The sheer inventiveness and creativity of the modding community never ceases to amaze me, but what’s also impressive is that the coders responsible for these hacks aren’t always looking to put their own spin on a game’s mechanics – sometimes, they’re just aiming to improve a game from a technical standpoint.
Consequently, ROM hacks of some games can end up being simply better versions of the official title.
The GBA is a goldmine for ROM hacks (and if you don’t have access to hardware, having an emulator makes using hacks a lot easier – check out our very own list of the Best GBA Emulators), especially if you’re a Pokémon fan; there’s countless best Pokémon ROM hacks available.
Yet there’s plenty of other games that get their time to shine in ROM hack form – and the GBA plays host to many absolute masterpieces in its official software library, so the choice of excellent ROM hacks to choose from is very high indeed.
Let’s take a look at some of the best ones, shall we? Come with us as we check out the 10 Best GBA ROM Hacks!
10. Super Mario Advance 4: All 38 e-Reader Levels (2016)
Nintendo’s e-Reader add on peripheral for the GBA seemed like a good idea at the time: it allowed for extra content and even fullgames to be loaded onto the GBA just by scanning special codes on trading cards. Animal.
Crossing characters, designs and music as well as classic NES games such as the original Donkey Kong or Ice Climber, for example, were just a few of the uses for these special cards.
A feature that didn’t make it out of Japan was the ability to add extra levels into the GBA’s confusingly titled Super Mario Advance 4: Super Mario Bros 3 – with 38 new levels available to be added into the game.
This hack is a relatively straightforward, no nonsense one that isn’t the most inventive or imaginative mod we could find – but it adds all of the extra levels and items that non-Japanese players would never have been able to access otherwise.
Still, more Mario is never a bad thing, right?
9. Breath of Fire Improved (2020)
Capcom’s beloved RPG series first appeared on the 16-bit SNES console way back in 1993 and was an instant hit.
Though there hasn’t been a new game in the series since PC and mobile title Breath of Fire 6 in 2016, the series has sold more than 3 million copies in its lifetime and is still a big name for RPG fans worldwide.
Though this humbly titled mod does indeed improve the base game, it does an awful lot more than that too.
The colour palette is brought more in line with the SNES original, the script has been rewritten and the game has also been entirely rebalanced for all characters. An excellent hack and one which definitely belongs on the Best GBA ROM Hacks list!
8. Final Fantasy Tactics Advanced Battle (2020)
One of the more recent hacks to make it to our Best GBA ROM Hacks list, this hack – which is based on the fondly remembered Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, a game that made it to our Best GBA RPGs list – adds monster taming to the excellent turn-based action of the base game.
Players can now capture monsters and teach them abilities as they progress, using a new system that’s been implemented in this hack.
Adding monster taming to the original game brings a dash of Pokémon style gameplay to the title – and that won’t be the last time you see Nintendo’s Pikachu-starring games franchise mentioned on this list…
7. Castlevania HOD: Revenge of the Findesiecle (2007)
The GBA Castlevania games – of which there are three – are among the very best in the hugely popular, long running series (which started way back in 1986 in Japan on the Famicom Disk System before making its way West on the NES in 1987).
After the PlayStation title Castlevania: Symphony of the Night in 1997, the series became for its elaborate level design and more open structure.
This ROM hack uses Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance as its basis, but adds in a crazy amount of content such as new colour palettes, music and sprites – as well as, perhaps most interestingly, including Mario, Mega Man and original series protagonist Simon Belmont as playable characters.
6. Final Fight One: Arcade Remix (2020)
In the closing weeks of 1989, influential, iconic scrolling beat ’em up Final Fight was released in arcades, becoming an instant hit and a bona fide classic.
The game’s massive sprites and relentless action proved such a hit with gamers that home ports were inevitable, yet the consoles and computers of the day weren’t really up to the task.
The 1990 SNES version didn’t even feature all three characters – nor did it feature every stage from the arcade; it was also single player only.
For some reason, though the more powerful GBA could easily handle the original game in 2001 (and did feature all of the arcade original’s stages, as well as a two player version – albeit via link cable), the colour palette, some character details and even the music in some cases weren’t the same as the original.
The Arcade Remix ROM hack fixes this, however, restoring the game to its arcade glory on Nintendo’s 32-bit handheld.
Though less of an overhaul to the original cartridge’s contents than many other titles on the Best GBA ROM Hacks list, it’s nonetheless one that’s essential for old school beat ’em up fans.
5. Metroid: Spooky Mission (2018)
Samus Aran is one of gaming’s earliest video game heroines – though Samus being female was a ‘surprise’ ending to the first Metroid. Still, not only is Samus a bit of a pioneer on that front, but also the games she stars in have even inspired (at least alongside games such as Castlevania: Symphony of the Night) an entire genre: Metroidvania.
The GBA Metroid games – Metroid: Zero Mission, a remake and expansion of the first ever Metroid game, and Metroid: Fusion, an original series title that’s exclusive to the GBA – still stand tall as some of the best not only in the series, but also in the Metroidvania genre.
So it’s no surprise to see a hack of Metroid: Zero Mission on the Best GBA ROM Hacks List – and this one is a title that’s spooky, as the title would suggest.
Metroid: Spooky Mission also has a sense of humour that’s usually missing from the Metroid games, which do tend to have a serious, dark sci-fi ambience.
This hack goes all out in redesigning the look and feel of Zero Mission, with spooky castles and forests, for example.
A NSFW super secret ending (that’s apparently all but impossible to uncover unless you know exactly how to get to it) tops off the game, which is shorter and less challenging than Zero Mission itself.
It even has pumpkins too – how can you say no to Metroid with pumpkins and jokes? So all of that combined makes Metroid Spooky Mission one of our favourites.
4. Pokémon Snakewood (2013)
A hack of Pokémon Ruby (another game on our Best GBA RPGs list) Snakewood gives the usually charming, cute, kid-friendly antics of the Pokémon series a horror-style spin.
Hoenn has been invaded by zombies – and the player’s brother, along with Professor Birch’s daughter, have gone missing while on a mission to find the source of the invasion.
With lots of new Pokémon -as well as new evolutions for existing creatures – as well as new locations with dark twists and even gyms destroyed by zombies, Pokémon Snakewood is a fully featured, well thought out mod that truly goes to places that, ahem, Nintendon’t.
3. Fire Emblem: The Last Promise (2013)
The fantasy-themed sister series to Advance Wars – which is still going strong today, thanks to games such as Fire Emblem: Three Houses on Switch and entries on numerous other Nintendo platforms – the Fire Emblem series have always been a compelling blend of turn based action and RPG elements (admittedly very light, but enough to see Fire Emblem on our Best GBA RPGs list).
Unlike Advance Wars, in Fire Emblem if certain units die they’re gone for good – which adds a real layer of tension, risk and reward to every battle.
The Last Promise is a fan-created ROM hack of the first GBA Fire Emblem game – and was the first completed English Fire Emblem hack altogether.
It’s a very impressive hack overall, with the feel of an official sequel or spin off of the real game – and the story even contains a twist or two that demonstrates the high standard of writing.
It’s amazing that fans are so dedicated to hacks that they can create such rich experiences – and The Last Promise definitely does feel as if it could be a genuine Fire Emblem sequel. Incredibly impressive stuff.
2. Doom: PC Doom Total Conversion (2020)
Though they’ve become a lot more relaxed in recent years – having moved with the times somewhat – Nintendo have generally been seen as a family friendly video games company, which has led to quite a bit of censoring of games on their platforms.
The most notorious of these changes is probably the blood in SNES Mortal Kombat being replaced with grey ‘sweat’, but even as recently as the 2001 release of GBA Doom, red blood was replaced – in this instance with green blood instead.
It’s a little odd considering that the game is still just as violent; changing the colour of the blood – as is also the case with Mortal Kombat – doesn’t actually change the violent actions that players are taking part in. It’s not the only change either, with GBA Doom’s religious references either toned down or removed altogether – as well as other, more minor changes.
Oddly, GBA Doom was based on the Atari Jaguar port which, though different in many ways to the PC original, was excellent (there have been an awful lot of great Doom games since the first in.
Yet resourceful coders have released the PC Doom Total Conversion ROM Hack for the GBA version, which – incredibly impressively – recreates the original PC version of Doom beautifully (yep, even restoring the red blood!).
The full original levels are recreated (including textures) sound is improved (including matching the music to the correct level to ape the original game’s soundtrack) and there’s even better framerate enabled.
It’s an absolute masterclass in mod design and improves upon the ‘official’ port in every way.
1. Advance Wars R: Advance Wars Returns (2021)
The GBA Advance Wars games, even close to 20 years after they originally released, remain almost peerless in terms of portable strategy titles.
They have a near perfect balance in terms of their gameplay, with finely tuned units that each side has access to – each with their own strengths and weaknesses that force players to adapt to deal with the enemy’s strategy on the fly.
The bold, colourful visuals and storyline – with excellent, cartoony battle cutscenes that are adorably entertaining – with tons of campaign missions and even multiplayer to add into the mix, give Advance Wars and its GBA sequel, Advance Wars 2: Black Hole Rising, a genuinely timeless quality.
Still, with them being available for so long it’s inevitable that you might have exhausted all possible gameplay opportunities in both games by now.
So what do you do if that’s the case, but you’re hankering for some more capture-the-base, tank-smashing, turn-based action? Well, how about this new ROM hack for Advance Wars 2, which brings a huge 42 new campaign missions to the table, 30 more War Room missions, reworked Commanding Officers (COs) and even an AWBW section for multiplayer (that’s the browser-based, online Advance Wars By Web game).
It’s fully featured, looks and feels like an official expansion – and is more Advance Wars. What more is there to say? Truly a superb effort – and definitely a great entry for the very top of the 10 Best GBA ROM Hacks list!