OK, after all these posts by fellow COE staffers, I felt compelled to make one of my own. Before writing it I’ve changed and rearranged entries in my head, so this is no easy task. Before the PSP and DS and all these fancy iPhones, there was the Game Boy for portable gaming. Yeah, there were competitors like the Game Gear but NOTHING held a candle to what Nintendo could do. When the Game Boy Advance hit the scene, it was just so….cool. I got it right away at launch and repurchased the system when the SP came out (which was an AMAZING redesign for the console). Even today, I still carry my GBA SP around when I want to play a good ol’ fashioned Game Boy game. And when the Game Boy Player came out and I could play these games on my TV, I freaked out. I’m going to post the Top 5 Games that to me, represented the systems’ best. They are my favorite games for the system and the ones I will always love.
While I personally enjoyed the third game in the series the most (it had an amazing climax), the first game stuck with me a little more and it’s because of the first game that I became so enraptured. The story was just so awesome and dark, especially for a Mega Man game. It just blew me away. My favorite series in the franchise is still Mega Man X, so that when this series came along, I just had to play it. The 2D sprite-based graphics were amazing for Game Boy Advance and still look really cool, especially when you slice enemies in two. I also loved that weapons could level up and gain additional abilities, which put a new spin on the series. Although you didn’t acquire powers from bosses like the old games, it still retained the feel of the franchise. For pure, amazing action, the Mega Man Zero series is where it’s at. The challenge is high and the bosses are really tough, but that’s what made the game more satisfying. The first game also had the most interesting plot-twist–I won’t give it away though, so don’t worry about spoilers from me. Whether you find the GBA copy or play it on the DS Collection, this game is amazing.
4. Golden Sun
There were lots of cool RPGs for the Game Boy Advance. I liked Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, and I played many of the Final Fantasy remakes. Breath of Fire was great too. But Golden Sun just brought things to a whole new level at the time. Seeing Golden Sun for the first time made my jaw hit the floor. The graphics were so stunning for the time and it was on a handheld system! At the time it came out I couldn’t put it down and not even games on the home consoles could pull me away from it. What made it even better was how gripping the gameplay was. You could interact with the world in so many ways by using Psy Energy powers, which made the game much more in-depth than many other RPGs, even console ones. The environments felt more alive and rich. Better yet, the battle system had a lot of depth too. Characters can attack with their basic equipment, but where’s the fun in that? Characters can also use special abilities, use Djinni to perform magical attacks, and even use Summon abilities. The cool thing is that Djinni can be equipped to characters to change stats, so using them means stats will go down, but open up the ability to use Summons. The music and graphics were great too. While the story wasn’t all that great compared to other games, it was just so much fun to play that it blows the competition out of the water.
After Symphony of the Night, Konami recycled the same “Castleroid” (Edit: Or “MetroidVania”) formula of gameplay over and over. Which was totally fine with me, because each game they released still managed to be awesome. The first game for Game Boy Advance, Circle of the Moon, was fun for the time and was one of the first games I played for the system. Harmony of Dissonance was neat as well, but I didn’t like it nearly as much as Circle of the Moon and I concluded that the GBA games weren’t as good as the console ones. Then Aria of Sorrow came along and changed my mind, becoming one of my all time favorite Castlevania games. The gameplay was just so tight and interesting that I was instantly hooked. Before I played the game, I was a little weirded out: it was set in the future and the main character was named Soma Cruz (by the way, Soma is now one of my favorite characters in the entire series, go figure). It put an interesting spin on the series history and made the game far more appealing because of it. The castle design was so cool and I loved how much there was to see and do. What made it even better was the Soul System, which is easily one of the main reasons I love the game so much. By defeating enemies, Soma could earn the monsters’ souls, and then harness their abilities for himself. Abilities fell into three distinct categories. It was cool how the story revealed just how Soma could utilize the souls of monsters too. Again, for the sake of spoilers, I won’t give anything away here, but I think you should check it out if you haven’t played it yet. The graphics and sound were even better than the previous games for Game Boy Advance, and Aria of Sorrow has a fantastic collection of tunes. Sure, the sound quality is nowhere near what you could achieve on a console, but the music was well arranged and any fan of good chiptunes should give it a listen.
2. The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap
Can you believe I skipped this game when it came out, despite being a huge Zelda fanboy? I don’t know why, but as soon as I got the game, I instantly hated myself for even thinking of passing on it. I instantly loved it, and just had to keep playing. My favorite Zelda game to this day is A Link to the Past for Super NES (and I love the GBA edition for that too), so Minish Cap appealed to me with its bright, vibrant 2D graphics and finely-tuned gameplay. There was a lot to see and do and the game world was so fun to explore. I liked the Minish abilities and how the game opened up so much. It was so much different than the usual “Light World, Dark World” business that most of the games have. The graphics and music are awesome for the system and I had so much fun playing it on the Game Boy Player especially. It was even cooler that the game focused on a new enemy as well: Vaati. To me, this Zelda game stands out so much from the series but in a good way. I like how unorthodox it is. This game has to be played.
What…?! My number one pick is a tie? Well this is my list, so I’ll do what I want with it! Truthfully, I can’t pick between these two games. I just can’t. They are both so amazing and in my mind, both deserve a perfect 10 moreso than many other games. They are brilliantly designed, wonderfully made games. Fusion appealed to me because of its spin on the traditional Metroid story. It had a really cool beginning, with the immediate tie-in to Super Metroid. Samus’ suit became infected with some foreign entity and thus her Power Suit was compromised. In order to save herself, her suit had to be surgically removed, radically altering her appearance. This set the stage for the whole game–it was classic Metroid, reborn. It was also the first 2D Metroid game seen since the Super NES days, so it was a long wait. When this game came out for the Game Boy Advance, I had to get it. The second it went in the game slot of my GBA, it did not leave until I completed the entire game. I literally played the game all the way through in one sitting because I just couldn’t pull myself away from it. You know you have an excellent game when that happens. The story was really cool and it had a horror-like atmosphere thanks to the ever-threatening presence of the SA-X. During the game there was a constant fear of this super-powerful enemy, and it made the game even more fun. The music and graphics are just what I’d expect for the series: the pinnacle of great 2D side-scrolling. The game world has so many secrets to explore that each playthrough always feels fresh. Immediately after I beat the game, I played it again just to see what else I could find and if I could get a better ending. It had the perfect balance of gameplay.
Zero Mission, on the other hand, appealed to me because it’s…well, the perfect remake. I like the first Metroid game, I really do, but it’s showing it’s age. Playing it today is more difficult than getting into some of the other games in the series. Zero Mission updated the original game to feel more like the Super and Fusion. The graphics were brilliant for the Game Boy Advance, and still look slick. The package felt so complete too. The developers perfectly added and re-designed things in the game to make it even more accessible, remixing level segments and adding a huge injection of story. The cutscenes were truly a sight to see and after I defeated Mother Brain, I was so shocked. The bonus materials are really sweet too, especially the ability to play the original NES game.
Honorable Mentions: The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past/Four Swords, Mario and Luigi: Superstar Saga, Mega Man & Bass, Advance Wars 2
So what do you guys think? Do you have a different list? Then say so in the comments!