The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap carried on the trend of giving Link a talking piece of equipment to accompany him on his quest. This time around, it was the Minish Cap — a hat named Ezlo that could shrink Link to microscopic proportions so he can locate the Kinstone fragments and save the Minish people, or 'Picori'.
Another Flagship-developed entry after the company proved itself with the excellent pair of Oracles (Ages and Seasons), this was a traditional Zelda adventure that looked and sounded wonderful, but didn't do an awful lot to shake up the formula. It introduced a few new items, though – Mole Mitts, Gust Jar, and Cane of Pacci – and allowed Link to learn new sword techniques throughout the game, as well as gain the ability to fuse elements to his sword. All-in-all, a brilliant bitesize adventure.
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, brand new 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. Completing this game opened up a bonus dungeon in A Link to the Past, too, and limited-time 'Anniversary' editions of the game (with added single-player functionality) were released on DSiWare and 3DS eShop in the years that followed.
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.
Pokémon Emerald is the upgraded version of Ruby and Sapphire, and — as you might expect — it was more evolution than revolution. It included some new story elements in the Hoenn region, updated the locations where you could nab certain Pokémon, allowed you to catch a greater pool of Pokémon than in its predecessors and added the Battle Frontier — a competition island you can visit after beating the Elite Four to earn badges, buy items and get new moves to teach your 'mon. Perhaps a little lacking in 'wow' factor for Poké Fans who had been there from the beginning, Emerald was nonetheless solid entry in the Pokémon canon.
This game made navigating this series' obtuse naming conventions absolutely worth it, even if you played Super Mario Bros. 3 on NES (which of course you did). Assuming you had the requisite kit to access the e-Reader levels — many of which were never release in North America — Super Mario Advance 4 contained a bevy of fresh Nintendo-designed levels to play through, making it an essential purchase for the Mario connoisseur (and the Wii U Virtual Console release actually included all thirty-eight levels without the need to have the e-Reader, the cards and a second GBA to scan them with).
Aside from the extra levels, this felt like playing the version of SMB3 from Super Mario All-Stars on a handheld. Whether you're a NES purist or you prefer the updated look and feel of the SNES version, Super Mario Bros. 3 shines brightly in any form.
Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga's lengthy main adventure felt pretty unique back in 2003. It was only the third RPG-style Mario adventure, but developer AlphaDream's Mario debut hit the jackpot right away with its addictive battle systems and dual brother gameplay. With plenty of side-quests to seek out and minigames to replay for high score chasers, Mario and Luigi's amusing animations and "voice acting" played into the game's great sense of humour and it hasn't lost its ability to raise an ear-to-ear smile.
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.
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, 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.
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 it, there are Nintendo Life staffers who would actually take this over the SNES game. It's that good.
Mother 3 began life as a Nintendo 64 title before eventually transferring to the Game Boy Advance. In the West it's become something of a cult — a near-mythical Japan-only release that fans of Earthbound have been desperate to play in an official capacity for fifteen years. That fervent fanbase has taken matters into its own hands with unofficial translations, but beyond the Lucas Smash Bros. amiibo there's been no indication we'll see it any time soon.
Or has there? Recently, we've seen games like NES game Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon & the Blade of Light come to the West with a belated official localisation. Then there was the Wii U release of the original NES Mother, renamed Earthbound Beginnings, and more recently the western debut of the Famicom Disk System Famicom Detective Club duo boasting a brand new localisation...
If we had to put money on it, we'd say that we will see this in the West at some point. Goodness knows there's an appetite for it!
The world's introduction to Soma Cruz is possibly the purest distillation of the 'Igavania' style, and a fantastic experience whether you're a grizzled Castlevania veteran or a total newbie who needs whipping into shape. Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow mixes things up not only with its 2035 setting, but also with the introduction of the 'Tactical Soul' system which sees you collect unique equippable abilities from downed enemies. This enables you to customise your approach to combat and stamp your own style on a game already dripping in its own.
Having learned the lessons of its two GBA predecessors, Aria of Sorrow makes great use of the hardware and atones for the audio sins of Harmony of Dissonance with veteran series composer Michiru Yamane providing a soundtrack that stands alongside her best.
There's absolutely zero fat on Aria of Sorrow — none of the needless gimmickry of the DS era — and it's that purity which makes it our favourite Castlevania, despite the protagonist not wielding a whip or even being a Belmont.
What a library! What a console! Disagree with the ranking here? Remember, it's not set in stone — feel free to rate any GBA game on our database out of 10 and see how it affects the ranking. Once a game hits the threshold of 30 User Ratings, it becomes eligible for the list.
Let us know your your favourite games and your favourite version of the Game Boy Advance — classic, SP, Micro, or perhaps a personal mod — with a comment in the usual place. And you have a specific penchant for GBA RPGs (say that quickly six times!), check out our guide to the Best Game Boy Advance role-playing games.