Tag Archives: Game Boy Advance

Best of the GBA

Now that I’ve got Final Fantasy VI Advance, as far as I can tell there are no more big GBA games set for release. If it wasn’t before, it’s now going to be a home for nothing but budget pap. But let’s not mourn; let’s celebrate the life of Nintendo’s little handheld with ten of my favourites, in alphabetical order.

  • Advance Wars – While certain developers continue the vain struggle to make an RTS work on any console format (although the GBC has a little-known gem called Warlocked), Nintendo took a Japan-only series from 1988 and did strategy on the GBA. Not real-time, admittedly, but I need an analogy. Regardless, this was most people’s introduction to the Nintendo Wars series and proved to be an excellent fit for the handheld: deep, moreish, and just as easy to play in quick bursts. And that’s the hallmark of a well-made portable game.
  • Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow – Choosing a GBA Castlevania is a bit like choosing your favourite child, but if I’m pressed this is my favourite. It doesn’t suffer the issues of Circle of the Moon (i.e. it was visible outside of direct sunlight). It’s also more of a challenge than Harmony of Dissonance, which was a cakewalk after COTM. Throw in the variety of weapons and the addictive soul-collecting system and the third time’s a charm for this series. Still buy them all, though.
  • Final Fantasy VI Advance – Ditto what I said about the Castlevanias. These translate amazingly well to the GBA, but FFVI gets my vote simply by being the best 2D Final Fantasy (don’t deny it). FFI/II haven’t aged too well, so they’re out. FFIV and V are both superb, though, especially V with the added customisation of the job system. The thing that this one has over them is just that little extra sheen that comes from being a later game developed on known hardware, and some real flourishes in the storytelling department that don’t come on the older, more linear games. You should still buy all of them.
  • Fire Emblem – Another perennial series that made its western debut on the GBA, think of it as Advance Wars goes to Middle-earth. Playing fundamentally the same as Wars, it brings characterisation and more story to the mix, with the unusual trick of permanently killing off characters should they fall in combat. I like it better than Advance Wars as you’re not controlling anonymous soldiers, but unique characters with enough of their own abilities to make that trick of restarting the mission from scratch if you get any of them killed difficult to resist.
  • Legend of Zelda: Minish Cap – There has to be a Zelda here, obviously. I picked this over the sterling port of Link to the Past (still a classic) just because of what a surprise it was, arriving with little fanfare and turning out to be a brilliant little Zelda game. Tons to do and featuring the charming animations from Four Swords, and presentationally let down only by the mildly annoying voice samples, it’s a slightly whimsical but no less essential take on the series. Plus it came to Europe first, showing that Nintendo only dislikes us rather than outright hating us.
  • Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga – Speaking of whimsy, this game almost defines the word. It wasn’t long ago that Nintendo kept such a tight grip on their flagship that something like this – to Super Mario RPG as Hot Shots is to Top Gun – would never have happened. It’s a great RPG in its own right, with some recognisable Mario hallmarks, but is also one of those rare games that manages to be funny. It has an Engrish-speaking boss, for God’s sake!
  • Metroid Fusion – Super Metroid is my favourite game ever, so I have to have this in here. While it tended to hand-hold – Samus now has an AI companion that tells her where to go – Fusion proved that it still works in 2D, even after the seemingly permanent shift into 3D first person. It also boasts some of the prettiest visuals on the system and brought to the table a truly threatening bad guy. Or girl. Castlevania has done it twice, so can we get a 2D Metroid on the DS, please?
  • Super Street Fighter II Turbo Revival – Street Fighter II shouldn’t work so well with two face buttons, but this has been one of my most consistently played GBA games since I got it in 2001. In fact, this summer, when I was tragically limited to my Micro and one game, this is the one I chose. Since the GBA lacks a puzzle game as perfect as Tetris DX, this is my next best thing.
  • WarioWare: Twisted! – How many of these games have there been now? However many, this is probably my favourite, even up against the original. The use of a twist sensor is ingenious and the team of course comes up with a couple of hundred inventive ways to use it. For a new twist (ba-dum tish!), play it by spinning yourself, rather than the GBA, in circles.
  • Yoshi’s Island: Super Mario Advance 3 – The 2D platformer to rule them all, even twelve years after its release this game still looks and plays wonderfully, and will continue to age better than the early attempts at 3D of its contemporaries. It’s testament to how much talent was poured into this game that even with essentially the same components and art assets, a less able team couldn’t make something nearly as good as the original. For more on the game, read my retrospective.

Unless you want it to die, don’t forget to lobby Nintendo for an English-language version of Rhythm Tengoku. It’s a top game that hardly anyone’s heard of, and the GBA deserves to go out on an original title rather than a SNES port. Even if said port is one of the finest RPGs ever made.

Castlevania Double Pack

Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance

My updates to this site have been a little slow recently and although the invariable lack of game news at this time of year is partially to blame, a little bit of responsibility has to be held by Konami. They, after all, released the Castlevania Double Pack for the GBA here last week.

Ever since Circle of the Moon, a GBA launch game that really drew attention to how dark that damn screen was, Nintendo handhelds have been the systems to own for the classic 2D Castlevanias, and a great shelter from the misguided 3D ones. The Double Pack contains the second and third versions – Harmony of Dissonance and Aria of Sorrow – which are not only the best two but also, due to limited print runs, used to go for £40 each on eBay. Not anymore, when you can now get both on one cart for £25.

Harmony of Dissonance was a real graphical showpiece for the GBA when it came out and it still looks decent now, with some impressive and nifty sprite effects. It’s a really good “classic” Castlevania and reasonably lengthy (took me 11 hours or so to finish with the first ending, but there are two more which I plan to get which should take another couple), but the main criticism I can have for it is that it’s very easy. I didn’t really come close to dying in the whole thing because potions are plentiful, you get fully healed at any of the many save points, and if you use spells the bosses are a simple matter of whipping and waiting until they die.

Aria of Sorrow is the prequel to Dawn of Sorrow on the DS, which was a game that I really liked. While it’s still a 2D Castlevania at heart it kept many of the changes from games like Symphony of the Night by not having a Belmont at the helm (here it’s a vaguely androgynous high school student named Soma Cruz) and doing away with the whip as the only weapon. While adventuring with a variety of swords, knives, and lances, you get to use some mysterious powers that Cruz possesses and will probably have been spoiled for anyone who played Dawn of Sorrow first.

Aria of Sorrow is the better of the two games, not only for having slightly more variety but also for being more of a challenge (I’ve actually died twice). The one side where it does fall down is that I don’t think it looks as good as Harmony – it seems to look a bit more cartoony and Soma’s mincing run animation is a little annoying. Nonetheless I’m a few hours in and have been very much enjoying it.

The GBA has had a sudden influx of budget double packs with some good ones from Sega (the Sonic Advances and Chu Chu Rocket are worth a look), but this one takes the cake. Games that could have cost you £80 only months ago in a pack costing only £25 are an absolute bargain, and the fact that they’re two of the best on the GBA don’t hurt matters. If you have a GBA or DS and don’t own the original releases, buy this pack.

Game Boy Micro

Despite the fact that it’s too expensive for five year-old hardware that’s been released already in two different forms (four if you count the Game Boy Player and SP+) and doesn’t play Game Boy Color games the Game Boy Micro is a really nice bit of kit.

While the PSP and DS have to differing extents moved away from traditional gaming, the GBA has possibly the best handheld library ever and many of the games are available for next to nothing now. Similarly the newer handhelds are hardly pocket-friendly, so Nintendo have spotted a niche here for a handheld that is both small and has a very large library. The popularity of it in Japan where they seemed ubiquitous on the trains shows how astute they were.

Game Boy Micro

The thing is tiny. I know there are a lot of comparisons around (the best is that it’s about the size of three GBA carts) but it still manages to feel substantial enough that you can play it fairly comfortably. It’s probably the least comfortable GBA to hold just by nature of the size but it definitely couldn’t be called unusable. In fact it reminds me a lot of the NES controller.

The definite star of this baby, however, is the incredible screen. Shrinking the pixels to make it seem sharper could be considered cheating, but does it ever work. The size coupled with the fact that it’s backlit (the old-style SP was frontlit) makes it look unbelievably sharp and vivid. It’s at least as good as GBA games look on the DS, albeit smaller, and on maximum brightness it makes even the first GBA Castlevania visible. I’d been impressed without even knowing that you could make it even brighter.

To be frank I can’t see the Micro ever attaining mainstream popularity with the newer hardware out and the relatively high price, but I’m definitely going to be using it as the most portable portable around. Coupled with the recent release of an updated Final Fantasy IV (complete with excellent Yoshitaka Amano box art), it shows that there’s still life in the old man.