Since its initial launch in February, Nintendo Switch Online’s GBA library has been increasing, and while you can’t deny the current selection is full of heavy hitters, there are still many great games left unaccounted for. The Game Boy Advance has one of the best libraries of any handheld system, in my opinion, especially when you start to factor in releases from other developers & publishers. So that’s why today, we thought it’d be fun to take a look at some of the games that might be a great fit for the service.
Obviously, we’ve left out any game that Nintendo has already promised a release for. So we won’t be talking about Golden Sun or Fire Emblem today. It’s worth considering, too, that while ports of older games are not off the table, given that the service has just added three of the Super Mario Advance titles to its line-up, it’s more interesting to consider what original games might make an appearance. So, without further ado, let’s dive back into the early 2000s and unearth some of the potential gems that Nintendo brings to its service.
Final Fantasy Tactics Advance
While Fire Emblem’s release on NSO is a certainty, there’s another titan of the tactics genre that would be an amazing fit for the service. Back in 1997, Squaresoft released Final Fantasy Tactics for the original PlayStation to widespread critical acclaim. Following this, in 2003, they made a completely new entry for the GBA, which was also widely celebrated. Its main triumphs include its deep battle mechanics, as well as the job system, both of which saw a few changes from the PS1 original. The game also introduced the Law system, which adds another layer of tactical thinking, as careless moves can sometimes deprive you of a valuable teammate.
But along with this, its surprisingly mature story and the gorgeously colorful graphics mark it as one of the highest-quality RPGs on the platform. Square Enix hasn’t made any plans to rerelease any of the Final Fantasy Tactics games as of yet, and while Tactics Ogre Reborn gives some hope that maybe a similar remaster may be in the works for this subseries, the NSO treatment might just be the next best thing.
Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories
The entire Kingdom Hearts series may be technically on Switch, but I would argue that the best version of Chain of Memories is not the 2007 remake, and the original version is far superior. The second entry in the long-running Square Enix series, Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories, is a bit divisive in terms of its hybrid gameplay, where real-time actions require the use of cards, but it is undoubtedly one of the system’s most popular RPGs.
What makes the GBA original a far better game is that it was made with the console in mind, so everything feels very much built for a handheld experience. Save points are plentiful, and each of the worlds is only about an hour long, depending on your luck. There are certainly issues with the game, and the difficulty of some of the boss encounters is truly maddening, but the game continuously forces you to evaluate your set-up and offers a genuine challenge and a gameplay experience that is truly unique to the series. On top of some wonderfully realized visuals, Chain of Memories would fit right at home on the Switch.
Klonoa: Empire of Dreams
The release of Klonoa Phantasy Reverie Series in 2022 had many people reaffirming their love for Namco’s adorable platforming mascot. It was a solid release of two classic games, but many people thought it could have used some extra content to sweeten the deal. I, in particular, thought that leaving out Klonoa’s handheld adventures was a missed opportunity, to say the least. But now, thanks to NSO, another opportunity for these lesser-known installments to gain some recognition has come about.
The first of the GBA games, Empire of Dreams, tends to focus much more on solving platforming-based puzzles and feels an ideal fit for the system. Simple to pick up and play, but challenging to fully complete, Empire of Dreams is a great little game that fans of the series really should try out. For a while, it was available on the Wii U Eshop, and since that’s now closed for good, it seems like the timing is right for a new release.
Metal Slug Advance
We all know Metal Slug as a frantic run & gun franchise, one the sort of challenge that is so common within titles that originate from the arcade. But a lesser-known entry in the series was published on the GBA in 2004, and at first glance, it seems to translate the action of the mainline entries with little compromise. Rather than a port, Metal Slug Advance is its own original game, and rather than simply dying in one hit, you have a health bar. This does little to make the game any easier, so the high level of difficulty expected of the series is still present.
Also new to this entry is the card collection mechanic. While some are simply for show, other cards improve your stats and even unlock new vehicles for you to cause havoc with. This adds further replay value to a game that is otherwise pretty brief. Still, as with most Metal Slug games, the joy is in the heart-pounding gameplay and the absolutely insanely detailed sprite work. Metal Slug Advance would be a welcome addition to the NSO service, one that would be endlessly replayable too.
Pokemon Pinball Ruby & Sapphire
Most are hoping that the third generation of Pokemon Games will be added to NSO, and realistically it’s a matter of when not if they will be. But what of the spin-off titles that also graced the GBA? While Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Red Rescue Team saw a remake hit the Switch in 2020, there’s been no such luck for the Pokemon Pinball side-series. This is why it would be a great idea to release Pokemon Pinball Ruby & Sapphire for NSO.
Released in 2003, the game merges the Pokemon experience with that of a traditional pinball machine, where bumpers, flippers, and ramps are the keys to filling your Pokedex. With a selection of 200+ Pokemon available to catch, it’s a generous challenge to collect them all, and the two available tables are full of fun mechanics to keep things interesting. On top of the addictive gameplay, the colorful and bright presentation makes it an appealing game aesthetically as well. With the sort of gameplay that is perfect for a handheld system, it seems only natural to release this for NSO.
Sonic Advance Trilogy
The classic trilogy of Sonic games typically gets all the praise, but in the 2000s, Sonic Team and Dimps brought high-quality Sonic gameplay to Nintendo’s handheld system. The Sonic Advance trilogy seems like a natural fit for NSO, but if only one should make it there, it should be the first. Opinions range on which is the best of the trilogy, but Sonic Advance presents the simplest and most imminent replayable experience, bringing it closer to the Sonic games of the MegaDrive/Genesis.
The gameplay is largely similar to that older trilogy, but each of the four playable heroes has an expanded moveset to aid them in combat, area traversal, or gaining extra height. Completing a single run will only set you back about two hours, but getting all the Chaos Emerald, and seeing the true ending will take you much longer. The stages themselves are very well designed and are some of the best in Sonic’s history.
And the game is simply gorgeous, too; the backgrounds and environments are extremely well-detailed, while Sonic and Friends are oozing with charm and personality, with expressive animations making them look better than ever. Getting Sonic Advance onto NSO is the ideal opportunity to remind people how well these games match up to the classics.
Wario Land 4
One of the launch titles for the Game Boy NSO service was Wario Land 3, which in itself is a great pick. And while the first WarioWare has made it to the GBA NSO service, there’s no sign yet of Wario Land 4, which many would argue is the best game in the Wario Land series. Changing things up from the prior game in the series, Wario Land 4 gives Wario a health bar, and there’s a larger focus on levels with a singular goal point. What made it so fresh was the fact that to clear the stage, you have to race against a timer to get back to the start of the level.
What made it even more of a stand-out game was the bold art style. With thick lines and some highly expressive sprite work. On top of that, the music took on some of WarioWare’s eccentricities, giving it a very interesting and unique sound. Really, it’s likely only a matter of time before Wario Land 4 is added to the service, as many would agree it’s one of the best games on the system, and if Wario Land 3 was added, then Nintendo would be remiss to overlook this heavy hitter.
Banjo-Kazooie: Grunty’s Revenge
The original Banjo-Kazooie made a surprise return to Nintendo, and while Banjo-Tooie is still MIA, there’s one other game in the series that should be brought to the NSO service, that game being the 2003 GBA title, Banjo-Kazooie: Grunty’s Revenge. One of the lesser discussed entries, the game opted for a top-down perspective in order to emulate some of the 3D platforming of its predecessors.
While the gameplay and its art style is hit or miss for some, it’s undeniably a good effort by Rare to bring a collectathon platformer to a smaller system. Adding it to NSO would help to give it some recognition, as I believe it deserves a second look. It packs a lot of what made the N64 games fun while making it more manageable for a handheld experience.
Boktai: The Sun Is In Your Hand
One of the more well-known oddities of the system is Boktai – The Sun Is In Your Hand, an action RPG released by Konami in 2003. Aside from being a great little game, one of its most notable features was the inclusion of a solar sensor on the cartridge. This would gauge the level of sunlight you were playing the game in, and it would power up your weapon in the game. So players were encouraged to actually sit out in the sun while playing it. Given the screen of the original GBA and even the screen of the SP, this wasn’t always optimal.
So how could this make the jump to NSO? The Switch lacks such a sun sensor, after all, leaving the game’s main mechanic in limbo. But if certain gimmick titles like Kirby Tilt N Tumble are already set to be launched on the system, I feel like Boktai itself has an opportunity to be added. There would need to be some work done behind the scenes to get the sun sensor working, but if it means that more people get the chance to slay vampires with the power of the sun, it would surely be worth the effort.
Our last pick is one that comes from a developer well acquainted with Nintendo at this point. Game Freak developed this gem and released it in 2005, and since then, it’s made several appearances in Smash Bros through assist trophies and the spirit system. But aside from that, the IP has largely remained dormant. A platformer where you control Jill and her Drill Dozer, you have to explore the massive levels, striking down enemies with your drill, it’s extremely action-packed, and the original release had a rumble feature built into the cartridge.
Not many people got to play the game during its original release, and Europe was left out entirely. That was until it was released for the Wii U eShop in 2016. However, now that the service has been closed down, the only chance we might get to see Drill Dozer again would be to see it brought to NSO. There’s a strong chance it could happen, given its prior re-release, but until Nintendo makes a proper announcement, we’ll just have to keep our fingers crossed. Which is much the same for the rest of the entries in this article.