Nintendo surprised everyone during its recent Nintendo Direct showcase, by announcing the launch of a Game Boy Advance suite of games for subscribers of its Nintendo Switch Online (Expansion Pack) service. Not only was the GBA a short-lived but stunning little system, but its game library available for it is packed with some of the most excellent portable experiences you could find.
Naturally, as soon as the GBA NSO app was revealed, gaming fans around the world began speculating about what kind of games could appear on the service. Well, at the Sonic Stadium we’re not above some entertaining wish-listing, and given that Nintendo’s purple little portable was home to several fantastic Sonic the Hedgehog games, we felt the time was right to hype up the best of those games and hope that SEGA offers us a chance to replay these on modern console/s.
So here it is; our breakdown of all the Sonic (and Sonic Team, for good measure) games on GBA that we most want to see on the Nintendo Switch Online service (or alternatively, on some kind of special compilation developed by SEGA). It’s quite hard to rank these games because almost all of them (well, all except one really) were very entertaining in their own right, and honestly speaking we’d ask to have all of the below games (well, all except one) re-introduced to Switch in some way or another.
10: Sonic the Hedgehog Genesis
Yeah, this is the exception we mentioned before. Sonic the Hedgehog: Genesis was an attempt at a 16-Bit Sonic the Hedgehog remake on Nintendo’s handheld console, and it absolutely stank. Only released in North America, and for good reason, a number of small quality of life improvements in a spin dash and save feature couldn’t offset the glitches, awful music reproduction and inexplicable sluggishness of its core gameplay. This was a 15th Anniversary celebration gone horribly wrong.
We’d probably only want to see it on NSO as a curiosity, and even then let’s make sure all the other games in this list have been added first.
9: Tiny Chao Garden
This is more of a micro-game than a full-blown boxed GBA release, but we think it counts! Tiny Chao Garden was included in most Sonic GBA titles (including all of the Sonic Advance games), but was also a standalone app that could be temporarily installed into your GBA’s memory (just don’t turn it off!). It was a means for players to transfer their A-Life Chao creatures from Sonic Adventure 2 Battle and Sonic Adventure DX on Nintendo Gamecube onto Game Boy Advance, so that they could raise and nurture their little racer/fighter on the go.
An obviously cut-down version of the overall Chao raising experience, it offered a couple of minigames you could play with your Chao for in-game currency, as well as the ability to purchase food and various items for your little buddy to interact with.
While we did really enjoy using the Tiny Chao Garden where it was available at the time, it’s really best used when transferring Chao from GBA to Gamecube for short periods. And given that transfer functionality is unlikely to be included in any NSO app re-release – on top of the fact that it’s already included as a side-game in the Sonic Advance games – we don’t really see much value in its separate inclusion.
8: Puyo Pop
Sonic Team was busy throughout the Game Boy Advance’s lifecycle. Not only were they working with Dimps on many of the Sonic Advance titles, but they also had a hand in developing the Puyo Puyo games, thanks to a studio re-organisation at SEGA at the time. Puyo Pop was the first such title under Sonic Team’s production, and one of the first unashamedly ‘Puyo’ games to reach the West.
If you’ve played Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine, you’ll know what the score is here. Little coloured blobs drop down, Tetris-style, into your play window, and you must arrange them by matching at least four of the same colour to make them disappear (or send ‘junk’ blobs to your opponent’s play window). It’s a puzzle game that’s stood the test of time, and wholly addictive fun. We think there’d be value in letting a puzzle game like this run wild on NSO’s GBA app.
7: Puyo Pop Fever
Following the toe-dip in the water that was Puyo Pop, Sonic Team followed up with a full-on head dunk with Puyo Pop Fever. This was a hyper version of the blob-matching original, with a very vibrant presentation featuring anime characters doing battle at a weird Puyo magic school (or something), vying to be top of the class. Gameplay-wise this entry introduced new mechanics such as different Puyo shape combinations and a ‘Fever’ mode that allowed players a chance to build up some combo-clears that would send your opponents packing.
It’s a much more engaging sequel to play over the first Puyo Pop title, so if there was a choice between the two games to include on NSO, we’d plump for Amitie and crew here.
6: ChuChu Rocket!
ChuChu Rocket! was originally a surprise release from Sonic Team on the Dreamcast – a quick and furious party game of (space) cat and (space) mouse which was developed to highlight the SEGA home console’s innovative online gaming functionalities. For something that was essentially a hobby project for Yuji Naka and co, we thought it was a one-hit wonder at the time, until 2001 when a Game Boy Advance version was announced.
The core gameplay loop is extraordinary fun with three friends – each player has to lay down arrows to try and direct a stream of mice into their space rocket, while also directing cats (which eat the mice and wipe out your score if scuttled aboard your vessel) to your opponents’. There is also a slower-paced but cerebrally-challenging Puzzle mode which was so addictive it ensured the game stayed in your console.
On Game Boy Advance, much of the manic action is maintained – the main differences being that the polygonal graphics are replaced with sprites, and instead of the Dreamcast’s online play the multiplayer was limited to game link cables. With NSO’s GBA app allowing for online link-up play, we think there would be some weirdly poetic sense to offering this engaging game for a whole new generation.
5: Sonic Pinball Party
Now we’re getting to the real Sonic games on the system, and we’re starting with a decent pinball spinoff that not only features Sonic the Hedgehog, but Sonic Team favourites NiGHTS and Samba de Amigo as well. Sonic Pinball Party, unlike Sonic Spinball before it, takes a rather conventional approach to the flipper game, opting to have players running standard steel balls against themed tables.
It wasn’t really a game that held your interest for very long, as you could see everything on offer within a short few hours, but there was enough charm in the table environments and fun gimmicks to be worth several return plays. Just don’t go into the Story mode for anything really meaningful, it’s a load of old tripe. But you know, any excuse to see Sonic, NiGHTS and Amigo share the spotlight – probably the first and last time that will ever happen.
There will no doubt be other pinball-themed candidates that Nintendo will want to put on the GBA NSO service before Sonic Pinball Party, but if SEGA drags its heels over revisiting the core Sonic Advance series this would be a pretty easy get while we waited for the primo stuff.
4: Sonic Advance 2
We absolutely adored Sonic’s second handheld adventure on Game Boy Advance, when it was first released. Giving it full marks in our review at the time due to its super-fast action, original zone environments and stylish new moves that worked with the level design to make you feel like a boss as you air tricked to upper routes.
The game has lost a little bit of that shine over the years, with repeat plays revealing some frustrations with the rather straightforward stage maps and little opportunity for traditional Sonic-style exploration. Not to mention the frustrating approach to Chaos Emerald collection (even if the Special Stages themselves are pretty cool). But with a banging soundtrack, excellent presentation and some nice unlockable bonuses, this is still worth a play for the dedicated Sonic fan.
Because the Sonic Advance trilogy was originally published in the West by not-SEGA (THQ in the US, Infogrames in Europe), it’s difficult to know whether we will see these games appear on NSO’s GBA app due to the possible additional licensing involved. If SEGA is smart, they’d have found a way to regain sole publishing ownership of these games. But if not, there’s still a chance they could appear on the Japanese NSO service, given all three were previously released on Wii U’s GBA Virtual Console.
3: Sonic Advance 3
The third and final entry in the Sonic Advance series mixed things up a bit with a new ‘tag’ system that allowed players to use two characters at once and combine their abilities. It was extremely gimmicky, but paid off better than a similar execution in its home console spiritual cousin, Sonic Heroes.
With more sensible pacing, intricate level design and an interesting plot to boot, Sonic Advance 3 ends up becoming a little more engaging than its predecessor in the long term, and we’d love to get the chance to blast through Sunset Hill and Cyber Track once again.
2: Sonic Advance
We know the first Sonic Advance game is the slowest of all three in the series, but we feel that it has stood the test of time a lot better than its sequels. Although the animations on Sonic, Tails and friends are a little stuffy by today’s standards (we’re really not sure about the look of that run, Sonic), everything else about this game channels the very essence of the classic 16-bit Sonic adventures to the letter.
The multi-tiered stage design, the inertia and pacing, the music, the boss fights… everything here just feels correct in a way that Sonic Advance 2 and 3 couldn’t quite match (or in some cases, over-egged). And for the first Sonic outing on a Nintendo platform, this remains a perfect introduction. What we wouldn’t give to experience the atmosphere of Egg Rocket once again on a modern console. That soundtrack and sunset, man.
1: Sonic Battle
As much as we love the Sonic Advance series, there’s one Sonic the Hedgehog title that we would describe as ‘iconic’ on the Game Boy Advance, and that game would be Sonic Battle. A spinoff that is packed full of style, story and (literally) kick-ass gameplay, Battle was a portable fighting game that takes a lot of cues from the Super Smash Bros series while introducing a uniquely fresh ‘Sonic’ twist. And it was executed to perfection.
While the moveset for each character may seem limiting by today’s standards, at the time it was a great use of the GBA’s control system, allowing for special moves that really took advantage of each characters’ specific traits. What’s more, the Story mode had you befriend a robot called Emerl, who you could customise and upgrade skills for during fights.
Every pixel in this game just oozes ‘cool’, from the art direction to the creative 3D environments to the unusually-intense story mode, which contains a lot more canonical easter eggs than you’d expect. With the NSO GBA app offering the ability to replace link-cable multiplayer with online play, getting Sonic Battle on the Nintendo service would be a no-brainer and absolutely the first thing we’d ask SEGA and Nintendo for.
Honourable Mention – Sonic X: A Super Sonic Hero
There’s one other Sonic-related product that was released on the Game Boy Advance, and we would be remiss to not include it in this list in some fashion. The reason we can’t really rank it in the same way as the others is that it’s not strictly a game; as the name suggests, ‘Sonic X: A Super Sonic Hero’ was a GBA Video cartridge release that contained two episodes of the 2003 animated series (‘Chaos Control Freaks’ and ‘Sonic to the Rescue’).
It’s a strange product because SEGA wasn’t really involved. Majesco developed and produced the short-running GBA Video series, including this Sonic X release, using its proprietary video encoding techniques and software. There’s really no reason to want this on Nintendo’s subscription service as there are other means to watch the anime, and licensing right aplenty would mean that its inclusion would be pretty far-fetched anyway.
Still, it’s a nice little curio and worth getting for a collector’s piece.
Well, what do you think of our lineup? Do you agree with the order of this list? What would you change? Let us know in the comments section below! And let’s all cross our fingers for all (or at least, some) of these games to appear on Nintendo Switch Online’s GBA app (or even better, a modern console compilation release)!