Best GBA Games Of All Time
Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension

Released in 2001, the Game Boy Advance was seen as a significant upgrade on its forerunner, the Game Boy Color, which, to many people, felt like a fairly modest improvement on the 1989 monochrome Game Boy.

Powered by a 32-bit ARM-based processor, the GBA promised SNES-standard gaming on the go, and, ultimately, it delivered that in spades – not only via a series of excellent ports of titles like Zelda: Link to the Past, Super Mario World and Donkey Kong Country, but also with a selection of amazing 2D titles which pushed the boundaries of portable entertainment, like Fire Emblem, Mario Kart Super Circuit, Metroid Fusion and Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow.

The GBA is also the system on which Nintendo iterated to the most, in pure hardware terms; the initial model lacked a backlight and ran off AA batteries, so it was a big deal when Nintendo announced the GBA SP in 2003 – a clamshell system with a front-lit screen and rechargeable battery. This was followed by the GBA SP AGS-101, an updated variant with a superior back-lit screen, and then again in 2005, when Nintendo revealed the Game Boy Micro, the final handheld to use the famous brand.

With 81.51 million units sold worldwide, the GBA didn't quite reach the 118.69 million sales of its forerunner (although it should be noted that figure combines the sales of both the Game Boy and the Game Boy Color), but it totally overshadowed all of the rival platforms which appeared at this time, including Nokia's ill-fated N-Gage phone.

What are the best GBA games?

Our list of the best GBA games was tricky to put together, because the system really is home to some amazing titles, covering series such as Mario, Zelda, Metroid, Fire Emblem, Final Fantasy and Tactics Ogre. What you'll find below is a selection of the very best games the GBA has to offer, but they're not presented in any kind of order; what we're offering up here is a generous helping of must-play software that you'll want to check out.

Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past and Four Swords (GBA)

This wonderful game gave a new generation the chance to catch up with a classic a decade after its SNES debut. A variety of minor tweaks came along in its transition the handheld's smaller screen — Link was certainly a lot noisier on GBA thanks to the added voice samples used. Whether you dig that addition is a matter of taste. However, an addition that was universally welcomed was the bundled, Four Swords multiplayer quest. Assuming you had friends with GBAs and copies of the game, up to four of you could link up for a multiplayer-only Zelda adventure to take on evil mage Vaati.

Yes, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past and Four Swords is quite the package. Whether this or the SNES classic can be classed as the 'definitive' version is up for debate, but the GBA port is an excellent way to experience Link's greatest 2D adventure.

Tactics Ogre: The Knight of Lodis (GBA)

This Quest-developed tactical RPG was published by Nintendo in Japan and Atlus in the West and serves as a prequel to SNES and N64 entries in the Ogre series. The Game Boy Advance is certainly blessed in the tactics department — with tough competition from genre titans such as the Final Fantasy and Fire Emblem series — but Tactics Ogre: The Knight of Lodis stands proud alongside those games as one of the finest turn-based games on the system. Shame it never came to Europe, but thankfully the GBA wasn't region-locked.

Final Fantasy Tactics Advance (GBA)

Levelling up your clan, finding the best weapons and trying to out-think the enemy leads to endlessly enjoyable battling in Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, with enough variables in location, laws and opponent abilities to prevent things becoming too repetitive. Even when battles get easy with an OP clan, they remain entertaining. It can be tricky to find what you are looking for amongst the many menu screens, but once you know where to look Final Fantasy Tactics Advance will divert and delight you for a long ol' time. Lovely.

Mario Kart Super Circuit (GBA)

Returning to the flat tracks and tight power-sliding gameplay of the original Super Mario Kart, the GBA was capable of replicating SNES-like performance — it certainly wasn't up to the tech standard of the N64 or GameCube — so Mario Kart Super Circuit ended up feeling like the Super Mario Kart sequel we never got on Nintendo's 16-bit console. Sure, the visual style has arguably aged worse than the SNES version, but this pint-sized speed-fest packs in plenty of content. The fun foundation was there at the very beginning of the series and it's definitely present in the GBA entry.

While the 3DS Ambassador and Wii U Virtual Console re-releases lacked the multiplayer features of the original, the Nintendo Switch Online version thankfully rectifies that situation if multiplayer is your thing (which, with Mario Kart, it really should be). No need for link cables these days! Super Circuit still holds up well and serves as a great 'successor' to the SNES original, if that's your favourite MK flavour.

Fire Emblem (GBA)

Also known as Fire Emblem: The Blazing Blade, this was the very first entry to come to the West and is actually a prequel to the Japan-only Fire Emblem: The Binding Blade which starred series stalwart Roy. The Blazing Blade (or just plain old Fire Emblem if you prefer) follows Roy's old man Eliwood and served as a thoroughly decent introduction to the series for us Westerners, the majority of whom had been wondering about the series after seeing Roy and Marth as fighters in Super Smash Bros. Melee.

Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow (GBA)

Following Circle of the Moon and Harmony of Dissonance – both of which fell short of hitting the same highs of Symphony of the Night – Koji Igarashi and his team returned to the Game Boy Advance with Aria of Sorrow, a game which many fans consider to be the second best 'Metroidvania' in the franchise. The action takes place in 2035, but the setting is still resolutely gothic, with little in the way of modern or futuristic elements. Aria of Sorrow's 'Soul System' offers an incredible amount of replayability, and the sheer number of items, weapons and pieces of gear to collect is staggering – even more so when you consider this is a portable release. While it never quite beats Symphony of the Night in terms of scale, it's a match in many other ways and is a must-play for all fans of the series, and Metroidvania genre. Aria of Sorrow is included on the Castlevania Advance Collection, which is good, because the Game Boy Advance original is prohibitively expensive these days.

Densetsu no Stafi 3 (GBA)

Densetsu no Stafi 2 took the series to new heights, but this third title in the series blows it away. It's bigger and better in just about every single facet and is easily one of the most playable platformers available for the Game Boy Advance – or any other system, for that matter. While the game's still a bit on the easy side during the first half of the adventure, it's still one of the best platformers ever created and a testament to how its developers manage to keep the series evolving at such an incredible pace. If you love platformers, you absolutely must own this game. It would be difficult to say that any video game is absolutely perfect, but this one's pretty damn close.

Drill Dozer (GBA)

While these developers are mainly famous for putting out games infested with Pocket Monsters, Drill Dozer shows that Game Freak is no one-trick Ponyta. The story in this breezy drill-based action platformer will keep you entertained for the duration, as will fine music, decent use of the cartridge's in-built rumble function, and effective sound effects that compliment the gameplay nicely. It's a game that can be cleared quickly, but tracking down all the hidden treasure and clearing the additional levels adds to its longevity and gives you an excuse to return to this fun little GBA title. All-driller, no filler.

Pokémon FireRed and LeafGreen (GBA)

Pokémon FireRed and LeafGreen were Game Boy Advance remakes of the classic games that started it all, Pokémon Red & Blue. Yes, the Game Boy originals were known as Red and Green in Japan, because reasons.

Did Pokémon really ever get better than this? That's up for debate, but vastly updated visuals, the ability to connect to various different Pokémon games to collect over 350 Pokémon, and an enhanced user interface were just some of the upgrades offered in this 32-bit revamp. For players intimately familiar with the Kanto games, this was the first opportunity (of many to come, of course) to indulge in some nostalgia and catch the original 151 all over again. Who could possibly resist?

Watch out, Metapod! Or should we call you Metapoo? Ah, the comedy! Happy days.

Metroid Fusion (GBA)

Metroid Fusion — or 'Metroid 4' according to its intro — bears more than a passing resemblance to its SNES brethren, and that's likely its biggest fault. Though it's an excellent game in its own right, it didn't do a huge amount to distinguish itself from other Metroids and felt much more linear than its expansive predecessor. It also launched at the same time as Metroid Prime on the GameCube, which pushed the franchise forward at a staggering pace. Still, this remains an excellent 2D entry and the linearity arguably suits a handheld Metroid game better than a home console entry. If you adored Metroid Dread, this GBA precursor is well worth a look.

Super Mario Advance 2: Super Mario World (GBA)

When it comes down to choosing between Super Mario World or Super Mario Advance 2... you really can't lose whichever version you pick. The GBA rework is a faithful rendition of the timeless original where it counts most, and the parts where it strays can either be seen as handy little improvements or minor inferiorities — it truly comes down to personal taste. If forced to choose, the original has the edge for us due to its more consistent sound quality, two-player capabilities, and larger screen real estate. However, if you've already played the SNES original a ton and want to take on something a little bit different — or finally feel up to nabbing all those pesky Dragon Coins — then the GBA option remains a stellar choice. Everyone's a winner.

Metroid: Zero Mission (GBA)

Metroid: Zero Mission is an excellent 2004 remake of the original Metroid, and a game that's in the conversation for 'best remake evs' (if that conversation is being held with a teenager during the 2010s). Zero Mission tells the story of the first entry, but with far snazzier visuals and Super Metroid-inspired gameplay. With save rooms and a bunch of new items, areas, and mini-bosses, this is the way to experience Samus' first mission. Sorry, zero-st mission.

If it came down to a duel, there are Nintendo Life staffers who would actually take this over the SNES game. It's that good.

Final Fantasy VI Advance (GBA)

Known as Final Fantasy III on SNES in the West back in 1994, the RPG debate over whether Chrono Trigger or Final Fantasy VI is best wages to this day. For a long time this was the final Final Fantasy from the mainline series to appear on a Nintendo console — indeed, it remains the last one to launch on a Nintendo console, remakes notwithstanding.

If this were to be the series' swansong on Nintendo hardware, it would have been a fitting Final farewell. The GBA version by TOSE added some bells and whistles alongside its innate portability (always a boon with a lengthy RPG), but this is a winner however you play — it's available on the SNES Classic Mini, too. If you're only going to play one old-school Final Fantasy, we'd probably go with this one; if you chose to only play one from the entire series... our answer might well be the same.