Retrograding Advance 07.05.03

Okay. This week’s column came courtesy of the 411 Forum where I commented my favorite out of the current systems is of course the GBA. I got the comment like, “But all the games are ports!” or, “I can’t deal with the little screen.’ Oh! And my personal favorite, “The PS2 has quantity and quality,” which I only find to if you have a Japanese PS2 and are playing Shin Megami Tensei and Sakura Taisen.

So here’s the deal. I’ve giving you ten reasons that you should own a GBA and play that to the hilt. And to make it even harder on me, I will not be naming ANY of the games myself or Alex Williams (people named Alex like handheld games) have reviewed. That means no Pokemon, no Robotech, no Lunar Legends, (Ikaruga fans MUST OWN THIS GAME!), Phantasy Star Collection, or the like. Which is a shame as Robotech, Eye of the Beholder, and Pokemon R/S are hands down incredible ace cards to play against the best any of the consoles have to offer. But that’s how confident I am. I will not be bringing up the cost of the GBA SP compared to other systems, the GBA player, or the like. It will JUST be games. Ten of them. And no ports. There’s a remake of one of the greatest games of all time, and there’s a puzzle game direct from the arcades (not the PSX version thank god), but that’s the closest to non original stuff you’ll find on this list. And just to show you how damn good this game is, I won’t bring up either Golden Sun or Advance Wars because no one can fault those games for being any less than brilliant and mid blowing. Ten great games you can only find there. And all the proof you need the GBA is the king of all systems right now. Wolverine was originally only 5’5″ in X-men way back in the day, and who is the god of Marvelites now? And if you STILL have a problem with a hand held screen after I’m done, THEN I can harp on you getting the GBA player. So let’s begin shall we?


This game is a little over a year old. And you know what? It’s still back ordered in a lot of places. By far the best Strategy game on the GBA, even surpassing Advance Wars, Ogre Tactics is the second tactics style game in the Ogre Battle series. Anyone who even remotely enjoys Final Fantasy Tactics should pick up this game, or the SNES/PSX Ogre Tactics games. You will never, EEEEEVER want to play the Square version again. That’s how good these are. Note the aforementioned SNES/PSX game is NOT the same as the GBA one.

The meat of the game consists of having a team of 30 characters to choose from, hidden characters like Deneb, hidden stores, 5 different endings, A main character that is customizable by answering the questions of a fortune teller, and enough battles to take up 40-80 hours of your life depending on how much training you do. There are also extra outside the game quests where the object is to win in a certain amount of turns. But besides being one of the most in depth games out there right now for any system, you have the typical Ogre story given to us by the lovely team of Atlus.

To those new to the Ogre series, you may be intimidated to hear that every single game is inter-related in some way. Characters from way back are mentioned, and eventual pieces from the next game are alluded to. But fear not, besides being a chapter in a much larger story, each Ogre game is able to stand on its own and be engrossing without knowing any of the back story. What is common in each game is the thread of religion and the question of fate vs. free will. I won’t allude to any of the actual story, as there are many twists and turns in addition to the multiple endings created by your various choices in the game, but the stories tend to revolve around the true nature of God, and how man itself creates Destiny, not God. This particular story is about a magical spear, an Angel named Shatner, and a test of friendship after learning the true nature of one’s leaders.

With the ability to play against other friend’s armies and actually gain levels, power ups and special items and abilities that you would only get from person to person games, Ogre Tactics gains a new level of replayability and is certainly a role playing game unfettered with competition on either the GC, PS2 or Xbox. If you want complete and total control of your action, in depth strategy, and a rousing good story, you won’t find a better game than Ogre Tactics: The Knight of Lodis.

2. Hamtaro: Ham Ham Heartbreak.

No. I’m not only on 2 and I’m already stretching it. It may look cute and Cartoon network may have convinced you this game is for kids, but it is anything but. Any game where one of the commands is Go-P’ and your hamster then urinates like a man standing before a urinal is not something designed solely with an under teen market in mind. Truth is, Hamtaro is just as popular with adults in Japan as it is with children. And it may be as cute as Pikachu and his fellow pokemon, but they’re pretty different from each other.

The first Hamtaro is by far the most intricate game ever created for the GBC. With graphics that shouldn’t be possible on that system, and a ton of hidden extras and mini games, it’s probably the most overlooked and underrated game since Castlevania 3. And its GBA next generation brethren is no different. With a story that’s cute but also very dark, we find Hamtaro and Bijou trying to defeat a Satanic Hamster, complete with pitchfork and horns from spreading evil throughout the world. Yes, it IS adorable. To the point where you may gain diabetes from looking at it, but the game has some pretty neat quests, takes a good amount of time to complete and actually can give a person of any age group a bit of difficulty. The worlds are big and you can roam freely through them. But what’s really neat are the extras.

You can dress your Hamtaro up in all sorts of weird outfits, buy items for his room, collect hidden ham jam dances and even design and edit your own dances as well. There’s also hidden mini games and other neat things I won’t ruin for you. But seriously, like Pokemon, swallow your pride and stupid macho notions that this game is for kids or girls (Hamtaro actually has a much larger late teen to early adult male following in America than it does girls according to Cartoon Network’s demographics) and play this game. It’s addicting, adorable, and most of all, original. Nothing like this game exists on any other system, and it’s one that needs to be played to be believed.

3. River City Ransom

But what’s that you say? Alex said he wouldn’t mention any ports or non original games for the GBA in order to sway us to buy this system? Well, I haven’t. The new River City ransom keeps the same plot and gameplay as the old NES classic, but it’s been given a total remake in terms of graphics, sound and damn near everything else for its upcoming release on the GBA. So this isn’t a port, it’s an update with all the classic gameplay left intact. Like Final Fantasy Origins.

This is considered by a lot of crazy fanatical geezer like gamers to be the best thing ever to come out for the old 8 Bit Nintendo system. It had a very mature plot for its day, featuring gang violence and turf warfare, actually used profanity in addition to treasured lines like “BARF” when you killed someone. But the game play. Oh sweet Jesus the game play. This game was a work of art. It was a 2 player simultaneous fighting game. It was a Role Playing game, and a quest style Zelda esque game all wrapped into one. You could buy books that taught you new fighting moves. You could buy food to gain stat increases (in addition to eating the whole plate), there were hidden stores full or unique items, and most of all, it was open ended. The FIRST true open ended game. Yes, like all open ended games, there was a plot you could follow and if you did so to the letter, the game would eventually end, but there was the all important fact that if you wanted to face the same boss 82 times, you could. Gang leaders stayed on their turf. It was theirs. You went back there, you got an ass kicking. You could wander all over the city and constantly encounter new things. Gangs would sometimes lose their turf to new ones, giving you different opponents after a while. Things changed. The world changed. But the fact remained that you needed to get your moll back from the icky gang leader who kidnapped her.

Seriously people. You thought I was nuts for Ikaruga. I’m even crazier for this game. It is worth buying a GBA player for JUST to see this game on the big screen. Sure it’s old, but it’s better than a classic. It’s an icon for what games used to be and still should be. Near perfection. That’s all I can do to sum up this game. Near f*cking perfection.

4. Iridion II

Okay. Let’s forget about the first one and how it looked a lot like StarFox but played like a bag of fecal matter. Iridion 2 is a great shooter game. And we all know who loves shooters amongst the 411 staff, right?

Iridion 2 is like the usual vertical scrolling shooter. Lots of enemies. Lots of firepower and only really good reflexes to save your ass. What this game has in typical repetitive shooter behavior it makes up for in every other way. The detail in regards to graphics is amazing; especially considering it’s a handheld game. Enemy planes have noticeable wing movements. There are many things you need to avoid other than bullets as well. There are objects that can kill you if you don’t dodge them like towers and turrets. There is even one ship that is so pick it takes up nearly the entire screen, and yeah, you have to avoid being crushed by it. Okay, there are MANY ships like that. But that’s what makes it so fun and challenging.

Some of the unique things about Iridion 2 include a boss at not only the end of the level, but at the halfway point as well. They also build on the upgrade system one normally finds in the classic series Gradius, and it’s a nice nod to that series. There is a story mode and an Arcade mode. But the biggest deal is that is has to be the longest shooter game ever made. 15 levels. That’s right FIFTEEN! For a shooter that is one long F’n game. Ikaruga for example has only a third of those levels. Like Ikaruga as well, you can also put your high score on the Iridion 2 webpage to brag about how good you are at the game, and also how lacking you are in anything else. There’s also tons of hidden modes and extras to unlock.

Iridion 2 is easily one of the best values on the GBA right now, and has it at only 19.99. You’ll be hard pressed to find a better game for that same rate. ESPECIALLY if you’re a big shooter fan. Repeat after me. FIFTEEN LEVELS OF SEIZURE INDUCING BLISS!

5. Shining Soul

You people wonder why I love Atlus? They’re giving us River City Ransom, bringing over Shining Soul with actually decent English, and also giving us DOUBLE DRAGON for the GBA as well. Atlus is the king of all companies in my book. And hey, with being the guys behind Persona as well, how can you not worship them?

But Shining Soul. You’ve heard me talk about it. And unlike other super fanatical Shining Force psychos who hated the thought of a Diablo style action Shining Force RPG, I love this game. I was so addicted I beat it 3 times in a row without playing anything else. Sure it’s not a tactics game. Sure it’s not made by Camelot, but this game is still a pretty nice tribute. And if it lets me do battle with three of my friends against Dark Dragon one last time, that I’ll take it baby!

You have a choice of 4 characters: Dragonute, Archer, Swordsman, and Wizard. 3 super characters and 1 pathetic swordsman who doesn’t deserve to have the same class name as the best characters from each game. TOTAL customization. 4 player hack and slash action. Random items and treasures. Hidden characters. Ore quests like in the originals. A Ninja hidden in the town after every battle who gives you special items if you find him. If you ignore the rants given by people who feel a Shining Force game can’t be action based or even made by someone other than Camelot, you’ll find yourself engrossed in a very long action RPG. And the second best action game on the GBA to boot (With Robotech being the first). It’s addictive, and if you can get friends to join in, you’ll be having the time of your life. Seriously. This comes out in the US 9/9 and I damn well expect to hear from all of you, Thank you Alex. Thank you for telling us to get this game. We love. We love you. Have our first born child.’

6. Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town.

Dude. It is Harvest Moon. HARVEST MOON! You like sims? Get this game? You got addicted to Animal Crossing? Get this game. You like dating sims (If you do you’re an importer or only playing Thousand Arms…)? Get this game. You like originality, never ending games that involve a lot of effort leaving you with a sense of accomplishment and enjoyment? GET THIS GAME!

First of all, it’s a treat for Harvest Moon fans. It’s a return to the same world as Back to Nature.’ You’ll see all the characters you grew to love in that previous edition of Harvest Moon. You’ll start a farm. You’ll raise animals. You’ll grow crops. You’ll fall in love, start a family and help the townsfolk in many ways. Like I said, if you like Animal Crossing, you will really enjoy this game.

Best of all, it’s going to be link Cable ready. So you can get the upcoming NGC Harvest moon game as well and engage in inter city produce trading! Villagers will move from one to another. You get special mini games. You can get crops that are usually exclusive to only one of those games. It’s great to have that connect ability in a Harvest Moon game.

I realize this is the hardest game to sell on people who have never played it before. The other games aren’t niche. They’re just damn good. But my sixth choice on this list is an acquired taste. I just really want you to acquire it. Enjoy all the neat stuff you could do un Shenmue? Do it here as well. I keep comparing it to Animal Crossing, but both are distinct games. However, it’s the closest mainstream game I can think of many of you would be able to relate to. But seriously, although it sounds weird, it’s a beautiful game and I’m glad to see such an unusual concept survive in America so long and with an ever growing fanbase.

7. Super Monkey ball Jr.

SUPER. MONKEY. BALL. All new levels. All new mini games. All new fun. It’s marble Madness with the additional excitement of sending legion after legion of asphyxiated monkeys to their doom by plummeting them off inclines thousands of feet in the air. 60 stages of Monkey puzzle madness. It’s just as good as the Game Cube games, but CHEAPER! And you can kill Monkeys. You shouldn’t if you’re trying to beat the game. But hey, at least when you die, you take a monkey with you.

Seriously. I can’t say much more about this game. Great sound, graphics, and play control. Addiction factor is high and most of all IT’S SUPER MONKEY BALL FOR THE GBA! God bless you Sega.

8. Super Puzzle Fighter 2.

Shit. You actually thought I’d leave this out. Yeah, it’s been out for other systems, but you want to pay the triple digit tag this game runs on ebay, or do you want a perfect rendition of it on the GBA for under 30 bones? I thought so. Plus it’s not out for any other system but the GBA right now. So get it! GET IT!

Oh yes. What is this game? Well, it’s a puzzle game in the same vein as Tetris and Columns. You’re stacking gems in strategic combinations in an attempt to smother your opponent. But at the same time you’ve got super deformed characters from Capcom’s best fighting games going at it as well! Best of all, two people can play at once on the SAME GBA. No link cable needed. And it is easier than you’re thinking.

There is a reason this game is considered the best puzzle game ever made, bar none. There is a reason people go out of their way to get this game in the same vein as Panzer Dragoon Saga or Shining Force 3, volume 2. It is that lusted after and Capcom has given you a chance to own it without breaking your piggy bank open. THIRTY DOLLARS people. There is no better deal in Video gaming right now…until that GBA version of Radiant Silvergun is released. Then we got a fight on our hands.

This is a perfect rendition of the Arcade game. It’s a game I know Bebito and the rest of the 411 staff probably have fond memories of. But as it’s a puzzle game, it is pretty hard to go into the why and hows of the game. But trust me on this. Imagine the best puzzle game you have ever played. Got that image in your head? Well take a dumb all over it, as it is literally shit compared to this game!

9. Any Castlevania, Sonic, or Mega Man game. Your choice.

And no, that’s not me being lazy. That’s me being serious. With Castlevania going 3D, the world of console games weep in despair. With Sonic still being in 3D with Sonic Heroes, Bebito popped a roid in anger as he has to wait even longer for a 2D sonic (And the Gamecube collection doesn’t count!). But see, these companies know that the average gamer assumes 3D is better than 2D for some reason I still can’t fathom. That any game in 3D is automatically better. And that’s just so far from reality, it hurts. But thank god for the GBA. Where you’re damn near stuck with 2D. And guess what? Retrogamers, hardcore gamers, and fans of these series are GLAD, GLAD I tell you GLAD, they can still enjoy new versions of these games in classic format with excellent graphics and play control. They don’t have to worry about horrible camera angles or other terrible shit you normally find in 3D versions of these games. Serious people. Sonic Adventure or Sonic CD? Which do you want to play. Castlevania: Simon’s Quest or Legacy of Darkness for the N64? Is that even a choice? That’s like a plate of caviar, or having your testicles eaten by maggots. These three series continue on with their legacy untarnished on the GBA. Because they’re meant to be 2D, and they’re still played in 2D, even while the world of console games slowly forgets about the concept of gameplay and focuses more on pretty pictures and FMV instead of what really counts. Guess which company I blame for that trend. Here’s a hint: it’s got a form of a Polygon as part of its’ name.

Now. I COULD be a dick and list Shin Megami Tensei as my last choice, thus saving the best game for last. But I said no ports. I Could also take Sakura Wars for the Game Boy and note it was the FIRST Sega game made for a Nintendo device and that Nintendo specifically asked them to do a Sakura game for the GB, but I won’t. Again. No ports. So my last choice is one I really enjoy, and that is also Elisa’s favorite GB game.

10. Pinball of the Dead
Remember that originality thing? Well here it is. It’s House of the Dead 2…in PINBALL FORM! How cool is that? It’s got incredible graphics, actually sounds and scenes from on of the best rail shooters ever made. And it’s pinball!

Game Boys always get the best pinball games. Pokemon pinball is just so incredible it’s hard to describe. And also an evil cheater of a game. But Pinball of the Dead takes everything that is great about that game and turns it up a few notches. You get three boards to choose from. Three different modes to choose from. Normal pinball action. BOSS FIGHTS. Disgusting graphics and a lot of addictive fun. This is a game that has to be seen on the GB player. It’s that cool on the big screen. And it’s a game you wouldn’t ever get on a console. Because Pinball just wouldn’t sell for a console. But wow. What a game. Thank you again Sega. Thank you for breaking the mold and also for whoring out one of your best franchises in yet another wacky and beautiful way. Like Typing of the Dead, Pinball of the dead is one of those games you have to see to believe.

And that’s it. I could keep going with Onimusha Tactics, TMNT, and tons of 16 bit ports. I could mention that Super Mario Bros. 3 is coming out for the system in a few months. I could again harp on SHIN MEGAMI TENSEI for the GBA, or on how much I love Robotech. But I won’t. There is a reason the GBA is the best selling system world wide. And I’ve given you ten of them. Get these games. They’re cheaper than console discs. The system is cheaper than a console. And if you really, want it on TV, get the damn GP Player.

The GBA offers you games that are built of substance, not style. But don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of beauty in the graphics on this little carts as well. Don’t assume that because you can hook something to a TV that it’s automatically better. Don’t assume Quantity means the system is the best. If there is a lot of games, there’s also a lot of crap. Try some of these games. Please. Hell, try all of them if you can. Get together with friends and buy them together. It’s under 300$ for 10 games. That’d be 6 games for the Game Cube, PS2, or Xbox. That’s a great deal.

Maybe I’m biased. But I honestly do believe I’d rather have my GBA than any of the consoles in this current systems war. That’s my opinion. It doesn’t have to be yours. But I do implore you to try these games. Because once you do, who knows? You may just find yourself agreeing with me!