The Best Undiscovered Gameboy Advance (GBA) Games

The Top Nintendo Game Boy Advance Games You Haven't Played Hidden Gems
Usually, when you get a new-to-you console, you can usually find or remember the major games to check out. But what happens when you need something different to play? This is where the “Hidden Gems” come in.
Read More About My Criteria For Hidden Gems
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Platformers

Obvious Choices:
Super Mario Advance Series, Sonic Advance Series, Rayman Series, Donkey Kong Country Series, Crash Bandicoot Series, Spyro the Dragon Series, Kirby Series,

Featured Game: Wario Land 4
 Not since Super Mario Bros. have I been so filled with wonder and excitement when I discover a new secret or accidentally stumble across a new room. Remember how it felt the first time you found a Warp Zone or jumped and a block appeared out of thin air in the original Super Mario? That’s exactly the way I felt while playing each and every level in Warioland 4. Some secrets are so well hidden that it takes blind luck to find them. In one level I was just running around areas I had already been through when I was about to slam into a rock wall. I pushed the other direction to slow down, but to no avail I went crashing into it, or at least that was what I was expecting. Instead, the wall simply dissolved into thin air and I entered a secret chamber where a huge diamond was hiding. Mine for the taking! Other levels have those trademark Nintendo hints that let you know there’s something just out of your reach. After much exploring you may finally figure out the puzzle, but sometimes it will remain a mystery until a second or third time through….

Graphically the game looks fantastic. The game is insanely colorful and the sprites are well animated. Wario himself has many different incarnations throughout the game, but you can always tell it’s him thanks to the wonderful artwork and trademark features of the big guy. The graphics are very sharp and clean looking on all of the levels, but most important of all the screen is fairly bright so you don’t have to have floodlights on to see the action. The game is loaded with parallax scrolling, sprite scaling, and other graphic touches to show off the GBA’s power as well. In many instances some of the backgrounds reminded me a bit of Super Metroid. Maybe it’s just the art direction, but I’d be interested to hear if anyone else feels the same way. Perhaps some of the same people worked on both games? Needless to say the graphics are superb and the many different areas of the game all look great.

The sound is a real surprise. It’s actually the first thing that I noticed about the game since in the introduction you’ll hear vocals in the soundtrack. Granted, it’s not the best voice ever heard in a game, but it’s really cool to hear vocals in a soundtrack on a Game Boy system. Other stages have vocals in the background music as well, and while they’re usually in Japanese, it somehow fits the game perfectly. Hidden in each stage is a CD that you can find to listen to the background music anytime you like. Wario’s trademark laughing is back, but it does sound a bit different from the awesome Mario Kart 64 voice. Perhaps they used a different voice, or maybe the sound chip in the GBA just couldn’t do the job well. Whatever the case, it sounds good enough and isn’t as overbearing as those found in Mario Advance.

When all is said and done, this game simply rocks. Nintendo has struck gold again with Warioland 4. It’s so much fun to play and is yet another 2D game on the GBA that is a must-have. If you have never before played a Warioland game, this is still a perfect place to start. After trying it out I guarantee that you’ll be checking out the older versions on Game Boy Color to see what you’ve been missing over the past 8 years. If you crave some great 2D action, look no further, Warioland 4 stands far and above any other platformer on the system. Go out and buy it, you won’t be disappointed.”
Gaming Age’s Review of Wario Land 4
Find Wario Land 4 on eBay

More Great Games:
Klonoa: Empire of Dreams (eBay)
Klonoa 2: Dream Champ Tournament (eBay)
Kim Possible 2: Drakken’s Demise (eBay)

Action Platformers

Obvious Choices:
Metroid Series, Megaman Series, Gunstar Super Heroes, Metal Slug Series, Castlevania Series, Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts

Featured Game: Astro Boy: Omega Factor
 “Everyone, regardless of age, simply must own and play Astro Boy: Omega Factor–because it is one of the best action games on the Game Boy Advance. Sega has teamed up with Treasure, the same development house responsible for past cult hits such as Gunstar Heroes, Dynamite Headdy, and Ikaruga to create what is essentially a celebration not just of Astro Boy creator Osamu Tezuka’s life’s work, but also of everything that makes the side-scrolling action genre so timeless and great.

The Treasure-inspired influences are unmistakable. Astro can beat up enemies using his fists, but the many individual waves of enemies within each level encourage the frequent and gratuitous use of his pyrotechnically gorgeous finger laser, arm cannon, and machine gun special attacks. The arm cannon, for instance, is as tall as Astro Boy and spans the entire screen. Best of all, you only need to perform a couple of kung fu combos to recharge Astro’s stock of special attacks. Roughly half of the game’s 43 levels have a boss battle, another Treasure trademark. Some bosses are behemoths that stand multiple screens high and attack with a variety of different weapons. Others are smaller, but have multiple transformations and attack patterns. Just to shake things up a little, there are also flying stages scattered here and there. These stages play out like a traditional shoot-’em-up, with Astro dodging lasers and taking on wave after wave of flying robots using his finger laser and special attacks…

Omega Factor is a delight for the senses. The levels show a great amount of depth and detail, partly because there’s a lot going on in the cities in the background and also because the multiple layers of parallax and line scrolling make it seem like there’s a whole environment out there besides just what’s in the foreground….

All game systems have two or three games that ultimately define the particular genre they represent on that platform. Thus far, the GBA’s must-have action games have included titles from the Super Mario, Metroid, and Castlevania series. Now you can add Astro Boy: Omega Factor to that short list. You’ll need to go through most of the game’s 43 levels twice in order to find all the characters and unlock the best ending, but even after you accomplish that feat, this is the kind of game that you’ll pick up regularly just to play a level and kill some time.”
GameSpot’s Review of Astro Boy: Omega Factor
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Featured Game: Drill Dozer
 “It would seem that everything possible has been done with 2D platformers. The people at Game Freak, however, have come up with a few mechanics that defy what a sidescroller usually presents. In fact, the title probably does things differently than what one might expect from a game about drilling…

Drill Dozer is inventive in unexpected ways. The standard walking and jumping is present as always, but using the Dozer to suspend Jill above a chasm, then drill her way across, is something that is even more surprising than it sounds. Drilling one direction into a block or baddie, then abruptly shifting into reverse can send Jill flying backwards and remove a timed block, which reappears after a set interval.

These are just a couple of off-the-wall additions that have been made to the traditional genre. Boss fights are equally inventive, as each requires Zelda-like levels of brainpower to defeat. One signature fight has Jill playing hot-potato with a police officer’s missiles, which must also be drilled in the correct direction depending on color…

Game Freak has come up with another solid-gold piece of portable software. Nintendo might do well to suggest the company work on more console and handheld projects outside the Pokemon franchise, as Drill Dozer surpassed expectations. In fact, the game is so inventive and absorbing that it might just justify that GB Micro purchase– unless you get the Famicom version, because that really justifies itself, doesn’t it?”
Nintendojo’s Review of Drill Dozer
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Featured Game: Disney’s Lilo & Stitch
 “When you see a game based on a Disney animated film sitting on the shelf, you?re likely to think that it?s for the kindergarten set. Lilo & Stitch might change your mind. This title features surprisingly solid gameplay reminiscent of SNK?s Metal Slug series.When Lilo?the warm-hearted Hawaiian girl who adopts the alien mutant, Stitch, as a pet?is kidnapped by space aliens, it?s up to Stitch to rescue her. Players switch between the two characters, solving puzzles with the unarmed Lilo and going on a shooting spree with the Rambo-like Stitch. The responsive controls enable you to maneuver through the lush environments easily. You don?t have to kill everything on the screen?evading your enemy works just as well but isn?t as satisfying.

The game does a great job of transferring Disney?s animation feel to the (very) small screen. The interactive parts on the backgrounds aren?t obvious, which makes environments fun to explore. The music has that classic Casio keyboard sound, but it isn?t distracting and fits the mood.”
Gamepro’s Review of Lilo & Stich
Find Lilo & Stitch on eBay

Action

Obvious Choices:
Spiderman: The Movie, Medal of Honor: Infiltrator, Jet Grind Radio, Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell

Featured Game: Ninja Five-O
 “Ninja Five-O (known as Ninja Cop in some circles) puts players in the role of a Ninja-gone-detective, Joe Osugi. His task is to stop a terrorist group that has been influenced by the evil forces of the Mad Masks, items that were previously locked away by the distant forefathers of the Ninja. As Joe, players don’t do a whole lot of detective work; it’s just part of the game’s storyline. Instead, players put Joe Osugi’s ninja skills to use to take out the terrorist threat and rescue hostages, eventually attempting to fall the leaders that have been put under the influence of the Mad Masks.

Bionic Commando is clearly the game’s main inspiration, as many of the level challenges require players to make use of Joe’s grappling hook; players will have to swing from platform to platform to get around the areas. But what’s more, players will have to pump, swing, and leap up to get the Ninja up to higher platforms; this technique is very different than Bionic Commando, which allowed players to simply pull up to the higher ledge with the grapple arm. In Ninja Five-O, this required grapple-swing technique adds so much to the level designs, and it looks so damn cool when you pull it off like it’s second nature.

But Bionic Commando is only part of the game’s inspiration. Hudson also rightfully lifted gameplay ideas from Revenge of Shinobi and Shadow Dancer, easily some of the most recognizable ninja action games ever released… But even though the game’s pretty much an amalgamation of existing old-school game ideas, it’s a combination that really works. And the designers have crafted 20 levels that are extremely challenging, but not frustratingly so. Players have only one life to clear out the entire level, and it will take a few times through to figure out the best plan of attack; all the levels are rigidly designed, with the same enemies, power-ups, and keys in exactly the same location every time. Players will have to learn the specific attacks of each of the colored enemies in order to succeed; so, every level essentially has a “pattern” to follow, but it still requires a lot of skill to get to the end of each area. The designers take advantage of the level layouts by also including a Time Trial mode for each level that’s been completed; the game will record the best times to cartridge, with each level having a “qualifying” time to accomplish.

Ninja Five-O is a surprisingly great game that almost came out of nowhere; Konami released this game as quiet as can be, with relatively no previous hype. The game harkens back to the days of Ninja arcade games, and even though it borrows its gameplay elements from previous designs, it’s not a me-too Game boy Advance game. Since it’s an original game with no license or previous title to bank on, chances are it’ll be one of those games that’ll just sit on store shelves…which is a shame because this is an exciting, fun and challenging action game that shouldn’t be missed.”
IGN’s Review of Ninja Five-O
Find Ninja Five-O on eBay

More Great Games:
Blackthorne (eBay)
Scurge: Hive (eBay)
Bionicle Heroes (eBay)
Sabre Wulf (eBay)

Adventure

 Featured Game: Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars
“It’s a tough proposition to take an old PS One game and hope to revitalize it. The point-and-click genre doesn’t even register a heartbeat anymore, so bringing an old game from that genre to GBA is a risk. Though the standard point-and-click interface has been altered to allow direct character control and icon-based selections, the operation is essentially the same. So, the question is, can a game like this survive in today’s market? Survive, yes, but thrive? Not likely. Fortunately BAM and Revolution Software have managed to pull off an engrossing story with Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars. While the genre won’t likely be resurrected by this title, it will at least get a solid bang before it possibly disappears for good.

Broken Sword makes great use of the GBA color palette. Every scene is rich in color and dazzling eye candy. Hand drawn and colored, there are some locales that will actually have you gawking. And the scenery isn’t static. There are birds flapping their wings, cars passing on the street, and pedestrians working in the background. Though some of the characters seem a bit stiff in their movements, your eyes will be too busy appreciating the environments to notice. With so many characters and such a long story, it’s important for characters to stand out visually as individuals. And they do in Broken Sword. Someone you meet early on is easily recognized eight hours into the game. All around the visuals are a treat, which makes up in some small way for the gameplay limitations. In the handheld world, it’s easy to just expect arcade-like bings and bops for sound. But Broken Sword goes beyond that, offering a solid score that carries throughout the game. Mixed in are the sounds of the city, random chirps from birds, and even the rumble of an explosion.

Broken Sword may not be your game. It’s there for those who love a good story and some attractive surroundings. It’s not difficult or particularly challenging, but it will absolutely hook you. The only thing compelling you to continue the game is your own desire to know what is going on and how the story will end. There’s some nice humor thrown in and the dialogue is surprisingly fresh at times. However, if you are more into action games, platformers, or standard RPGs, this may not be for you. This game is about as old-school PC as you can get, which I found refreshing. Who knows, you may too.”
IGN’s Review of Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars
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Racing

Obvious Choices:
F-Zero Series, Need For Speed Series, GT Advance Series, Mario Kart Super Circuit, Colin McRae Rally 2.0, Moto Racer Advance

Featured Game: Racing Gears Advance
 “The day Codemasters shipped out the original Micro Machines for the Nintendo Entertainment System was the day I fell madly in love with top-down racing games. Similar games in the genre have come and gone before and since then, but it was Micro Machines that really brought the magic to the forefront of arcade-style racing. Orbital Media’s clearly on the same wavelength, as the company’s first game out of the gate, Racing Gears Advance, takes the same energetic approach to arcade racing. The development team has offered up a great looking, tight controlling, and extremely creative GBA racer that brings back a lot of those old Micro Machines feeling, something that hasn’t felt since the release of Paragon 5’s Karnaaj Rally and Micro Machines shipped on the system….

The racing action takes place in a fixed camera position over the track, scrolling with your vehicle as you zoom over the terrain. Unlike Karnaaj Rally and Micro Machines, the perspective chosen for Racing Gears Advance is slightly more angled than a harsh straight-down viewpoint. This enables the graphic artists to provide a somewhat 3D appearance to its 2D artwork, and Orbital Media took advantage of this opportunity in a big way. The beautifully rendered track designs are incredibly creative because each one not only offer paths that go every which way — including crossing over and under themselves — but also hide some pretty nifty shortcuts that aren’t always obvious to find or utilize. The engine offers only a basic scrolling environment, but it utilizes sprite techniques that allow for a huge amount of rotation positions for absolutely tight control. And if a vehicle happens to duck behind a tree or into a tunnel and disappear from the player’s sight, the game offers a handy guide “arrow” to show exactly where the car is and what direction its heading.

The actual racing and handling is also expertly pulled off on the Game Boy Advance. Steering is very precise, and it’s enhanced with a control mechanic that gives players the ability to pull off much tighter powerslides simply by release-tapping the accelerator within a curve. Each of the twelve cars in the game are closely matched up in actual performance from the start. The differences between them are somewhat minor in handling, but major when you realize that each vehicle has a unique special ability; the Corvette, for example, can boost from zero to maximum from a dead stop, whereas the Dodge Super-8 (similar to the Magnum) can snag money away from other drivers if you bump into them. The performance issues come into play after each race where you’ll have to manage the race earnings by repairing the vehicle and purchasing upgrades and weaponry. It’s here that the game offers up a nice bit of strategy, since you’ll have to balance how that money gets spread out all over your vehicle — are you an offensive or defensive driver, or do you simply want the fastest, tightest handling vehicle on the road?”
IGN’s Review of Racing Gears Advance
Find Racing Gears Advance on eBay

More Great Games:
Karnaaj Rally (eBay)
Rock ‘n Roll Racing (eBay)

Fighting

Obvious Choices:
Street Fighter Series, Mortal Kombat Series, Tekken Advance, King of Fighters EX Neo-Blood

Featured Game: Sonic Battle
 “Sonic Battle isn’t going to win any awards for depth in its fighting engine…Street Fighter II this is not. The controls have been kept simple for a quick and dirty battle experience that’s light on moves but heavy on combo-striking action. There’s only one main attack button, but like Super Smash Bros., using it in combination with the directional pad will enable different strikes. Combo this with the shoulder button for special moves, both on the ground and in the air, and the potential for multiple hits against multiple enemies increases significantly. And there’s a line-up of more than nine characters in Sonic Battle, each with their own special attacks, so there’s plenty of opportunity for customized fighting in this GBA game.Even with the “keep it simple and maniacal” fighting engine, Sonic Battle is a satisfyingly deep and engrossing gaming experience on the Game Boy Advance. Before each battle players alter their attacks based upon aerial, ground, and defense moves, choosing how each of these attacks is weighed in battle. This choice determines which moves can be performed during a fight, so balancing it one way will force players to attack and defend significantly different than another way. There are five different ways to configure your character during battle. Players can also choose to play in different rules: earn a set number of KOs, or win with the most KOs in an amount of time, or in a survival match with the last man (or hedgehog) standing as the winner.

Much of the depth is all in the Story Mode where players work their way through a plot to rescue a new Sonic character: a Chaos Emerald-powered robot called, what else, Emerl (“BAM!”) By fighting through the different scenarios, you’ll earn special abilities from the many different enemies, which are then stored inside Emerl. Now here’s where it gets cool: Emerl is completely customizable. With the earned abilities players can create their own fighter to suit their own battle techniques. There are more than a hundred different moves to collect and choose from, and players can even battle their own Emerl against another’s Emerl via the game’s multiplayer link-up features. This customization feature keeps the lasting play high because it encourages many plays through to get all of the available techniques for your collection…and the cartridge can hold three different customizations to switch up the action quickly.”
IGN’s Review of Sonic Battle
Find Sonic Battle on eBay

Beatemup

Obvious Choices:
Final Fight One, River City Ransom EX

Featured Game: TMNT
 “TMNT on the GBA doesn’t slow the tempo with silly puzzles or frustrating platform-jumping sections. Instead, it’s a pure, fast-paced brawler that lets you go wild beating on bad guys and bosses with a healthy variety of exaggerated martial arts moves. And, thanks to the eye-popping graphics and catchy audio, the game is as much fun to see and hear as it is to play…

For each of the seven lengthy missions that make up TMNT for the GBA, you select a turtle to play as, pick a helper to call in for co-op attacks, and then work your way through the 2D environment by moving to the right and beating up the bad guys that constantly appear. Enemies come in the form of generic thugs, robots, and various Foot Clan members. Basic enemies have two or three different attacks, do a good job of sticking and moving, and generally take a half dozen hits to dispatch. None of the bosses have as much personality as Bebop, Rocksteady, and Shredder from the old days, but you’ll come to remember them just the same thanks to their flashy attacks and memorable behavior patterns that cause every battle to take a while.

Meanwhile, the whole combat engine is steeped in variety. Different attacks happen when you press the attack button multiple times, hold up or down while attacking, or attack while jumping. Enemies can be bounced into the air and juggled for additional hits, and you can rack up insane combos by jockeying between multiple enemies. The combo counter routinely shows 20 or more hits during intense scenes. While you beat up your opponents, a meter in the upper-right corner of the screen gradually fills. When it’s full, you can summon another turtle to unleash a swarm of attacks on nearby enemies. If you summon your bro when there aren’t any enemies visible, he’ll leave behind a plate of food that will totally replenish your health meter. That’s the key to getting through some levels without losing a life every time the screen stops to produce two or three successive waves of enemies. Further contributing to the game’s lively nature, you can pick up and use the bats and swords that certain enemies leave behind, and also smash objects in the environment that contain health items or produce lead pipes and concrete slabs that you can use as makeshift weapons. The turtles also gain experience and become stronger as you play the game, which is a nice touch.

TMNT on the Game Boy Advance is a rousing beat-’em-up and a shining example of a movie-based game done right. The fisticuffs are fun, the presentation is sharp, and the story stays true to the comics and the recent movie without coming across as contrived. It won’t take you hours and hours to finish the game for the first time, but the whole experience is so sweet that you’ll want to do it all over again every now and then.”
Gamespot’s Review of TMNT
Find TMNT on eBay

More Great Games:
Bruce Lee: Return of the Legend (eBay)

Shmups

Obvious Choices:
Desert Strike Advance, Space Invaders, Gradius Galaxies

 Featured Game: Iridion II
“The most obvious difference between Iridion 3D and Iridion II is that the perspective has been tilted and pulled back so that the game more closely resembles traditional vertically scrolling shoot-’em-ups. While this change does mean that enemy ships are smaller in size, the trade-off is that the developers have put more detail into everything that’s shown onscreen. Enemy ships have wings and engines that flap and flare as they fly toward you. The gradual scaling effect is much more believable than it was in the first game, due to the wider variety of angles and roll maneuvers that each ship exhibits. The environment also plays a larger role in Iridion II–there are scaffold structures you need to avoid, rotating gates that you have to shoot open, and mines that explode if you fly too close to them. In some stages, there are gigantic motherships that occupy most of the screen, forcing you to skirt past them while dodging their gun turrets and exhaust vents…

Just as Iridion 3D borrowed its design from games like Star Fox and Space Harrier, Iridion II isn’t altogether unique in how it plays–the comparisons to many of the classic shooters available for the Super NES and Genesis are inescapable. You control a lone ship set against an army of invading spacecraft. These enemies fly into view at the top of the screen, fire off their bullets, and typically perform some evasive maneuver as they fly out of view at the bottom of the screen. Your task is to dodge the bullets and destroy as many ships as possible. Midway throughout each level, and again at the end, you’ll have to face off against large boss vessels. Your ship comes equipped with a modest shield that can protect it from a few bullets or a direct collision with one of the tinier vessels. Green pods scattered throughout each stage give you the opportunity to upgrade the six different weapons attached to your ship. Each weapon can be upgraded three times, although most players will probably stick to the traditional lasers or homing bullets–both because they’re familiar and because they’re powerful enough to stay competitive with the other weapons.

Although Iridion II isn’t groundbreaking with respect to how it plays, it does bring many of the tried-and-true concepts of shoot-’em-ups together in a way that the first Iridion game failed to do. The pods that attach to your ship when you upgrade your weapons can block the majority of smaller bullets from reaching and depleting your energy shield. Each boss has a variety of movement patterns and attacks that force you to move to all areas of the screen. Your ship comes equipped with the ability to fire a supershot, which you perform by charging one of your weapons for a brief period, as well as the capacity to carry three powerful bombs that can clear the screen of enemies. If you play in the arcade mode, you can earn bonus multipliers that significantly improve your score. Iridion II isn’t as difficult or unfair as the majority of shoot-’em-ups, but the sheer size and layout of each level nearly make up for this subjective lack of challenge. Most levels feel as though they’re a bit too drawn out, but that also gives you the opportunity to appreciate the layout and design of the architecture moving toward you.”
GameSpot’s Review of Iridion II
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Action RPG

Obvious Choices:
Legend of Zelda Series, Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga, Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories, Sword of Mana, Shining Soul, Dragon Ball Z: The Legacy of Goku II, Mega Man Battle Network Series, Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance

Featured Game: Boktai: The Sun is in Your Hand
 “It’s impossible to discuss Boktai: The Sun is in Your Hand without mentioning the game’s very gimmicky solar sensor. However, contrary to some expectations, Boktai is a complete and satisfying game that could hardly be called a gimmick. The sun sensor is actually very cleverly integrated into many aspects of the gameplay, and it ends up adding more to the experience than it takes away.

Boktai has a strong story focusing on the struggle between the powers of the Sun and of the Dark. The Moon also plays a mysterious role as the third major force. Each of these sides has various representatives, and your character is one of them. As the Solar Child, you must save the world from the Dark forces, led by a group of immortal beings who are turning the world’s creatures into undead. The story is surprisingly interesting and manages to balance its serious overall tone with various whimsical elements, including a floating sunflower who serves as your character’s guide. Though the main character is often referred to as a vampire hunter, the cast of villains is actually quite diverse…

The only real drawback of Boktai’s dependence on sunlight is how it affects scheduling. If you work or go to school all day long, chances are that you’ll have crappy or no sunlight by the time you get home to play games. It can become difficult to find time to play this game, which will drive you nuts once you get into the story and want to play as much as possible. The fact that you will be motivated to play is a testament to the solid, satisfying gameplay, which is impressive and compelling no matter what you think of the sun sensor. If you ever get any game time before sunset, and if you aren’t turned off by the heavy-handed emphasis on puzzles, Boktai is an excellent purchase for your GBA.”
Nintendo World Report’s Review of Boktai
Find Bokai on eBay

Simulation RPG

Obvious Choices:
Harvest Moon Series

Featured Game: Car Battler Joe
 “This is… Car Battler Joe for the Game Boy Advance — a sim/RPG hybrid featuring a topic that interests me — cars. Driving is one of my favorite genres of video game, and with games such as Sega GT, I could spend hours in my garage tweaking and modding my cars. It feels great to turn a stock Toyota Trueno into a lean, mean, racing machine. But sometimes racing games can get repetitive, such as racing the same tracks over and over with little motivation except for victories, money, new cars/car parts, etc. So how cool would it be to have a combination RPG and driving sim?The “caRPG” is not a new concept. Final Lap Twin on the TurboGrafX-16 had an RPG mode that followed a storyline where battles were actually races done in Formula-1 style cars. Racing Lagoon for the import PlayStation was a Squaresoft RPG set in the world of street racing in urban Japan. And Namco’s Ridge Racer R4 had a story mode in it, but it was a racing game through and through. Car Battler Joe is unique in that it’s not a racing RPG but rather a car combat RPG. So, since I never got to play Final Lap Twin or Racing Lagoon, Car Battler Joe is truly the first caRPG I ever got to play.

So how does Car Battler Joe fare? It fares surprisingly well, actually. I found the game’s sim elements addictively fun and the RPG story, though somewhat hackneyed, was not a throwaway plot either. While the game is primarily gameplay driven, as are such games as Pokemon, there is a decent story worth following. I spent a lot of extra time in driving mode and in the garage tweaking up cars like crazy, as the available options in the game are staggering. Don’t be fooled by the game’s cutesy appearance; even you gear heads may find something to enjoy, though the car tweaking elements are more simplistic than those in a full-on racing sim. The cardinal rule for sim RPGs is that if you can’t get into the game’s sim elements, then it will seem blasΓ© to you, and Car Battler Joe is no exception…
In the end, Car Battler Joe is a fun game and definitely worth a shot to anyone looking for an RPG that breaks the mold and does something unique. Certainly the game has its flaws, but its charm and heart definitely won me over. Even though I’ve conceivably done everything there is to do in this game, I still come back to it regularly for more. Sadly, good as this game is, the higher-profile RPGs already on the system or coming out for it will eclipse this title and it will not get the recognition it deserves. Car Battler Joe has shown that a car combat RPG can work, and I hope to see this subgenre of RPG expanded upon in the future.”
RPGFan’s Review of Car Battler Joe
Find Car Battler Joe on eBay

Traditional RPG

Obvious Choices:
Golden Sun Series, Final Fantasy Games, Pokemon Series, Breath of Fire Series, Tales of Phantasia

Featured Game: Sigma Star Saga
 “Sigma Star Saga can best be compared to the 8-bit NES game The Guardian Legend, in that it features on-foot exploration segments as well as spaceship shooter segments. For those who are unfamiliar with The Guardian Legend, think of Sigma Star Saga as Legend of Zelda meets Gradius. From what I understand, a healthy portion of RPG fans out there are also fans of intense shooters so an RPG/shooter hybrid does not seem all that far fetched. In any case, Sigma Star Saga is an ambitious title that has a lot to live up to, especially given how good Shantae was in the eyes of critics and players alike. So, does Sigma Star Saga live up to those lofty expectations? We’re about to find out…
As mentioned before, the game features both on-foot exploration and side-scrolling shooter segments. The on-foot segments work as with any action RPG. Walk around, destroy monsters, and solve puzzles to get from one place to the next. Exploration is aided by the area maps in the menu. Your main weapon is a puny Earth pistol with crummy range. Later on you can get various Krill accessories to use during these segments, such as the Krill Puck – which can destroy some obstacles and work as a ricochet weapon – and the Girl Wings that allow you to fly over small gaps, to name just two. These accessories are essential to gaining access to places on the various planets you could not get to before. You will have plenty of opportunities to revisit the various planets and explore the newly accessible areas, some of which have no bearing on the plot. Oh yeah, the game often doesn’t tell you how to use the accessories. While all are pretty self-explanatory, you need to refer to the instruction manual to use the Krill Boots properly. Monsters in these walking segments do not yield experience points. They only yield health packs and smart bombs. Experience is gained during the shooter segments.

The shooter stages occur as random encounters and as boss stages. During planetary exploration, Krill starships patrol around the planet. Since they can’t do evasive combat maneuvers on their own, they summon the nearest pilot, via the symbiote, to fly them. This is how the game explains the random encounters. During a random encounter, there is a target counter and once you kill that number of enemies, the battle is over and you’re zapped back to where you were exploring on foot. It is during these shooter battles that downed enemies leave behind little orbs of experience for you to collect. Higher levels mean higher attack and defense for any ship you happen to fly. In addition, leveling up refills your life meter. This is great to keep in mind as health packs cannot be obtained during shooter segments…

It’s difficult to recommend this game, because it is aimed at a very specific niche. But I will say that if you dislike shooters or aren’t very skilled at them, definitely try before you buy. Even veteran shooter fans will surely see the “Game Over” screen a few times. But if you fit into that niche who both love RPGs and shooters, then definitely give Sigma Star Saga a try.”
RPGFan’s Review of Sigma Star Saga
Find Sigma Star Saga on eBay

More Great Games:
Summon Night: Swordcraft Story
(eBay)
Summon Night: Swordcraft Story 2 (eBay)
Riviera: The Promised Land (eBay)
Lunar Legend (eBay)

Strategy

Obvious Choices:
Advance Wars Series, Fire Emblem Series, Tactics Ogre: The Knight of Lodis , Shining Force: Resurrection of the Dark Dragon

Featured Game: Yggdra Union
 “Yggdra Union from superb developer Sting could be described as the lovechild of the Saturn’s seminal Dragon Force and the super-popular Advance Wars series, but to leave it at that would be doing both game and developers a disservice. Not only has Sting captured the essence of what makes those two games great, they’ve added their own unique spin to create something freshly original while being familiar enough for fans of the genre to jump right in. Suffice it to say, Sting has shown a formidable knack for not only creating solid games, but solid games that are able to leave their own unique mark…

Although I’m personally a great fan of card-based fantasy games, the system in Yggdra Union shows more promise than it actually delivers on. Many of the cards are quite limited in functionality, with certain conditions that must be met before use. I tended to choose the same five or six cards over and over because they were applicable in many situations, giving the most flexibility. If the developers had loosened up the rules governing how these cards were used and made them more useful in general circumstances, this mechanic alone would have hit the game out of the park. The other addition, the unions, is just as original but more successful than the cards.

In stark contrast to other games of its ilk, Yggdra Union only permits one character to attack each turn. Although it seems grossly unfair when faced with steep opposition, “unions” are specific formations that can easily even the odds or turn the tide. By placing characters along certain lines (vertical and horizontal for females, diagonal for males) it’s possible to have every ally on the field take part in a massive melee. More than any other factor, effectively utilizing these unions through a mix of careful observation and mental calculation will turn certain defeat into ringing victory.

Yggdra Union is actually quite a package, when all is said and done. It’s no easy feat to invigorate a genre that has remained fairly set in its ways for the last few generations, let alone do it with the imagination and energy present here. Take into account that Sting has worked their magic on the Game Boy Advance, and their achievement is even more impressive. Although there are a few rough edges like the card system taking a few missteps or having to re-do a long chapter due to a last-minute loss at the end, it’s impossible to deny that the people behind Yggdra Union are extremely talented and infuse an amazing amount of heart and passion into what they do.”
Game Critic’s Review of Yggdra Union
Find Yggdra Union on eBay

More Great Games:
Zone of the Enders: The Fist of Mars (eBay)
Defender of the Crown (eBay)
Chessmaster (eBay)
Rebelstar: Tactical Command (eBay)

Puzzle Action

Obvious Choices:
Super Monkey Ball Jr., Mario vs. Donkey Kong, The Lost Vikings , Bubble Bobble: Old and New, DK: King of Swing

Featured Game: Turbo Turtle Adventure
 “If you’ve ever played Kirby’s Tilt ‘n Tumble, Marble Madness, Super Monkey Ball, or Spindizzy, you’ll understand the concept of Turbo Turtle Adventure. Swedish developer Iridon has taken the roll-around-a-maze concept and added a cute, shell-backed critter into lead role for this Majesco-published GBA title. The game doesn’t offer a whole lot of surprises beyond the formula fully established way early in the adventure, but it does has a nice, addictive quality and the design suits the handheld market well…

The game has a lot of levels, including several hidden ones that can only be obtained if you find an alternate gate. That’s a whole lot of gameplay in Turbo Turtle Adventure, but don’t expect any real surprises along the way…most of the levels, including the secret ones, feature all of the same elements. There aren’t any really unique extras later in the game beyond bigger and more elaborate puzzle challenges.

I’ve always been a fan of the marble-rolling game genre, and Turbo Turtle Adventure is a solid first attempt at the idea on the GBA. There are a lot of levels in this puzzle title, but the trial-and-error gameplay makes it a different, not quite as intense breed than the Marble Madness / Super Monkey Ball action design. Turbo Turtle Adventure isn’t an instant classic on the GBA, but it is a good handheld game for players looking for a basic, pick-up-and-play title that offers a decent challenge all the way through.”
IGN’s Review of Turbo Turtle Adventure
Find Turbo Turtle Adventure on eBay

More Great Games:
Hot Potato (eBay)
Boulder Dash EX (eBay)

Puzzle

Obvious Choices:
Super Puzzle Fighter II, Dr. Mario & Puzzle League, Super Bust-A-Move, Puyo Pop, Chu Chu Rocket (eBay)

Featured Game: Kuru Kuru Kururin
 “Nintendo’s spinning-stick puzzle game, Kuru Kuru Kururin, demands equal portions of brainpower and dexterity. Its premise is rather simple. You control a stick that spins at a constant speed, and you must maneuver this spinning stick through tightly designed mazes without touching the walls of the maze. Expert timing is of prime importance, as some passages can be taken only when your stick is at the proper angle. The resulting game is a fast-paced puzzler that keeps you on your toes.Like most puzzle games, Kuru Kuru Kururin makes an attempt at a storyline, but the story doesn’t have any impact on the game whatsoever. It seems that your spinning stick is actually a little hovercraft with a large spinning rotor. The pilot of the craft is a small duck, who is out to save a collection of recently kidnapped ducklings, which are positioned in various spots around the levels. Picking up the birds and other icons in the levels lets you customize your stick’s color and appearance. This is handy for the multiplayer mode, as it gives your stick a little personality…

Kuru Kuru Kururin may technically fall into the same category as stinkers like Irritating Stick for the PlayStation, but the game works really well on Nintendo’s new handheld, delivering a quick-moving puzzle game that is excellent at filling up small periods of free time with its short, level-based nature. As one of the few Japanese GBA games that hasn’t yet been announced for US release as of this writing, Kuru Kuru Kururin makes a pretty good choice for players looking to import games they wouldn’t otherwise see.”
GameSpot’s Review of Kuru Kuru Kururin
Find Kuru Kuru Kururin on eBay

More Great Games:
It’s Mr. Pants (eBay)
Denki Blocks! (eBay)
Rampage Puzzle Attack (eBay)
Ultimate Brain Games (eBay)
Gem Smashers (eBay)
Egg Mania (eBay)

Other

Obvious Choices:
Wario Ware, Inc: Mega Microgame$, Wario Ware Twisted!, Sonic Pinball Party, Pokemon Pinball: Ruby & Sapphire

Featured Game: Pinball of the Dead
 “Love pinball? Hate zombies? Then you owe it to yourself and to the nation to invest in the latest member of Sega?s ?of the Dead? franchise. Say what you will about the concept (no, it?s not quite as magically absurd as Typing of the Dead?but it?s close), this is the best instance of video game flipper mashing since Pok?mon Pinball on the GBC. Pinball of the Dead boasts three diverse, worthwhile, scrolling multi-tiered tables with clear objectives, bizarre targets, and perfectly meaningless names like ?Movement? and ?Wondering.? The physics are spot-on, and your ball is easy to follow. The graphics (unimpressive bosses aside) are clean, detailed, and animated with flashing unlife. The sound effects are great with lots of odd voice samples from the series, and the soundtrack represents modern zombie rock?s finest hour. A few things to moan low about, however: There are no ?collectibles? to shoot for (like Pok?mon Pinball?s Pok?dex), and each table features the same set of rather uninspired boss bonus stages. Otherwise, this is a beautiful, natural marriage of zombies and pinball that no man has the right to question.”
GamePro’s Review of Pinball of the Dead
Find Pinball of the Dead on eBay

More Great Games:
Boxing Fever (eBay)
Ultimate Card Games
Muppet Pinball Mayhem (eBay)

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75 Comments

paul haine says:

Ninja Cop! That is *such* a good game, really took me back to the Amiga days.

Kururin Paradise is the GBA sequel to Kuru Kuru Kururin and is well worth grabbing as well.

fastbilly1 says:

Mentioning Sabrewulf and profiling Car Battler Joe makes the list a winner. Two games that most people never even gave a second look. Sabrewulf being my favorite game on the console, I am a bit biased, but I grew up with the Speccy version.

aaron says:

now i’m no purist, but i’m pretty sure that most shmup-ers would burn you at the stake for throwing anything in the strike series into the beloved genre. ;P

great article. love this system, so many great titles!

kevinski says:

Nice to see Kuru Kuru Kururin on the list. It was released pretty early in the GBA’s lifespan, and it’s such a great game, despite its simple premise.

Alex says:

Wow this is huge! Well done.

scrubby says:

Right on the mark with Drill Dozer… Stylish, well-made and challenging, it’s a great game.

Vernablue says:

I love that RACING GEARS!!! is on the list. I finished the game and it feels so good. Everything is flawless….

TIP: Choose Piranha as your car to easily win every circuit.

Kiana says:

Now let’s see… this list is wonderful, it’s something else, I’ve been looking for such a list ever since playing games like “Summon Night”, good job !

But there are still some titles that really deserve to be on this list (but aren’t)… I know, you said it’s a work-in-progress, so here goes :

>> Beatemup :
Star Wars Episode III – Revenge of the Sith

>> Action RPG :
Boktai 2 – Solar Boy Django

>> Traditional RPG :
Mother 3 (this one is a japanese only title, but it still deserves more than a mention)

>> Strategy :
Final Fantasy Tactics Advance (and this one should actually be in the “Obvious Choices” section)

>> Puzzle :
Kururin Paradise (the sequel to “Kuru Kuru Kururin”)

… also, I think this article is a very good place to give the “bit Generations” series a mention

Kiana says:

I’d like to add a few more titles to this list…

>> Fighting :
– King of Fighters EX 2 – Howling Blood

>> Strategy :
– Super Robot Taisen – Original Generation (much better than “Zone of the Enders”)
– Super Robot Taisen – Original Generation 2 (much better than the first one !)

SovietSniper says:

completely agree with ‘Kiana’

super robot taisen…..

ff tactics advance is THE MOST OBVIOUS CHOICE…

botkai 2…

Link master says:

the botkai games are great and golden sun 2 the lost age is very good.

helloprettii says:

i can’t seem to put drill dozer down, thats how good it is. i was stoked to see it on the list! great job!!!

DH says:

Great job pals, when u gonna put the hidden gems for the original game boy? i can wait for it

Grettings!!!

DH says:

Coola man, u know, i already got 2 gem in my collection of the first game boy, are gargoyles quest the first on the series a game of plattaforms whits some parts in rpg whit a game play very unic and well done, and the other its kind of puzzle the adventures of pinocchio its similar to solstise on the nes or equinox in the snes as well great game and very unknown too i wold like to know more gems XD and if dont know this ones take a look on them.

Again this section is what all the gamers were thinking thanks for do it it real.

PoorRichDude says:

If you have time for imports, set some of it aside for Tomato Adventure. It’s an action-RPG from the creators of Mario and Luigi: Superstar Saga, where the story is pleasantly lighthearted, but the battle system is incredibly deep. Your characters use assorted gadgets to attack your foes, and almost every single one has its own method of activation; some use timed button presses or Control Pad mashfests, and others have you playing a minigame of sorts such as finding the ball under the cup, or What’s Wrong With This Picture? If you loved Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, you’ll love this one too.

Also, how come there’s no Hidden Gems for the original Gameboy/Gameboy Color? I’m sure that if we put our heads together, we could come up with a list…

racketboy says:

Thanks for the recommendations!
I do have a GB/GBC Gems on my To-Do list.
I’ve just had so many thing I wanted to cover, it’s hard to do them all πŸ™‚

Pretty good list though in retrospect I think Sigma and TMNT are mediocre at best. And WL4 is an obvious choice.

sir jorge says:

i’ve got to seriously take a second look at gba

Katie Bennett says:

Great selection of Games so games I know and Love and some I have Never played but now are in my top 10 of fav games
thanks for the great list

seo says:

Thanks for the great post ;D

Kevin says:

Racing Gear advance was an awsome racing game. it have cool graphics and an AWESOME sound track. today, you made it. πŸ™‚

Humberto says:

You forgot to mention Rhythm Tengoku, which is probably the best rhythm game of all time (and sadly was never released outside Japan, it was the last title from nintendo for the gba)… you should take a look at it, it’s very intuitive, you don’t really need to know japanese =)
And the sequel is coming to DS on July! =p
btw great site

greetings from Brazil

racketboy says:

Thanks for the suggestions — I’ll definitely look into it. πŸ™‚

Alex says:

Sigma Star Saga is THE BEST, MUST try it! it’s awesome

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