We have to talk about the best Game Boy Advance games since the handheld is now 20 years old! Also how in the world is the Game Boy Advance already 20? That’s just absurd. Released in 2001 (pretty close to the GameCube), it was a much needed update to the super successful but aging Game Boy. Essentially a portable Super Nintendo, it had a phenomenal game library made up of both creative originals and quality SNES remasters. Though it didn’t sell quite as well as its predecessor or successor, there is a ton of love for this little system. I personally have quite a few fond memories of it, and even recently purchased a new modded Zelda GBA SP! Of course, I have to share what I think are the best Game Boy Advance games.
A quick disclaimer! There were so many great Super Nintendo re-releases that I could easily fill a top 10 list with those alone. But I’m purposefully choosing to leave most of them out, unless they had very meaningful changes or playing on the go was a game changer. That means that no traditional Mario games made the cut, since there sadly weren’t any unique to the GBA. Madness! As per usual, I try to largely base my criteria primarily around how well the games hold up today, though I recognize nostalgia is always a factor.
10. Kirby: Nightmare in Dream Land
I haven’t played all that many Kirby games. I love the original two Dream Lands for Game Boy and the recent 3DS entries, but missed a lot in the middle! A few friends on Instagram mentioned not long ago I should try out Kirby’s Adventure for the NES, so I played through it on my Switch via the NSO game catalog. And it was amazing. I think it’s my favorite Kirby game now, so I had to then track down this remake. Now one of my favorite NES games is also one of the best Game Boy Advance games! Stellar level design, creative platforming and side games, and “just the right amount of challenging” bosses from the NES still shine. But add in beautiful updated graphics with the ability to play as Meta Knight, as you’ve got a real winner! The smaller screen can occasionally be a hindrance, and not all the changes are for the better, but this is a delightful little remake I really enjoyed.
9. Pokemon LeafGreen and FireRed
Most of my love for Pokemon comes from playing the original two generations, so this nostalgic remake of Red and Blue (of which I still have my original copy) was irresistible! The graphics look like they were meant to on the original Game Boy release, and the redesigns of the Pokemon themselves are very well done and super charming. Newer features from Ruby and Sapphire, such as double battles, were brought over and were a fun addition. There were multiple post game additions and new Pokemon, too! You could certainly nitpick gameplay flaws from this era to death, but it’s still a joy to play, and I was smiling through my entire playthrough.
8. Final Fantasy VI Advance
FFVI remains my favorite Final Fantasy game to this day. The improvements from the earlier installments are staggering. The graphics are much more vibrant and beautiful. The gameplay is much smoother and the difficulty more balanced and less grindy. Moving from a “fantasy” realm to the Steampunk-inspired world with an interesting backstory was a very welcome change. The character roster is easily my favorite of the series despite it being so large! And the story. My goodness, what a tale. The biggest reason this version of the game makes my list is the re-translated script offers a more comprehensive and mature telling of the plot. Trust me, it’s even better than the original. The sound quality did take a bit of a hit, but between the better story and ability to play on the go, FFVI Advance is essential!
7. Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones
Another series that I haven’t played many entries of! My wife and I were completely and utterly obsessed with Fire Emblem: Three Houses on the Switch (the first we ever played), so I started tracking down older FE titles after. I’ve managed to find a good deal on a few, but I’ve only been able to complete Sacred Stones so far. And it’s wonderful! The graphics are ludicrously charming and timeless. Mechanics are tight and well explained. The story is intriguing and splits roughly halfway through–you must choose to follow one of a brother/sister pair. That branching plot was a clever mechanic that encourages multiple playthroughs! And the battles are tough but not too much so, which is great for me. I even found the Nintendo Power Player’s Guide since I loved the game and wanted some more nostalgia. Absolutely worth checking out if you’re an RPG or strategy fan!
6. Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga
Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars remains my favorite “Mario RPG” experience to this day. But that doesn’t mean the other titles aren’t also great! I got this one for Christmas the year it was released and very impressed with how creative, whimsical, and hilarious it was. The antics of Mario and Luigi mixed with the comically evil and sharp-witted villains makes for a lovely script and story! The battle system, much like Paper Mario, involves active commands throughout that keep it very interesting through countless fights. The overworld of the Beanbean kingdom was a joy to explore with all of Mario & Luigi’s abilities, and the game is tough too! It holds up astonishingly well today, and in my opinion remains the best of the M&L series.
5. Mother 3
Earthbound is a game I didn’t play until much later in my life, more than 20 years after it released. I bought it for the Wii U Virtual Console and quickly fell in love. Despite a few frustrating/aging mechanics, it’s utterly brilliant in just about every way. There’s truly nothing like it. And so I had to play the sequel! I’m obliged to mention it’s a travesty Mother 3 has yet to “officially” release stateside. But lucky for us, a spectacular fan translation is available! (I bought this physical copy from an Etsy shop and wanted to go with a label that captured the glory of this unique version). Mother 3 very much lives up to the hype, continuing the story from the previous game in creative and heartfelt ways. The tale sinks its teeth into you, then doesn’t let up until the end! It’s easily one of the best Game Boy Advance games that sadly has a limited audience. Hopefully we’ll still see an official English release, but in the meantime, I’m so very appreciative of this labor of love from fans.
4. Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow
Once again, a game I didn’t play on original hardware until I bought it on the Wii U Virtual Console! After playing the spectacular Symphony of the Night for the first time, I went on a bit of a Castlevania binge. And I was blown away by Aria of Sorrow! It comes in a close second for all-time favorite behind SotN. It’s a perfect blend of all the winning elements of previous “Metroidvania” style games. The “soul” system, where you can equip abilities of your choice from vanquished monsters, is brilliant and allows for a lot of customization. (and even inspired Hollow Knight and Shantae). Pacing is nice, inventory management is simple and clean, and the soundtrack is rockin’. Plus, the tale is set in the future which a nice change for the series. This one more than lives up to the hype-check it out!
3. Metroid: Zero Mission
I’m pretty obviously obsessed with Metroid. That love started way back in the day playing Metroid II and the near-perfect Super Metroid, but I missed out on the original game (similar to the first Legend of Zelda). When I did finally get to it, I found it a little more tedious and frustrating than fun. But then this spectacular re-imagining came along! This is how you do a remake, folks. The spirit of the original game shines through, but with beautifully recreated graphics and cutscenes, multiple quality of life improvements, and additional story and gameplay elements! The pacing in this game is almost textbook perfect, and is almost too “short and sweet” because it’s such a joy to play. The ending sequence, cool as it is, does drag a bit on repeat plays for me. But that’s barely an inconvenience. Metroid: Zero Mission is certainly one of the best Game Boy Advance games, and possibly the best!
2. The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap
Minish Cap was the last “top down” Zelda we got for a full decade! At a time when 3D consoles were pushing boundaries and impressing with power, Minish Cap stood as a delightful throwback to sprite-based graphics. And what an amazing game! A clever little story taking place long before Ganon enters the fray, Minish Cap has Link shrinking down to miniature proportions to explore literally every nook and cranny of this ancient Hyrule. The map is a bit small but there are a ludicrous amount of secrets packed into every screen. The graphics and characters charm (Ezlo is hilarious!), the dungeon design is very satisfying, and the soundtrack is stellar. And it’s packed full of Nintendo whimsy. Minish Cap is a consistently underrated gem-one of my favorite Zelda games! I can only hope it gets re-released for modern consoles at some point.
1. Metroid: Fusion
Honestly, it’s extremely difficult to decide on a favorite among the best Game Boy Advance games, especially these top three. I go back and forth, but more consistently land on Metroid Fusion for a few reasons. First, I really appreciate that it was a bold “Metroid 4” that continued Samus’ story after Super Metroid (as much as I love the Prime Trilogy). It linked back to all of the previous entries in meaningful ways! Second, the horror atmosphere is just amazing. For such crude hardware (by modern standards) the game still manages to be utterly terrifying. The SA-X hunting sequences and the fight with Nightmare make my heart race even after countless playthroughs!
Third, the gameplay is polished to a sheen and brilliantly paced. I know a lot of folks have trouble with how “linear” it starts where certain areas are gated off. But I feel that actually contributed to the atmosphere and story, allowing it to shine. And the world opens up later on anyways! The cutscenes are gorgeous, and the ending is absolutely perfect in wrapping the story beats of previous games up. Now can we please, PLEASE have a Metroid 5, Nintendo? (UPDATE: Metroid Dread is coming and I am freaking out with excitement)
Do you have fond memories of the GBA? What are some of the best Game Boy Advance games, in your opinion? (there are so many good ones!). Let me know in the comments below!
12 thoughts on “The Best Game Boy Advance Games”
Excellent list! Fusion is my favorite Metroid game so I’m happy to see it take the top spot.
My gratuitous protestation is.. no Golden Sun!! 😭 love those games.
I might rank as:
1. Golden Sun 1&2
2. Metroid Fusion
3. Tactics Ogre: Knight of Lodis
4. Minish Cap
Maybe a Pokémon could go next, or FFVI or Super Mario World?
I’ve not played Mother and am just now starting the Castlevania games.
I played the original Golden Sun right when it released and enjoyed it but I haven’t gone back to it since and don’t know what happened to my copy! I don’t play as many RPGs these days but I suspect if I had the time to replay it (and the sequel, for the first time!) they’d find their way onto the list 🙂
It’s pretty hard to argue with those top five, although TBH I must be the only person alive who preferred Harmony of Dissonance over Aria of Sorrow. So many great boss battles! I agree that AoS is the more cohesive game though.
Totally agree that Superstar Saga is the best of the first three M&L games. I haven’t tried the last two but it’s hard to imagine they’ve recaptured the magic.
I’m looking forward to delving further into the GBA library – I have Drill Dozer, Ninja 5-0, Astro Boy and the Golden Sun games on my radar.
Oh I’ve heard awesome things about Ninja 5-0! That’s amazing you have a copy-it’s super rare these days.
I finally played through Harmony of Dissonance on the Castlevania Advance Collection a few months ago and definitely liked it, but something about the castle layout just didn’t click as much for me as Aria did!
Oh, I don’t have a copy, it’s just on my wish list. I suspect it will stay there for a long time! 🙂
This list is much more interesting by only including original games. Forced you to go deeper into the catalog.
Mario and Luigi Superstar Saga was the reason I got a GBA (SP), along with Castlevania: Circle of the Moon. I still love the GameBoy line (memories!) and the GBA was a solid successor to the GB and GBC. More to reminisce on but happy to see this list. Can’t believe it has been 20 years either.
Thanks Kamal! Mario Kart: Super Circuit and Castlevania: Circle of the Moon were the first GBA games I bought, but I ended up trading CotM in later because it was too difficult to see the screen on the original hardware! (ah, young Zach)
There’s an astonishing amount of variety in games on this little system, and I’m still discovering new hidden gems today. Would love to hear some of your favorites when you have time too!
The GBA amazed me because it was a “portable SNES”. And the SNES at that point was already incredibly strong and well regarded amongst gamers, at a time when Nintendo had seemed to lose its way from the NES/SNES era. The GBA was more accessible and “cool” than the N64 and GameCube, it just was. Your friend who had a PlayStation 1/2 likely had a GBA but not a N64 or GameCube. Nintendo continued its dominance in the portable market which kept Nintendo alive to see another generation of hardware. I don’t have figures in front of me, but the GBA kept Nintendo “in the game” so to speak.
Excellent points! It’s crazy to think Nintendo has thoroughly dominated handheld gaming from its inception despite technically strong competitors over the decades. The GBA, DS, and the 3DS definitely helped keep Nintendo going strong when their “flagship” consoles faltered at times!
Oh I definitely traded in Circle of the Moon as well. I found it repetitive and just annoying enough EVEN THOUGH the graphics and music were great!
The original GBA games to me which stand out and I have great memories of are:
– Mario and Luigi: SS
– Metroid Fusion
I missed out on the seventeen copies of Metroid Zero Mission Nintendo made available at launch! But yes both M&L and Fusion defined the GBA for me. Alpha Dream (RIP) took the Mario RPG torch and carried it in admirable fashion. I don’t think they were able to top their first outing on the GBA.
Metroid Fusion was the first deal I posted to a message board I was active at the time. I believe I may have gotten it for around $17 shipped. I need to finish Fusion but I would always break it out around Thanksgiving and see how much further I could progress. Extremely well done.
Completely agreed that the original Mario & Luigi was the pinnacle of the series! I’ve played all of the others except the most recent (Dream Team) and have generally found a sense of “diminishing returns” as it went on. I’m surprised Nintendo let Alpha Dream sink after trusting them with such a valuable IP for years. It’ll be interesting to see if the M&L series resurfaces at any point!
I think the GBA is extra nostalgic for me because the Metroid games were so fantastic, and the series (at least 2D) hasn’t seen that much love from Nintendo since. I couldn’t believe that we got Metroid Fusion and Metroid Prime in the same holiday season! A glorious time for Metroid fans that we probably won’t see again.
I just played CotM on the Advance Collection and have moved on to HoD — Circle of the Moon was hard! I enjoyed abusing the rewind feature, otherwise I’m not sure I’d have had the commitment to carry through!