The Best Gameboy Advance Games For Today… Even If You Own A DS

The Best Gameboy Advance Games for Today - Even If You Have a DS
It’s pretty easy to find a list of “The Top 10 Gameboy Advance Games” or some similar ranking, but most of them were written back when the handheld was cutting edge and almost all of them only compare the games against other GBA games.This is all fine if the GBA is the only portable you own and ever plan to own. However, I know most people have moved on to the DS and the PSP. Since the DS library hasn’t been completely fleshed out, I thought it would be a good idea to develop a list of games that are still relevant in today’s portable market because of their unique gameplay that has not been improved upon on other handhelds.

My basic rule of thumb for this list is what games are still worth playing today, even if you have a DS with its more modern game library at your fingertips. I’m personally in this situation as I love my DS Lite, but I still feel the need to pull out a number of GBA games.


Metroid Fusion & Metroid: Zero Mission

metroid-fusion-1Since Nintendo doesn’t seem interested in producing any more two-dimensional Metroid games (even on the DS), Metroid Fusion stands as the last original 2D installment in the series and a might fine one at that. It’s deadly combination of polished gameplay, steady pacing, and engaging storyline and atmosphere make it very hard to put down.

As in SNES masterpiece, Super Metroid, the level design is stunningly intricate. Major power-ups are distributed at a gradual rate, and as Samus regains her abilities more and more of the station becomes accessible to her. I can only imagine the immense amount of time and effort that went into planning the station’s layout. Metroid Fusion is a mini-masterpiece of level design.

Fusion’s controls feel so smooth and natural that Super Metroid fans will feel right at home and will be welcomed by intense combat that will, at times, require some skilled acrobatics and creative use of your many powerups.

Even though much of the game is set at your own pace, Metroid Fusion can also be a very fast, action-packed game. Many boss fights require you to keep moving – platform jumping and directional shooting simultaneously. Just about every boss is deep enough to require an attack strategy — many requiring experimentation to uncover a weak spot or a particular weapon that works best. Even though some established Metroid fans may complain that Fusion’s gameplay is too linear, I personally prefer games that don’t require me to figure out where to go and what to do all the time. This is especially helpful for those that want to dive into the Metroid series for the first time.

The graphics and presentation of Fusion is top-notch in terms of 2D graphics. Everything from the backgrounds and cutscenes to the weapon animation and boss battles are filled with graphical beauty rarely seen on the GBA.

Metroid: Zero Mission takes much of the polish that made Fusion great and applied it to a remake of the original Metroid. The result is an engaging Metroid experience that should be given a chance whether you’ve played the original already or not.
Find Metroid Fusion : (eBay / Amazon)
Find Metroid Zero Mission : (eBay / Amazon)

Astro Boy: Omega Factor

astroboy-omega-1Sega and Treasure have had an amazing relationship over the years with classics such as Gunstar Heroes and Guardian Heroes, both of which revolutionized the run-n-gun and beatemup genres respectively. Sega and Treasure teamed up again on the GBA to bring a sidescrolling game based on the classic Astro Boy manga series that incorporates concepts from both the shooter and brawler genres.

In standard Treasure fashion, Omega Factor gives players a number of creative ways to attack and offers a deep gameplay mechanic. Of course the A & B button are your standard jump and punch/kick buttons, but by utilizing the D-pad with the face buttons, players can trash opponents with some flying attacks, laser fingers, and other nifty moves.

In addition to using your standard attacks you may need a little extra power to battle through waves of enemies. For heavy duty attacks, you have your arm cannon and machine gun attacks at your disposal. Of course, these special attacks are limited, but you can recharge them by pulling off just a few standard combos. This attack system gets you in the habit of rationing your specials for when you need them, but you can’t waste them by ignoring them if you want to play effectively. Later on, there are also levels specifically designed so that you will need your special attacks to proceed, so efficient use of specials is even more important.For those of you who enjoy some RPG elements built into your actions games (like Guardian Heroes), Astro Boy also allows you to level-up their character and balance him for the way you play the game. Every character Astro Boy meets along his adventure give him a point that can be assigned to any one of several attributes, from standard attacks to the speed of his rocket boost. This not only opens up the exploration element, but adds a great deal of depth and replayabilty.

About half of the Omega Factor’s 40-some levels have a boss battle. 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. There are also flying shmup-like stages scattered here and there for added variety.
Find Astro Boy Omega Factor : (eBay / Amazon)

Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap

zelda-minish-1 There are a number of other Zelda games on the GBA, but The Minish Cap is the first original installment for the Nintendo’s 32-bit portable. Released late in the GBA’s lifecycle, The Minish Cap, is a fresh and inviting game that pushes plenty of 2D goodness out of the GBA’s hardware.

Many of you be aware that Shigeru Miyamoto, creator of the Zelda series, once pointed out in an interview that the inspiration for the Legend of Zelda came from his own exploration of fields, forests and caves as a boy. Miyamoto said he wanted to capture the sense of wonder and adventure he experienced as a child discovering mysterious, unknown environments.

The Minish Cap embodies the spirit of Miyamoto’s inspiration perfectly due to the game’s new gimmick. The Minish Cap revolves around the idea of a magical ‘cap’ called Ezlo that Link can use to shrink to the size of the Picori (a race of thumb-sized people that live in Hyrule). Being able to use your cap to shrink in size, explore mouse holes, and battle creatures many times your size will give you a fresh perspective on this beloved series. You can’t help but feel childlike wonder as you explore the normal-sized world from the perspective of an ant. Everything is exactly the same as it was when you were full-sized, except for your perspective.

Veteren Hyrule fans will be glad to know that The Minish Cap retains some common themes featured in previous Zelda installments, but introduces some new gameplay features such as the system of kinstones, which gets the player hunting for these artifacts that can reveal hidden paths and goodies.
Find Legend of Zelda Minish Cap : (eBay / Amazon)

Golden Sun

golden-sun-1Golden Sun was a strong new IP for the Gameboy Advance when it first debuted in late 2001 as it was the first GBA game to push the systems to its limits. Compared with the SNES ports and slightly reimaged classics that the GBA was receiving, Golden Sun was in some way a bit if fresh air and helped the GBA stand on its own two feet. What made Golden Sun so fantastic was that it put a modern and contemporary feel onto the RPG genre. Something that still rings true today.

Golden Sun’s story is based around a character called Issac and his crew who all have the ability to use psychic spells called Psynergy. Psynergy isn’t just part of the story though, its the game’s main gameplay mechanic. Much like the items that you get in Zelda, Psynergy can be used to progress through the games varying environments. The Psynergy moves that you acquire in the game can be used for battles as well and work in the same way that spells do in most RPG games. As you level up your gain stronger forms of the same Psynergy spells.

Golden Sun also had a strong exploration element to it as well, those gamers who like to do a little exploration were rewarded with Djinn; small creatures that act as ‘summons’ in battle. The more Djinn that you found, the stronger the creatures would be that you summon. Djinn can be set to summon monstrous beasts or can be used for a strong attack. This system of Psynergy and Djinn made the battle and exploration elements feel cohesive and overall made Golden Sun unique. It struck a perfect balance between games like Final Fantasy and Zelda. Strong battle mechanics and excellent puzzle solving.

Graphically Golden Sun is a visual treat. A lot of minute detail is put into every character and environment to make the game feel very alive. The games use of colour is also very impressive, everything looks vibrant. The pseudo 3D battles are themselves a real treat. Aurally its the same case, Camelot really do have everything covered in this game and use almost every strength of the Gameboy Advance to showcase this.

Golden Sun is a complete package and is one of the role playing highlights for the GBA. For those DS role playing enthusiasts this game comes highly recommended. The DS’ back lit screen and stereo sound will ensure that you will enjoy this game to its fullest. Golden Sun also spawned a sequel; Golden Sun: The Lost Age which further develops the games story line and gameplay.
Find Golden Sun: (eBay / Amazon)
Find Golden Sun – The Lost Age: (eBay / Amazon)

Final Fantasy Tactics Advance

ff-tactics-1 There is now doubt that the GBA was full of excellent strategy and RPG titles. Final Fantasy Tactics Advance introduced the complex strategy that this series is now known for to that massive RPG/Strategy based audience that the GBA had attracted. Ensuring that the series finally got the attention that it deserved.

Final Fantasy Tactics draws several elements from the Final Fantasy franchise such as the job system, franchise favorites(moogles etc.) and an overall FF feel to create an immersive strategy title. Battles are played out on a grid based map. Where you move and position your party members around the battle field. The goal for most battles is to defeat an opposing threat.

Each character’s selection of attacks depends on their current job. Along with your regular moves(attack, wait etc.) players are automatically assigned a group of skills based on their current job(ie. Black mage must have black magic). Players also have one slot to use for a skill group from another job. Acquiring skills from each job class is done by equipping and learning the attacks from various weapons. Therefore knowing more skills and balancing these out in your party is the key to effectively managing a good party.
New to Tactics Advance is the law card system where referees watch over the match. Every match has a set of rules, such as not allowing the use of broadswords. Also new to FFTA was the inclusion of character races such as nu mou, human, moogle etc.

FFTA will forever be known for its fantastically long length. The game has about 300 missions to undertake(although you can finish the main quest by only completing certain story based missions). On top of this you have rival clans crawling around the map looking for a skirmish. Graphically the game looks neat, characters have a cute, rinky dink feel to them. The games soundtrack also does the original title’s soundtrack justice(which has to be one of the most gorgeous gaming soundtracks ever released). With the upcoming release of FFTA A2 for the DS you’d be silly not to give this one a shot.
Find Final Fantasy Tactics Advance: (eBay / Amazon)

Wario Land 4

wario-land-4-1 Nintendo’s usual flair for level design is evident everywhere in the game. As usual, Wario’s storyline involves his obsession for money and treasure, leading him to the legendary Pyramid of Gold. Within this ancient structure, Wario finds a wide range of differently themed worlds. In each level, Wario needs to explore the landscape, collect four gem pieces, flip a switch, and return to the beginning of the level before a timer expires. It can be challenging to find all the gem pieces, only to die before making it back to the entrance in time, but it also increases the intensity of the game substantially.

After collecting all four pieces of gem from each of the six levels per pyramid section, you square off against a boss. Before fighting a boss, you have the option of going into a store and buying power-ups, which will aid you in the fight. You buy these power-ups with coins that you collect after you destroy boxes or enemies.

What always makes Wario Land games especially interesting is the wide selection of attacks at your disposal. Some moves can be performed with no assistance, such as the butt stomp and the dash, but, some sections of the levels must be negotiated with the aid of enemies. When Wario comes into contact with specific enemies, he will mutate into a new form that allows him to access a new part of the level. For example, touching a flaming zombie sets Wario on fire enables him to destroy any blocks featuring a flame symbol. Stages have been structured around the game’s ten such abilities, and the complexity of later levels will require you to creatively consider multiple skills.

If you have never before played a Warioland game, this is still a perfectly fine 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. Warioland 4 is possibly the best traditional platformer that isn’t a SNES port and definitely the most underrated.
Find Wario Land 4: (eBay / Amazon)

Gunstar Super Heroes

gunstar-super-heroes-1 The original Gunstar Heroes is one of my favorite games of the 16-bit era and was a perfect example of Treasure’s ability to not only create innovative and quirky gameplay, but to push the limits of the game platform in the process.

Gunstar Super Heroes follows in the tradition of its predecessor by demonstrating some of the most stunning graphics you will ever see on the GBA while staying true to its side-scrolling run-n-gun roots. Some of the boss battles will actually surprise you at how powerful the Gameboy Advance actually is. The rest of the graphics in the game offer some amazing effects, ranging from 3D zooming and scaling to intense 2D sprite action.

Even without the impressive graphics, the boss battles are where Gunstar Super Heroes really shines. Much like the original game, each boss if very different and each of the opponents have a subtle weak point that will work your brain a bit.

In Gunstar Super Heroes, you’ll always have a handful of weapons at your disposal, and you can switch weapons with a tap of the left trigger button. In addition to the standard force and lightning weapons, you can obtain a powerful, but short-range fire gun and a chaser laser gun that homes in on the nearest target. Each weapon has a gauge which is filled as you defeat enemies. Once the gauge filled, you can double-tap the right trigger button to unleash a super attack that is unique to each weapon type.

In addition to the long-range attacks, you also have a sword attack for close-range encounters, as well as a slide, an uppercut, and a jump kick. You can also jump off walls, hang from overhead, and hitch a ride on all kinds of vehicles. When it comes down to it, the attack possibilities in Gunstar Super Heroes put Metal Slug to shame. (Not that I don’t love Metal Slug)

Because it is so closely tied to the original game, there isn’t a great deal of innovation in terms of gameplay, but Gunstar Super Heroes is still the best explosion-filled run-and-gun game on either the GBA or the DS thus far. It will be interesting to see how the upcoming Contra 4 and Metal Slug 7 far on the DS, but even if they are spectacular, there will still be a place for Gunstar Super Heroes in the hearts of many a old-school DS owner.
Find Gunstar Super Heroes: (eBay / Amazon)

Drill Dozer

drilldozer-1 Like many great gaming machines, some of the most interesting games are released at the very tail end of the machine’s life cycle. Drill Dozer is one of the prime examples of an innovative and enjoyable game that didn’t get the attention it deserved since most portable Nintendo fans had moved onto the DS.

At its core, Drill Dozer is an action platformer that has a bit of a Treasure vibe to it due to its creative, well-designed platforming elements and a number of classic-style boss battles, which keep the game uniformly intense throughout. Fans of Metroid and Megaman games will also find some common ground here as well.

Drill Dozer’s heroine, Jill takes command of what is essentially a small mech suit that is built to drill through walls. Jill can use this machine to walk and jump, and it also lets her duck inside it for protection or to use it to slide across gaps and underneath low walls.

Each of the well-designed levels adds a new way to use the drill and mixes things up by adding platforming puzzles and object interaction in order to keep the gameplay from getting repetitious. In between levels, you have the ability to upgrade Jill’s drill dozer by purchasing items from a store with currency you collected in the levels. Drill bit upgrades allow you to get through blocks and walls that you couldn’t previously drill through.

Drill Dozer will also treat your eyes to one of the most pleasant and exciting visual experiences on the GBA. While some blue-chip titles like Metroid Fusion and Golden Sun way be visually impressive and draw you into their more traditional environments, Drill Dozer has a much more vivid and playful atmosphere that is perfect for an old-school junkie that prefers more of an engaging cartoon-like experience.
Find Drill Dozer: (eBay / Amazon)

Castlevania Series

castlevania-aria-sorrow-1Castlevania is one of those popular franchises that just doesn’t seem to transition well to the 3D world. While Konami has tried on multiple occasions to pull it off, the best Castlevania games are still the 2D installments. Of course, there are two high-quality Castlevania installments on the DS already, but if you can’t get enough of Castlevania, there are twice as many titles in the GBA library.

If you want to have the original Castlevania with you on the go, you can find the Classic NES series release quite easily. This release is a very straightforward port, so you should expect nothing more or nothing less than a portable version of an NES classic.

Circle of the Moon was the very first GBA installment of the series and the first 2D Castlevania game since Symphony of the Night on the original Playstation. In many ways, it followed the footsteps of the legendary SotN with its open-ended exploration, RPG elements, and deep attack system. It was a lengthy and challenging adventure and was incredibly impressive for a GBA launch title.

Harmony of Dissonance seemed to pull various elements that were successful from the past 2D Castlevania games to create a single, engaging adventure. This includes the dangling chain-like whip from Super Castlevania IV and the ability to power-up, equip, and upgrade their character’s abilities by defeating enemies. Harmony also streamlines the magic system from Circle of the Moon, which makes using items and their powerful abilities more accessible. Where Circle of the Moon was a bit rough around the edges graphically, HoD uses the GBA’s capabilities to create smoother animations and more beautiful environments.

Aria of Sorrow is probably the most well-rounded Castlevania in the GBA library in terms of its gameplay, design, and production qualities. The gameplay of Aria of Sorrow is similar to both CotM and HoD, but it’s been fine-tuned for maximum enjoyment. In addition to the increase gameplay variety, Aria of Sorrow is also a happy medium between the tough-as-nails Circle of the Moon and the relatively easy Harmony of Dissonance.

For budget-minded Castlevania fans, two of the most popular (and hard-to-find) Castlevania games for the Gameboy Advance were recently re-released as a Combo cartridge. that includes both Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance and Castlevania: Aria Of Sorrow for an action-packed portable experience.
Find Castlevania (Classic NES Series): (eBay / Amazon)
Find Castlevania: Circle of the Moon: (eBay / Amazon)
Find Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance: (eBay / Amazon)
Find Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow: (eBay / Amazon)
Find Castlevania Double Pack: (eBay / Amazon)

Legend of Spyro: Eternal Night

spyro-gba-5That’s right — I’m recommending a Spyro the Dragon game. Since you probably never thought you would see me bother to review a Spyro game, let me cut to the point — Legend of Spyro: Eternal Night on the Gameboy Advance ROCKS. I can honestly say that this game can easily be put in the same league as Metroid Fusion, Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow, and Astro Boy: Omega Factor as the best action games on the Gameboy Advance and put up a phenomenal fight.

The fact is, the GBA version of Legend of Spyro: Eternal Night takes many of the best elements from all three of these games and effectively combines them into a late GBA release that will knock your socks off. (Keep in mind that the GBA version is nothing like the DS or console versions)

Eternal Night borrows the idea of having a large number of intuitive attack types despite having a limited number of buttons on the GBA. Like Devil May Cry, you will be using a lot of combo attacks and be juggling the enemies in the air to achieve some of the most effective combos. Overall, the combo system is both easy to pick up and quite flexible. The casual player can easily perform initially-impressive combos, but they can slowly get a better feel for the system as they progress and master the different attack types to pull off some killer multi-hit attacks.

The way you navigate and interact with the enemies is very reminiscent of both Castlevania and Metroid. You can wander around the levels freely, but the levels aren’t quite as expansive to the point of needing a map to find your way around. (This can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on what you look for in a game) .

Much like Metroid Fusion, you will spend a good part of the game finding artifacts throughout the game that will give you new attacks, build up your health meter capacity, and other power-ups. In addition, there are different colored jewels that you can collect to increase your capabilities. (Red restores health, Green increases your elemental power, and blue are redeemable for upgrading your characteristics) These add a bit of an RPG feel and depth to the game.

Another similarity with the Metroidvania concept is that you don’t necessarily have to defeat every enemy to progress. If you want, you can try to evade them and keep chugging along. However, unlike most other games, even the simplest enemies manage to track you down in order to continue the fight. Even if you climb up some stairs or down some ledges, your enemies will find a way to get to you if it is physically possible for their character type. Every enemy actually seems like it has some decent AI built in to make your battles interesting.
Find Legend of Spyro: Eternal Night: (eBay / Amazon)

Classic Super Mario Bros. Series

mario3-gba-1 If you have a DS, both New Super Mario Bros. and Yoshi’s Island DS are phenominal experiences that should not be missed, but if you are sticking with your GBA or are just a huge Mario fans that wants every 2D Mario game at their fingertips, the GBA library is filled with every one of Nintendo’s trademark 2D platformers.

Of course, the original Super Mario Bros. from the NES is the most iconic and still holds up as an infalible masterpiece of running, jumping, and princess-saving. It’s a strange thrill to see this straightforward NES port running on a Gameboy Advance Micro or a DS Lite.

The turnip-tossing Super Mario Bros. 2 was actually a launch title for the GBA and is a respectible port that is based on the SNES’s Super Mario All-Stars version of the game. Because of its drastically different gameplay mechanic, its always good for a change of pace in your platforming habits.

Super Mario Bros. 3 stepped up the series by featuring eight, more unique worlds, each containing numerous levels, used an innovative map navigation system. While staying true to the format of the original, SMB3 introduced new gameplay elements including special suits that gave Mario new abilities and a number of new powerups. Nearly every level presented a flawless degree of challenge and the adventure itself was long and varied. Like with the Super Mario Bros. 2 port, this installment is also based on the SNES’s Super Mario All-Stars version.

Super Mario World kept the same basic formula as its predecessors, but added enough new and improved features to outperform previous installments. The addition of Yoshi is also to be commended as it added to the depth to the gameplay. While most platform games were often categorized as “Action Adventure” games, Super Mario World is one of the few games that actually felt like an adventure 72 expansive and enjoyable levels.

Yoshi’s Island was different to the NES Mario trilogy as it took the exploration factors from Super Mario World and enhanced them greatly. Each level now had a list of items that could be collected to get a high score. The other big difference in Yoshi’s Island is that you don’t actually play as Mario, but instead you play as Yoshi. Yoshi plays somewhat like a cross between Kirby and Mario with lots of cool abilities.

Each are high-quality conversions, and Yoshi’s Island in particular shows off many of the GBA’s graphical capabilities, just like it originally did on the Super Nintendo. If only Nintendo would take my advice and make a Super Mario All-Star Compilation on the DS, Mario-loving DS owners would be in heaven, but for now we’ll have to keep swithing our GBA carts around.
Find Super Mario Bros. (Classic NES Series) (eBay / Amazon)
Find Super Mario Bros. 2: Super Mario Advance (eBay / Amazon)
Find Super Mario Bros. 3: Super Mario Advance 4 (eBay / Amazon)
Find Super Mario World: Super Mario Advance 2 (eBay / Amazon)
Find Yoshi’s Island: Super Mario Advance 3 (eBay / Amazon)

Classic Legend of Zelda Series

zelda-lttp-1Much like with the Mario series, Nintendo made sure that it brought Zelda fans all the classics on their portable system. Of course, old school Zelda fans can being with the original and all the nostalgia and pioneering adventure gameplay it bring.

Not everybody will enjoy Nintendo’s experimentation with bringing Link to a sidescroller in Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, but it’s available on the GBA if you want it.

A Link to the Past is still regarded as one of the best GBA titles as it not only includes one of the most popular games in the series, but also the Four Swords multiplayer game. (If you have enough GBA-owning friends to take advantage of it)

Obviously, these three titles perfectly compliment both The Minish Cap and Phantom Hourglass on the DS. And again, I can’t help but think Nintendo would like to re-release a classic Zelda compilation on the DS.
Find The Legend of Zelda (Classic NES Series) (eBay / Amazon)
Find Zelda II: The Adventure of Link (Classic NES Series) (eBay / Amazon)
Find Legend Of Zelda: A Link to the Past (eBay / Amazon)

Classic Final Fantasy Series

ffvi-advance-1We all know that Square/Enix loves to exploit their Final Fantasy franchise by re-porting their classic RPGs to a multitude of platforms. Fortunately, they do a good job updating the games while maintaining the original style and gameplay that serve as a history lesson in the evolution of Japanese RPGs.

The first two Final Fantasy games featured in the Dawn of Souls compilation are rather simple by today’s standards, but they are still a nostalgic trip for many. Square Enix included additional stories and dungeons not found in the original games, including the Soul of Chaos, in which the player finds the four powerful Soul of Chaos boss monsters, in addition to various powerful equipment and valuable items. Final Fantasy II features a bonus story plus additional character background stories.

Final Fantasy IV (known as Final Fantasy II on the North American SNES) is one of the more popular installments of the Nintendo era and this GBA version received a nice graphics overhaul, fixed bugs in the battle system, updated translation, new abilities and a refined story for a smoother experience. Final Fantasy IV’s story is still one of the game’s primary strenghts, due to its effective twists and turns. Final Fantasy IV’s gameplay is excellent and it reminds you how little RPGs have changed since this landmark game was released.

Final Fantasy V is one of the most unusual and controversial game of the series. Its story is a definite drawback compared to IV, and it is the only past-NES Final Fantasy with a definite emphasis on gameplay rather than on story or character development. Its flexible and rich gameplay makes Final Fantasy VI very addictive and brings it closer to the open-ended world of PC role-playing. In the fantastic GBA port, a host of brand-new elements has been seamlessly merged with the original game, providing unexpected surprises for longtime fans.

Final Fantasy VI makes the transition back to the story-driven focus, but Squaresoft made sure the title still had solid gameplay. Its characters are among the genre’s most unique and memorable, while its villain is quite possibly the most well-crafted embodiment of evil in RPG history. Final Fantasy VI also marked the first strong role of futuristic technology blended with classical fantasy elements. The whole FFVI GBA package is very well-polished and concludes a very strong Final Fantasy collection for Nintendo’s powerful handheld.
Find Final Fantasy I & II: Dawn of Souls (eBay / Amazon)
Find Final Fantasy IV Advance (eBay / Amazon)
Find Final Fantasy V Advance (eBay / Amazon)
Find Final Fantasy VI Advance (eBay / Amazon)

Honorable Mentions:

  • Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga – If it wasn’t for the newer Mario & Luigi installment on the DS, Partners in Time, Superstar Saga would be on the top of the list. Very similar to Super Mario RPG and the Paper Mario series, this is a great action RPG set in the Mushroom Kingdom. This is still worth picking up, but if you have DS, you might want to start with PiT. (eBay / Amazon)
  • Fire Emblem – Another strategy game that is in the line of Advance Wars and Final Fantasy Tactics. The options are simplified a bit from Tactics, but much more challenging than both. This is a good one if you need to polish your strategy skills. (eBay / Amazon)
  • WarioWare Twisted! – The DS’s WarioWare Touched is still recommended first if you are playing on a DS, but the gyroscope-based Twisted! is loads of fun if you want more variety in your minigames or are playing on an actual GBA. (eBay / Amazon)
  • Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts – Try this challenging old-school adventure if you dare. Although, if you have a PSP, you might be better off with Ultimate Ghouls ‘n Ghosts. (eBay / Amazon)
  • River City Ransom EX – Fans of the cult-classic NES side-scrolling brawler will get a kick out of its role-playing elements on the small screen. (eBay / Amazon)
  • Rayman 3: Hoodlum Havoc – Ubisoft’s platforming mascot enjoys some 2D action similar to his days on the Saturn and PS1. The original Rayman Advance was pretty good too, but this newer installment makes better use of the GBA (eBay / Amazon)
  • Klonoa: Empire of Dreams – A port of the popular Wonderswan platformers with strong puzzle elements, this serves as a wonderful Mario alternative (eBay / Amazon)
  • ChuChu Rocket! – I’m still surprised that Sega hasn’t brought this mind-bending puzzle game to the DS yet as it’s just waiting to have stylus support. The GBA version will have to do for now. (eBay / Amazon)
  • Super Puzzle Fighter II – I supposed you could techincally find many superior puzzle games on the DS (Meteos, anyone?), I still have a soft spot for Super Puzzle Fighter. The PSP does have a slicker port, however. (eBay / Amazon)
  • Pac-Man Collection – I was pretty bummed that the Pac-Man spin-offs on this cart weren’t included on the new Namco Museum DS, so I’m keeping this with my DS library for now. (eBay / Amazon)
  • Mario vs Donkey Kong – The DS has the “sequel”, but the new installment revolves around a Lemmings-like mechanic, that just didn’t have the same classic Donkey Kong feel to it. The original is still quite a treat. (eBay / Amazon)

If You Don’t Have A DS Yet…

  • Advance Wars – Even though the DS has its own Advance Wars installment, the GBA versions still hold up extremely well. It is some of the most friendly, but surprisingly intense strategy game out there. (eBay / Amazon)
  • Sonic Advance Series – Since the 3D Sonic games aren’t living up to the standards of the 16-bit standards, Nintendo portables are filled with your 2D Sonic fix. The Sonic Rush series on the DS is far better, but the Sonic Advance series is ok for GBA only games. (eBay / Amazon)
  • WarioWare Inc.: Mega MicroGame$: There’s nothing wrong with this killer set of minigames, but just keep in mind that WarioWare: Touched! on the DS will probably be more enjoyable with stylus action.(eBay / Amazon)
  • Mario Kart Super Circuit – If you enjoy the most SNES-like Mario Kart racing as opposed to what Mario Kart DS brings to the table, you should pick this one up. (eBay / Amazon)
  • Dr. Mario/Puzzle League – This tiny cartridge had been the object of my wife’s addiction for the past two weeks since it’s release. But I can’t blame her, since these two great puzzlers offer a fresh breath of air to GBA puzzle fans. Puzzle League now has its own newer version on the DS and Dr. Mario can be found in Brain Age 2. (eBay / Amazon)

Note: A special thanks goes out to Daniel Primed for helping me write up a few of the featured game descriptions!


fastbilly1 says:

For shame racket, FFTA over Tactics Ogre and ZOE Fist of Mars, for shame.

racketboy says:

Eeh… I almost put Tactics Ogre, but haven’t played it much — perhaps I should add it to the Honorable list.
I need to spend more time with ZOE too…

What did you personally like about those better?

fastbilly1 says:

I can understand ZOE not making the list, Front Mission is on the DS, and it is by far a better game. But I know very few people, both professionally and personally, who thought higher of FFTA than TO. It had a tighter package of well everything. Dont get me wrong FFTA is a good game, but TO is a great game. The question now is, how many people are going to rip into me before I get off work tomorrow and get a chance to answer them?

racketboy says:

I had both of them on my Hidden Gems feature, if it makes you feel any better 🙂
Have you played much Fire Emblem at all? There are so many great RPGs — and Strategy RPGs on the GBA, it was hard to cut the line somewhere.

I just had a feeling more people would give me grief about leaving out FF Tactics than anything else.

I’ll see if I can whip up a description of Ogre — unless you want to 😉 Email me if interested 🙂

Diego Guidi says:

Yoshi Island SNES/GBA is simply the best game EVER, maybe only with Monkey Island

Matt says:

What about WarioWare Twisted which is the best of the lot and only available on the Gameboy Advance but will play perfectly on the DS too

racketboy says:

Ah! I forgot about Twisted!
I’ll add that to the honorable section since I’d still recommend the DS version first…

Great read, I think that a lot of gamers who only have a DS should definetly pick up some of these titles. The GBA really did have such a fantastic line up of games.

You know, I think that Nintendo will release some sort of 2D Metroid for the DS. Maybe a 2.5D game in the same vein as Castlevania Dracula X Chronicles on the PSP. What makes me so sure is the interview that Retro Studios had with the MTV Multiplayer blog. They did a poor job at lying about the existence of Metroid Dread(the rumoured title). I also quite liked the linear gameplay in Fusion.

I felt a bit hesitant about the FF:TA piece as I don’t think that it should be included in the list for two reasons. For starters the War of the Lions is now available on the PSP. Also I personally got really frustrated with Tactics Advance. The law cards and finding all of the battle items so that you undertake more missions is just so tedious and unecessary. I hold the original PSone Tactics very dear to me and yet the GBA version has recieved much more acclaim than the original. If you have a PSP then buy The War of the Lions. Altho I haven’t played any Tactics Ogre(we tend to not get them/get very few to none of them down here in Australia) it might have been a good replacement for FF TA. I know that TA has plenty of fans(whom haven’t played the original) so they might lay into me as well here.

I totally agree that Wario Land 4 is underated. I’m a fan of the series. I’d recomend Wario Land 3 for anyone that enjoyed WL4. Its the best in the series.

The double pack of Castlevania is supposively extremely hard to find. Luckily I managed to snag a copy earlier this year.

racketboy says:

Well, there was that rumored Metroid Dread that was supposed to be a 2D Metroid. I’m not sure why Nintendo is staying away from the idea… If it’s a solid Metroid game, they shouldn’t have anything to worry about.

And I’m sure the Double Pack is starting to dry up. I was quite common for a while, but GBA players are probably snapping them up so they don’t have to pay much for the single games.

14 years later, we finally got a Metroid Dread game.
Weird how things work out, huh? Time is an enigma!

Droid party says:

I have always disliked portable gameing, however my sister was in town for a few days and I got my hands on my nephews DS lite for an hour or so, to be honest I was blown away. Now I want one, especially for the backward compatibilty to GBA games.
My only question is with buying a lot of the older stuff I would most likely use ebay and get it from all over, Will getting games from the US or japan or whatever be a problem to be played on a DS that I buy here in Australia (PAL region)? I’m assuming not considering it’s a portable and I would be suprised if they region coded portables.

racketboy says:

Actually, both the DS and GBA don’t have region protection at all 🙂

And in response to your first comment, I think the DS is a huge step in the portable experience, and not just because of the games and the touch screen. Just being able to close it up in the middle of the game is wonderful. I just pauses and puts the thing to sleep mode. Once you open it up, it instantly wakes up where you left of. It’s perfect for those time you just have a couple minutes to burn.

Thiago says:


I love this site, though it is the first time I post a comment.

I agree with the entire list, but I think that two games should make it to the list as well: Sonic Battle and Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories.

Sonic Battle has a Smash Bros. feel to it that not even Jump! Ultimate Stars could replicate on the DS. And Chain of Memories remain as the only game for a Nintendo platform to feature some of the most recognized characters created by SquareEnix, Cloud Strife and Leon (Squall Leonheart).

MattG says:

I’m very happy to see Drill Dozer on this list. That’s one more recent GBA game that I can’t recommend enough.

racketboy says:

Thiago, I did play a lot of Sonic Battle, but I got kinda tired of it after a ten or so levels.

Good game — just not worthy of this list, IMO

gnome says:

Wouldn’t add anything… Brill list!

Jennifer says:

Who doesn’t love playing any Sonic games, Zelda or Classic Super Mario Brothers? They are all classic awesome games! Yoshi Island SNES/GBA is pretty RAD also! I pucked up a bunch of these older games at they research misspelled items, eBay typos and dedicated their website to these items. Because these eBay items are not spelled correctly, the average eBayer is not being connected to these items in an average search, so if you are bidding on these items, you can usually pick them up for quite a deal compared to items that everyone else on eBay is seeing and placing bids on. I think they have like over 10 pages of Game Boy items from games to accessories to the Game Boys them selves. I’d like to pick up another GB so my boyfriend and I can play together.

SovietSniper says:

The DS was released with lots of innovative features and many became amazingly popular and many others are completely dissapointing. The touch capabilities are the most amazing in my opinion, as no other console/handheld has something like that (except PC/WiiMote and consoles that support mouse attachment). I cant imagine how many innovative games use the stylus that makes you wonder ‘how did they take so long to realize about it’. Other DS features are a complete waste… for example the dual screen… What? yes, thats right. The dual screen is completely useless in my opinion. Its true that some top-tier (mainly nintendo-made) games make wonderful use of both screens, but most other DS games (90%-95%) use the second screen only as a cheap excuse to show some info you dont need at all or show info that actually should be in the ‘action’ screen. Like DS racing games, that show you a map, laps, speed, opponents, etc. in the lower screen, when all of this info would actually be much more useful in the action screen, like in any other console/handheld, so you dont have to look every time other screen and lose focus of the main action. The microphone is also a complete joke.
About the list, i just cant stop amazing myself after all those years about Intelligent Systems, which was responsable for most of the GBA AAA titles. Advance Wars, Fire Emblem, Mario Kart SC (co-developed with nintendo), Wario Land 4 (co-developed with nintendo), Puzzle League (and all of its variants on GBA and DS) and of course, Metroid 4 and Zero Mission (co-developed with nintendo). Its latest announcement was AW:Days of Ruin… cant wait to lye my hand on it in january/08…

racketboy says:

While I agree there isn’t much innovation in the dual screen other than in a few games, it does bring one of my absolute features of the handheld: the ability to close it up like a book. Not only does it help protect the screens, but it makes it super easy to pause the game and put it to sleep.

SovietSniper says:

Screen protection, yes, sleep… its a fantastic feature but its not DS exclusive. Any handheld including PSP could easily have a sleep function. Of course, it ‘could’, not ‘has’ (i think so, cos’ i dont have a psp). Imagine a button with a ‘moon’ on your psp, when you press it, the game pauses and the psp goes to suspend mode, like a PC, the screen turns black, etc. When you press that button again, it wakes up, just like a PC, and you restart the game exactly where you left it… I dont know how fast its going to be, because DS is cartridge based so there’s no loading time, while psp is known for having some of the longest loading times among all systems, but anyway it would be amazing.

racketboy says:

But also keep in mind how quickly and intuitively I can put any DS game to sleep by quickly shutting my DS (great for when I’m at work 🙂 )

Seriously, it is like opening and shutting a book with a virtual bookmark. The GBA had sleep functionality, but it didn’t nearly make as much of an impact on me.

conn says:

You might want to make the image accompanying Castlevania a screenshot from one of the GBA versions, and not, you know, the DS game.

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