Now you can say what you will about Nintendo’s consoles (tech specs this, third-party support that), but there’s one thing nobody can deny: they’ve always owned the dedicated gaming handheld arena.
What was the competition to the 3DS, for instance? PlayStation Vita? We all know what happened there. The Vita is a fantastic system (one I’m not quite ready to refer to in the past tense just yet), but Sony just didn’t care.
Nintendo sure cared about Game Boy Advance, though. The system released in 2001 and when it was discontinued in 2010 had racked up stellar sales of over 80 million units worldwide (across all models of the hardware).
How did it do it? The old-fashioned way: by having a fantastic line-up of games. From Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 to Metroid Fusion and Advance Wars, let’s take a look at ten of the very best games the system had to offer.
10 Advance Wars
That’s right, friends, we’re kicking this little party off the right way. You just can’t have a rundown of greatest GBA titles without Advance Wars making an appearance.
A continuation of the Wars franchise (better known as Famicom Wars in Japan), this title arrived the same year as the console itself. It’s a sublimely-balanced RTS from Intelligent Systems, which sees the Orange Star army and new Commanding Officer Andy fighting other nations and an enigmatic threat known as Black Hole.
Advance Wars (as with its sequels) is renowned for blending cutesy visuals and an accessible approach with some surprising depth (not to mention punishing difficulty). In terms of the size of the package, this is one of the biggest games on the system, perhaps outdone only by the follow up (2003’s Advance Wars 2: Black Hole Rising).
9 WarioWare, Inc.: Mega Microgames!
Wario has always been the black sheep of Nintendo’s Mushroom Kingdom regulars. With all the toilet-humour and nose picking, he’s more Earthworm Jim than Super Mario in my eyes. It’s no surprise, then, that the franchise he established on Game Boy Advance is… well, just a little unhinged.
WarioWare, Inc.: Mega Microgames! centres around the simple concept of microgames: quick, two-second tasks to complete in rapid succession, broken up by a slightly longer boss battle.
WarioWare is a franchise unlike any other and some just don’t ‘get’ the whole thing. Nevertheless, the title that started it all is fondly remembered as a Game Boy Advance classic.
8 Mario Kart: Super Circuit
Super Mario Kart emerged out of nowhere in 1992, kicking off a whole genre of pretenders. Everyone from Crash Bandicoot to the darn Crazy Frog released their own kart racer in its wake. Since then, the series has been a mainstay of just about every new Nintendo system and the Game Boy Advance wasn’t going to miss out.
Mario Kart: Super Circuit was the third game in the series and the first to appear on a handheld console. It’s an excellent entry, too, boasting bright and colourful visuals, a good array of gameplay modes and a surprisingly wide roster of tracks to unlock.
An honourable mention in the GBA kart racer category goes to Konami Krazy Racers, which was also excellent in visuals and gameplay but just didn’t have the cast of characters that Mario Kart has to offer.
7 Kingdom Hearts: Chain Of Memories
Right about now, Kingdom Hearts fans are probably still completely absorbed in the spangly-new Kingdom Hearts III. After all, following a wait like this, you’ve got to take your time and absorb every drop of sweet, sweet joy from the game that you can.
How about Kingdom Hearts: Chain Of Memories, though? Originally released for the Game Boy Advance in 2004, this action RPG is known as one of the best games of its kind on the system. It boasts excellent visuals, a top-notch story, and an engaging card-based battle system.
By collecting these cards, the player could ‘customize’ the area they’re in (increasing the amount of enemies they’ll encounter, for instance) through the room synthesis system. It’s all very innovative.
6 Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire
Well, this was inevitable, wasn’t it? All things considered, it’s surprising that we even made it halfway down this list without the Pokémon franchise rearing its head. Perhaps these games aren’t Nintendo developed, but they’re pretty well the face of Nintendo handhelds at this point.
Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire arrived in the West in 2003, the third generation of the games. As with most new Pokémon titles, they largely followed the familiar formula, but your adventure through Hoenn came with a few all-new mechanics. Among these were the double battle feature (now the standard of official competitive play), along with abilities and natures.
Ruby and Sapphire introduced elements that today’s competitive Pokémon scene would be completely lost without and they’re much beloved for doing so.
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5 Metroid Fusion
The Metroid franchise is one that’s often slept on. Which makes perfect sense, as Nintendo themselves seem unsure what to do with it (as the sorry story of Metroid Prime 4 should prove). The cycle seems to be the occasional fantastic Metroid game, followed by a long drought before another appears.
Metroid Fusion is a case in point. This one hit the plucky handheld in 2002 and saw Samus doing what she does best: exploring a dark-looking space station and taking down all manner of lumpen nasties along the way. The Super Metroid vibes were very strong in this one, with its bright and bold visuals and action-orientated style. Another jewel in the Game Boy Advance crown.
4 Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2
Now, the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater franchise is one that needs no introduction. There have been some missteps along the way, for sure, but these are regarded as some of the best sports games ever.
Do you need to be a skateboarding fan to get a huge kick out of the games? Not at all and that’s a huge compliment. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2, in particular, was critically acclaimed on just about every system it’s appeared on (which is all of them).
The sheer fun of the gameplay, the large and varied environments, the range of collectibles and customization options… the humble Game Boy Advance version is an experience worthy of any other port, and that’s also a huge compliment.
3 F-Zero: Maximum Velocity
So, we’ve already touched on Metroid, a Nintendo franchise that really doesn’t get the representation and appreciation it deserves. Here comes another such series, careening at your faces at 600mph: F-Zero.
Nintendo’s answer to WipEout (no, wait, I’ve gotten that twisted), F-Zero, is fast, futuristic racing at its high-octane best. F-Zero: Maximum Velocity squeezed absolutely everything it could from the Game Boy Advance, using some inspiring scaling and rotating effects to give the illusion of depth and speed.
Bright, bold and colourful titles are what this little system did best and Maximum Velocity just ran with that concept. It looks wonderful and plays even better.
2 Castlevania: Circle Of The Moon
The Castlevania series is one of the longest-running and most prolific in gaming. You wouldn’t really know it the way that Konami has been treating the series lately, but that’s the truth of it.
In this installment, you play as Nathan Graves, a young man who lost his parents to Dracula’s shenanigans and has been trained to put the vampire down. The lack of Belmonts isn’t the only thing that’s different in Circle of the Moon, however.
The equipment system sees you experimenting with different combinations of collectible cards, which imbue Graves with all kinds of offensive and defensive abilities. In short, Circle of the Moon is both faithful to the formula and a little creative, and you’ve got to appreciate that.
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1 Golden Sun
To finish up the rundown, we’ve got a bit of a controversial one. Golden Sun, like its series in general, is a title that the faithful will rave about, but never quite broke through into the mainstream.
With the release of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and the announcement of its DLC, fans were hoping that Golden Sun hero Isaac would be playable, but it hasn’t proven to be the case. He’s been relegated to Assist Trophy status again.
It may not be the biggest deal in RPGs, but the original Golden Sun is a very solid entry in the genre. Clichéd in places, perhaps, but its presentation, soundtrack, and interesting Djinn system (in which you collect little elemental creatures and equip them to your characters) are just some of the things that fans rhapsodize about.