Nintendo’s mobile successor to the Game Boy Color, the aptly titled Game Boy Advance, sold more than 36 million units in the United States alone in the years since its 2001 release, quickly becoming the undeniable leader in a handheld gaming industry laden with faltering devices like the Neo Geo Pocket Color and lesser-known Nokia N-Gage. The 32-bit system could produce 500 times as many colors as its predecessor — 32,768 to be exact — offering crisp detail and attractive visuals akin to the original Super Nintendo sans the need for an external display. And although the earlier model of the system lacked an illuminated display and was a bit bulky when compared to similar offerings, Nintendo was quick to release the sleek, backlit Game Boy Advance SP and redesigned Game Boy Micro in the years prior to the next-gen Nintendo DS.
It was a golden age of handheld gaming, bolstered by more than 1,000 titles including knockouts like Advance Wars, Pokemon Emerald, Metroid Fusion, and yes, a quality Mario game or five. Used copies of most, if not all, games can still be purchased through various online retailers like Amazon and your friendly neighborhood Craigslist, with prices typically fluctuating around $10 to $15 depending on the seller and location. Let’s be honest, there’s truly no need to drop $250 on a pristine copy of Fire Emblem or even $100 on Zelda: A Link to the Past at this point.
Here are our top picks for the best Game Boy Advance games so you can cash in on some of the best gaming on the go. GBA titles are said to be coming to the Wii U Virtual Console in the near future, but when exactly the revamped ports will arrive on Nintendo’s latest console remains uncertain. Also, check out our picks for the best PlayStation Network games and the best Xbox Live Arcade Games while you’re at it.
Choose a game genre:
- Role Playing
- Action & Adventure
- Sports & Recreation
- Shoot ’em up
- Puzzle & Platformer
- Strategy & Simulation
- Mario Platformer
Planting corn and milking cows on a rustic spit of land inherited from your grandfather may sound rather hokey, not to mention a little Farmville-esque, but there’s far more to Natsume’s mobile title than meets the eye. The goal of the game is to run a successful farm, raising crops and cattle to sustain your income, while interacting with the local townsfolk and engaging in a myriad of mini games and competitions designed to breakup the humble, everyday tasks you must perform. The unique RPG title is incredibly rich, rooted with a heavy focus on economics, and stylized with endearing animation that ebbs in color and subtle nuances with each changing season.
Tools can be upgraded as your skills progress, along with your home, and if desired, players can court and even marry one one of Mineral Town’s six single women — that is if someone other suitor doesn’t woo her first. There are translation issues with the dialogue, along with inventory woes, but the GBA port is one of the best in the franchise and certainly the most unique RPG on our list.
Nintendo and Square Enix seemingly had no qualms about bringing enhanced ports of each 2D title in the Final Fantasy franchise to the GBA, but none of them surpass their last port effort — the crowning achievement that is Final Fantasy VI. Originally released as Final Fantasy III in the United States, Final Fantasy VI has long been heralded as one of the best in the series ever since the title debuted on Super NES more than 15 years ago. Its story is deceptively captivating and rich, centered on a ragtag outfit of rebels on a quest to overthrow an evil empire and its tyrannic ruler Gestahl, but it’s the game’s brilliant auxiliary details that continue to titillate an amassing audience.
The hand-drawn sprites are gorgeous, though dated, and set in a expansively-lush world teaming with alluring side quests, mini games, extensive dungeons and a lengthy campaign accounting for more than 40 hours of gameplay. Japanese composer Nobuo Uematsu’s soundtrack is memorizing, and the sweeping cast of uniquely diverse characters make customization and battle tactics an ever-changing fray of entertainment. The original dialogue has also been reworked and content added, warranting multiple romps for both new and returning players. And that Kefka … geeze.
The name Mario may be synonymous with the classic platformer, but previous titles like Super Mario RPG and the affable Paper Mario have shown the plumber’s humorous foray into the world of action RPGs can be surprisingly impressive. Likewise, Mario & Luigi Superstar Saga is quirky and engrossing, featuring wonderfully-executed interplay between two brothers, charming animations and a recognizable cast of characters deeply rooted in the Mario universe. The premise of the title is to retrieve Princess Peach’s stolen voice from the villainous Cackletta, requiring players to partner with Bowser as they traverse the sprawling and interactive landscapes within the far-reaching Beanbean Kingdom.
The turn-based combat system is engaging, founded in the game’s dual-control mechanics and leveling system, and each battle awards players a healthy mix of coins, items and experience points that contribute to various stats, including a “stache” attribute that earns you discounts at shops and boosts your chances of inflicting a critical strike in battle. It’s brimming with personality, and unlike other RPGs, it forgoes the random battle encounters we all know and loathe. A furry little Rattata isn’t so cute when you’ve managed to encounter one six times within 20 steps of Pallet Town (far from it).
Camelot Software Planning’s Golden Sun is a familiar, tried-and-true tale of struggle and perseverance. Revolving around a young swordsman named Isaac and his band of magic-attuned “adepts,” players are thrust into the beautifully-detailed world of Weyward, a land threatened by a looming veil of alchemy and riddled with a form of magic called “Psynergy.” The initial gameplay and battle mechanics unfold in a well-trodden manner pioneered by earlier console RPGs, yet they do so with welcoming twists and subtle deviations that make the title feel both freshly innovative and nostalgic.
The 16-bit animation is lucid and polished, featuring glossy polygonal effects and superb sprite upscaling that pushed the GBA to its fullest potential. Players are prone to swath of random counters with every step, but the fast-paced combat engine is challenging and rewarding, reveling in an icon-based menu system, an evolving class system and elemental creatures known as djinn capable of being used in and outside battle. The arcing campaign is richly deep and comprehensive, coupled with solid puzzles elements and character interactions, and it even features a link-cable battle mode for added value. The ending will surely leave you wanting more, and thankfully, that’s where Golden Sun 2 comes in.
Riding high on the success of Pokemon Ruby and Pokemon Sapphire, Nintendo and developer Game Freak culled the best of both worlds when it redesigned Pokemon Emerald. The game is essentially an updated version of the two titles, expanding storyline content and tweaking a few elements in the process. Like most games in the series, players don the role of an up-and-coming Pokemon trainer, establishing themselves amid a harrowing onslaught of other prominent trainers while attempting to “catch ’em all” — the 200 or so cutesy Pokemon that is — in the process.”
Battles consist of your standard turn-based combat, each reliant on one of six Pokemon of your own choosing, but curating a winning team remains as strategic as ever given each creatures diverse skill set and type alignment. The so-called “director’s cut” seems visually outdated, especially given the general lack of graphic refinements aside from a few extra animation frames, but the music remains incredibly catchy despite its age. Additional integration with other players and console platforms even allows players to swap Pokemon between titles like Pokemon Colosseum and Pokemon XD, further expanding the game’s universe beyond the confines of strictly a mobile device. However, the core gameplay has always given Pokemon games their lasting appeal and allure, and Emerald is no different.. assuming you don’ t already own Ruby or Sapphire.
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