When the Nintendo GameBoy was first released in 1989, it was a revolution in personal gaming. Up until that time, avid gamers were essentially stuck with their systems that needed to be plugged into a TV. Then, the GameBoy changed everything.
Other handheld game systems came out around the same time, including Sega Game Gear, NEC TurboExpress, and the Atari Lynx. Each had its own benefits, Nintendo’s GameBoy stood the test of time and eventually made way for the Advance a little more than a decade later.
Released in 2001, it was the sixth generation of the GameBoy consoles. The first GameBoy Advance release did not have an illuminated screen, however, but by 2003, Nintendo had begun paying attention to the little details that made a world of difference.
By 2010, more than 81 million GameBoy systems had been sold around the world. When Nintendo released its DS handheld game system, some may have assumed this would completely replace the GameBoy that many of the top GameBoy Advance games fans had grown to love. Fortunately, the DS was backward-compatible, meaning it could play GBA games just fine.
What Makes A Good Gameboy Advance Game?
It really comes down to a matter of personal preference. For the most part, though, it involves several factors, including graphics, playability, strategy, and ease of use.
Perhaps most important when ranking the top GBA games of all time is whether or not they performed as they were designed. This may seem like an innocuous question, but many games that were released and never gained traction, never held court for very long, weren’t poorly designed necessarily, but what the creator had in mind and what was accomplished in the game itself may have been worlds apart.
We used the following basic criteria in building out our list of the best GBA games of all time:
- Did it perform as designed?
- Was it fun to play?
- Could a player enjoy this game for months and even years? Or did it quickly lose its appeal?
- Was the game relatively simple to understand and get started with?
- Did it have increasing challenges that kept the player engaged and seeking to improve his or her skill set?
When all is said and done, however, it really comes down to personal preference. Some of the best Nintendo GameBoy Advance games we listed here you may find to have been boring, nonstarters, or less than worthy of this type of list. That’s okay.
This is our list, and it’s one we find a number of other people agree with.
The Best GBA Games
Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow
When you were looking for serious action, but with a splash of fun and lighthearted sentimentality, you would turn to Aria of Sorrow. The developers were able to combine the best of the two previous versions of Castlevania in this game, creating an icon for the ages.
Believe it or not, this game had a built-in motion sensor right in the cartridge. That meant the cartridge itself could sense motion. For that, this game alone stands as one of the best GBA games of all time.
Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past with Four Swords
Building on the legendary (pun intended) Zelda, this GameBoy Advance version successfully captured the essence of the original game but added a multilayer element that was called Four Swords. It also added many new features that made it much more powerful than the original SNES version.
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2
For anyone who enjoyed skateboarding in their youth and who grew up during this age, this game was a must-have. While it was available on other systems, the GameBoy version may not have had the same visual attention to detail as the PlayStation one, but it was still a great deal of fun in the palm of your hand.
Super Mario Advance 3: Yoshi’s Island
Yoshi’s Island was originally released on the SNES game system back in 1995, so this was another port version for the GameBoy. Players would navigate through various levels of traps, puzzles, and enemies to claim victory.
Final Fantasy VI Advance
Some would argue that this version of Final Fantasy was the absolute best, at least within the confines of the two-dimensional world. It still holds up today. However, even today’s versions can’t compare to the GBA game’s version because of the way it drew you in and the narrative that went along with it.
Metroid: Zero Mission
While it would be simple to assume this was a remake of the original NES hit game, it merely takes its inspiration from there and builds upon it, creating a new experience for fans.
Some argue that this was the best GBA game for action on the system. It offered an exciting adventure from the very start. Players enjoyed tantalizing music that could make them feel as though they were in the midst of a horror film. The intensity was that good.
The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap
Another version of the legendary game, this role-playing game was one that changed everything because players could do this anywhere; they didn’t have to be at a table poring over sheets and a game board.
Combining strategy and role-playing within a fantasy game, players enjoyed Fire Emblem because it had everything, including dragons, kings, heroes, and even politicians who would steal from their own mother if it meant they could get ahead. Planning for future moves was essential to be successful with Fire Emblem.
Mario Kart: Super Circuit
Mario Kart has been a favorite for generations. With this version, players got to choose from 40 different tracks and several game modes. However, when you compete at higher levels, Artificial Intelligence gets tougher.
Final Fantasy Tactics Advance
Set within the Final Fantasy world, this action game had a combination of great stories and strategies for players to focus on. Players got to choose from numerous characters and each one would have special, unique abilities that would be beneficial at different stages of the game.
Super Mario Advance 2: Super Mario World
This version stepped up the game. The goal was to rescue Princess Toadstool from Bowser, but one thing that separated this version from others was the ability for players to choose Luigi at any time on the world screen. Players today still love the Mario world, as it remains a top seller for the new Nintendo Switch.
Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town
While there wasn’t much of a story to this farming simulator, you had to learn to plant crops, grow livestock, and befriend other characters (non-player characters, or NPCs), in the game to move ahead. Seemingly mundane, this was highly addictive.
Mario vs Donkey Kong
Mario has to retrieve some toys that Donkey Kong stole. There are two sections per level and puzzles to solve along the way. There were also six different worlds to explore, which was a wonderful advantage, especially for those who were enthusiastic fans of Mario Brothers and Donkey Kong.
Sonic has long been Sega’s mascot, so to see this icon as part of a Nintendo game was different, to say the least. This was an entertaining venture and up to four players could enjoy it in multiplayer mode.
Kirby and the Amazing Mirror
This game looked deceptive at first, but where many players assumed it would be a straightforward, linear game, it actually allowed players more freedom. It was a very mature game, surprisingly so, and explored a lot of deeper, darker aspects of life.
Double Dragon Advance
While the fighting genre that was popular in the 1980s had faded, this Double Dragon Advance version hearkened back to those times, but in the 3D era. While this didn’t offer deep storylines or dimensional characters, it was simply a lot of fun, especially if you loved those 80s-style games.
Pokémon Ruby & Sapphire
Trying to capture all of the Pokémon is the purpose of this game, as usual. The goal is to defeat the Elite Four by making your Pokémon stronger. When facing combat, it is turn-based.
Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance
In this version, players had the opportunity to play as Simon Belmont’s son. He was a vampire slayer with magical powers. In this version, it is up to the player to finally end Dracula’s reign. When you start, you discover that Lydie has been kidnapped and held by Dracula. Your job is to rescue her.
Astro Boy: The Omega Factor
Even though you may not have much experience with Astro Board, this one was a must-play for everyone. With multiple weapons and mobility options to choose from, there’s a lot of excitement going on at every level.
Wario Land 4
Wario is Mario’s evil counterpart. Having been spotted in a variety of games previously, he returned for this one, too. With six sections in the pyramid, each with four levels, and four gems to find in each level, there was plenty to keep players occupied.
Final Fantasy V Advance
Building on previous versions, this one took role-playing to a new level. Offering fluid class changes that could be done as you played, there were also new professions that allowed players to create wonderful combinations.
This surprising original for the GameBoy system breathed new life into the console, at least for a while. Great animation at every level that required players to discover and use new skills.
Mega Man Zero 3
Inspired by the X Games, this GameBoy system game managed to avoid copying those quintessential games of the late 90s and 2000s. With each subsequent version, the storylines got darker and the gameplay became more extreme.
Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Red Rescue Team
Red Rescue Team is a wonderful Pokémon adventure that created a unique shift. In this one, dungeons were the main focus, and only one village whereas previous versions had numerous villages and forests players could explore. With 16 dungeons, players would see everything from the perspective of the Pokémon.
Gunstar Super Heroes
In the original Gunstar game, the God of Ruin was defeated. During his defeat, though, the moon fractured into four smaller moons. Unfortunately, those who followed this god were bent on resurrecting him. In this version, he’s back and players can play one of two different characters.
F-Zero: GP Legend
With new tracks and a variety of game modes, players had the ability to alter driving mechanics and even tweak their vehicles so they were more realistic. Also, up to 30 racers could be on the track at any given time.
Super Mario Advance
Every time a new Nintendo system was released, it seemed to be met with a new Mario game. This was no different, but this Super Mario Advance version simply didn’t catapult the franchise forward. However, the four-player mode and better graphics were a bonus.
Car Battler Joe
This awesome game has players as professional car battlers taking on others in deathrace-style matches. If you complete requests from the townsfolk, you can upgrade your ride for the next match.
The Pinball of the Dead
This is basically a traditional pinball game, and while that might not seem overly exciting, the developers of this version put everything inside a House of the Dead set, so players could enjoy some zombie pinball.
Boktai: The Sun is in Your Hand
As a vampire slayer, players would use the sun’s power as a way to defeat their evil opponents. Sounds simple enough? Sure, it is, but there was a twist. The game cartridge had a light sensor built into it, so when you played under bright light, your character’s evil slaying ability increased.
Harry Potter: Quidditch World Cup
For those who haven’t seen any of the Harry Potter movies or read the books yet, we’d like to know what planet you’ve been living on. Seriously, though, this GameBoy entry was thrilling for Harry Potter fans.
Even though Rayman is the French version of Mario, and has been around nearly as long, this character had more of an edge to his persona. The levels got harder more quickly and the graphics were better than most other comparable GameBoy games.
Spyro 2: Season of Flame
This was the first Spyro game released for the GameBoy system. It essentially picks up where the first one left off. Spyro has ice and fire breath, which provides plenty of options for overcoming enemies.
Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories
This game used a full-motion video and was incredibly well designed. Even though the plot was a bit off, it essentially had two genres packed into one game. It sold well right away but didn’t have the staying power of other similar formats.
Metal Slug Advance
With funny characters and big guns, it’s basically like your 1980s action movie stuffed into a video game system. The goal is to wipe out your enemies by obliterating them with bullets. In other words, mow them down.
Digimon: Battle Spirit
In another fighting game, instead of having scary-looking characters, players are Digimon and compete against other Digimon. However, when players reach the end of one stage, they then have to fight the tougher Impmon, and simply using basic moves and combos won’t get you there. You have to click the orbs as they fall.
This game didn’t sell as developers had expected, but a big reason was that the television program it was based on had stopped grabbing the audience’s attention. Still, it was a fun entry into the GameBoy universe.
Final Fight One
Even though Double Dragon may have invented the fighting genre for video game systems, Final Fight took it to a new level. In this one, players will have to take on numerous opponents at the same time.
Mario Tennis: Power Tour
If playing tennis on a video game sounds dull and boring, you probably haven’t tried Mario Tennis. In this version, the graphics were improved and you had access to more playable characters. There were also better game modes and even minigames.
Super Monkey Ball Jr.
Imagine you took a golf course and put it in the sky. Then, instead of golf balls, you had monkeys trapped inside bubbles. While this may seem odd, it was incredibly successful. Simply put, it was a lot tougher than it looked.
In all other regions of the world, this game was known as Ninja Cop, except in the United States where it went by this title. As a special cop that had ninja skills, players had to take down petty criminals and gangs, but as the levels increased, things got tougher and more complicated.
Kuru Kuru Kururin
Try to save this title five times fast and you’re sure to have a tongue twister on your hands. While few people actually know what Kururin is, that doesn’t really matter. Players have to find their lost brothers using a helicopter to rescue them.
Mega Man Zero 4
This entertaining action game offered new upgrades and weapons compared to previous versions, including the ability to choose the weather before entering the game itself.
Super Street Fighter II: Turbo Revival
Even though it was essentially the same version as the original, this one had new characters and mechanics. It held on to the core principles that made the original Street Fighter game successful, especially in the arcades. With the GameBoy version, players enjoyed pressure-sensitive controls.
Mega Man Zero 2
Everything that made the first Zero games successful is found here, but developers ratcheted everything up many levels. The levels are longer, the graphics vastly improved, and the action is top-notch.
Street Fighter Alpha 3
Another entry from the Street Fighter universe, this was released as an arcade game in 1998, but this version was highly ambitious. Developers were able to mash everything from that original arcade system into the small handheld Nintendo GameBoy version. Although graphic details were simplified to make this happen, everything else was top-notch.
Sonic Advance 2
This second addition to the Sonic Advance pushed the boundaries of what was possible in handheld game systems. The levels are larger, players got to choose from five characters, each with unique abilities, and there were hidden paths and power-ups to find, discover, and use.
GT Advance Championship Racing
Test drive incredibly fast exotic cars on tracks set around the world, and you’ve got this GT Advance Championship Racing edition. By taking on and winning different championships, players were able to unlock new tracks and new vehicles. Even stock cars could be improved with each victory.
Common GBA Questions
What Is The Rarest Gameboy Advance Game?
This would be Pocky & Rocky with Becky. This multidirectional shooter game harkens back to the original Super Nintendo games. It was only released on a limited run, and few people realized this at the time.
What was once available to find just a decade or so ago for $5 or $7, the price range now can be anywhere from $120 to $700 or more, with $5,000 being reasonable for an original version sealed in its initial packaging.
Are GBA Games Still Being Made?
No. Production of new GameBoy Advance games ceased by the end of 2009. By May 15, 2010, all sales of GameBoy Advance games had also ceased in retailers around the world.
Millions of GameBoy fans around the world can still enjoy these exciting games using an emulator or even the Nintendo Switch. So, even if you found one of your favorite games on this list and haven’t played it in years, there’s still hope. What a wonderful time to be a GameBoy enthusiast.