On June 11, 2001, the Game Boy Advance finally made its way to North America, bringing with it hundreds of titles throughout its life.
While many titles were good, some rose above the rest to become great titles. Below, I’ve listed my top 10 personal GBA games, along with a few honorable mentions that couldn’t break into the top of the list. I’m sure many other lists will be different than mine, and I definitely invite you to leave your favorite games below and see what other people liked on one of the best Nintendo handhelds out there.
One thing to note is that I didn’t put any direct remakes on here. Sure, it had great titles like Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World and Yoshi’s Island on it, but I wanted to focus more on original titles here.
Honorable Mention: Mega Man Battle Network 2: For many, this game isn’t even considered a true Mega Man title because of its gameplay. Instead of tough platforming gameplay, Battle Network takes place in the digital world with battles on a 3×3 grid with cards being used for special abilities and skills. In particular, the second game built on what made the first enjoyable and added a lot more special skills and places to go. If you never checked the game out, it’s still around on the DS and can be looked at on the 3DS, but I still find the GBA titles to be better.
Honorable Mention: WarioWare, Inc: Mega Microgame$: When this game first came out, I wrote it off because of the mini-game nature of it. However, WarioWare, Inc. really gave Wario a unique niche and was a blast to play in short bursts. The titles are still being made now, so make sure to give one a look if you never checked it out on its original system.
10. The Legend of Zelda: Minish Cap: The Minish Cap is still one of my favorite handheld Zelda’s out there. After the two Oracle games on Game Boy Color, the Minish Cap introduced the ability to shrik and grow in areas, adding new gameplay elements and places to explore. While the overworld was large enough, it got even bigger with more areas to explore when you were little. I’d love to see this get a re-release on the 3DS now, as you can only play an Ocarina of Time remake so much.
9. Final Fantasy Tactics Advance: Square Enix held off on publishing a game on the GBA for a while. When we did get a title, though, we got FF Tactics Advance, a strong successor to the PlayStation title. While it kept the strong tactical RPG elements, it brought on plenty of new gameplay elements that had to be paid attention to, such as the Judge system. This game quickly became a “one more turn at 1 a.m.” title for me.
8. Pokémon Ruby/Sapphire/Emerald: What Nintendo handheld list would be complete without a Pokémon title on it? I put all three titles together here since they were relatively the same game. The game added a lot of gameplay changes to the series that can still be seen today. Plus, there are quite a few monsters introduced in the game that still are popular with fans of the series now.
7. Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga: I consider Superstar Saga a kind of spiritual successor to Super Mario RPG from the SNES. The duo paired up in this action RPG that had elements also seen in Paper Mario. The best thing about the game, though, was the entertaining story that brought out a few laughs along the way. Since then, a better title in the series has come out, Bowser’s Inside Story, but the original still should be experienced.
6. Metroid: Zero Mission: The second Metroid title on the GBA went back to Samus’ early years, giving gamers a better look at the history of Samus. Sure, it remade a bit of the first game, but it also added plenty of new elements and even introduced Samus without her suit jumping around. Zero Mission is a strong title in the series and really helps to build more of Samus’ character and give more of her backstory.
5. Golden Sun: While there were quite a few RPGs on the handheld, this is by far one of my favorite ones to play. The RPG from Camelot was a tradition RPG that focused quite a bit on the elements, even using them to solve puzzles in the world. The story was great to experience and between this and its sequel, The Lost Age, it left fans clamoring for a new game on the DS. While it didn’t seem to get near the success the first game did, it still showed that there are plenty of Golden Sun fans out there wanting to see more of the Djinns.
4. Fire Emblem: Fire Emblem had been out for years before North American shores finally saw its first title in the series, a GBA port. Now, we’re less than a month away from getting the newest 3DS game. Fire Emblem at its basic is a tactical rock-paper-scissors game. All classes are strong against a class, but can be easily destroyed by another class. This made positioning your troops even more important because characters only had one life to live before disappearing forever. If you never tried a title in this series, pick up the 3DS one to see just how necessary tactics are to survive on this battlefield.
3. Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow: Konami supported the GBA throughout its life with Castlevania titles. However, the best title was by far Aria of Sorrow. It featured plenty of new gameplay elements and a top notch soundtrack. Personally, I loved how over-the-top some of the weapons and skills you could find in the game were, and the look of some of the bosses in the game. Thankfully, the game did get a re-release on the DS for fans that missed it the first time to check it out now.
2. Metroid Fusion: While many people like Zero Mission more on the GBA for giving some of Samus’ backstory, I loved Fusion for bringing the 2D Metroid formula back after getting Prime for GameCube. Fusion featured plenty of new and old Samus weapons and the constant threat of always running into SA-X, a group of parasites that had taken over part of her Power Suit and replicated her at full power. The game was loved by fans of Super Metroid and is still one of the best titles in the series out there.
1. Advance Wars: I forget how many countless hours I spent on this title. The game was a great strategy title with colorful graphics and interesting generals. On top of that, though, it offered a solid map creator and even four-player multiplayer requiring just one cartridge. The game was the perfect title to take on road trips, letting you easily do a quick battle against the AI or jump into the campaign. Plus, if you went anywhere with a friend you could spend the entire trip just seeing who was better at strategy. A great title that needs a 3DS installment today.
Leave your thoughts and own lists in the comments below.