What are the ten best GBA games to play now?

February 6, 2012

Everyone does Top 10 Games lists. The problem with those? Usually, they’re full of games that earn a place because of nostalgia or industry significance. Here at Snackbar Games, we like being a little more practical: if you’re looking to just have fun, what games should you pick up and play today? We wrap things up (for a while, at least) with the hardest one of them all: the Game Boy Advance.

Andrew Passafiume: Called the best in the Mario & Luigi series by many, this portable RPG is one of the best games you can still play on the Game Boy Advance. Like the previous Mario RPGs, Superstar Saga has a ton of personality. It’s often times funny and heartfelt, it provides you with the best version of the Mario RPG battle system and it has a surprisingly strong story. If you’ve never played a Mario RPG before, this would be a great place to start.


Matthew Jay: Some game companies experiment with a wide breadth of genres, with each game they put out feeling radically different from the last. Others may be great with different genres, but choose one specific type of game to make their own. Valve has tons of shooters, but every one is distinct, and Treasure’s done the same with the run n’ gun platformer. No one can make 2D fast-paced action like they’ve done with Gunstar Heroes and Dynamite Headdy, and it all came to a head with Astro Boy on the GBA. There’s a bit of story, all taken directly from the original Astro Boy anime and manga, but this game is knuckle-grinding action from start to finish.


Graham Russell: The Advance Wars series did what so many games before it couldn’t: make the turn-based strategy game accessible to basically everyone. They did it by making things basic but elegant, and they did it by injecting a cheerful personality into a game about tanks and bullets. The second GBA game is the best in the series, because it added some wonderful things to the base Wars formula without introducing game-breaking abilities or losing its trademark charm. (And those two games were still really good anyway.)


Chris Ingersoll: The GBA was home to two incredible Metroid titles, Fusion and Zero Mission. Of the two, Fusion took the most risks with the franchise, adding narrative storyline elements and a new look (and accompanying biology) for Samus. It even gave us one of the best villain concepts in the series, as the SA-X showed us how terrifying an enemy Samus could be before Metroid Prime: Echoes gave us Dark Samus, via some incredibly tense stealth and desperate escape sequences before the eventual showdown. Don’t get me wrong: the Zero Mission remake erases pretty much any need to ever play the original NES classic again, but Fusion is the GBA Metroid title you should definitely play now if given the choice.


Andrew Passafiume: Like with Final Fantasy V Advance before it, the GBA version of Final Fantasy VI is easily the best one available. The game has been tweaked to remove some annoying glitches that occur in the SNES version, the translation is better (although maybe not as memorable) and it lacks the horrendous load times featured in the PS1 version. And because of that, it’s the one of the best RPGs you can play on any portable system. It features a large, very diverse cast of characters, an iconic villain, and some of the best story moments in the entire series. Among all of the classic Final Fantasy titles, this is the most iconic, and it’s for good reason. If you’re looking for a handheld game that will draw you in and keep you busy for quite a while, you won’t find one better than FFVI Advance.


Justin Last: We all know that Nintendo is great at making Zelda games. It turns out that Capcom is pretty great at it, too. The Minish Cap is classic top-down Zelda action in a portable format. Dungeons are clever, the size-changing mechanic is neat and provides a great interpretation of the typical Zelda “two worlds” mechanic. Minish Cap is short with its six dungeons, but it does everything that you want in a Zelda game, and it does it very well.


Chris Ingersoll: Quirky handheld RPGs from Atlus are nothing new, but this Sting-developed title provided some interesting departures from the genre norm. With really no overworld to speak of and even dungeon control being handled via interactive menus rather than moving sprites around, Riviera feels more like an old PC point-and-click title (like Shadowgate and Deja Vu) than it does an RPG. Toss in some Sakura Wars-style dating sim elements (and the resulting multiple endings), interestingly strategic turn-based combat and an odd (if somewhat flawed) item/skill system, and you get a one-of-a-kind experience that still holds up today.


Eric Albuen: Rumble is nothing new in portable gaming. One of the most iconic examples was Pokemon Pinball on the Game Boy Color, but that release led to an oversaturated market with less-than-noteworthy games having the feature. Thankfully, Nintendo chose the right game to re-introduce the feature on the GBA with. Drill Dozer was a quirky action platformer that implemented rumble in just the right way. It doesn’t feel forced, but it fits in perfectly into gameplay. Along with a charming art style and a good story, you’d be hard-pressed not to find a spot in your GBA collection for this game.


Gerry Pagan: Borrowing elements from some of the series’ mainline games, Tactics Advance is a big departure from the original Tactics, with different playable races, a new cast and setting and a major overhaul to the combat system. There are a few SRPGs available for the GBA, but Tactics Advance is easilly the most fun and comprehensive of the lot, with a plot that’ll make you question whether a game’s hero is always correct.


Justin Last: Aria of Sorrow is the best Castlevania game to show up on the GBA. It’s enough like Symphony of the Night to feel familiar, but it twists just enough to feel fresh. The future setting feels fresh, and the soul system allows the player to cater Soma to their person play style in a way that picking a new weapon just doesn’t come close to. And when you finish and are craving some classic action, you can replay the whole thing as Julius Belmont.

Those are our (heavily-debated) picks. What are yours?


Chris Ingersoll February 6, 2012 at 7:49 am

“Heavily debated” is a wild understatement. In ten parallel universes, ten different SBG staffs came up with at least twenty different versions of this list.

I’m sure the fact that that the GBA library is a close analog to the SNES library is no coincidence.

Graham Russell February 6, 2012 at 8:15 am

Man, in ten parallel universes, ten identical staffs came up with 20 versions of this list, haha. But while there are definitely a few titles I wish could have slipped on here, I think we did a good job at finding a consensus.

But Alternate Dimension List #4, man. That one was messed up.

Chris Ingersoll February 6, 2012 at 11:46 am

Yeah I don’t know what those guys were thinking.

JGA Potter February 6, 2012 at 1:59 pm

Well rounded out list. Extra points for Drill Dozer and Astro Boy!

I never could finish Riviera, I tried like 4 times. Even bought the PSP one to see if that could kick start my motivation. Alas, it was never meant to be.

Ser Flash February 7, 2012 at 1:31 am

Not a bad list, though I would have axed Tactics Advance or Castlevania for Mario Advance 4: SMB3 for its huge e-reader support and subsequent extras.

Chris Ingersoll February 7, 2012 at 7:41 am

There are probably two hundred people in the country who bought an e-reader. I’m one of them, granted (mostly for Animal Crossing, not for SMB anything), but that didn’t seem like something we needed to consider.

Graham Russell February 8, 2012 at 7:45 am

I am also one of those people, and yes, mostly for Animal Crossing. But SMA4 was, in some ways, held back by the extra items being cheap, and I think there are at least equally-good experiences with the other ports of that game.

Also, the e-Reader doesn’t exactly become a better idea with time.

David Pugh March 28, 2012 at 7:10 pm

Thanks for the list. Going to pick up some of them at Player’s Choice