10 Underrated Game Boy Advance Hidden Gems You Should Seek Out

Lady Sia GBA
Lady Sia GBA

Nintendo’s collection of handhelds have to rank among the most widely beloved video game consoles of all time, and while the Game Boy Advance definitely has a lot of love, it is perhaps sandwiched between two revolutionary consoles in the Game Boy/Game Boy Color and the Nintendo DS. Because of this, a large part of the Game Boy Advance’s library of games have gone underrated and underappreciated over the years, so we’re here to shine a light on some forgotten whippers.

 

1. Sabre Wulf

Despite the fact that Rare were acquired by Microsoft in 2002, that didn’t stop the British outfit from releasing games on other platforms for a little while there. Granted, that’s probably because Rare had been working on the remake of their ZX Spectrum game Sabre Wulf for the Game Boy Advance since 2001. When the game finally launched in 2004, critics weren’t overly mean to this platformer, but it’s a far cry from the reception that previous Rare platformers like Donkey Kong Country received. Sabre Wulf even featured the same graphical style as those DK titles Rare produced for Nintendo, recreated beautifully on the Game Boy Advance.

Like the original game, you play as Sabreman, who has to evade the titular Sabre Wulf in the pursuit of treasure, but it’s how the game goes about this interaction between the characters that makes it such a hidden gem. Players are able to go through these platforming levels normally, reaching the goal using whatever abilities they’ve earned throughout the course of the game, but once you’ve reached the treasure, the chase is afoot. Now, you have to run back through the level, with no abilities, all while being pursued by a Sabre Wulf that’s much faster than you are. Skill, level knowledge and determination are needed to survive, making for a tense and unique take on the platforming genre.

Maybe Rare could throw this on that GBA emulator for the Nintendo Switch one of these days.

 

2. Scurge: Hive

The Game Boy Advance already boasts one of the best Metroid games ever made in Metroid Fusion, but sometimes you just need more fighting alien parasites in some kind of space station, and that’s where Scurge: Hive comes in. Ostensibly, the game follows the same Metroidvania formula you’d expect, with main character Jenosa able to explore more areas as they unlock new tools and abilities, but instead of a 2D game, Scurge takes place from an isometric perspective. Does that make platforming a little bit harder? Sure, but that extra dimension really allowed the developers to get creative with the level design and monsters.

Speaking of the monsters, the story of Scurge: Hive sees Jenosa infected with the Scurge parasite, with the game showing an infection meter throughout your adventure. Once it reaches 100%, you only have a limited time before Jenosa fully succumbs to the parasite, and while you can cleanse your infection level at save points, the whole game feels like a race against time as you try to keep the infection at bay. Throw in a rock-paper-scissors elemental combat system that actively boosts the monsters if you use the wrong weapon, and you’ve got all the makings of a tense yet rewarding action adventure game, all in the palm of your hand.

It’s amazing what they could accomplish on a little cartridge back in the mid-2000s.

 

3. Jackie Chan Adventures: Legend Of The Dark Hand

Ask anyone who grew up during the early 2000s, and they’ll likely tell you that The Jackie Chan Adventures was the sickest show on television. You know, until most of the kids discovered Dragon Ball Z, anyway. Regardless, Jackie Chan Adventures was a fun and silly adventure series that blended martial arts and mythology, and naturally there were a couple of games about it. While Wikipedia mostly seems to care about the PS2 release from 2004, the real highlight from the series is the GBA beat ‘em up, which borrowed elements from the show to tell a unique story. You’re still traveling around the world collecting stuff so you can ultimately fight Shendu, but you’re not collecting Talismans this time around.

Instead, across 10 levels, Jackie Chan and the rest of the J-Team are in a race against time with the Dark Hand and their various minions as they try to obtain 8 magical scrolls. Each of these scrolls gives Jackie a new ability to use in game, and while they’re not exactly game-changing, merely offering new combos or additional attacks, they still add depth to this beat ‘em up as you play. Compared to other games that give you all the tools you need at the start and tell you to get on with it, Jackie Chan Adventures: Legend Of The Dark Hand actually has a bit of depth.

Throw in some excellent graphics that accurately depict the show itself, and this is one worth checking out, fan of the show or not.

 

4. Disney’s Lilo & Stitch

From one kids game to another, Disney’s Lilo & Stitch game is a wild departure from the film. The animated movie from 2002 presents a heart-warming narrative about the love and acceptance of a found family, while the Game Boy Advance tie-in game released in the same year was set after the events of the movie and saw Stitch tooling up like John Wick to rescue Lilo from an alien called Dr. Pestus. Stitch has got four arms, and you better believe they’re all strapped. The end result is a 2D side-scrolling shoot ‘em up that isn’t breaking new ground, but it intentionally wasn’t designed to. In fact, the story of Lilo & Stitch’s development on the Game Boy Advance is part of what makes this game such an underappreciated banger.

As the game’s director and now president of the developer Digital Eclipse Mike Mika puts it, the Digital Eclipse team had created so many licensed Disney games at this point for the Mickey Mouse Multinational that they basically “stopped paying attention”. Digital Eclipse decided to use this newfound freedom to turn their licensed Lilo & Stitch game into a homage to SNK’s classic run ‘n’ gun series Metal Slug, which is why Stitch has shown up like Arn Anderson.

Reportedly, Disney Interactive execs were concerned about the game’s violent nature, but then-Disney CEO Michael Eisner was supposedly enamored with the final result. Who knew that the secret to licensed tie-in games would be to just “remake Metal Slug”?

 

5. Go! Go! Beckham! Adventure On Soccer Island

Perhaps this is because of the digital age, where many more people are able to become famous, or it’s easier to communicate with famous people through social media and the like, but it feels like there aren’t celebrities in the same way there were around 20 years ago. Sure, Mr Beast might be world famous, but he’s only appearing in games like Fortnite or Stumble Guys. Meanwhile, back in the mid-2000s, you had actual game developers making full blown games about people like David Beckham. You know, to go with the films he had, the magazine and advertising deals, the exposure and the one football boot that may or may not have been launched at his head by an angry Scotsman.

Admittedly, Go! Go! Beckham! Adventure On Soccer Island is mostly just a competent, football-based reskin on Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island, complete with a ball kicking mechanic instead of an egg throwing one. Still, Yoshi’s Island is still considered one of the best 2D platformers ever made, so if you’re going to steal someone’s notes, you may as well go for the top of the class, though Go! Go! Beckham! adds extra wrinkles like the fact you can level up Beckham’s abilities the more you use them in a neat RPG-like touch. The whole game sees Becks on the titular Soccer Island, trying to defeat the evil Mister Woe who’s turned all the island’s residents into monsters, though Beckham should be more worried about his return trip back home.

You betrayed the nation by calling it Soccer Island, pal. Football Island only in INGURLAND, thanks.

 

6. Medabots: Metabee/Rokusho

Pokémon might be the most famous example of a game series that often likes to release two or three versions of the same game at one time, but it’s far from the only culprit. Take Medabots, for instance, the series about collecting little robot parts and fighting against other collectors. Known as Medarot in Japan, the series has seen nine mainline entries and a whole host of spin-offs since its inception in the late 90s, but only three games have ever been released in the West. The most famous game of the three, titled either Medabots: Metabee or Medabots: Rokusho depending on the version you buy, is actually a remake of the second game in the series, and it’s a pretty underrated RPG experience.

The game follows Ikki Tenyrou, a little lad obsessed with Medabots, but unfortunately doesn’t own one of his own yet. After his mom sends him out to buy food, Ikki blows the money on a Medabot, and combined with a medal his dad received from a mysterious stranger, he has his own Metabee or Rokusho. From here, Ikki can take part in 3v3 “Robattles”, where the winners are able to take parts from the losers. Seems a bit mean if you ask us, but either way. The hundreds of parts on offer and level of customization available when creating your ideal Medabot is what makes the game so engaging, while the funny story and silly jokes ensure you’re not just mashing through text boxes to get to the next fight.

 

7. Robot Wars: Advanced Destruction

You might say that the David Beckham game was the “dedicated British nostalgia” entry on this list, but Beckham played in the MLS for a while there. He’s known globally, is what we’re saying, while Robot Wars was specifically for the British sickos (even though it was an idea started by Marc Thorpe during his stint at LucasFilm). Arguably one of the most popular shows on TV at one point, Robot Wars was as the name implied: people built their own home-made robots to have them scrap in an arena that barely passed safety standards. It was awesome, and its success bred its own toy lines, a magazine run with comic book panels adding more depth and lore to the house robots, less successful international versions, and of course, a few tie-in video games too.

Side note: I was a biiiiig Robot Wars fan back in the day, to the point where I had a pretty big strop as a kid because BBC2 decided to push an episode back because the tennis had run long. My poor mother.

The aptly named Robot Wars: Advanced Destruction, because it was exclusive to the Game Boy Advance, featured a number of robots that appeared in the series, but the real appeal of the game was the fact that you could create your own robots too. The options were limited, but it was still pretty awesome to see your own robot mauler face off against the likes of Chaos 2, Razer and Hypnodisc. Of course, then you’d just get folded like a pretzel by Sir Killalot. It wasn’t a deep game by any stretch, but for a Robot Wars loving kid, it was brilliant, and even if you weren’t, it’s still a fun bit of carnage.

 

8. Kuru Kuru Kururin

Probably the most famous game on this list, considering it’s currently a part of the Nintendo Switch Online GBA emulator, Kuru Kuru Kururin is a deviously hard puzzle game that takes a simple premise and forces you to confront levels of anger you didn’t think were possible. It’s also absolutely brilliant, and well worth checking out on the official emulator if you’re able to. Essentially, you control a slow rotating helicopter who has to navigate a series of obstacle courses that drastically escalate in difficulty, dodging walls, enemies and other hazards throughout. The fiendish part of Kuru Kuru Kururin though is that you can’t pause the spinning, making navigating tight corners a bit of a nightmare. Expect plenty of clipped wings when playing this one.

You are able to control the speed, but crucially, the only other settings available to you are “faster” and “even faster”, which means you need to use a delicate mix of timing and dexterity to navigate these tricky levels. Despite the wickedly evil yet addictive premise, there have only been three games in the Kuru Kuru Kururin series, with the fellow GBA release Kururin Paradise and the GameCube title Kururin Squash never seeing a release outside of Japan either.

If you’re looking for a great spiritual successor to Kuru Kuru Kururin though, No Goblin’s Roundabout offers similar gameplay and is a joyously absurd trip through a 1970s world of rotating limousine drivers and candy pellets that make you see murderous skeletons.

If that hasn’t piqued your interest, nothing will.

 

9. Summon Night: Swordcraft Story

Considering that the Nintendo DS launched in North America at the end of 2004, and practically became an overnight success in the process, any games that launched for the Game Boy Advance afterwards were already overshadowed by the dual-screened handheld. That includes games like Summon Night: Swordcraft Story, an excellent RPG that launched in Japan in 2003, but it took until July 2006 to launch on American soil. Three years is a long time to wait for any video game to land in your home country, so it’s no wonder that the majority of the gaming public had moved on by the time Summon Night: Swordcraft Story was released, which is a shame as it’s definitely an underrated whipper.

For the uninitiated, Summon Night is a largely Japan-only strategy RPG series, but there were a host of spin-offs that displayed an action-RPG angle instead, with Summon Night: Swordcraft Story offering a compelling mix of dungeon crawling, weapon crafting and social sim, all in a cartridge that can fit inside that mini pocket on your jeans. While you explore the town and dungeon from a top-down perspective, as soon as you’re pulled into a fight, the gameplay switches to function more like a 2D beat ‘em up, with the player able to wield a huge array of abilities to take down the monsters.

Summon Night: Swordcraft Story did achieve decent reviews, and a sequel, but it arguably deserves a better legacy considering it’s an underrated banger.

 

10. Lady Sia

From a game that missed the lifespan of the GBA by two years to one that was lost in the shuffle within the first six months of the console’s launch, Lady Sia was an action platformer that launched on the GBA in September/October of 2001. The game earned decent, if not overly impressive reviews when it launched, but for whatever reason, Lady Sia just completely floundered upon release. Compared to platformers like Super Mario World: Super Mario Advance 2, Sonic Advance and Klonoa: Empire Of Dreams, Lady Sia has just been completely forgotten about over the years, which is a shame because it boasts some of the most beautiful graphics on the entire handheld.

Set in a medieval world where an evil warlock named Onimen has unleashed a race of creatures called the T’soas on the world and declared war, you control the titular Lady Sia as she travels across four different realms to bring the fight to Onimen and his hordes. Throughout the game, you unlock new weapons and abilities, giving you more options in battle against your enemies or while platforming, while you even shapeshift into a sasquatch during some of the games’ boss battles which helps to keep the action fresh. Did we also mention that the game’s hand-drawn graphics look absolutely lovely?

If you want to add an incredibly slept-on platformer to your collection of Game Boy Advance games, Lady Sia is your best bet.

 

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