Released in the U.S. market in 2001, the Game Boy Advance was Nintendo’s successor to the Game Boy Color (GBC) and part of the sixth generation of video game consoles. Not much changed between the GBA and GBC in terms of colors, lack of charging cable, and a screen that’s still not lit up, but nevertheless, the GBA was the fastest-selling console in its launch week within the U.S.
The GBA owes part of its success to its backward compatibility with the Game Boy and GBC, allowing gamers to continue to play their favorite games on these consoles and popularizing handheld gaming even more. The console is basically known for its action games, with the best GBA platformers being great examples of these.
As well as being backward compatible, the GBA had some neat features such as a wireless adapter (meaning players don’t have to use a link cable to link devices), a link cable for playing certain GameCube games using the console as a controller, and a scanner for playing classic Nintendo titles.
If you’re considering which GBA titles to try out next, specifically platformers, we’ll answer that question here today.
#7: emRayman Advance/em
- Six amazing levels
- collect magic spells
- psychedelic terrain
- one-player action
Being released upon the GBA’s launch in 2001, emRayman Advance/em is actually a port of the original Rayman game which was originally played on the Sega Saturn, Sony PlayStation, and Atari Jaguar in 1995.
The story follows Rayman, who is tasked by Betilla the Fairy to find the Electoons and recover the Great Protoon from Mr. Dark, which keeps the land in harmony. Rescuing Betilla is also part of the story, as she is being held captive by Mr. Dark.
In true side-scrolling fashion, Rayman battles his way through 6 vibrant worlds, each with a boss at the end. Rayman has a limited number of lives, which are restored by collecting 100 spheres known as Tings. These can also be given to the Magician, found in specific levels, to enter a bonus stage and win an extra life. Initially, Rayman can walk, crawl, jump and throw a “telescopic” punch, with more abilities being given to him from Betilla at various points in the game. These include grabbing ledges, swinging from flying rings, and even using his hair to glide across platforms.
The game was critically acclaimed for its action, animated graphics, and soundtrack, being awarded “Best Music in a CD-ROM Game” and “Best Animation” at the 1995 Video Game Awards by Electronic Gaming Monthly. Next Generation considered the GBA port a faithful rendition of the original, praising the controls, sound, and the retention of the game’s quirky personality, and it’s clear in its 84 Metascore. Rayman Advance is one of the best GBA platformers, so if you’re after something a bit different than the traditional Mario-style platformer this is a great choice.
You can find it on Amazon right here and hurry, because at the time of writing, it’s the last copy!
#6: emAstro Boy: Omega Factor/em
- Awaken and strengthen Astro's seven super abilities throughout the game.
- Explore huge 3D worlds to uncover side quests and hidden items.
- Interact with characters from the cartoon series including Dr. O'Shay, Zoran, and more!
- Collect trading cards and open new areas to search.
- Determine the best super power to defeat Magnamite, Acheron, the Blue Knight, and Atlas.
A relatively little-known title, emAstro Boy: Omega Factor/em came out in 2004 and is based on the Astro Boy anime and manga franchise.
The North American version of the game actually features some upgrades to the Japanese version, as the release was delayed to coincide with the TV series. The story blends narratives from Astro Boy’s various renditions. Such storylines include time travel, the lost continent of Mu, and the robot city of Robotonia in Antarctica. The game’s split into two chapters, Birth and Rebirth — Birth ends with robots being destroyed by the Death Mask, and Rebirth follows Astro Boy as he attempts to stop the Death Mask, as without robots, Sharaku conquers the Earth.
Taking elements from platformers and beat-em-up games, Astro Boy punches and kicks enemies, and even throws them into each other to cause damage to both enemies. Astro Boy can also fly temporarily, which is necessary for navigating certain levels, as well as use a special attack once his EX gauge is filled (by damaging enemies). Astro Boy also has some stats, such as strength and flight speed, that are improved upon encountering non-player characters throughout the game.
GameSpot listed Astro Boy as the best GBA game of 2004, while GameSpy considered it one of the best GBA titles. Most critics reviewed the game very positively, particularly the vivid graphics and smooth animation of the bosses. Some criticized the repetitiveness of some levels, but generally, the action was rated highly as well as the boss battle sequences, and its 85 Metascore makes it clear! Fans of the Astro Boy franchise will particularly enjoy this entry, but as one of the best GBA platformers, it has something to offer for all action and GBA fans.
You can grab it from Amazon here.
#5: emSonic Advance/em
- Classic characters
- tons of levels
- awesome power-ups
- new graphics
- four-player action via link cables
emSonic Advance/em is a 2001 GBA game, and actually the first Sonic title to be released on a Nintendo platform. Like most Sonic games, the plot follows Sonic, Tails, and Amy as they try to stop Doctor Eggman (sometimes known as Dr. Robotnik) from conquering the world.
Resembling the original Sonic the Hedgehog game, the gameplay takes place over 6 zones, which are split into 2 separate acts; the player must defeat enemies and navigate obstacles in order to complete the stage in under 10 minutes. The second act features a boss battle with Eggman, who flees after receiving a certain number of hits. Rings are collected, which are common to the series, and the player loses rings as they take hits from the enemies; if the player receives a hit with no rings in their possession, they lose a life.
This version was also notable for allowing the player to choose from 4 characters to play, each with their own set of abilities; Sonic is the fastest and can use a shield to protect himself from enemy attacks, Tails can fly and swim for a short time, Knuckles can glide and climb walls, and Amy can use a hammer to fight enemies. This leads to a lot of interesting variations in the gameplay. By collecting enough rings, the player can also obtain the coveted Chaos Emeralds, which reveal an extra boss fight upon collecting them all.
As one of the best-selling games for the GBA, Sonic Advance was praised for its music and audio, particularly by GameSpot, while IGN considered Sonic to play better on the GBA as opposed to the Sega platforms. Electronic Gaming Monthly named emSonic Advance/em as the best-looking 2D Sonic game, a sentiment echoed by GameSpot which saw the animation and graphics as faithful to the original games. While certain publications thought the game was too short, as a solid addition to the Sonic franchise and the collection of best GBA platformers, this title is definitely worth a playthrough.
You can find it on Amazon right here and see for yourself how it earned its 87 Metascore.
#4: emWario Land 4/em
- Classic characters
- 20 levels
- plenty of puzzles
- cool graphics
- single-player action
Taking the role of Mario’s infamous antagonist Wario, emWario Land 4/em was released in 2001 to much anticipation.
Wario has the mission to save Princess Shokora from the Golden Diva by unlocking a pyramid using 4 treasures he must collect. After Wario finds himself trapped inside the pyramid, and fights rather unique boss enemies such as an eggplant, venus flytrap, condor, rat, and a strange hybrid between a cat and a bat.
Like its predecessors, emWario Land 4/em allows for some degree of open-world exploration but mostly focuses on traditional platformer gameplay. Each stage of the pyramid features a different visual theme and has various levels of difficulty. It’s worth mentioning a new addition to this game is Wario’s health meter, with the stage being over once his health reaches zero.
There’s also an emphasis on item collection, with four types of coins being obtainable and giving bonus points to the player, as well as blue and red crystals and even diamonds, which afford the most points. Mini-games can also be played which give the player a medal after reaching a certain score; these can be exchanged for special items to aid Wario in defeating the bosses.
The game received universal acclaim, mainly for its advanced graphics, almost impeccable soundtrack, and challenging yet fun gameplay. While not adding too many innovations to the Wario Land series, it’s still a standout title for the GBA and widely considered one of the best GBA platformers.
Discover why emWario Land 4/em has an 88 Metascore on Amazon here.
#3: emYoshi's Island: Super Mario Advance 3/em
- When the stork was delivering a set of twins, a Koopa named Kamek interfered and made the stork drop one of them. It fell on Yoshi's bak, and now Yoshi's going to reunite the twins!
- Guide Yoshi past the dangerous traps set by Kamek and his soldiers
- Use Yoshi's unique abilities, from throwing eggs to eating enemies, to beat the bad guys back
- Find the morph bubbles that make Yoshi shapeshift and give him all-new powers
- Find all the stars, coins and flowers to unlock cool secrets
Released in 2002 as part of the Yoshi’s Island subseries of Mario games, emYoshi's Island: Super Mario Advance 3/em is a reissued version of the classic Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island for the SNES.
Being the last Yoshi platformer developed by Nintendo, this port of the game has differences in the gameplay and content, but the story remains the same; taking place while Mario and Luigi are still babies, baby Mario and Yoshi must travel through various lands to reach Bowser’s castle, where Luigi is being held captive after the evil Koopa Kamek captures him.
Featuring all the original levels from the SNES game, the GBA version also includes an additional 6 levels, each with its own unique gimmicks and increased size compared to the standard stages. The game is quite different from the standard Mario games as it utilizes a countdown timer for its health mechanic; if baby Mario is separated from Yoshi a timer counts down, and if it reaches zero before baby Mario is picked up, the player loses a life.
Yoshi also has special abilities that Mario doesn’t, such as hover jumps and swallowing enemies, which produce an egg that can be used to damage enemies and ricochet off walls. The goal of each level is to reach the goal ring, similar to Mario reaching the flag in the main series. Special Stars, up to a maximum of 6, can also be obtained by achieving a perfect score, which is increased by collecting Stars, red coins, and flowers.
Receiving positive reviews all around, the game was re-released as a Player’s Choice title in 2006. GameSpot highlighted the fantastic visuals and innovative gameplay as the game’s key selling points, and a joy to play on the handheld console. Nintendo Life found collecting all the items to be a challenge, but an enjoyable one at that. For players new to the Yoshi’s Island games, or fans of the original looking for a portable version to play on the go, Yoshi’s Island’s GBA port is hard to fault and easily one of the best GBA platformers, which its 91 Metascore makes clear.
You can find it on Amazon right here.
#2: emSuper Mario World: Super Mario Advance 2/em
- Collect coins and power-ups through 96 levels from the SNES classic!
- Play as Mario or Luigi.
- Includes a built in battery save (three slots).
- Use a link cable for up to four players (single and mulitcartrige support).
As a reissue of Super Mario World, emSuper Mario Advance 2/em is the second in the GBA series of Mario games and came out in 2002 in the U.S.
The storyline is much the same as the original, with either Mario or Luigi being playable characters, as they fight Bowser’s Koopalings on the way to his castle to rescue Princess Peach (known as Princess Toadstool in these early games).
As well as navigating through the game’s rich worlds via an overworld map, the player travels through the stages by typical means such as running, jumping, and swimming, but also with the Spin Jump, which is new to the series. The traditional power-ups, such as the Super Mushroom, Fire Flower, Starman, and Cape Feather are also featured in the game. After finding Yoshi’s eggs in the Star World, Yoshis can also be found in the stages and ridden by the 2 brothers, granting them special abilities.
GameSpot thought Super Mario World is one of the greatest video games ever made, which is evidently a widespread opinion given its extremely positive scores. While the improvements in the GBA version help to cater to a more portable gaming market, the game stands on its own two feet already as a spectacular entry in the Mario series and is an easy choice when considering the best GBA platformers, and you can see it in its 92 Metascore.
Check it out for yourself on Amazon here.
#1: emSuper Mario Advance 4: Super Mario Bros. 3/em (94)
- Bowser and his troublemaking kids have brought trouble to the land, and turned the local kings into animals. Only Mario & Luigi can stop them!
- Jump over bottomless pits, stomp your foes and collect awesome new power-ups like the Warp Whistle and the Tanooki Suit
- Open up new levels by scanning special cards through your e-Reader
- Dash, swim, and take to the air -- complete difficult platform levels while you fight your way to Bowser
- Multiplayer Mario madness with 4-person link-ups (Separate games required)
Being released in 2003 in the U.S., emSuper Mario Advance 4: Super Mario Bros. 3/em is an upgraded remake of the NES title, Super Mario Bros. 3.
Some of the notable upgrades include the ability to add extra stages to the game by using an e-Reader, as well as additional power-ups and even adding projectiles found in Super Mario Bros. 2. Players can control either Mario or Luigi, much like in Super Mario World, with the objective of defeating Bowser’s 7 Koopa Kids and recovering the 7 magic rods. A key difference between this and Super Mario World is that levels are only replayable upon completion of the game in this version, as opposed to being replayable at any time.
The gameplay still follows the traditional Mario style, using various abilities like running, swimming, and jumping to make your way through the levels, but has some power-ups which aren’t available in other titles; these are the Super Leaf, Tanooki Suit, Frog Suit, and Hammer Bros. Suit, which were new additions to the series and give the player an interesting set of skills. These include spinning, flying, jumping higher and swimming faster, and utilizing a hammer-like projectile.
Super Mario Advance 4 is the fourth-highest-rated Mario game on Metacritic, lagging behind Super Mario Galaxy, Super Mario Galaxy 2, and Super Mario Odyssey. The game was also commercially successful, selling over 2.88 million copies in the U.S., and in the UK, The Guardian noted a revenue increase of 2.1% in sales of this game.
GameSpot named it the best GBA game in October 2003, whilst its readers considered it the best GBA game of the year — no easy feat, but clear in its 94 Metascore. The potential to expand the game made IGN consider it the best Mario remake on the GBA, and while the gameplay was called “claustrophobic” by some, most thought the game stayed true to the original and took full advantage of the GBA’s capabilities.
The game definitely deserves a high spot on the list of the best GBA platformers and is a great way to welcome new players to the Mario series as well as satisfy the appetite of old-school gamers at the same time.
You can find emSuper Mario Advance 4: Super Mario Bros. 3/em on Amazon here.