The first of the Super Mario platformer ports (and the one that kicked off the most convoluted naming convention in gaming history), Super Mario Advance brought Super Mario Bros. 2 to the GBA in the 16-bit style of Super Mario All-Stars. With the ability to choose between four characters carrying over from the original, it gained a point system in addition to its facelift, as well as several collectibles to find throughout each stage. Overall, it's still one of the best ways to revisit the game, and you also get the remake of original Mario Bros. bundled in — that little multiplayer bonus would feature on multiple other entries in this GBA port series going forward.
If the story missions in F-Zero: GP Legend become too gruelling, there's always the option of tackling Grand Prix mode across a variety of difficulty tiers, which helps scale up the challenge as your skills improve. Before long you will be snaking your way around eye-watering turns and hazards in an unblinking state, where your muscle memory kicks in and nothing can break your concentration. That is the true F-Zero experience — the same one that has held up since GP Legend hit Europe in 2004, and indeed when the SNES classic tore onto our shores in 1992. That the format remains endearing is testament to the developer's gripping, yet savage design. With hours of content and gruelling challenge this is a stellar F-Zero experience.
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.
Gunstar Super Heroes 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.
Veteran developer Camelot proved it was still top seed with this one. With a comprehensive story mode, tight and entertaining tennis gameplay mechanics and a surprising amount of depth, Mario Tennis: Power Tour (or Mario Power Tennis as it's known in Europe) is a winning on-court return for the plumber (and his pals). It's pretty dialogue-heavy, but there’s a deep, rewarding experience to be found underneath all the waffle, with the story mode serving up a satisfying sense of progression from the very beginning to the Game-Set-Match.
Mario vs. Donkey Kong kicked off an entire series that pitted the plumber and the ape against each other for old times' sake. Originally, it was planned as a sequel to the excellent Game Boy version of Donkey Kong and this is the only game in the series that gives you direct control of Mario rather than his Lemming-like Minis. You still guide the Mini-Mazzas here and there, but for the most part you control the plumber in a lovely little platform puzzler which really carries the spirit of the original Donkey Kong with it. It's a good 'un.
While these developers are mainly famous for putting out games infested with Pocket Monsters, Drill Dozer shows that Game Freak is no one-trick Ponyta. The story in this breezy drill-based action platformer will keep you entertained for the duration, as will fine music, decent use of the cartridge's in-built rumble function, and effective sound effects that compliment the gameplay nicely. It's a game that can be cleared quickly, but tracking down all the hidden treasure and clearing the additional levels adds to its longevity and gives you an excuse to return to this fun little GBA title. All-driller, no filler.
Kirby: Nightmare in Dream Land is a worthy remake of the pink puffball's first home console adventure. 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.
Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Red Rescue Team may have lacked some of the DS version's useful features, but we enjoyed how these games bridged the GBA/DS hardware divide in an interesting way. Missions tend to play similarly to one another, but a variety of locations and Pokémon (friendly and otherwise) help dull the sense of sameness in this Chunsoft dungeon crawler. As with many games in this genre, the repetitive nature can still drag things down at times, even making the excellent music become an irritant, although an interesting plot development usually grabs your attention. It has its faults, but Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Red Rescue Team is still an enjoyable game — and one that's easier to find these days on Switch in the form of Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX.
This port package of the first Final Fantasy and its first sequel came courtesy of Tose and improved the look of the 8-bit originals, added a handful of new dungeons and various other tweaks and modifications that makes them more approachable than the originals these days. Handhelds are arguably the perfect environment for JRPGs; you're able to play them in those spare minutes throughout the day or settle down as you would a home console version — the fact is that portability gives you some flexibility in a genre that can be mighty inflexible.
If you're looking to find out how it all started, Final Fantasy I & II: Dawn of Souls is a great introduction.