The Game Boy Advance has gone from being a flop to a treasured memory to a sought-after retro system. The DS predecessor was effectively a pocket-sized Super Nintendo, with one of the most robust game games in portable gaming.
With so many fantastic games to choose from, reducing the list down to the top 5 was a difficult challenge, but these are the games that stood out and have lasted the test of time. Even if you disagree with each game’s precise placement inside the top 5, we’re confident you’ll agree that these games are among the finest on the Game Boy Advance.
1. Super Monkey Ball Jr.
One of the most compelling reasons to acquire a GameCube system is the Super Monkey Ball series. The game’s absurd concept, insane challenges, and secret features are just a few of the reasons why it has done so well on the Nintendo platform.
THQ and Sega have stretched out their success with Super Monkey Ball Jr., a handheld form of the first game that’s just as stunning (if not more so) on the Game Boy Advance. Realism, a development studio created by key employees of Software Creations prior to its acquisition by Acclaim, has put a gorgeous GBA production that captures practically everything that made the GameCube title such a pleasantly engaging console game. Folks, don’t miss out on this one.
The main game of Super Monkey Ball is honestly a 3D version of Marble Madness, in which players control one of four distinct monkeys as they wander about inside a ball. The monkey inside the ball is honestly the game’s personality; he doesn’t do much other than walk, run, and rotate around inside the contained sphere during the action.
The basic mode of the game is a “simple” challenge of manipulating the ball through increasingly complex mid-air hanging mazes in a certain amount of time. Most of the game’s “labyrinths” have no barriers around their edges, so one wrong move and your poor monkey goes off into the great beyond with an ear-piercing “ya Simple and flat mazes to complicated structures that slope and wind around curves, holes, and pinball-style bumpers are among the challenges.
Platforms that slide on their own, rock up and down, or rotate around make to the deviousness of navigating through the challenges.
Add in the fact that the clock is ticking…and that bananas are being flung around for additional points…and you have a recipe for area. In the expert levels, the challenges are particularly severe, and this is amplified if you manage to unlock the EX levels by completing one of the difficulty settings without continuing.
Players in Super Monkey Ball Jr. do not control the monkey ball; instead, they use the joystick to tilt the entire level, causing the monkey ball to roll down the hill. The on-off controls aren’t quite Super Monkey Ball friendly since there are many areas where you’ll have to roll the ball slowly down a narrow platform or around a complex series of pitfalls, so the developer offered a little more control in the form of action buttons:
The B button used with the D-pad will roll the ball slowly down a narrow platform or around a complex series of pitfalls; the on-off controls aren’t quite Super Monkey Ball friendly since there are many areas where you’ It works, however it requires some bit to get used to.
All of this takes place from behind the scenes, much like in the GameCube game, and the environment is actually modified by a highly capable 3D engine. Even though the graphics are simple polygons, and more complex levels feature a bit of draw-in off in the distance, the GBA engine is impressive simply because the developers have produced graphics that the GBA was never really meant to pull off; the graphics are simple polygons, sure, and more complex levels feature a bit of draw-in off in the distance, but it’s still impressive to see the ambition that went into this project.
Most GBA developers would have taken the easy way out in 2D if THQ and Sega had handed them the Super Monkey Ball Jr. project, but Realism deserves credit for staying true to the original game’s design on the portable. The team also went over and above to maintain the soundtrack from the console game intact on the GBA. Super Monkey Ball Jr. has even reproduced the console’s menu system.
These guys truly grasped the essence of what made the original game so enjoyable. That, or they collaborated closely with the original design team. In any time, the game greatly benefits from the attention to detail.
The GBA version of the main game has some of the same “camera” difficulties as the GameCube version, indicating that it’s more deliberate than unintentional. The camera does not always remain behind the ball…if players roll the ball towards the camera, it will not immediately swing around to allow players to view forward in the other direction.
When the player wants to roll the ball in a given way but can’t see where he’s going because the camera won’t rotate around and settle behind the ball where it belongs, this presents some severe issues.
If the L or R buttons had been used to adjust the camera when these issues occurred, this may have been avoided. They appear to be there solely to make the game more difficult than it should be. It’s a small flaw in what is otherwise a fantastic design.
No way did the development team simply recreate the gameplay of the main challenges. Three unlockable mini-games modeled on those found on the GameCube are tucked hidden in the cartridge: Monkey Fight, Monkey Bowling, and Monkey Golf.
On the console, these mini-games simply utilised the existing game engine for their unique challenges, but on the GBA, the team had to design a distinct graphics engine for their more unusual gameplay modes, with the exception of Monkey Golf. All three games are fantastic additions to the overall Super Monkey Ball experience.
The monkey balls are given big boxing gloves to “punch” each other off of a circular arena in Monkey Fight; the more knock-outs a player obtains, the more points he earns. Monkey Bowling is a deceptively deep and hard bowling challenge with good pin physics…and for a “mini-game,” it’s almost worth the game’s price only to get access to this mode.
Monkey Golf is a compilation of 18 of the most ingenious miniature golf holes ever devised. Those who are easily irritated should not apply…but they will be losing out on another fantastic mode. All three of these games are fantastic in their own right, and they perfectly compliment the main game.
It’s a shame that the original GameCube mini-game Monkey Target didn’t make the cut, especially because that’s the mode that gets the most play in these offices. However, given how much the development team packed onto the cartridge, the exclusion is understandable.
Super Monkey Ball Jr. utilizes the Game Boy Advance’s link cable to allow up to four players to participate in the action. While it’s unfortunate that the development team was unable to include a single-cartridge game mode in Super Monkey Ball Jr., because Realism performed such a wonderful game on the game, there’s a decent probability that GBA gamers who hold a copy of the game will be easy to play it.
The link is used in each of Super Monkey Ball’s mini-games, as well as one more mode that is only available if a two-player network is activated: Duel of the monkey This mode allows two players to compete against each other on any of the game’s levels (excluding the EX and bonus levels), with the fastest time winning the match.
Super Monkey Ball Jr. is without a doubt one of the best Game Boy Advance games released this holiday season. It not only provides a challenging primary game, but it also encourages replays by rewarding players with points that unlock well-made mini-games.
With its super-smooth use of the GBA’s sprite and backdrop capabilities to recreate the same mode that appears in the GameCube version, Monkey Bowling is a shockingly terrific title in and of itself. It’s also a great advantage for using the GBA’s link features.
Super Monkey Ball Jr. nails the Super Monkey Ball presentation; if you already possess the GameCube game, you won’t find anything new on the GBA…but it’s still a great showpiece for your handheld system that offers virtually the same enjoyment. I’m on the move.
2. Golden Sun
Golden Sun is proof of how great a game can be if the development team is allowed a long enough development cycle to complete it. This roleplaying game, developed by the Mario Golf/Mario Tennis team Camelot Software Planning, has been in the works since the Game Boy Advance’s formal public launch in August of 2000.
That’s been more than a year in the making, and it shows in the final product, as this game is likely one of the best 2D-based Japanese RPGs ever made for any system. And, yeah, Final Fantasy is included.
Golden Sun was created by the same team that created the wildly popular Sega Genesis RPG series Shining Force, and the game’s general design drips with experience.
Despite its design similarities to other Japanese RPGs like Final Fantasy, the team has created an outstanding adventure based on the tried-and-true overhead-wandering, random-battle gameplay that looks absolutely stunning on the Game Boy Advance small screen..
.in fact, this game arguably rivals most of the classic RPGs that have ended up on console systems, such as Dragon Warrior or the aforementioned Final Fantasy series.
Because the plotline has been so tightly integrated into every ounce of the adventure, explaining the story in Golden Sun would ruin the enjoyment of the game for anyone interested in playing through it.
The only safe thing to say about the game’s plot without giving anything away about the story’s twists and turns is this: You play as Isaac, a young swordsman from Vale, and at the beginning of the adventure, a storm is forming outside, forcing Isaac to run for his life.
But, as any virtual adventurer knows, it’s never that simple, and you’ll soon find yourself thrown into the role of global savior, befriending other experienced adventurers who will join your crusade…as the saying goes, there’s strength in numbers.
If you’re not paying attention, it’s easy to become lost in Golden Sun’s rich and complex plot. Most familiar RPGs rely on extremely cut-and-dry storylines to simplify the game design…and while Golden Sun’s layout is fairly simple, it’s not exactly a snap to grasp the intricacies of why exactly you’re on the quest unless you’re paying strict attention to the unfolding story as it happens…and believe me, it’s not an easy thing to do when you’re playing it on the GBA system, where you could be saturated in distractions depending on where you’
Because the designers have written such a deep story involving dozens of characters (each with their own unique personality), the game must unfold the introduction through both action and conversation. The one drawback to the game design is that it takes about two hours to get into the meat of the game.
For those seeking to get right into the action, the beginning is slow, but after a few critical events, the game really starts to take off…you just have to stick with it for a bit. Some of the discussions can get a little long, and the “involvement” of offering players “yes/no” choices can get a little comical, especially when the “yes/no” choices are offered in answer to rhetorical queries like “Isn’t that great what occurred, Isaac?”
Due to my overall dislike of the “wander around, get into a random battle, win battle, wander around, random battle, etc.” design, I’ve avoided role-playing games. And Golden Sun relies largely on random combat, which can be aggravating, especially while trying to progress without weakening your party members.
Despite these unavoidable gaps in the exploration, I believe this game is a terrific Game Boy Advance title and one of the best games released to date for the device. The quest is incredibly long, absolutely stunning to look at, and a joy to listen to…and, while the link cable mode isn’t particularly impressive, it’s enough to boost the replay value once you’ve completed the adventure.
It’s a foregone conclusion that the series will continue, as RPG fans will adore what Camelot has created for the Game Boy Advance, and I, for one, am eagerly anticipating Golden Sun 2.
3. Ninja Five-O
Ninja Five-O from Konami and Hudson seems like a throwback to the glory days of arcade gaming, when Shinobi, Ninja Gaiden, and Rolling Thunder reigned supreme. Ninja Five-O expands on those classic games and their distinctive gameplay principles, while also giving a highly unique and current gaming experience on the Game Boy Advance, indicating that the developers have certainly been schooled in old arcade games.
Ninja Five-O (also known as Ninja Cop in some areas) puts players in the shoes of Joe Osugi, a ninja turned detective. His mission is to stop a terrorist gang that has been affected by the Mad Masks’ terrible forces, artifacts that were once kept away by the Ninja’s distant progenitors.
Players don’t have to do any investigative work as Joe; it’s all part of the game’s lot. Instead, players employ Joe Osugi’s ninja talents to eliminate the terrorist danger and rescue hostages, eventually seeking to overthrow the Mad Masks’ commanders.
Many of the level challenges demand players to utilize Joe’s grappling hook; players will have to swing from platform to platform to navigate through the areas. Bionic Commando is definitely the game’s main inspiration, as many of the level challenges require players to use Joe’s grappling hook.
Furthermore, to move the Ninja up to higher platforms, players will have to pump, swing, and leap up; this technique differs from Bionic Commando, which allowed players to simply pull up to the higher ledge using the grapple arm. This needed grapple-swing skill adds so much to the level designs in Ninja Five-O, and it looks so damn cool when you pull it off with ease.
However, Bionic Commando is merely one part of inspiration for the game. Hudson also appropriated gameplay elements from Revenge of Shinobi and Shadow Dancer, two of the most well-known ninja action games ever made. Players in Ninja Five-O have a limitless number of shuriken stars to throw at enemies, and these projectile attacks can be enhanced by collecting lightning bolt icons.
There are only three levels of shuriken power-ups, which is a little annoying because when you’re all maxed out and pick up another power-up, you don’t earn anything extra…except points. Players must also employ Joe’s sword attack to take out close-range enemies…and once you’ve gotten acclimated to the controls, you’ll probably make to use the sword attack over the shuriken stars.
It’s considerably more effective to charge into an adversary with the sword slashing, especially since some enemies hide behind hostages as human shields; it’s also easy to unintentionally take out a hostage with a star, which is a no-no when trying to save them. Players can also slide attack and latch onto ledges, which comes in helpful when climbing through tunnels with livewires zapping all over the place.
Despite the fact that the game is essentially an aggregation of existing old-school game themes, it’s a winning combo. Furthermore, the designers have created 20 levels that are highly difficult but not frustrating.
Players only have one life to pass the level, and it may take a few tries to figure out the optimal strategy; all of the levels are identically designed, with the same enemies, power-ups, and keys in the exact same times each time.
To succeed, players must master the individual attacks of each of the colored enemies; as a result, each level has a “pattern” to follow, although getting to the finish of each area still requires a lot of skill. The game’s designers take advantage of the level layouts by introducing a Time Trial mode for each finished level; the game will save the best times to the cartridge, with each level having a “qualifying” time to beat.
Ninja Five-O is a surprisingly great game that almost came out of nowhere; Konami published the game quietly and without any fanfare. The game harkens back to the days of Ninja arcade games, and although borrowing gameplay aspects from prior designs, it isn’t a copycat Game Boy Advance game.
Because it’s an original game with no license or previous title to rely on, it’s likely to languish on store shelves…which is a shame because it’s an exciting, engaging, and tough action game that shouldn’t be overlooked.
4. Mario vs. Donkey Kong
Nintendo’s original 1981 arcade Donkey Kong was re-passed on the black-and-white Game Boy system ten years ago, taking the iconic design to new heights with innovative action and puzzle aspects while accurately replicating the Donkey Kong arcade game’s look and feel.
Nintendo has brought back that design in Mario vs. Donkey Kong for the Game Boy Advance, almost as if it were commemorating the occasion. You’d never know it’s a sequel unless you’ve played the original Game Boy game; it feels like Nintendo and developer NST went out of their way to give Mario vs. Donkey Kong the feel of a classic. We, on the other hand, know better.
Even if the game isn’t particularly original, the entire experience is because each of the challenges is a first for the GBA. Even though we regret the old-school presentation, it’s still fun to experience the brilliant game design in a new light.
Donkey Kong has given up his thirty-year obsession with Pauline’s kidnapping. He’s now on the hunt for one of the hottest toys on the market: Mini Marios. But he’s skipping the middleman and going right to the source: the factory that makes the danglings.
He’s also gathering them all, leaving nothing for the good young boys and girls to enjoy on their own. Mario, Donkey Kong’s arch nemesis since those foggy Jumpman days, enters the toy factory, braving the many machinery to gather up all the toys Donkey Kong mistakenly scattered on his ascent through the structure.
If it all seems familiar, it’s because Nintendo’s NST team based Mario and Donkey Kong on Donkey Kong, or rather Donkey Kong 1994, taking all of the platform and puzzle aspects from that game, as well as all of Mario’s abilities, and creating new challenges for the Game Boy Advance version. Even if you’ve played Donkey Kong 1994, all of the challenges in Mario vs. Donkey Kong are unique, so it’s essentially a totally new experience wrapped in a familiar package.
The game design incorporates tried-and-true Mario-style platforming components into levels that challenge the player’s abilities to maneuver Mario from location to location in order to collect the scattered missing packages.
Each level is divided into at least two parts: one in which players must snag a package and carry a key from its original location to a locked door that leads to the level’s Part Two: two more packages and a lost Mini Mario; and the other in which players must snag a package and carry a key from its original location to a locked door that leads to the level’s Part Three: two more packages and a lost Mini Mario.
All that is required to progress is the key in Part One and the Mini Mario in Part Two, but everything must be scored in the least period of time to earn the Big Points and unlock the additional Hard Mode.
The level patterns are designed to take advantage of Mario’s unique abilities, many of which allude to Mario’s vast 25-year career in video games. Mario’s regular run, jump, and climbing talents are put to the test by standard Donkey Kong platform gaps and ladders. Mario’s double and super-high jump are required to hover on platforms.
On their backs, most adversaries are harmless and can be picked up and thrown, similar to the “pluck” element in Super Mario 2. The Hammer makes a comeback in this design, giving Mario the old Donkey Kong power to crush everything in his element while also allowing him to toss it away and collect it in mid-air elsewhere in the level.
The game’s original design appears after six levels of an area: the task of taking the Mini Marios past the manufacturing hazards and back into their toy chest. It’s a challenge that combines Lemmings and Donkey Kong, giving the game a unique flavor from its Game Boy version. There should be a lot more of these challenges than just filling up a quarter of Mario vs. Donkey Kong’s playtime.
Each world also contains a boss encounter with Donkey Kong himself, from which Mario vs. Donkey Kong derives its name. However, in all honesty, they are the levels with the least amount of inventiveness, and the difficulty varies considerably from world to world.
The challenge isn’t so much about defeating Donkey Kong as it is about figuring out how to defeat him. No, the challenge is to see whether you can defeat him without taking any damage, because the game awards points based on how many strikes the player takes during the combat.
Much of the appeal of the original Donkey Kong was seeing how Nintendo’s game designers took the original arcade concept and expanded on it for a modern game design, all while staying true to the old game’s appearance and feel.
Apart from being black and white (or simple color on the Super Game Boy), the original Game Boy was an ideal platform for this notion because its graphic and audio capabilities were not far removed from the hardware that the legendary arcade game was developed on.
NST, on the other hand, abandoned this simplicity for a crazily modern art-style in Mario vs. Donkey Kong, resulting in awkward but undeniably well-animated 3D rendered Mario and enemy sprites that simply don’t fit the game.
Because the game plays “guess the Mario reference” throughout the trip, and many of the games the designers reference don’t employ such elaborate visuals, it just feels out of place to see all these generated graphics.
Nintendo and NST take the over-the-top presentation a step farther by making Mario and Donkey Kong extremely chatty. It’s an element that doesn’t need to be there, whether it’s the route Nintendo is taking with its key characters or the development team showing off its audio compression techniques.
Hearing all of this conversation isn’t terribly intrusive, but Nintendo’s dialogue might fit the characters better if it was kept simple.
But, despite the awkward, misplaced presentation, Mario vs. Donkey Kong is still a great Game Boy Advance game because the levels are filled with extremely difficult concepts that expertly balance platform action with mind-bending puzzle components.
And, despite the fact that it ends far too soon, NST has included a number of features that will keep the action going for a long lot, including a harder mode for players who beat the high score record on each of the 48 original challenges.
All of the original’s well-known gameplay mechanics have returned in new and entertaining platformer challenges with a distinct theme and flavor, taking advantage of the GBA’s increased capabilities.
Surprisingly, Nintendo appears to have overlooked the game’s roots rather than just embracing them, promoting this game as a different and “new” brand rather than what it truly is: a continuation of one of the best and most recommended Game Boy games in the system’s catalog.
To those who enjoyed the original Game Boy Donkey Kong and its genuine retroness, the new design feels a little awkward because it takes such a significantly different approach in its art style and presentation. Apart from that, Mario vs. Donkey Kong is still a must-have action title for the Game Boy Advance, and its new production is a must-have action title for the Game Boy Advance.
5. Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town
With so many games coming out in November and December, it would take a truly exceptional game to pull my attention away for a whole weekend of nonstop gaming. That game is Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town.
The game did well on the Game Boy and Game Boy Color, but no handheld version compares to what Natsume has put into the Game Boy Advance edition…so much so that if you’re not cautious, it will eat up every precious free minute of your life.
And that is precisely the goal of the game: to provide you with a life separate from your own. It’s more of an economics game set on a farm, but it’s absolutely absorbing and difficult to put down…especially once you start exploring all of the game’s complexities.
Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town begins simply enough: you’ve recently acquired a farm from an elderly man who passed months ago. He didn’t have any actual relatives or friends, but he enjoyed the brief time you spent on his farm as a child. It’s time to start a new life in Mineral Town, as you have no previous obligations.
The old man left all of the essential equipment to get the farm up and running, but it will take a lot of hard work to get it up and running. Of course, the task is to get the farm up and running and keep it working long enough to generate enough cash flow.
Naturally, you’ll have to spend money to make money, which will come in the form of purchasing cows for milk, sheep for wool, and chickens for eggs, as well as additional income to provide more money for chicken feed and animal fodder, medicine for the sick, and improvements to the barn, chicken coop, and house that will allow you to generate more income. All of this will aid in achieving the final goal: a town cottage, a lovely wife, and a healthy child.
The game is essentially a well-designed, intensely engaging test of resource management. The game begins slowly, with a packet of seeds and a weed-infested, stone-covered, and stick-infested field posing as a farm. Much of the early days are spent cleaning up the area and clearing out all of the undergrowth in order to make the farm much more habitable for the crops to flourish.
One packet of seed will provide enough cash to generate more seeds, and eventually a chicken or cow. Of course, the strategy is to employ the money you’ve gained to the best of your farm’s ability.
Harvest Moon’s lone foe is the clock, and a day in Mineral Town lasts around 10 minutes. It’s actually difficult to tell because the clock only moves in outside surroundings; if you’re more fond of animals or a heavy miner, the clock does not move at all.
On the farm, however, time passes at a pace of 5 seconds per 10 minutes of game time. So, when you’re out tilling the fields, sowing the seeds, watering the earth, and harvesting the crops, it’s a challenge to “Beat the Clock,” a never-ending cycle if you’re good enough.
A season is thirty game days long, during which time the seasons change and the present crop withers, requiring you to clean up the dead plants and replace them with seasonal vegetables…the faster you get them going, the more money you’ll make.
But there is an evident result to every action: exhaustion. You’re only human, and hard work will take its toll…which means you’ll need to spend some time in the hot springs to re-energize. Later on, you’ll find components that improve strength and energy, as well as farming abilities (leveling up farm equipment is a necessary), but getting the farm up and running is a struggle in the beginning.
There’s so much to do in the game that expecting one individual to complete all of the farming jobs would be absurd. Thankfully, there are some nice elfish sprites that would gladly help you with chores…but you’ll have to like them first by giving them presents they enjoy.
So, in addition to managing “workers,” you’ll need to make that they like you enough to continue working for “the man.” These little fellas are a crucial element to investigate because your hard effort will undoubtedly cause you to overlook one of the game’s objectives: wooing a girlfriend.
You can grasp onto and smother four distinct girls in the game, with each one’s level of fondness for you symbolized by a heart icon pulsating on her on-screen image. Getting a girl to like you takes time, and players may spend multiple seasons working to achieve this aim.
There is competition, though, because each of these girls has an in-town match…and you’ll have to act swiftly to acquire their girl of choice to accompany you instead of the canned in-game order.
Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town for the Game Boy Advance has been on store shelves in the United States for almost two weeks. The amount of time that has passed between the game’s release and this review demonstrates how much time this game takes away from a gamer’s schedule.
I haven’t seen everything there is to see in the game after more than twenty hours and a year and a half, but the time has come to tell the world that Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town is a deceptively engaging game.
One that will make actual days vanish and real chores be forgotten in favor of a long farming session. It’s great in its simplicity, but there are so many layers that peel away and show themselves as time passes. This game is highly recommended…just make sure you have the time to devote to such a long-term endeavor.