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A Game Boy Advance sitting against a red background Image: James Bareham/Polygon

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The 14 best Game Boy Advance games

A look back at one of Nintendo’s best handhelds

Ryan Gilliam (he/him) has worked at Polygon for nearly seven years. He primarily spends his time writing guides for massively popular games like Diablo 4 & Destiny 2.

Nintendo has a long and storied history with handheld video games, but few of its devices have as gilded a library as the Game Boy Advance.

As the middle child of the Nintendo handheld legacy, the Game Boy Advance acts as a bridge from the handhelds that were, proving to players that handheld games could be more than puzzles or side-scrollers with simplistic graphics. With one foot in the past and another in the present, it’s a console that helped pave the way for the innovative Nintendo DS and 3DS and, eventually, the Nintendo Switch itself.

Beyond its technical capabilities, the Game Boy Advance has one of the strongest libraries of any console — handheld or otherwise — loaded with games of all shapes and sizes. It’s basically the PlayStation 2 of handhelds. And with the Analogue Pocket’s recent release, Game Boy Advance games are back in vogue and it’s time to gush a bit about just how high this handheld’s peaks were. Here, we’ll highlight the 14 best Game Boy Advance games that are still worth playing today.

Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga

Mario and Luigi battle some bean enemies in Mario & Luigi Superstar Saga Image: AlphaDream/Nintendo via Moby Games

The Mario & Luigi games are some of the funniest, most clever RPGs out there. They’ve got tons of personality, their boss designs are delightful, and the combat is both challenging and accessible. And all that started with Superstar Saga.

Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga follows the Mario brothers through a kingdom of beans as they attempt to take on Cackletta, an evil witch, and her minions (Bowser is around, but doesn’t serve as the main antagonist for the brothers). Enemies we’ve known for decades — like Spinys, Goombas, and Wigglers — appear as boss fights alongside minions from Cackletta’s domain, giving players an equal helping of new and old.

Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga is not only one of the best handheld RPGs out there, it stands alongside some of the best RPGs of all time.

Pokémon Emerald

Marshtomp battles a Mightyena in Pokémon Emerald Image: Game Freak/The Pokémon Company, Nintendo via Moby Games

Your favorite Pokémon generation is almost certainly tied to your age when you started playing. But as someone who played the first three generations religiously: Pokémon Emerald is the best one.

Emerald is the fusion of counterparts Ruby and Sapphire, the series’ third generation. It allows you to beat the game(s) you know and love and then progress even further ahead, culminating in the introduction of the Legendary Pokémon Rayquaza.

The original Ruby and Sapphire games are excellent, with interesting starters, a beautiful island region, and fun Legendaries to chase. Emerald manages to replicate the experience and improve upon it by adding a riveting final quest to finish out the story, making it one of the best Pokémon games ever made.

Metroid Fusion

Samus Aran in front of her ship in Metroid Fusion Image: Nintendo

Metroid Fusion was the last 2D Metroid game before Metroid Dread launched last year — a gap that spanned nearly two decades (sans Mercury Steam’s fabulous Samus Returns reboot of Metroid 2). And during that long hiatus, appreciation for Fusion has only grown more intense. Metroid Fusion is an exceptional Metroid game, and it still looks fantastic.

Fusion takes place on a space station called BSL. After the events of Super Metroid, Samus is attacked by a parasite called X. To cure her new illness, her body is partially infused with Metroid DNA, changing her into a version of the monsters she’s spent games trying to eradicate. But the X parasite returns as SA-X, a terrifying Samus clone that roams the station. It’s a lot.

Metroid Fusion offers several new powers and suits, which are always enough to excite diehard Metroid fans. But it’s the unique setting and formatting — dipping in and out of the station’s different wings — that sets Fusion apart from the rest of the series.

Kirby: Nightmare in Dreamland

Kirby battles a big clock in Nightmare in Dreamland Image: HAL Laboratory/Nintendo via Moby Games

Kirby: Nightmare in Dreamland is a remake of Kirby’s Adventure from 1993. When Kirby fails to dream, he discovers that King Dedede — one of the puffball’s most common villains — has broken the Star Rod. Through his usual platforming and copying antics, Kirby must rebuild the artifact and face down an array of villains.

Nightmare in Dreamland takes the Kirby magic and brings it to a handheld, allowing fans to copy abilities on the go. And while that Kirby gameplay is still absolutely the reason to pick up Nightmare in Dreamland, the game also features a host of new sub-games for both solo and multiplayer play, such as the Samurai Kirby minigame or the boss rush.

Kirby has always been a delight, but he has a powerful legacy on the Game Boy, with Nightmare in Dreamland being one of his best.

Final Fantasy Tactics Advance

Heroes navigate the battlefield in Final Fantasy Tactics Advance Image: Square Enix/Square, Nintendo via Moby Games

Final Fantasy Tactics Advance takes the world of Final Fantasy and combines it with tactical, map-based combat a la Fire Emblem. But with this new combat and gameplay style, it still manages to prop up the charming characters and world that players love.

Players adored Final Fantasy Tactics on the PlayStation, and Advance is an offshoot of that offshoot. Final Fantasy is still a video game staple, and the Final Fantasy Tactics side-brand is something players still clamor for on a regular basis. Advance takes the nuanced, class-based skirmishes of the Tactics games and pairs it with beautifully detailed environments and characters worthy of Final Fantasy’s legacy. It captures that magic “known” quality of Final Fantasy, where everything is both new and familiar, and offers hours of strategic fun on the go.

Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow

A giant skeleton in Castlevania Aria of Sorrow Image: Konami via Polygon

Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow is the best Castlevania game since Symphony of the Night, and also the final one released for the Game Boy Advance.

As is the case in Symphony of the Night, you’re on the hunt for Dracula in a castle, collecting a variety of items to help you creep through its corridors. But unlike other Castlevania games, Aria of Sorrow has a more modern setting — complete with some sleek outfits and an actual gun — giving some unique flavor to an old series.

Aria of Sorrow combines the classic hunt of Castlevania with a fresh setting and new weapons. Paired with the game’s mobility and charming sprites, it’s maintained a reputation as one of the strongest entries in the longrunning series.

Advance Wars

A player selects an aircraft to move across a battlefield in Advance Wars Image: Intelligent Systems/Nintendo via MobyGames

Advance Wars is yet another tactics game. But unlike Fire Emblem or Final Fantasy Tactics, Advance Wars is all about tanks, soldiers, and modern warfare.

In Advance Wars, you control your own army of soldiers, training them at bases and sending them into battle. How you build your army is up to you, and you’re able to fill the map with jets or tanks or soldiers. That customization can come with a strategic motive — like countering your enemy’s units — or just because you like that specific unit type.

It may replace the fully scripted narrative and named characters found in other tactics games with anonymous pawns, but Advance Wars leans more into real-time strategy staples, where it’s all about the army instead of the individual units. It’s the perfect game to revisit before Advance Wars 1+2: Re-boot Camp hits Switch later this year.

WarioWare: Twisted

WarioWare Twisted - Wario takes a nap on his couch, which is set against a bright pink wall Image: Nintendo

WarioWare: Twisted was released after the Nintendo DS had already launched, making it a very late-stage Game Boy Advance game. But it uses that late timing well by innovating with a new tool: a gyro sensor.

Before controllers and consoles had all manner of inputs, Twisted changed the game. It kept the same, beloved micro-game focus from the previous WarioWare, but added games that required flipping your Game Boy on its head as fast as you could.

The WarioWare games are all filled with charm and bizarre gameplay. Still, WarioWare: Twisted did what all sequels should strive to do, and added an interesting twist to a solid foundation.

bit Generations: Coloris

A players solves a puzzle in bit Generations: Coloris Image: Skip Ltd., Q-Games/Nintendo via Moby Games

bit Generations: Coloris is a puzzle game that offers a unique iteration on match-three gameplay. Instead of moving pieces to fit into an exact order, you morph the pieces to fit your needs. It gives you a unique level of control over the game, not forcing you to rely too heavily on the hand you’re dealt.

Like the best handheld puzzle games out there — such as the famous Tetris on Game Boy — the simplicity makes it easy to pick up and obsess over. Combine that with its vibrant colors and charming sound effects, and you have a puzzle game to last you years.

The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap

Ezlo sings and Link starts to morph into a “Minish” in a screenshot from The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap Image: Capcom, Flagship/Nintendo via Moby Games

Every Legend of Zelda game has its fans, but The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap has somewhat of a cult audience. And that’s for good reason: The Minish Cap is the best handheld Zelda game out there.

The Minish Cap takes Link on an adventure with a mysterious hat that allows him to shrink and grow, like Alice traversing Wonderland with potions and mushrooms. Moving around the world requires you to think in two different sizes, as you’ll often need to navigate two different worlds.

The Minish Cap’s greatest feat isn’t in its size-changing puzzles, but in how it uses that new mechanic to both adhere to and drastically change the Zelda series’ ancient formula. The Legend of Zelda is a series filled with some of the best games ever made, and the fact that fans still praise The Minish Cap as one of the best is a testament to its quality.

Astro Boy: Omega Factor

Astro Boy fires a laser at enemies in Astro Boy: Omega Factor Image: Treasure/Sega via MobyGames

Astro Boy isn’t the first side-scrolling, robotic hero that comes to mind when you think about video games. But his Game Boy Advance game, Astro Boy: Omega Factor, is an excellent example of a licensed property done right.

Omega Factor is a beat-’em-up that features both land and flight sections. Astro Boy can punch, kick, or shoot lasers from his hands, and he has a selection of stats that augment all of his abilities.

Many games from the early 2000s based on other properties can’t live up to the source material and end up feeling hollow. But Astro Boy: Omega Factor is a hidden gem that made its home comfortably on Game Boy Advance.

Mr. Driller 2

A driller solves a puzzle in Mr. Driller 2 Image: Namco via Moby Games

Mr. Driller 2 is a puzzle game filled with chibi characters drilling through blocks. Drilling comes with some major risks — you can suffocate or crush yourself in the puzzle caverns — but by carefully choosing where you drill, you can eventually escape the mine.

The sequel to Mr. Driller maintains the original’s charming characters while offering more impressive visuals on a superior handheld system. Mr. Driller 2 also offers some bonus versus modes so you can play against friends. It’s a great example of handheld refinement, and watching a series evolve just as the consoles do.

Drill Dozer

Jill gets hit in Drill Dozer Image: Game Freak/Nintendo via Moby Games

Drill Dozer is another late Game Boy Advance game, released in North America nearly two years after the Nintendo DS. But being late to the system didn’t hold it back, and it’s one of the most memorable side-scrollers on the platform.

In Drill Dozer, you control a girl named Jill, who pilots the titular Drill Dozer mech. You’ll need to battle through multiple screens, taking on enemies and spinning to face threats from numerous directions. The game features massive bosses and a great collection of stages, but it also was released with an innovative feature for a Game Boy Advance game: a rumble pack built into the cartridge itself.

Drill Dozer is proof that some of a handheld’s best games can still come past its prime.

Pokémon Pinball: Ruby & Sapphire

A Poké Ball pinballs jets across a board Image: Jupiter Corporation/Nintendo via MobyGames

Pokémon Pinball: Ruby & Sapphire is the follow-up to the original Pokémon Pinball for Game Boy Color. It’s pretty easy to surmise what this one is about from the name alone: You play Pokémon-themed pinball boards where you use a Poké Ball instead of a metal one.

But what makes Pokémon Pinball: Ruby and Sapphire worthy of this list is its charm. Pokémon are scattered around each board, and the boss fights are unique battles with diverse monsters. It’s more than just a good handheld pinball game — it uses the Pokémon IP to its advantage to create something different from the mainline series, but equally memorable. 2

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