Best GBA games - essential GameBoy Advance titles you need to play

A purple Game Boy Advance against a red background
(Image credit: Nintendo)

The best GBA games are getting easier and easier to find and play, thanks to the retro line-up of games included in Nintendo Switch Online collections. They're well worth seeking out too, given that so many gaming gems can be found on the now 23 year old handheld.

Digging back into the GameBoy Advance library is a great way to see where many of  the best Nintendo Switch games got their inspirations from. You can check out some of the best Zelda games, Metroid games and more. The GBA Nintendo Switch Online line-up is set to expand with more games in the coming months, and we’ll let you know in the list below if a particular title is playable on the service.

We’ve aimed to include a variety of the best GameBoy Advance games across several genres. Expect to see platformers, RPGs, strategy, puzzle games, and many more as we guide you through the GameBoy Advance titles we consider essential to play. Read on, then, to learn more about our picks for the best GBA games.

The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap screenshot showing Link holding up a sword in a royal chamber. He's surrounded by guards, and stands before a king on a red throne.

(Image credit: Nintendo)

10. The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap

A huge adventure in a miniature world

Arguably one of Link’s greatest 2D adventures, the Capcom-developed The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap is far larger than its pint-sized premise would have you believe. In order to save Zelda and Hyrule from the dark wizard Vaati, Link teams up with a talking hat named Ezlo, who grants the hero the power to shrink to microscopic size.

Link’s newfound stature makes everyday objects and garden variety enemies far more intimidating. An early-game example has Link fighting a regular-sized Chu Chu while shrunk, turning the encounter into a boss fight. Similarly, pots, tree trunks, and barrels all become their own explorable areas. And that’s not even getting into Hyrule itself, which is impressively large for a 2D Zelda and full of little details and secrets.

Available on Switch Online

Mother 3 screenshot showing the main cast in a pink forest.

(Image credit: Nintendo)

9. Mother 3

A deeply moving RPG that never released in the west

Mother 3 was something of a game-changer when it launched in 2006. What first appears to be a cutesy, casual RPG gradually reveals its true colors as a harrowing tale of a family torn apart, and ever-encroaching corporate greed warping and erasing nature. Mother 3 is a fantastic game, but also one that completely shattered the notion that Nintendo games couldn’t be made for mature audiences.

Mother 3 never saw a release in the West, which is a massive shame. Thankfully, it has been salvaged by fan translators who’ve opened the game up to a much wider audience. Mother 3 would go on to become an immensely influential title, inspiring modern indie classics like Undertale and Omori. While it may never see a Western release in any official capacity, it’s very much earned its recognition as one of the best RPGs of all time. 

Not available on Switch Online

Metroid Fusion screenshot showing two levels, with Sam's running in opposite directions in each

(Image credit: Nintendo)

8. Metroid Fusion

An atmospheric adventure with touches of horror

Metroid Fusion is more linear than your typical series game, trading large-scale exploration for a more intimate and atmospheric journey for bounty hunter Samus Aran. Fusion has our heroine investigating an outbreak of the deadly ‘X’ parasite aboard a now-derelict space station. Under the guidance of an overbearing AI, she learns that the X has congregated to form a parasitic version of herself, known as the SA-X.

Your encounters with the SA-X are few, which makes each a nail-biting run-and-hide endeavor. Besides the SA-X, Fusion features some of the most horrifying bosses in the entire series. It’s a bite-sized adventure that makes a good starting point for series newcomers, as its sequel, Metroid Dread, launched on the Switch in 2021, followed by Metroid Prime Remastered in 2023. 

Available on Switch Online

Sonic Advance 2 screenshot showing Sonic running towards the left of the screen

(Image credit: Sega / Sonic Team)

7. Sonic Advance 2

A speedy sequel that should not be missed

The Sonic Advance series came to the GBA during a time when it was still bewildering to see a Sega title on a Nintendo platform. Nevertheless, the hedgehog’s return to 2D put up a strong front on GBA, and Sonic Advance 2 was the best of the trilogy, and could quite easily be seen as one of the best Sonic games ever.

Sonic Advance 2 features multiple playable characters, and some of the highest quality presentation a 2D Sonic game has ever seen. Everything from menus and music to sprites and the levels themselves all exude a level of quality that, for the succeeding years, would be hard to come by for the Sonic franchise as a whole. 

Not available on Switch Online

Advance Wars screenshot showing tiny red tanks moving across a river towards enemy blue tanks

(Image credit: Nintendo)

6. Advance Wars

The GBA’s best strategy game

Much like Fire Emblem, Advance Wars came from a series dating back to the days of the Famicom. The GBA title was just the first to make it to the West, where it was an immediate hit. Advance Wars benefitted in much the same way Fire Emblem did; polished, fast-paced tactics on a portable system provided a compelling and satisfying play experience, but one that was also plenty difficult.

Advance Wars packed a lengthy campaign, multiplayer, and a map maker onto one tiny cartridge, meaning players who resonated with the game certainly got their money’s worth. After a long period of dormancy, the series is finally available again on modern hardware thanks to the release of Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp; from-the-ground-up remakes of the two GBA Advance Wars titles. 

Not available on Switch Online

Castlevania Aria of Sorrow screenshot showing a giant flaming skull enemy advancing in the player

(Image credit: Konami)

5. Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow

A certified GBA classic that’s highly replayable

The Castlevania series was on a hot streak on the GBA. Circle of the Moon and Harmony of Dissonance got the ball rolling with two solid – if flawed – entries, but it was Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow that knocked it out of the park, and to this day is recognized as one of the all-time best Castlevania titles.

As Soma Cruz, you explore the game’s non-linear, metroidvania landscape with the ability to absorb the souls of defeated enemies, claiming their powers as your own. This strongly encourages experimentation and lets the player form their own builds to tackle the game’s dangerous locales. Aria would receive a sequel, Dawn of Sorrow, on the DS, which is unsurprisingly one of the best Nintendo DS games, too. 

Not available on Switch Online

Golden Sun showing Ivan cast Whirlwind on a group of enemies

(Image credit: Nintendo)

4. Golden Sun

Some of the absolute best visuals on GBA

Camelot’s short-lived RPG series debuted just a few months after the launch of the GBA. That’s wild to think, considering both it and its sequel are two of the most visually stunning games on the handheld. But it had more than that going for it; with a fantastic soundtrack and a compelling turn-based battle system.

Golden Sun differentiates itself from other RPGs by way of its Psynergy system. These two-pronged abilities can be used in battle, but also to overcome environmental puzzles scattered throughout the environment. That allowed Golden Sun to become an RPG where players had to use their heads outside of battle almost as much as they did within it. 

Available on Switch Online

Mario Tennis Power Tour screenshot showing a match up on a blue court

(Image credit: Nintendo)

3. Mario Tennis: Power Tour

A shockingly excellent sports title on GBA

Camelot really was in its prime on the GBA. Alongside Golden Sun, the developer also produced one of the all-time best Mario sports titles in Mario Tennis: Power Tour. The game brought an RPG flavor to the sport, having players level up and develop their character with various skills as they progressed through increasingly tougher opponents and a handful of fun minigames.

Mario Tennis: Power Tour holds up to this day, and is a much stronger effort than the recent tennis and golf titles we’ve seen in the series since. It’d be a superb fit for Nintendo Switch Online, so here’s hoping Nintendo sees to adding this incredible sports game to its lineup sometime in the future. 

Not available on Switch Online

Wario Land 4 screenshot showing Wario facing down a purple enemy

(Image credit: Nintendo)

2. Wario Land 4

An expertly crafted platformer with a wicked sense of humor

There’s an argument to be made in Wario Land 4 just outright being the best GBA game, full stop, depending on the kind of games you like to play. This visually gorgeous platformer, complete with a nonsensical premise and otherworldly soundtrack, is unlike anything else you can play on the handheld; it’s a platformer that doesn’t really play like one at all.

In Wario Land 4, you don’t just run from left to right to complete each stage. You do that while exploring the vast levels for riches and treasure. But once you reach the end, you’re on a time limit to hightail it back to the start of the level to escape with your goods. Throw in tons of unlockables and multiple endings based on overall progression and you have an ultra-charming and replayable title in Wario Land 4. 

Not available on Switch Online

Pokemon Emerald screenshot showing the layer walking in a grassy forest area, towards a trainer and a zigzagoon

(Image credit: Nintendo)

1. Pokémon Emerald

A vastly improved handheld Pokémon experience

The definitive Gen 3 Pokémon title, Pokémon Emerald returned trainers to the Hoenn region, with a whole host of new features that make it worth choosing over the Ruby and Sapphire editions. Not least of all is Rayquaza, the game’s flagship legendary Pokemon who remains a huge fan favorite to this day.

Pokémon Emerald brought with it several quality-of-life updates and features, but the most impactful addition was undoubtedly the Battle Frontier. This sprawling new area opened up after beating the game’s Elite Four and presents several challenging new arenas dictated by a variety of criteria. It was a true endgame challenge that’s sorely missing from many Pokémon titles that would succeed it.

Not available on Switch Online

Best GBA games: FAQs

Link faces down a large green slime enemy in the middle of a dungeon

(Image credit: Nintendo)

Can you still buy GBA games?

GBA games are still in circulation, but they are a lot harder to come by nowadays. Because of this, the cartridges for original GBA games are usually sold on for a pretty penny and labelled a collectors item. With Nintendo Switch Online you're more likely to be able to play through some of the best titles on the console without having to pay too much, but you are slightly limited in your options. 

How often does Nintendo Switch Online add new GBA games?

Unlike a service like Game Pass, there isn't really a schedule for when new games are added, and they'll usually follow a Nintendo Direct or be announced via the official Nintendo Twitter page. It's worth keeping an eye on the Nintendo Switch Online app on your console too, since new titles will always have a spotlight on there too. 

How we made out best GBA games list

Narrowing our list down to just ten of the best GBA games wasn’t easy. The handheld has one of the most prolific libraries in the history of gaming, so picking the cream of the crop was difficult. Ultimately, we made our choices based on a few key criteria, alongside reflecting on the games the team at TechRadar Gaming have spent hours within as we grew alongside the console. 

We also wanted to make sure at least some of the best GBA games on our list are accessible on Nintendo Switch, for those who are looking to make the most of the games on the newest console. And for those that aren’t, we tried to select the titles that fans most often think of when reminiscing about the legendary handheld. And we certainly hope that, eventually, most of these excellent titles will find their way onto Nintendo Switch Online in the future.

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Rhys Wood
Hardware Editor

Rhys is TRG's Hardware Editor, and has been part of the TechRadar team for more than two years. Particularly passionate about high-quality third-party controllers and headsets, as well as the latest and greatest in fight sticks and VR, Rhys strives to provide easy-to-read, informative coverage on gaming hardware of all kinds. As for the games themselves, Rhys is especially keen on fighting and racing games, as well as soulslikes and RPGs.