Enough with the caveats! Let's take a look at 22 GBA gems we'd love to revisit via Nintendo Switch Online.
Publisher: Nintendo / Developer: Nintendo R&D1
Release Date: 2nd Feb 2004 (USA)
/ 4th Apr 2004 (UK/EU)
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.
Publisher: Activision / Developer: Vicarious Visions
Release Date: 11th Jun 2001 (USA)
/ 22nd Jun 2001 (UK/EU)
Vicarious Visions managed to distil the essence of the full-sized Tony Hawk titles into an incredible isometric version that feels tight, responsive and very much not the obligatory downgraded handheld port you might have expected. Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2 on GBA is genuinely one of our favourite entries in the overall series, with great music and cracking visuals. And Spider-Man.
What's not to love?
Publisher: SEGA / Developer: Treasure
Release Date: 18th Aug 2004 (USA)
/ 18th Feb 2005 (UK/EU)
This Treasure-developed take on Osamu Tezuka's classic character was a real looker in the GBA's library — fitting given the prestige of the property and the adoration of manga and anime fans around the world. As opposed to Treasure's usual output, Astro Boy: The Omega Factor is more platforming beat 'em up than run-and-gunner (with a few shmup-style stages thrown in for good measure). It successfully blends traditional manga-style presentation of the characters in dialogue portraits with more rounded 3D-esque sprites and backgrounds for the action. It's a real winner; a licensed game that lives up to the source material.
Publisher: Nintendo / Developer: HAL Laboratory
Release Date: 2nd Dec 2002 (USA)
/ 26th Sep 2003 (UK/EU)
Kirby: Nightmare in Dream Land is a worthy remake of Kirby's first home console adventure and having just celebrated his 30th anniversary, this would be a nice tribute to the little pink fella after what has been a stellar 12 months between 2022 and 2023. While what it offers is a tad basic compared to what more modern Kirby titles offer, it's still very playable, and there are little creative moments where game occasionally shines. As with practically every other game featuring the Kirbster, its delightful, colourful visuals make it a supremely charming experience, and one which will be most appreciated by players looking for only a very light challenge.
Sure, Kirby & the Amazing Mirror is a great entry and that one is coming to NSO, but this is the one we really want to see.
Publisher: SEGA / Developer: Treasure
Release Date: 6th Oct 2005 (USA)
/ 4th Nov 2005 (UK/EU)
Gunstar Super Heroes (or Gunstar Future Heroes in Europe) is a sequel that lives up to the prestige of the name it awkwardly sandwiches a 'Super' in the middle of. The gameplay and controls of Treasure's classic 1993 Mega Drive game are altered to work better on the portable, but the result is every bit as compelling, even if it's on the short side and doesn't feature co-op play. As run and gun games go, Gunstar Heroes is up there with the very best. This sequel is also very good — one might even say super.
Or future if you're European and want to be awkward.
Release Date: 13th Nov 2003 (USA)
Double Dragon Advance is a fantastic pocket-sized reimagining of the original 1987 arcade game. It combines elements from the original game and its sequels along with new weapons and stages, to create a breezy but extremely-well executed version of an all-time classic. And even though it's short, it's well worth going back to to play with a friend or have a crack at the Survival Challenge to test your Double Dragon skills. It's the perfect pick-up-and-play brawler on the go, and would be right at home on NSO.
Publisher: Nintendo / Developer: Jupiter Corporation
Release Date: 25th Aug 2003 (USA)
/ 14th Nov 2003 (UK/EU)
Pokémon Pinball: Ruby & Sapphire is an enjoyable entry-level pinball game designed to appeal to as broad an audience as possible. Its colourful, charming visuals look great, and the vast number of Pokémon available to catch and evolve means that if you’re looking for a long-term dip-in, dip-out sort of game, you’ll have plenty to keep you occupied. This is the perfect little game for short play sessions, and will fill the Pokémon gap just in case Pokémon Emerald doesn't hop onto NSO.
Publisher: Nintendo / Developer: Camelot
Release Date: 14th Apr 2003 (USA)
/ 19th Sep 2003 (UK/EU)
Even though Golden Sun: The Lost Age plays much like any standard RPG, there is something very special about it. It's accessible and engaging in a way that keeps you wanting to play and experiment. The Lost Age builds on almost everything from the original Golden Sun, with a longer campaign, extended Djinn mechanics, greater challenge, clever puzzles, and minor graphical improvements. Newcomers would do well to start with the excellent first entry (which will be available on NSO in the near future!) as the game does take for granted that you know the basics (plus, you'll want to know the plot details if you want this one to make proper sense, at least initially). If you've you'll be jonesing for more, and The Lost Age provides just that — it's a no-brainer.
Publisher: SEGA / Developer: Dimps
Release Date: 3rd Feb 2002 (USA)
/ 8th Mar 2002 (UK/EU)
In the decades since the shocking first appearance of Sega's mascot on a Nintendo handheld, it's fair to say that not every team that's worked on a 2D Sonic game has nailed the delicate sense of inertia and tight physics that characterise the classic 16-bit titles. Sonic Advance is one such example that just gets it. Developer Dimps retains the classic feel and course design that made the originals special while adding fresh elements that prevent it from feeling like a re-tread of old ideas. Vibrant visuals, charming animation, excellent audio; add multiplayer into the mix — as well as the Tiny Chao Garden that linked to the Gamecube — and Sonic Advance is a platforming treat up there with hedgehog's finest.
Publisher: Square Enix / Developer: Square Enix
Release Date: 8th Sep 2003 (USA)
/ 24th Oct 2003 (UK/EU)
While rumours of a Final Fantasy Tactics remaster have been swirling around for a while, Nintendo has already had a taste of what Final Fantasy Tactics can offer in the form of Final Fantasy Tactics Advance. Levelling up your clan, finding the best weapons and trying to out-think the enemy leads to endlessly enjoyable battling, and there are 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.
Publisher: THQ / Developer: Vicarious Visions
Release Date: 24th Jun 2003 (USA)
/ 20th Feb 2004 (UK/EU)
Perhaps it’s the announcement that Sega is apparently working on a reboot that’s getting the better of us, but we do love a bit of Jet Grind/Set. On the Dreamcast, Jet Grind Radio oozed more style than should have legally been allowed. A lot of what made the game special there survived the leap to the GBA, but of course the obvious hardware limitations necessitated a few cut corners here and there. Considering this, Vicarious Visions — the studio that did such a fantastic job of translating the Tony Hawk's Pro Skater series to GBA — probably couldn't have done a much better job at adapting it to the small screen. Once you're used to its quirks, you'll find a crazy, fantastic gem of a game.