-ups scattered everywhere to encourage player exploration.
GT Advance Championship Racing
- Developer: MTO
- Release Date: June 8, 2001
PlayStation has Gran Turismo, Nintendo fans got this in its place. Just like Gran Turismo, you get to drive fast cars on exotic tracks all over the world. And all cars in GT Advance Championship Racing are licensed from actual manufacturers like Toyota, Honda, Nissan, etc.
There are various championships that unlock new vehicles and tracks, plus a variety of game modes. And the performance of stock cars can be improved by adding performance parts. You can swap out the engine, ECU, transmission, suspension, tires, etc.
These days we take portable gaming for granted, thanks to phones and devices like the Nintendo Switch. But you’ve got to remember where it all started- with consoles like the Nintendo Gameboy and Sega Game Gear. Oh, and did you know the designer of the original Gameboy also came up with the D-pad?
The portrait layout of the Gameboy advanced with controls on either side of the screen is standard for any handheld gaming device today. Back in 2001, it raised quite a few eyebrows. Some even questioned its viability compared to the portrait layout of the original Gameboy. I hope my list inspires you to play some of these excellent GBA games. You can play them on an emulator, or even the Nintendo Switch. Talking of the Switch, here’s a fun fact- it has about a 3rd of the GBA’s battery life. Funny what ancient processors and monochrome non-backlit screens can do for energy efficiency.
If you found this article useful, you may want to save this pin below to your Gaming board.