Who doesn’t love the Game Boy Advance and its vast library of titles? Even today, the GBA is one of the most popular consoles on emulation platforms, adored by millions of fans worldwide.
It’s not hard to see why. The GBA’s library is full of hit titles like The Minish Cap, Metroid Fusion, and Pokemon Ruby/Sapphire. Each and every one of these is a prime example of the magic that Nintendo is capable of, despite the confined architecture of the handheld system.
But whatever happened to the other great games on the platform — the best GBA hidden gems? These spectacular titles also contributed to the Game Boy’s success, yet have gone underappreciated for over a decade They are the unsung heroes of the GBA, titles that are important to the platform’s legacy, and ones that still stand the test of time.
I, for one, think it’s about time they were recognized. So, if you haven’t already, whip out that Game Boy Advance, and let’s get down to business.
10 Best GBA Hidden Gems
Starting at #10, let’s work our way down to the best underrated GBA game ever made.
10. Medal of Honor: Infiltrator
Genre: Third-Person Shooter
Release Year: 2003
The idea of having a first or third-person shooter on a handheld console like the Game Boy Advance might seem strange at first. You’d think it’d require some strange gimmick or quirky workaround. But this World War II-era shooter from EA Games proudly represents a lonely genre on the GBA, with incredible mechanics you have to experience to believe.
With fifteen levels overall, the game follows Jake Murphy in his various missions against Axis forces. The sound design is a standout feature in this title, with the soundtrack music, weapon sound effects, and voice lines all extremely high quality.
The fact that you’re only able to shoot in one of the eight D-pad directions means the gunplay can be a bit awkward at times, but the game’s difficulty is more lenient, which compensates a bit for this. There’s also the odd stealth mission and shooting gallery level to mix up the action.
If you do manage to become a military-level sharpshooter, you can try the unlockable Survival Mode or the “Max GI” mode where you have to complete the game without dying or turning off the console. MoH Infiltrator also had connectivity features (like many GBA games did) to its GameCube console counterpart, Medal of Honor: Rising Sun, where it could be used as an in-game map. Overall, one of the best Game Boy Advance hidden gems out there.
9. Konami Krazy Racers
Release Year: 2001
At a glance, this seems like a carbon copy of the Mario Kart series. Only, there are different faces swapped in place of Yoshi & co. However, there’s enough within Konami’s all-star kart racer to set it apart and allow it to be a great game in its own right.
The selection of racers come from some of Konami’s most notable series (and a few unfamiliar ones) with Goemon from Legend of the Mystical Ninja, Gray Fox (albeit a much cuter rendition) from Metal Gear Solid, and Dracula from the Castlevania franchise. There are multiple cups to choose from, each with unique, challenging, and well-thought-out track designs, and a chunk of unlockable content.
On top of all that, Konami Krazy Racers had many game modes, including a traditional Standard Grand Prix (known as “Krazy GP”). It also featured Time Attacks, which offered Versus and Free Run modes to practice and learn the courses, and the ever-fun Mini Battles, which offered games like Pass the Bomb and Chicken.
Konami Krazy Racers is brimming with character, and a sequel for iOS and Android called Krazy Kart Racing was released in 2009 with an updated character roster.
8. Astro Boy: Omega Factor
Genre: Beat ’em Up
Developer: Treasure // Hitmaker
Release Year: 2003
Now, this is a bit more of a personal pick for me. I still remember asking for this one Christmas as a kid, and my parents just couldn’t get hold of a copy. I did get Mario Kart: Super Circuit instead, but I was still quite sad that I couldn’t fly around as the cool robot boy.
Anyway, putting my own anecdotes to the side, fans of the late Osamu Tezuka will know of this anime series. It’s been an animated mainstay in Japan’s television for decades, after all. The overall plot borrows from the different cartoon story arcs and shelters them all under one narrative umbrella.
The game has stunning and fluid visuals, especially when you consider the hardware it’s on. Astro Boy also has a number of attacks, combos, and powers at his disposal, including an arm cannon, machine gun, and a dash attack. The miniature cyborg child also has an upgrade tree where you can increase things like his health and attack powers.
Astro Boy: Omega Factor is an engaging and fun beat ’em up that looks and feels fantastic.
7. Spider-Man: Mysterio’s Menace
Developer: Vicarious Visions
Release Year: 2001
Action beat ’em ups had their heyday in the early 1990s, with masterpieces like Streets of Rage, Double Dragon, and Final Fight all excellent examples as to why the genre gained so much love in those years. As video games evolved, however, these types of games were made less and less (possibly because developers feared they couldn’t compete with the games of yesteryear).
But the GBA revitalized this genre, testing new mechanics and pushing it to the limit. One developer, in particular, introduced many new mechanics alongside the release of Spider-Man: Mysterio’s Menace.
I believe the sign of a good game is when a developer decides what type of game they want to make, and then adapts their original ideas or license around it. It shows care, consideration, and a true understanding of what makes video games so good. Mysterio’s Menace assesses the action beat ’em up genre’s ingredients and creates its own recipe, which looks, sounds, and tastes(?) fantastic. It’s a thrilling and adaptive take that holds its own against the almighties.
In Mysterio’s Menace, everyone’s favorite friendly neighborhood wall-crawler has an assortment of combos to take down the thugs and henchmen as he makes his way across the screen. Each stage leads him to a new boss, which he must defeat to progress. Fortunately, Spidey has his natural web-slinging abilities to incapacitate enemies, various power-ups, and the ability to navigate environments and puzzles as slyly as a spider.
For anyone with a soft spot in their heart for Golden Axe or the X-Men games on the Super Nintendo, this one’s for you.
6. Disney’s Magical Quest Starring Mickey & Minnie
Developer: Disney Interactive
Release Year: 2002
While you’re right to be wary of licensed video games, Disney’s Magical Quest is a delightful and beautifully designed platformer that takes all the good elements of the Super Mario games and translates them to the world’s most famous mice.
An updated remake of the original game released on the Super Nintendo back in 1992, the Game Boy Advance version introduced Minnie as a playable character (although she was simply a palette swap for Mickey). It also introduced mini-games, cooperative play, the ability to save your game (always handy), and link features with the Gamecube title, Disney’s Magical Mirror.
In your quest to save Pluto the dog from the clutches of the evil wizard Pete, the most apparent feature about this title is the stunning graphical nature and art style. The game really brings out the cartoon vibe of the legendary animals, and beyond just looking nice and pretty, it has decent platforming elements and varied level environments.
There are also two sequels if you just can’t get enough Disney video games.
5. Mario vs. Donkey Kong
Release Year: 2004
Mario is one of the few media franchises that always churns out quality content. Just about everything with the plumber’s name on it is held to the highest standard. This holds true no matter what the pint-sized Italian is up to, even if he’s battling good ‘ol DK.
Mario vs. Donkey Kong may look like a slightly strange breed, but it harkens back to the days of its arcade inception, just with a less punishing formula.
This puzzle-platformer begins when Donkey Kong sees an ad on TV for the new mini-Mario toy. Being the sneaky ape that he is, DK races down to the factory where they’re made and steals them all. But Mario won’t stand for such shenanigans when it comes to his merchandise, so he ventures down to the factory to stop the giant gorilla.
The game consists of six worlds: each of them features six regular levels to get through, and a seventh tasking Mario with guiding the reclaimed mini-Mario toys to a chest for safekeeping. The worlds also include an 8th and final level, where you square off against Donkey Kong himself.
As the game progresses, you’ll uncover ever-more tiny elements, which slowly increase the game’s difficulty and rewards. For a different kind of Mario gaming that is weirdly addictive and fun, look no further than this — one of the best GBA hidden gems ever made.
4. Super Robot Taisen: Original Generation 2
Genre: Tactical RPG
Release Year: 2005
Before researching this article, I had never heard of Super Robot Taisen: Original Generation 2. And with a name like that, I think I would’ve remembered playing it! Fortunately, I now know that this great game (and its predecessor) exists, and I am all the happier for it.
Super Robot Taisen (also known as Super Robot Wars) is a series of tactical RPGs from Banpresto. The series has a massive Japanese influence and design philosophy, and it’s very deep in its story, dialogue, character portrayal, and minutiae of its mechanics.
Taking control and giving orders to your various units on the map (to defeat your opponents, of course) is the order of the day! But be forewarned. You’ll be doing a lot of reading, so you must be prepared for the epicness of the story.
If you enjoy games like Final Fantasy, Fire Emblem, or Advance Wars, this obscure game among our GBA hidden gems could be worth a look.
3. Gunstar Super Heroes
Genre: Run and Gun
Release Year: 2005
The run and gun genre generally appeals to a more hardcore crowd, as its steep learning curve tends to shut the door on more casual and lighthearted players. But that doesn’t make run and guns any less great. Case in point: Gunstar Super Heroes.
Gunstar Super Heroes is a sequel to the Sega Genesis work of art, Gunstar Heroes (a game that could also appear on a hidden gems list). In GSH, you play as either Red or Blue (no relation to the Pokémon universe on a mission to stop an evil empire and save the Treasure Gems.
The visuals, the audio, the controls, the intensity — all of these balanced and nuanced elements blend into a cocktail of run and gun deliciousness. The game is no slouch to complete, but it’s so much fun, you’ll be a glutton for punishment just because it feels so damn good to play.
One of the best GBA hidden gems on this list.
2. Metal Slug Advance
Genre: Run and Gun
Developer: Dream Vision Games
Release Year: 2004
Anyone who’s set foot in an arcade (at least, any arcade worth its salt) will have been subject to the exciting yet equally sadistic Metal Slug series. Metal Slug Advance eases this degree of intensity somewhat, but it’s still a challenging campaign to get through (but for all the right reasons).
Take control of one of the series’ newest recruits, Walter or Tyra, as they begin training on a remote island. But you better learn fast, as all hell breaks loose when the island turns into a fight for survival against General Morden and his army. Think you have what it takes to make it out alive?
The classic Metal Slug gameplay is the bread and butter here, but with a few new mechanics. For one, the life system is now a health bar. And, there’s a new Card system that provides in-game boosts and other unique perks! With 100 total Cards to find and collect, there’s always something to hunt for.
If you really want to put your gaming skills to the test, this title is a worthy opponent.
1. Tactics Ogre: The Knight of Lodis
Genre: Tactical RPG
Release Year: 2001
Another tactical role-playing-game that shows off the majesty of the Game Boy Advance, Tactics Ogre: The Knight of Lodis is among the best GBA hidden gems around.
Released in 2001, TO: TKoL is in the same vein as Super Robot Taisen, mentioned earlier on our list of GBA hidden gems. The primary difference? Tactics Ogre is based around the concept of magic rather than robots, science, and technology.
In addition to the immersive fantasy-inspired storyline, you’re sure to be sucked in by the charming visuals that regale the look of other cherished triumphs like Secret of Mana and Chrono Trigger. Veterans of Final Fantasy will also be right at home with the party system, battle interface, and general vibe of the story.
A neat touch that is seldom seen on GBA games is the use of multiple endings, where one can earn different degrees of resolutions based upon their actions and victories throughout their adventure.
Final Fantasy Tactics may get the lion’s share of the plaudits for this genre on the Game Boy Advance, but Tactics Ogre is not one to miss.