Depending on who you ask, the question “what are the best GBA games?” can be one that reveals a lot about a gamer. Big into JRPGS? It’s probably Golden Sun and Fire Emblem: The Binding Blade. More of a Mario fan? Then it’s Superstar Saga and Power Tour tennis. Really, there are just too many options, but that doesn’t mean we’re not going to try and condense them down into one list. That’s what we do.
For more long lists of exciting titles, check out our picks for the best Switch adventure games, Switch strategy games, Switch racing games, and free Switch games. Or, if you’re trying to keep things retro, turn back the clock even further with our list of the best Game Boy games.
With that out of the way, let’s turn back the clock for our list of the best GBA games.
Let’s be fair, every Pokémon game from the GBA era could easily make this list, but if we have to pick one, it’s always Pokémon Emerald. It expands on the ideas of Sapphire and Ruby in a way that truly refreshes the Hoenn experience, whilst still retaining all the things that made the third generation of Pokémon so special.
With bundles of post-game content thanks to the Battle Frontier, the excitement of finding Johto Pokémon in the extended safari zone, and the best version of the third gen’s narrative arc, there’s a reason you see Emerald at the top of many best Pokémon games lists.
Mario Golf: Advance Tour
While other golf games didn’t have the nerve to push the GBA to its limits with a 3D title, Mario Golf: Advance Tour put on its big-person pants and offered a near-console quality experience for the time.
With an intuitive design that pushes you to keep improving your handicap and four exciting courses to play on, there are hours of content for those keen on finding the fairway in this title. It might feel a little stilted if you’re coming from more modern Mario Golf games, but it’s still an important part of Mario’s sporting legacy.
Wario Land 4
Wario Land 4 has a special place in my heart as the game I first played on GBA, but don’t think I’m biased here. Wario’s fourth foray is well known as one of the wackiest platformers on GBA, asking the question “What if Mario played as if it were a fever dream trapped inside an Egyptian pyramid?”.
From the mind-boggling bosses to the charming minigames, the whole Wario Land 4 experience is one of the most memorable of the GBA era, and well worth catching up on for any retro enthusiasts. It also features one of my all-time favorite GBA soundtracks, with plenty of bopping tunes to keep you grooving through your adventure.
Golden Sun was created by the brothers Hiroyuki and Shugo Takahashi as a way to combat Sony’s increasing JRPG dominance at the turn of the millennium, and it did just that.
Often ranking as the top pick on other best GBA games lists, Golden Sun’s epic narrative takes some of the best tropes from the genre and uses them to create a tale somehow unlike any other, with the overarching story across the original game, it’s GBA sequel Golden Sun: The Lost Age, and DS follow-up Golden Sun: Dark Dawn coming together to showcase a tour de force in games writing and RPG mechanics.
Sonic Advance 2
Before Sonic the Hedgehog entered his mid-noughties malaise, the blue blur was doing gangbusters on GBA thanks to titles like Sonic Advance 2. These titles managed to combine modern mechanics, or modern for the time at least, with the best of retro Sonic for a highly engaging experience.
The middle child of the three Sonic Advance titles is often heralded as the best of the bunch, thanks to the enhanced speed of the hedgehog himself, as well as improved level design, and a few challenging missions to test those who pass through Green Hill Zone with ease.
Fire Emblem isn’t the only strategy series in Nintendo’s arsenal, and the GBA era was big for the Wars series. There’s no better example than in the original GBA offering, Advance Wars, with its challenging battles, various warfarin captains, and classic soundtrack.
The sequel is pretty fantastic too, but we only have enough space for one on our list. Sure, there’s a remake – more on that in our Advance Wars 1+2 Re-Boot Camp review – but sometimes playing the original way is the best.
Metroid: Zero Mission
A reimagining of a series’ starting point can so often go wrong, but with Metroid: Zero Mission, Nintendo really decided to go to town in bringing the original Metroid experience to life in handheld form.
In this version, you can actually tell what the enemies are supposed to be, and the deep-space horror vibes turn up a few notches thanks to memorable bosses like Mother Brain looking, well, revolting. Better still, you can complete this one in a single afternoon, so there’s no reason for it not to be in your catalog.
Yoshi’s Island: Super Mario Advance 3
Much like Wario Land 4, Yoshi’s Island offers an alternative to the classic Mario-style platforming, this time thanks to some floaty dinosaurs, flying eggs, and one very peeved baby Bowser.
Outside of gameplay, and that gameplay is plenty enjoyable, Yoshi’s Island is a pastel paradise, using childlike illustrations to build a world that feels different from anything else in the Mario series, and is a must for anyone who hasn’t experienced its joy.
Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories
There was some trepidation from series fans when Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories was announced way back in the early days of the saga, with some finding it difficult to believe the console experience could translate to handheld.
How wrong they were, with Chain of Memories a childhood highlight for many who still love the convoluted franchise, thanks to an intelligent reimagining of KH gameplay for the GBA’s limitations, all the beloved characters, and just a general vibrancy about the game that makes every location feel packed with imagination.
Super Street Fighter II: Turbo Revival
Another SNES port perfectly suited for the GBA, Super Street Fighter II: Turbo Revival takes everything great about the original game, and, well, turbo charges it for a new generation.
With the possibility of fighting on the go thanks to the GBA’s link cable connection, you can take any of the iconic roster of fighters to battle against your friends – though they’ll need a copy themselves – through various game modes and across vivid stages from all over the world.
The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap
The Legend Of Zelda series loves a good gimmick, time travel, moving between worlds, apocalyptic moons that hang over you like an impending omen of doom, that sort of thing.
In The Minish Cap, things go all Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, as Link gains the ability to miniaturize himself for another adventure, and this leads to Hyrule as you’ve never seen it before, like through the lens of a magnifying glass. Outside of everything being teeny-tiny, The Minish Cap also gives Link some new sword-wielding abilities, making it one of the strongest top-down Zelda experiences for pure combat.
Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga
Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga is a game that lives up to its name, sending the pair of plumbing brothers on a scale of epic proportions, all the while battling through with RPG mechanics a la Paper Mario while providing plenty of laughs.
With Nintendo trusting AlphaDream with its most precious IP, the developer delivered and then some, creating a blueprint that would continue all the way through until 2015’s Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam successfully.
Mario Kart: Super Circuit
If Nintendo ever needs a hit for a new console, there’s one title you can be sure the developer is keen to race to release, and it’s Mario Kart. Super Circuit was the series debut on handheld, with memorable tracks like Cheep-Cheep Circuit and Ribbon Road combined with the original twenty Super Mario Kart tracks to over forty different locations (if you’re including battle maps).
While the graphics are a bit hard to get along with in this day and age, it’s still worth trying out this title for any Mario or Nintendo historians. It also marks the end of the 2D Mario Kart era, so it’s worth checking out for that alone.
Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow
We can’t put together a list of the best GBA games without including a title from this much-loved gothic series. Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow is a high point of the series, both in terms of Game Boy Advanced games and the wider saga, offering eerie atmospheres, an engaging story, and some of incredible combat.
This game also marks the introduction of the Tactical Soul mechanic. This system allows you to steal the souls of your vanquished enemies and use them to better your abilities in battle. Over twenty years later, this is still a fan favorite for those who love a solid Metroidvania.
There you have it, our picks for the best GBA games from back in the day. For more modern hits, or if you’re just feeling wordy, check out our picks for the best games like Wordle.