Yesterday I posted an article remarking on the recent declaration of the Gameboy Advance as a collector’s item, and it’s elimination from the mainstream commercial market. In continuation of that, I put together a list of what I feel are the best ten Gameboy Advance games ever made.
I will confess, this was probably one of the toughest lists I’ve done so far. There were 949 games released for the Gameboy Advance, and even after you filter out the games that were bad, bland, or even just OK, to say nothing of the several hundred I never played, there’s still a pretty large chunk of them left to sift through. For a moment, I even contemplated doing a Top 25 list, but in the end, I finally managed to make a list of what I feel are the cream of the crop of the GBA games, the indisputable selection of the Top 10 Gameboy Advance games.
No doubt this leaves many good games, and even quite a few classics or fan favorites off the list, and for that, I apologize. When it came to picking my top ten, I chose them based on a mix of quality, gameplay, inventiveness and legacy, and that is how I chose the ten I felt most deserving. If you happen to feel otherwise, and think a different game earned a spot on this list, feel free to leave a comment below or send me a message. In any case, I hope you all enjoy my picks for the Top 10 Gameboy Advance Games of All-Time:
10) WarioWare: Twisted!
Games featuring brief mini-games have been a cornerstone of Nintendo since the days of the Game & Watch Gallery, and while the previous GBA game WarioWare: Mega Microgame$ may have been what started the recent rebirth of the game of mini-games genre, this was the game that did entirely new things with it.
One of the strangest and most addictive games ever produced, it followed Wario and his group of misfits through a bunch of minigames, and beating them advanced the overall game. The game heavily utilized a built-in gyroscope for motion control during some of the mini-games, and this could be seen as Nintendo’s earliest flirtations with motion control, which now forms the foundation of systems like the Wii.
9) Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town
Of all the games on this list, I think this one will have the most challenges about its spot on this list, and in my opinion it is the dark horse candidate of the list. You would think a game revolving around planting and harvesting crops, raising farm animals, and living the country life would make a very dull video game. Yet you will find hours drift away as you tend to your crops, improve your farm, and woo one of the local ladies. The Harvest Moon series has been pulling in gamers for more than a decade with that same farming and social simulator, and Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town proved to be one of the franchises strongest titles, as well as providing the foundation for the later DS entries in the franchise.
For all of you who still doubt it’s spot on this list, think for a moment. How many people do you know that play Farm Town or FarmVille or some similar game on Facebook? Farmville alone has close to 62 million active users, is the most popular application on Facebook, and has made millions of dollars in doing so. And that’s from a flash game that is in essence, a very watered down version of Harvest Moon. While no one claimed plagiarism yet, the legacy of this game is there everytime you get a request to water crops when you log in to Facebook. For better or worse, the game has left a powerful impact on mainstream pop culture, something few other games can claim.
8) Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga
The Gameboy Advance was the go-to system for RPG lovers, and the system boasted several dozen very good ones. Yet one of the ones that surprised me the most was Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga. while there had been Mario RPGs before, this was certainly the strongest of them all, and was among the best games available on the GBA.
The game shared many elements with the similar Paper Mario series, the game still had many unique aspects of its own, including the controls. On a whole, the game had good mechanics, a lovely art style, and great soundtrack. The thing I really enjoyed most about the game though was the very quirky sense of humor the game boasted, such as everyone referring to our two plumbers as ‘Mario and that green guy he hangs out with’. All in all you had a unique and solid RPG that was hands down the best Mario game on the Gameboy Advance.
7) Pokémon Ruby/Saphire/Emerald
You can’t have a Nintendo handheld system without a few sets of Pokémon games, and in addition to the superb remakes of Red and Blue versions, GBA had Pokémon Ruby and Saphire. This was the first installment of the series that really took some risks and stepped away from the familiar foundations of Red/Blue/Yellow and Gold/Silver/Crystal, and in many ways it pays off.
Yes, the game is aimed towards the younger crowds, and yes, it’s easy to hate and make fun of all the cute little creatures and millions and millions of people trying to catch them all since the late 1990’s, but that does not change the face that this Pokémon trifecta remains a set of very solid RPGs. The games are not audio/visual marvels, but have the same strong, addictive gameplay that have made the franchise a staple in any collection.
6) Final Fantasy VI Advance
If there was one thing I adored about the GBA, it was the large number of SNES ports and JRPGs that graced the system. This was great because I had missed out on games like Tales of Phantasia or River City Ransom the first time around, due to my still being a toddler at the time. Yet few of these re-released masterpieces compared to the joy many gamers had when given a turn at the many revamped Final Fantasy titles released for the GBA. Many were very strong games (Final Fantasy Tactics Advance and Final Fantasy I & II: Dawn of Souls both barely missed the cut for this list) yet few stood taller than this particular gem.
Previously released in the USA as Final Fantasy III on the SNES, the changes as it converted to the GBA were more than just a superficial change in numbering. The graphics were given a face lift, the soundtrack redone, and it kept the same classic gameplay that made Final Fantasy a household name, and the result of these many changes is a thing of beauty. It certainly helps that Final Fantasy VI is arguably one of the franchise’s best installments, and this re-release of it makes it easy to see why. In addition to being one of the strongest titles on the system, this was also one of the last games released on it, proving that even in its twilight, the Gameboy Advance had some life left in it.
5) Metroid Zero Mission
The GBA already had a very strong Metroid game with Metroid Fusion, but this game is what gave the system one of it’s best games. A remake of the original Metroid on the NES, this game set the high water mark for remakes of classic video games. The developers expand on its source material with refined control, gameplay ideas retrofitted from its sequels, new plot hooks for subsequent chapters of the saga, and some jaw-droppingly cool innovations which added new layers of complexity to the series.
Although an accomplishment in itself to be a remake of a classic game that surpasses the original, this game proved to be so much more. In addition to the substantial visual upgrades, it adds a fair amount of new content and improves the gameplay considerably. Even the original story-line was tweaked a bit, and the result is one of the finest adventure games on the platform, and certainly the best handheld Metroid game ever made.
4) Fire Emblem
Japan long-held a monopoly on tactical strategy games, but that began to change around the turn of the millennium, with games like Ogre Battle or Advance Wars making their way to the Gameboy Advance. And while Advance Wars draws most of the attention in the genre, I was far more impressed with one of the other key series’ of tactical RPGs, Fire Emblem.
First introduced to American gamers by a pair of characters in Super Smash Bros. Melee, the Fire Emblem series has at long last had several games of the series released outside Japan, including two on the Gameboy Advance. While Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones was a very good game in its own right, I give the edge to the 2003 original that started it all. The game offered everything a good tactical game should: tough-as-nails strategic gameplay, an extensive single player campaign, a legendary soundtrack, and was filled with interesting characters and memorable missions.
What makes it different from all the other tactical RPGs on the market was that while in other games you have faceless easily replaced units, in Fire Emblem you have a collection of named characters, developed and detailed with their own unique personalities, and when they fall in battle, they’re dead – permanently. As anyone who has ever played any of the games in this series can tell you, that makes a world of difference in planning your mission strategies, and eliminates the popular ‘human wave’ tactic of the genre right out of the gate. The result is a game that truly captures the essence of battle that many video games fail to embody – that you are playing chess with human lives.
3) Legend of Zelda: a Link to the Past & Four Swords
Few Nintendo franchises carry as much weight as the Legend of Zelda franchise, and any game in the series is all but guaranteed to become a classic, and the Gameboy Advance had two of them. While the Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap was by no means bad, there is little doubt in my mind that the better of the two is Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past & Four Swords. The lucky gamer who picked up a copy of this game was treated to not one, but two Link-led adventures.
The first was a port of the SNES classic, Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, widely held to be the best non-Ocarina of Time game in the series. While I never had the chance to play the original, the look, sound, and feel of the game on Gameboy Advance was simply amazing, and is easily a classic in it’s own right.
Which brings us to the second game on the cartridge, Legend of Zelda: The Four Swords, which provided players with. That’s right, it’s a multi-player Legend of Zelda game. While it may sound like a gimmick, it was a solid game that provided a fun co-op adventure and competitive play, provided you could find four other people to play it with. In the end, that is what helped this two-for-one Zelda game stand out from the pack.
2) Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow
Fans of the Castlevania series were given a rare treat with three very strong titles being released on the Gameboy Advance, the other two being Castlevania: Circle of the Night and Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance. Yet neither compare to this one, Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow, which is easily one of the best, if not the best Castlevania game ever made, even getting a rare direct sequel on the DS.
There are numerous things to praise: the strong cast of characters, the gorgeous graphics and audio, the simplicity and depth of the gameplay. One factor of the game that made it as fun as it was is certainly the ‘Tactical Souls’ system, which allows you to take on the powers of your defeated enemies, and mixing and matching them adds a lot of depth to the combat and exploration. The utter size and scope of Dracula’s Castle will add hours to your game, as you slay legions of undead and hordes of hell spawn, track down the game’s bosses and attempt to uncover the source of lead character Soma Cruz’s power. All in all, this is one of the best Castlevania games on any system.
And the best Gameboy Advance game of all time?
1) Golden Sun
When making this list, it should say something when I say this is the only spot on the list I already had a game picked out for. That alone should speak volumes about this game. This was one of the earliest titles for the Gameboy Advance, and one of the first I owned. From the second I began playing, I was drawn into a deep and detailed world and it never let me go, even after the final boss fell and the credits roll.
The game boasts amazing visuals, a superb soundtrack, endearing characters, and a deep and complex story that draws you in from the first scenes. In addition, the gameplay introduced several new elements to old RPG standbys, ranging from Psyenergy and the Djinn summoning system, the latter of which shows off some of the best cut scenes available on the GBA.
In addition, it has a sequel, Golden Sun: The Lost Age, which itself barely missed the number ten spot on here, that completes the story, and even allows data from the original to be transferred. While I have not played the recent third installment of the series recently released on the DS, if these two are an indication, it’s a must own.
Despite succumbing to a few genre clichés, Golden Sun is an epic in the truest sense of the word. It is easily the best GBA game ever made, the best handheld RPG ever created, and one of the best video games on the market. I cannot recommend this game – and its sequel – enough.