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When it comes to handheld video game systems, the Game Boy Advance is one of the most memorable names in the gaming industry.

Part of the sixth generation of video game consoles, the Game Boy Advance was released in North America on June 11, 2001, and would go on to sell over 81 million units worldwide. Unlike previous generation Game Boy designs, the Advance opted for more of a landscape form factor placing the buttons on either side of the screen rather than beneath it. 

Building on what had made previous Game Boy consoles great, Nintendo took its successful portable console formula and the result is one of the most beloved handheld consoles of all time. Of course, part of the reason why the GBA lives on with such adoration is its fantastic lineup of games, including some terrific action titles. 

Let’s get into those games now!

What is an Action Game? 

Labeling a game as an “action” game feels like it leaves the door open to a host of different game formats, and that’s not far from the truth.

By all accounts, an action game is made up of more than one genre, including platform, fighting, shooter, and beat ‘em up style games. Within each of these different types of games, the player controls the main character and helps them jump and shoot their way through defeating evil bosses and keep their health meter full. Most important to note is that action games can take place in either a 2D or 3D format, though in the case of the Game Boy Advance, it’s strictly 2D. 

Was the Game Boy Advance Known for its Action Games? 

The Game Boy Advance was known for a variety of game formats which absolutely includes action titles. Because “action” has a broad definition, there are plenty of games on the GBA that fulfill the definition of how an action game would be defined.

Some of the games highlighted on this list would go on and become some of the best-selling titles of the Game Boy Advance era. Of the 40 or so best-selling games that are known to have sold over a million copies, more than half are likely to qualify underneath the action genre. 

Metroid: Zero Mission (Renewed)
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Everything about emMetroid: Zero Mission/em is action-packed, pun intended.

Having already arrived on previous Nintendo systems, it was only a matter of time before Samus came to the Game Boy Advance and arrived with emMetroid: Zero Mission/em. The game focuses heavily on Samus’ backstory and walks players through her first-ever meeting with the Metroids.

Don’t worry as even with the backstory, there’s plenty of action to be had as Samus engages in battles with space pirates across various levels. Throughout these levels, Samus will be on the hunt for power-ups and secret areas that she can only reach with these power-ups. 

While it’s a true remake of the 1986 Metroid classic, the updated visuals brought to the Game Boy Advance make it feel like an entirely new game. You can control Samus for the first time without her power suit which is a real thrill for dedicated Metroid fans. Nintendo even adds a fun easter egg as you complete the game and enables an emulated version of the original 1986 game. It’s no surprise that emMetroid: Zero Mission/em earns a standout 89 Metascore. 

Pick up your copy of emMetroid: Zero Mission/em for the Game Boy Advance on Amazon here

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Like Metroid, Castlevania is another beloved series that has lived on with various iterations this time for the Game Boy Advance with emCastlevania: Circle of the Moon/em.

Staying true to the Castlevania formula, this game is tough and offers no save progress, so when you die, you start over. It’s a concept that has continued to be popular with games like Dead Cells on modern-day consoles. 

Still, putting you in control over a demon hunter and having you do battle with demons through Count Dracula’s castle is just magical. The protagonist, Nathan Graves, is armed with his trusty whip and ready to take all of Dracula’s minions. What helped make emCastlevania: Circle of the Moon/em unique is the four different modes of gameplay that must be played in order of completion to unlock the mode that follows after that one just completed. 

Game modes aside, as an action game, emCircle of the Moon/em lives up to the idea that a 2D platformer is very much an action title. Between the spell system that requires you to track down various cards and the wonderful music that accompanies the game, emCastlevania: Circle of the Moon/em is so very deserving of its 91 Metascore. 

Grab your copy of emCastlevania: Circle of the Moon/em on Amazon here

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Another solid entry in the Castlevania series, emAria of Sorrow/em is a 2D action-packed side-scrolling title for the Game Boy Advance.

The third game Castlevania title on the GBA, this time around the year is 2035, and Dracula has been vanquished for almost 36 years. However, Soma Cruz, your protagonist, is a curious soul and wishes to take on Dracula’s power. 

The storyline might be different (sorry, Nathan) but the gameplay is very much the Castlevania you know and love. There are enemies, objects, and people to interact with as well as various ways to increase your powers so you can take on more difficult enemies as you progress through the game. One favorite addition is the “Tactical Soul” ability which was introduced in emAria of Sorrow/em, and it basically enables Soma to absorb defeated enemies and gain some of their abilities. 

Like Circle of the Moon, the emAria of Sorrow/em soundtrack was top-notch for the GBA platform and helped the game jump to a 91 Metascore. Soma’s adventures would continue on the Nintendo DS, which means you have to play through all the way to the end here to figure out what comes next. 

You can pick up your very own emCastlevania: Aria of Sorrow/em copy on Amazon right now here

Yoshi's Island: Super Mario Advance 3 (Renewed)
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01/26/2023 01:02 am GMT

Ported over from the SNES, emYoshi’s Island: Super Mario Advance 3/em is one of the ultimate 2D platformers from this generation of video games.

The game centers around the kidnapping of Baby Mario who falls from the sky landing on Yoshi’s back. It’s all very cartoonish sounding, but that’s part of the charm of the Mario world. Everything about this game is very much the Mario you remember, with Yoshi running up slurping up enemies with his tongue, and even throwing them back at new enemies. 

With 48 levels in total, there’s just so much to do and you’ll have plenty of chances to earn extra lives as attempt to reach the final boss, Bowser, who is of course responsible for Baby Mario falling from the heavens.

When you do finally finish the game, the GBA version of emYoshi’s Island: Super Mario Advance 3/em even includes a bonus level for anyone who achieves 100% completion. Add in a four-player co-op for a little bit of multiplayer action and you have a truly special title here earning its 91 Metascore all while selling 2.8 million copies. 

Pick up emYoshi’s Island: Super Mario Advance 3/em on Amazon here

Like Mario, Metroid remains one of the most iconic characters on any Nintendo console, and the Game Boy Advance is no exception. emMetroid Fusion/em is one of the best action games with you once again stepping into the game as Samus.

Metroid is every bit the 2D side-scrolling platformer and unsurprisingly includes plenty of shooting, jumping, and even some puzzle elements to switch things up every now and then. 

The gameplay essentially revolves around Samus being attacked by a parasite known as “X.” When “X” reaches a research station and attempts to spread the parasite, Samus must jump into action and destroy the parasite once and for all. It’s challenging, engaging, and fun, and that’s before you even start to discover the new abilities Samus will gain as she makes her way through each level. 

Earning a 92 Metascore, emMetroid Fusion/em ranks as the 23rd best-selling Game Boy Advance title of all time, having sold more than 1.6 million copies. It also earned a rare 9.0 out of 10 user score on Metacritic, which is all the more reason to believe this is the best Metroid title on the Game Boy Advance. 

A copy of emMetroid Fusion/em can be yours today by picking it up on Amazon here

Metroid makes quite a few appearances on this list, and the nostalgic gameplay definitely won’t disappoint.

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Super Mario World: Super Mario Advance 2 (Renewed)
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The fifth best-selling Game Boy Advance game of all time, Super Mario World: Super Mario Advance 2 has sold more than 5.6 million copies since 2001.

If you can tell a pattern is emerging, the Game Boy Advance’s best action games all revolve around 2D platformers featuring iconic characters. emSuper Mario World: Super Mario Advance 2/em is no exception as the classic Super Mario World from the SNES has been remade for the GBA. 

Featuring all 74 levels from the console classic, there’s plenty of platform-jumping action required here to rescue Princess Peach from the evil clutches of Bowser. What helps emSuper Mario World: Super Mario Advance 2/em stand out is that not only do you get to play as Mario, but Luigi is also a playable character. Both Mario and Luigi will be forced to shoot fireballs, fly with capes, and solve puzzles on their way to rescuing the princess. 

Is emSuper Mario World: Super Mario Advance 2/em one of the greatest platformers of all time? Given the 92 Metascore, it’s very reasonable to think the answer is a resounding yes. Thankfully, anyone who missed the SNES classic can rejoice that it has found a new home on the Game Boy Advance. 

Grab your copy of emSuper Mario World: Super Mario Advance 2/em on Amazon right now here.

Super Mario World 3 gameboy
It’s no surprise that Mario shows up thrice on this list alone!

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Super Mario Advance 4: Super Mario Bros 3 (Renewed)
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The one-two spot for the best action games ever for the Game Boy Advance belongs to Mario. It’s hardly surprising to see Mario ranked as the two best action games on the GBA. For emSuper Mario Advance 4: Super Mario Bros. 3/em, the proof is in the numbers, as its the seventh best-selling game on the GBA console with more than 5.4 million copies sold since 2003.

Like the rest of the Mario games on this list, emSuper Mario Bros. 3/em is a remake of another wildly popular SNES title, Super Mario All-Stars. This version adds some new character voices and a new multiplayer player mode, which means you can co-op with friends and play the original Mario Bros. title. 

Action-based 2D platformers are arguably one of the greatest video game genres of all time. Even if 3D gaming has eclipsed 2D formats in the modern console era, there’s just something magical about Mario jumping, diving, and running through all of Bowser’s minions. 

Rest assured, the game is focused on another rescue as this time around the monarchs of the Mushroom Kingdom have been turned into animals by Bowser. As expected, only Mario can free them and the princess. It only takes a few moments to instantly recognize why this title earns a huge 94 Metascore and is often regarded as one of the best handheld console games ever. 

Pick up the best action game for the Game Boy Advance, emSuper Mario Advance 4: Super Mario Bros. 3/em on Amazon here

Final Thoughts

The Game Boy Advance is one of the best handhelds ever made, and for Nintendo, that’s saying something considering the competition. There are just so many excellent action titles to choose from, it’s almost too many for one person. That Metroid and Mario dominate this list is no coincidence, as even twenty years after many of these games released, they continue to stand the test of time.

The 7 Absolute Best Game Boy Advance Action Games of All Time FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

When did the Game Boy Advance launch in North America?

The Game Boy Advance launched in North America on June 11, 2001, just four months after its Japanese release. 

What is the best-selling game of all time on the Game Boy Advance?

Selling more than 16.2 million copies, Pokemon Ruby and Sapphire remains the best-selling Game Boy Advance game of all time. 

What is the absolute best action game on the Game Boy Advance?

There’s plenty of fierce competition for this top spot, but Super Mario Advance 4: Super Mario Bros. 3 is the best action platform on the Game Boy Advance, according to Metacritic.

How many Game Boy Advance consoles were sold?

Over 81 million units of the Game Boy Advance were sold before it was discontinued in the first quarter of 2008 in North America.

What handheld Nintendo console came after the Game Boy Advance?

The follow-up to the Game Boy Advance was actually released while the GBA was still available, with the Nintendo DS releasing in November 2004.

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  • Retro Dodo Available here: https://retrododo.com/best-gameboy-advance-games/
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  • Wikipedia Available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_best-selling_Game_Boy_Advance_video_games