In today’s world of Nintendo Switch and Steam Deck, which practically run the same games as “big consoles” or PC, as well as the whole mobile gaming scene, it’s hard to imagine what “handheld” gaming used to be. The Game Boy Advance arrived in the olden days of 2001 and brought a revolution in portable gaming at the time; it was the first significant upgrade for Nintendo’s legendary Game Boy line of portable consoles.
Best GBA Games That Will Take You On a Nostalgia Trip
Looking back at the specs of GBA today, many would say “hey, wasn’t that just a portable Super Nintendo?” But the GBA was much more, mainly because of its fantastic line-up of exclusive games. And while the entire gaming industry was largely moving to 3D graphics in those days, the 2D legacy continued to live on the GBA. So let’s review some of the best GBA titles that will surely take you back to those days.
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Check out the list below for some of our favorite GBA titles from the ancient and wild times of the early 2000s.
Metroid Fusion (2002)
Metroid games only existed on the NES, Game Boy, and Super Nintendo systems, with the last release in 1994 when Metroid Fusion came to the GBA in November 2002. In the same month, a few days apart, the first Metroid Prime for the GameCube was released, which represented the evolution of the genre and the first transition of Metroid into a 3D environment.
However, alongside that, we had Fusion on the GBA which stayed true to its roots and 2D gameplay style – pure retro bliss. Remember Metroid Dread from 2021? Well, it is a direct sequel to this one.
The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap (2004)
Similar to Metroid where a new major 3D title was released on the GameCube (Wind Waker), the legacy of 2D Zelda games continued on the GBA. There were many Zelda titles on the portable Nintendo system, and Minish Cap remained our fondest memory because it was the most similar to the classic Zelda games from the SNES and Game Boy era. Even colleagues from GameSpot declared Minish Cap “the Game Boy Advance game we remember the most”. So if you want that GBA nostalgia feeling, this one might do it.
Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow (2003)
Fans of the Castlevania series had something to look forward to in the early 2000s, as the franchise experienced a real renaissance on the GBA. By 2003, we already had three new 2D Castlevania games!
The last one of the GBA releases, Aria of Sorrow, was remembered as the best game in the series since the days of Symphony of the Night. Critics and fans praised the “Tactical Souls” system and the significant change in environment and story compared to previous Castlevania entries. Even today, Aria of Sorrow and other GBA Castlevania games are extremely playable – if you don’t have a working GBA, check out the Castlevania Advance Collection from 2021 for a chance to re-experience it.
Advance Wars (2001)
Advance Wars is one of those games that are unmistakably associated with the early days of Game Boy Advance. If you got this portable console early, near the release date in 2001, chances are that Advance Wars was the first game you played on the system. This straightforward and endlessly fun strategy was made for playing on the go on the then-new Game Boy, and it even holds up well today. We recently had a complete remake of the game for Switch in the form of Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp.
Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories (2004)
Long before the story of this series became REALLY complicated, in the time between when the first Kingdom Hearts came out and the sequel was just announced, we got the spinoff game Chain of Memories for GBA. This game took Sora and his friends to the 2D world for the first time, and it also served as a bridge between the first two main titles. Little did we know at the time how many portable sequels this series would have later and how much the story would become additionally tangled.
Although Chain of Memories was remade in 3D as Kingdom Hearts Re: Chain of Memories back in the days of the PlayStation 2, this 2D version will remind many of the very fond days of playing it on the GBA – when we couldn’t even imagine that one day we will be able to play full 3D Kingdom Hearts games on the go as well.
Final Fantasy Tactics Advance (2003)
What a gem! Although many wanted Final Fantasy Tactics in the style of the 90s PlayStation titles, the new Tactics for the Game Boy Advance came as a strange sort of prequel to the then long-delayed Final Fantasy XII. A remarkable example of a great tactical JRPG that couldn’t be realized on previous portable consoles, Final Fantasy Tactics Advance was one of those games that you could spend dozens of hours with. Honestly, I think I had a better time in the world of Ivalice with this game than I did in Final Fantasy XII.
Boktai: The Sun Is in Your Hand (2003)
Here is a forgotten game that few people mention today, but in 2003 this was an event. Hideo Kojima making a game that is not Metal Gear Solid? And for GBA? Oh my! This was something else. A 2D JRPG where you play as a vampire hunter who uses a Solar Gun. How do you charge it? Well, you take your GBA outside so that the photometric light sensor in the game cartridge can charge from direct sunlight.
Why can’t we have crazy gimmicks like this anymore?
Sonic Advance (2001)
Well, this was something! In the same year that Sonic Adventure 2 came out for the SEGA Dreamcast and it was announced that SEGA was pulling out of the console business, the first ever Sonic game on a Nintendo system was also released.
Sonic Advance was the first 2D Sonic since the Genesis/Mega Drive days of the 90s and successfully combined classic elements with the aesthetics of the newer Sonic games. Although today it is completely normal for us that a brand new Sonic game like Sonic Frontiers is available for Nintendo, PlayStation, Xbox, and PC, in 2001 it was a big shocker – but at least the game was very good and it started a mini-series of Sonic Advance games.
And that’s our list of the best GBA games that will definitely take you back to the days when hours were spent playing old-school games on the first Game Boy console that allowed for slightly more complex titles. What are your favorites? Feel free to share with us on Twitter.
For more retro gaming here on Prima Games, check out Sega Mega Drive Mini 2 Revealed, Includes Sega CD Games, Rieko Kodama’s SEGA Legacy: Phantasy Star, Skies of Arcadia, and Much More, and Sonic Origins, All Games included, Playable Characters, and Features – Listed.