Fancy graphics are fine, but all gamers know in their hearts that nothing will ever top the drama of Final Fantasy VII or the pure physicality of Super Mario Bros. 3. Playboy’s Retro Gaming articles look at why we love the classics and give you your nostalgia fix.
Between the tremendous success of the Nintendo Game Boy and the even more successful release of the Nintendo DS, there was a Nintendo handheld console that did almost as well, but didn’t quite capture the mass appeal of its siblings: the Game Boy Advance.
The system deviated from the portrait form of the original Gameboy, looking more like the Nintendo DS’s now iconic landscape layout. It consisted of one 2.9-inch surrounded by buttons—something that sounds pitiful by modern standards. And it was far from stylish, looking a lot like a child’s toy.
Somehow, that paltry sounding system went on to change a lot. It introduced us to many great franchises that would later become a much bigger deal on the DS and the current Nintendo handheld system, the 3DS. To mark its 15th birthday this month, here are 15 iconic games that encapsulate why the Game Boy Advance was and is so special.
15. ‘MARIO KART SUPER CIRCUIT’
Every Nintendo system needs a Mario Kart game, and Mario Kart Super Circuit didn’t disappoint upon arrival in 2001. The first handheld entry for the series, the game managed to cram a lot into that small cartridge. Five different ways of playing meant there were no shortage of options. Best of all? You could play multiplayer, providing you either had a link cable or you each had your own Game Boy Advance and a copy of the game.
14. ‘SUPER MARIO ADVANCE 2: SUPER MARIO WORLD’
If it’s a Mario game, it’s almost certainly worth buying. Super Mario Advance 2: Super Mario World was particularly special, being a remaster of the Super Nintendo title of the same name. A simple mix of jumping and puzzle solving meant that your reflexes were tested as much as your mind. Got the urge to play it all over again? You can download it from the Wii U and 3DS store now.
13. ‘FIRE EMBLEM’
This game combined a detailed storyline with tactical fights that required careful planning. Think of it as like a game of chess but with many more different types of units. Combat followed a rock-paper-scissors style mentality, with its storyline offering an impressive layer of character development.
12. ‘FINAL FANTASY TACTICS ADVANCE’
Final Fantasy Tactics Advance offered another immersive chess-like experience. Taking place on a 3D isometric field, you’re required to place your team members wisely, taking into consideration the limitations of their weaponry and of the landscape around them. Being stuck behind a hill is no good to anyone, and Final Fantasy Tactics Advance embraced such logical thinking. Alongside that was a plethora of sidequests, and a storyline that remains more gripping than most later Final Fantasy instalments.
11. ‘MARIO & LUIGI: SUPERSTAR SAGA’
To the untrained eye, a Mario game where the plumber doesn’t jump around collecting coins doesn’t sound quite right, but it almost always works anyway. Superstar Saga was a success for the Game Boy Advance, incorporating a combat system that relied as much on timing as on planning your moves in advance. The real delight came from how Superstar Saga wasn’t afraid to poke fun at the Mario name, with a series of in-game jokes and references that were sure to produce a chuckle from fans.
10. ‘SUPER MARIO ADVANCE 4: SUPER MARIO BROS. 3’
A remaster of the 1988 game Super Mario Bros 3, ten minutes of this will show you whyold games are still awesome. Many debates rage over which Mario game is the best, but it doesn’t really matter when you’re able to play them all. Super Mario Advance 4: Super Mario Bros. 3 was a delight through and through, even including a multiplayer mode based on the original Mario Bros arcade game.
9. ‘POKEMON EMERALD’
The Pokemon Yellow to the Game Boy Advance’s Pokemon Ruby and Sapphire, Emerald was a fine example of the franchise. The Pokemon series has always been about collecting Pokemon, and this generation of games added 135 new species. With additional mini-games, a new 2-on-2 form of fighting, and a new area to explore, it bridged the gap well between earlier instalments and the Pokemon we’re accustomed to today.
8. ‘ADVANCE WARS’
If you love strategy games and thinking five or six moves ahead, you need a Game Boy Advance. Why the Advance Wars series has yet to make it past a slightly inferior DS version is unknown to us, but where it all began is where the franchise is at its best. The objective is simple: defeat the enemy army by making a series of moves towards their headquarters. There’s a storyline to follow, but it’s the thrill of battle that really grabs you and refuses to let go.
7. ‘THE LEGEND OF ZELDA: A LINK TO THE PAST’
Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past is heralded as one of the best Zelda games out there, and this remake made it even better (and yes, a lot of these are re-releases of Super Nintendo games. So what?). This edition offered an extra dungeon to explore, new shops and enemies, as well as a new quest only accessible by playing its multiplayer. The multiplayer might be far from essential, but everything else makes this an adventure still worth checking out today.
6. ‘WARIOWARE: TWISTED!’
A much more frivolous affair than other entries here, WarioWare: Twisted! was one of many mini game collections on the Game Boy Advance, involving the evil Wario. Twisted! stands out because its cartridge utilized a gyro sensor, meaning you could twist and spin your GBA to complete various tasks. Think of it as a rudimentary smartphone accelerometer and you’re not far off.
5. ‘GOLDEN SUN’
Demonstrating that the Game Boy Advance wasn’t just a home for established franchises, Golden Sun was a rather special title. It combined the sensibilities of more well known series such as Final Fantasy with a mythology-inspired approach to magic. Being able to use Djinns (a form of genie) in battle ensured it stood out, and the series could do with being resurrected on the 3DS.
4. ‘WARIO LAND 4’
The antithesis of Mario and his borderline saintly ways, the Wario Land series has always been rather special. Wario Land 4 was the best of the bunch, offering open-ended exploration and plenty of puzzles to solve. Alongside that was the usual Mario way of jumping around defeating enemies. It was one of the trickier games in the series, but a fine deviation from the usual Princess-saving antics of Mario.
3. ‘KINGDOM HEARTS: CHAIN OF MEMORIES’
One of the first Game Boy Advance games to incorporate cinematic footage, Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories was special enough to turn into a PlayStation 2 game later on. The series has consistently succeeded in its combination of Final Fantasy style adventure with well known Disney characters and themes. This instalment offered a card-based fighting system that was ideal on a portable format.
2. ‘METROID FUSION’
Utilizing the ability to connect the GameCube with the Game Boy Advance, Metroid Fusion was the perfect reason to own both systems. You could use it to unlock new suits for use in the GameCube’s Metroid Prime, while unlocking a version of the first Metroid game for the Game Boy Advance. Both titles demonstrate the best of action gaming, meaning it was far from a hardship to play both.
1. ‘CASTLEVANIA: ARIA OF SORROW’
Any of the Castlevania games on the Game Boy Advance are pretty special, but it’s the final instalment—Aria of Sorrow—that stands out most. Telling a powerful if dismal story of a teenager fending off dark forces, it introduced many new features to the format as you explored Dracula’s castle once again. Collecting souls to gain new abilities was one such feature, with the Game Boy Advance’s link cable allowing you to trade them with friends. Rarely particularly challenging, it still offered enough variety and exploration to be one of the best games out there.
Jennifer Allen is a freelance writer based in not-so-sunny Wales. She’s been gaming for over 20 years and cites Final Fantasy VII and Goldeneye as “life-changing.” Jennifer has written for outlets such as GamePro.com, G4TV.com, and PasteMagazine.com. In her free time, she pretends she knows what she’s doing at the gym.
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