Game Boy Advance emulators

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Revision as of 17:26, 27 April 2015 by MarkyVigoroth (talk | contribs) (I linked to one place where you can find GBA patches,)
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The Gameboy Advance handheld console

The Game Boy Advance (often shortened to GBA) is a 32-bit handheld video game console developed by Nintendo. It is the successor to the Game Boy Color. It was released in Japan on March 21, 2001; in North America on June 11, 2001; in Australia and Europe on June 22, 2001.


Name Operating System(s) Latest Version GB/GBC GBA NDS Game Link Support Libretro Core Recommended
Visual Boy Advance-M (VBA-M) Multi-platform SVN
mGBA Multi-platform 0.2.0
higan Windows, OS X, Linux 0.94
iDeaS Windows, Linux
MESS Multi-platform 0.221 ?
Meteor Linux 1.4
No$GBA Windows, MS-DOS 2.8
Name Operating System(s) Latest Version GB/GBC GBA NDS Game Link Support Libretro Core Recommended
TempGBA4PSP PlayStation Portable 26750221
Visual Boy Advance-M (VBA-M) Wii, Gamecube r1231 ✓ (as VBA-Next)
gpSP PlayStation Portable 0.9


  • gpSP last official version was 0.9 by Exophase. There are, however, two superior forks: gpSPmod and gpSP-J. gpSP-J has superior compatibility, while gpSPmod has more options for customization (full screen, cheats, etc). Both are superior to Kai.
  • Visual Boy Advance-M (VBA-M) is a fork of VBA with additional improvements. RetroArch's VBA-Next is based off an older revision of VBA-M with added speedhacks and tweaks, making it a bit less accurate in some respects, though it fixes a few games such as Advance Wars 2.
  • higan's GBA core is cycle-accurate, but is otherwise very much a WIP and not as compatible as either version of VBA.
  • mGBA is a GBA emulator that aims to be accurate while maintaining speed. It's actively developed and has features that VBA-M lacks such as Solar/Tilt Sensor.

Emulation issues


Left showing the default game, and right showing VBA-M in "Gameboy Colors" mode

The original GBA screen was not backlit, which would render the screen rather dark. To compensate for this, games would be overly saturated. The bright overly saturated colors would appear rather normal on the GBA. In emulation however, this over saturation is not needed. Some games made after 2003 may look better with the backlit colors, however, as they were designed with the GBA SP in mind. For everything else, there are several ways to deal with this:


Under "Emulation Options", select "GBA Mode. There are four modes.

- GBA (no backlight) = strong desaturization

- GBA SP (backlight) = strong desaturization

- Nintendo DS in GBA mode = some desaturization

- VGA Mode (poppy bright): zero desaturization


- (VBA-M for Windows only) Under "Options->Gameboy" you will find the options:

- "Real Colors": no desaturization

- "Gameboy Colors": strong desaturization



A .cgp shader preset can be loaded in OpenEMU or RetroArch that is meant to (sort-of) replicate the "Gameboy Colors" option in VBA-M using the image-adjustment Cg shader. The settings are parameters that are stored in the cgp and can be adjusted at runtime. The relevant parameters set for this effect are:

Target Gamma = 2.4

Monitor Gamma = 2.16

Saturation = 0.5

Luminance = 0.9

The colors will not be exactly the same as what VBA-M produces (a bit brighter and no washed out blacks) but it will get you the desaturation effect. Can be adjusted to fit your tastes, and you can get the washed out blacks by increasing "Brightness Boost" and decreasing Luminance a bit.

More recently, a different shader using a lookup table was created to much more accurately simulate VBA and No$GBA's options.

Save file issues

There are a number of different save formats for GBA games. With raw save data, it's very hard to detect what save type it is just by looking at it. Visual Boy Advance tries to autodetect save type but often is incorrect and this causes issues. A fix to this issue is to use a file called "vba-over.ini" to tell VBA what each game's proper save type is, which eliminates most issues regarding save type. Current VBA-M versions come with vba-over.ini by default, but older versions of VBA like VBA 1.7.2 and VBALink did not.

The libretro versions of VBA, libretro-VBA-Next and libretro-VBA-M, come with vba-over.ini baked into the binary so it is able to load raw .sav files, but also changes the save file output to be a 136KB .srm file for every save type, with save type info contained within the file. This completely avoids any save type issues, but makes its save files incompatible with standalone VBA and most other emulators.

Libretro devs created a command line tool to convert libretro-VBA .srm save files to raw .sav save data for other emulators. You can just drag and drop a .srm onto the executable and it will output raw .sav. The same can be done in reverse. A precompiled Windows 64-bit binary of this tool can be found here.


GBA Link Multiplayer (1~4GBA)

  • VBA-M: This doesn't work with old VBA versions.

Just disable "Pause when Inactive", configure all four Joypads each with their own button layout, enable "Link, Enable GBA Link". Now open VBA-M again as much times needed for each player, and have them each use their separate Joypad configuration. Each player will have a separate SRAM save file.

  • No$GBA: This method also works with DS roms, and that's the actual way to see the incomplete non-functional local Wi-Fi DS multiplayer implementation. (todo)

GameCube Connectivity

The GBA unit can connect to a GameCube.

Dolphin and VBA-M

Game Boy connection support can be supported via joybus emulation. Such requires VBA-M (r947 or newer) and a dump of a GBA BIOS.

Connect 1~4 GBA Unit Without Game to GC Game

First Part!

  • Open Dolphin and VBA-M. Make sure neither are blocked by your firmware.
  • Dolphin: Start your game and play until you get to the in-game menu where you're asked to connect a GBA. Under the GC controller options (earlier "Config, Gamecube", now it's with the GC/Wii controller options). You have 4 GC controller ports: change how much you need to "GBA". Leave the game and its music running :)
  • VBA-M: You'll need to uncheck "Options, Emulator, Pause When Inactive". Then, under "Options, Link, Joybus Options", Make sure to enable "Enable Joybus Connection" and set "IP/Hostname" to use default settings, that is ( or (localhost) - without the brackets.
  • THEN, Dolphin will freeze. You'll want to not have the system sound too high if you're using headphones.

Second Part!

  • VBA-M: Open the GBA BIOS in VBA-M as if it were a regular GBA ROM. There will be that splash screen but it will stutter a bit.
  • Dolphin should recognize the Joybus Link by then and the GC game will detect that a GBA unit was connected.
  • To connect other GBA units, open another VBA-M instance and repeat what you did with VBA-M.

Notable games that work:

  • The Legend of Zelda Four Swords Adventures: Both two modes available for the US/PAL version work. The third Japan-only Navi Trackers mode works as well, but the game crashes after the naming screen due to a bug in the GC/GBA connectivity.
  • Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles
  • Billy Hatcher: You can download games to your GBA. Amusingly, a RAM dump from VBA-M can be opened as a functional GBA ROM.
  • Kururin Squash
  • Sonic Adventure 2 (buggy)

Don't work:

  • The Legend of Zelda Wind Waker: Tingle Trainer connection always fails, though some messages do display on VBA-M.
  • Drill Land
  • lots more

Connect GBA Game to GC Game

  • VBA-M: Under "Emulator, Bios Files" set the GBA BIOS file directory, and have the emulator use it. This will cause each regular GBA rom you load in VBA-M to show the BIOS splash screen then proceed to the game. It has higher compatibility too.
  • You do the all the steps above in the first part of the previous section (connecting a GBA unit without Game to a GC game) until the line with Dolphin freezing when you enable Joylink in VBA-M.


  • VBA-M: Open the regular GBA ROM to be connected with the GC game in VBA-M as if it were a regular GBA ROM.
  • There will be that splash screen, but if you do nothing the GBA game starts as usual and the connection doesn't actually happen. What you must do is to hold Select+Start while the BIOS is loading. This will cause the BIOS animation to stop and wait for connections, and the regular GBA ROM game won't boot immediately. If it goes as intended, VBA-M will stutter a bit and the connection will be initiated.
  • Dolphin should recognize the Joybus Link by then and the GC game will detect that a GBA unit was connected.
  • To connect other GBA units, open another VBA-M instance and repeat what you did with VBA-M.

Please note e-Reader functionality with GC games isn't emulated as of yet.

Dolphin and other emulators

Dolphin devs are working at rewriting the entire GBA connectivity code in a far better way from scratch with more accurate emulators. They did a video using the higan emulator. Nothing of the sort is published at the moment.

GBA/DS Connectivity

Inserting a GBA card in Slot-2 in a Nintendo DS unit (that's not a DSi) while a DS game is running could unlock various gameplay features in some DS games. DesMume can emulate this: while playing the DS ROM, go to "Config, Slot 2 (GBA Slot)" and select "GBA Cartridge". Now select the GBA ROM file, and make sure its sav file is in the same folder. You may need to reset the game sometimes to see the effect in-game.


A device that connects to the GBA, which can read content off e-Card paper stripes either as standalone content, or additional content to GBA games (or even GC ones). Also known as the GBA's DLC.

Main Page: GBA e-Reader emulators

Special Hardware

Special Cartridges

Most of these have not been emulated as of yet. There used to be patches that could be applied to GBA ROMs with a utility like LunarIPS (mostly from No Frills), but they're for the most part lost to time nowadays. Your best bet is to use Action Replay to emulate those.

Solar Sensor


This feature has been emulated in both mGBA and no$gba 2.6 onwards:

  • mGBA: Under Emulation/Solar Sensor. You can fine tune brightness levels as you wish, either increasing or decreasing it by in-game increments, or setting it at either maximum levels.
  • no$GBA: Under Options/Emulation Setup, you can find the Solar Sensor Level option. You are given the choice between only three brightness levels though: Darkness, 100 Watts, and Bright Sunlight.
ROM Patches

Fixes applied directly to the ROM by various scene release groups to make it compatible with any emulator/flashcard, making the in-game brightness level controllable with L+Left/Right. It's argued this makes for a better experience actually, but sadly not all releases are covered.

  • Boktai 1: JP, US, EU.
  • Boktai 2: JP, US, EU.
  • Boktai 3: JP Fix.
  • Combinations of Boktai 4 JP with earlier solar sensors to get solar sensor bonuses aren't emulated yet in any DS emulator.

Motion Control

  • VBA doesn't emulate this feature, and its "Motion Control" option (with keys mapped to each tilt direction) covers the GBC title Kirby Tilt'n Tumble.
  • mGBA supposedly includes this feature but key remapping for tilt sensors is not present in the latest builds.
ROM Patches

Fixes applied directly to the ROM by various scene release groups to make it compatible with any emulator/flashcard. D-Pad controls substituting motion controls don't work as well here as they tilt it "too much" at times to be very playable.

  • Yoshi Topsy Turvy/Universal Gravitation: JP, EU, US
  • Warioware Twisted! (Patch: JP, US)


  • Variable Rumble Speed: Drill Dozer. Can still be emulated.
  • Figurine Add-on: Legendz: Isle Of Trials, Legendz: Sign Of Necromu, Plaston Gate (Fix), Plaston Gate DX (Fix). The add-on is essentially Skylanders before it became popular.

VBA-M has an option for Motion controls "Input, Set, Motion". It currently works with all versions of the GBC title Yoshi Tilt'n Tumble, which also was a special cartridge with a motion sensor built-in to control movement in-game.

Other Add-ons

Not emulated yet:

  • Battle Chip Gate (and variations): compatible with Japanese versions of Megaman Zero 3, Megaman Battle Network 4, 4.5, 5 and 6.