Game Boy Advance emulators
|Type||Handheld game 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. It has a ARM7TDMI CPU at 16.78 MHz and a Zilog Z80 CPU at 8 MHz and 4 MHz. It has 32KB of RAM and 96KB of VRAM.
- 1 Emulators
- 2 Emulation issues
- 3 Connectivity
- 4 Special Hardware
- 5 References
|Name||Platform(s)||Latest Version||GB/GBC||NDS||Game Link Support||e-Reader||Libretro Core||Accuracy||FLOSS||Active||Recommended|
|Mobile / ARM|
(VBA-M r1097 based)
|My Boy!||1.8.0||✓[N 2]||✗||✓||✗||✗||?||✗||✓||✗|
|VBA GX||Git||✓||✗||✗||✗||✓[N 3]||?||✓||✓||✗|
|Virtual Console||8.10||✓ (Nintendo 3DS only)||✓ (Wii U only)||✓ (Pokemon only)||✗||✗||?||✗||✓||✓|
- Experimental separate build under the name of medusa.
- Separate paid app called My OldBoy!.
- As VBA-Next.
- Aims for accuracy, speed, and features. For its accuracy, it's gradually becoming the best at that. It's actively developed and has features VBA-M lacks such as a Tilt Sensor, and more recently Game Boy Camera support. It currently does not have an official Android build.
- Visual Boy Advance (VBA)
- The original GBA emulator. Discovered to have an ACE vulnerability detailed below.
- Visual Boy Advance-M (VBA-M)
- A fork with additional improvements. It is behind in terms of accuracy and performance compared to mGBA.
- A RetroArch fork from an older revision of VBA-M with added speedhacks and tweaks, making it useful for lower-end devices. A bit less accurate in some respects, but fixes a few games such as Advance Wars 2.
- Its last official version was 0.91. There are, however, two forks of interest: 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.
- Its GBA core is cycle-accurate as of v095, but it is behind in terms of performance compared to mGBA and VBA-M.
- Has a
gbadriver markup as working but both graphics and sound are "imperfect".
NOTE: There's a huge ACE vulnerability affecting VBA and most of its forks, except for VBA-M. The function for adding GameShark codes ("Import > Gameshark code file") doesn't check if the file's size is within 1024 kilobits, meaning cheat code files from dubious sources can be engineered with malware in mind. There is good news; VBA-M still doesn't do a sanity check for those files, but it just crashes instead of letting the code wreak havoc. So, depending on your use case, avoid using:
- Cheat code files bigger than 1024Kb that you got online from untrustworthy sources.
- The import code files feature.
- The old emulator altogether, and settle for other options like mGBA or VBA-M. All of them support the same SRAM save data the cartridge uses.
List of recommended GBA emulators for Android:
- 10 best Game Boy Advanced, Game Boy Color, and Game Boy emulators for Android (SEPTEMBER 2, 2018. Includes some emulators not found in above charts. Reviews may be subjective.)
The screen on the original Game Boy Advance is not backlit and can be hard to see in some conditions. To compensate, game developers often used oversaturated colors by default so that the result would look normal on hardware. On standard computer screens, saturation is not an issue so this can look jarring and undesirable for gameplay. Some games made after 2003 may have also taken the Game Boy Advance SP model into account since its screen was actually frontlit. For everything else though, emudevs have given some solutions:
No$GBA: Under "Emulation Options", select "GBA Mode". There are four modes.
- GBA (no backlight): Strong desaturation
- GBA SP (backlight): Strong desaturation
- Nintendo DS in GBA mode: Some desaturation
- VGA Mode (poppy bright): No desaturation
mGBA: Under Tools > Settings > Shaders, you will find three customizable Desaturation parameters.
VBA-M: (nightly only): Under Options > Game Boy Advance, you will find the option, LCD Filter.
higan: Under Settings > Video Filter, you will find the "Color Emulation" checkbox.
- Color Emulation off: No desaturation
- Color Emulation on: Gamma correction and adjusted color range.
For GBA, there is
gba-color.cg, which simulates the color profile of a GBA screen under an external light source more accurately than VBA-M or No$GBA color options. If you prefer the darker color options that those emulators have, then use
Horrible Sound Quality
As a handheld rushed to the market (because of the WonderSwan Color competition), the Game Boy Advance had some cut corners. The sound hardware was affected the hardest: while it could play Game Boy Color sound in addition to samples and sequenced music like what would be heard on the SNES, the actual sound playback quality is awful compared to the actual higher quality sound samples stored internally in the ROM.
There were tools made to extract the internal high quality music (as midi files plus a sound font, to be played on foobar2000), however interest remains limited in implementing its playback in real time on emulators. It's worth noting it exists as a very experimental feature on mGBA (nightly versions) under Enhancements as "XQ GBA Audio", but very buggy and still limited to games using the standard sound engine, the so-called "Sappy" engine, which is still a big part of the GBA's software library.
High Resolution Affine Transformation Graphical Effects
Similar to the scaling effects used on the Super NES known commonly as "Mode 7" graphics, the Game Boy Advance has affine transformation effects for some backgrounds and individual sprites that can be done in hardware. Due to the GBA's lower resolution, some detail may be lost.
The mGBA emulator added an Enhancements menu where you can change the resolution of those graphical effects, for a smoother effect. The graphical render engine will need to be OpenGL for those to take effect. It won't work on games where those effects are done in software instead of the hardware scaling features (like the 3D environment in Asterix & Obelix XXL)
Originally, when saves were implemented, nobody settled on a format, so the Visual Boy Advance devs made its own. Because other emulators often went with raw data, having to exchange different saves caused problems. The original Visual Boy Advance tries to figure out which format a given save is but often fails at it. By explicitly telling the emulator to read it as a specific type using a file called
vba-over.ini, VBA complies. VBA-M includes this config file by default, but older revisions like VBA 1.7.2 and VBALink do not.
The VBA-Next and VBA-M cores in Libretro have the file baked into the binary so that it can load raw .sav files, but converts the format to its own derivative at exactly 136 KB every time, with save type info contained within the file. This completely avoids the previous issues at the cost of incompatibility with standalone VBA and most others.
To solve this incompatibility, Libretro devs created a command-line tool to convert .srm save files made from these cores to raw .sav save data for other emulators. It takes standard input (i.e. just drag and drop the .srm onto the executable) and outputs accordingly. It can also be done in reverse. A 64-bit binary of this tool for Windows can be found here.
There are five different kinds of connectivity, support varying by game:
- Single Pak
- Multi Pak
- Nintendo DS
Purple end in GBA means player 1, while a grey end in GBA means P2, P3, or P4. Daisy chaining up to three cables will set up the additional P3 and P4 by connecting the purple end to a purple mid section.
|Name||Platform(s)||Supported Version||Single Pak||Multi Pak||Wireless||GameCube||Nintendo DS|
|PC / x86|
|DeSmuME||0.9.12 Dev Builds||✗||✗||✗||✗||✓|
GBA Multi Pak Link Multiplayer (1~4GBA)
- 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 many times needed for each player, and have them each use their separate Joypad configuration. Each player will have a separate SRAM save file.
- VBA Link + e-Reader
- Useful if you want to use the Pokémon Battle-eCards. Downloads and instructions reside here.
- Select "New multiplayer window" from the menu. As you load your ROMs into each window, "Player [X] of [Y]" will appear across the title bar. This can be done for up to four players. However, multiple instances of the same ROM will share a save file.
- Set the number of Emulated Gameboys in the Emulation setting to be 2 or more, and the Link Gamepaks Options to Gamepak in all GBAs.
GBA Wireless Multiplayer
The wireless adapter has the ability to connect five players to each other and includes its own software to download a subset of another player's game that runs when no cartridge is inserted. Pokémon Fire Red and Leaf Green came bundled with this accessory but it can also work with Pokémon Emerald and the Classic NES Series.
No emulator has currently implemented this add-on. The only project whose developers put this on its roadmap is mGBA.
The Game Boy Advance can also connect to the GameCube. e-Reader functionality with GC games has now been emulated thanks to mGBA. Dolphin supports connectivity through rudimentary joybus emulation made in parallel with VBA-M. Because this emulator has fallen behind, the feature was recently added to mGBA, a more accurate emulator. They showcased early higan support in a video, but nothing has been released as of yet.
Dolphin/mGBA or VBA-M
- Requires mGBA 0.9.0 or newer or VBA-M r947 or newer.
- Reduce your volume. You won't want it to be high, especially with headphones.
- Open Dolphin and mGBA/VBA-M. Make sure neither are blocked by your firmware.
- In Dolphin, launch the game and navigate to the area where you're asked to connect the GBA. Then, under the controller options, assign the GameCube controllers as "GBA" for whichever you need.
- In mGBA, open up the File menu, and click Connect to Dolphin. In the dialog box that appears, press Connect. mGBA will boot up the GBA BIOS if no rom has been selected.
- In VBA-M, uncheck Pause When Inactive in Options > Emulator. Then, under Options > Link > Joybus Options, Make sure to "Enable Joybus Connection" is on and set "IP/Hostname" to use default settings, that is
- Dolphin will freeze.
- Open the GBA BIOS in VBA-M as if it were a regular GBA ROM. The regular splash screen will stutter a bit.
- Dolphin should recognize the Joybus Link by then and the GC game will detect that a GBA was connected.
- To connect other units, open another VBA-M instance and repeat its process.
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 and the Giant Egg: 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: Battle (buggy)
Notable games that don't:
- Mr. Driller: Drill Land
- lots more
- Main section: Nintendo DS § GBA/DS Connectivity
- Main page: GBA e-Reader emulators
This device can read content off e-Card paper stripes either as standalone content, or additional content to GBA/GC games. Can be thought of as DLC.
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 Lunar IPS (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.
This feature has been emulated in mGBA, VBA-M, No$GBA 2.6 onwards, and My Boy!:
- mGBA: In the shortcuts editor, shortcuts can be configured to raise/lower the solar level incrementally or to set any particular brightness level.
- VBA-M: This emulator uses the keys of the lateral motion controls to change the Solar Sensor levels. You can find those keys and modify them in Options -> Input -> Configure... -> "Special" tab.
- No$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.
- My Boy! This emulator uses a button combination or the devices light sensor to check the brightness level. You can change this under Settings -> Input -> Cartridge Features -> "Solar Emulation By" menu.
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,
- Boktai 2: JP,
- 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.
VBA-M has an option for Motion controls "Input, Set, Motion". It currently works with all versions of the GBC title Kirby Tilt'n Tumble, which also was a special cartridge with a motion sensor built-in to control movement in-game. But VBA-M does not support motion controls for GBA games yet.
- 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.
- My Boy! uses the device's accelerometer to emulate this feature. You can change the sensitivity under Settings -> Input -> Cartridge Features -> "Motion sensitivity" menu.
Fixes applied directly to the ROM (with the Lunar IPS utility, or at runtime using mGBA or VBA-M and naming them the same as the ROM in the same directory) 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.
There are various rumble features found in GBA/GBC cards:
- GBC Rumble: GBC games which came on special cartridges with additional hardware for the rumble feature. It was actually used by dozens of releases, and some games like Tarzan 2 GBC were programmed to have rumble support but shipped on regular cartridges. Emulated by VBA-M GX (Wii-only), which also cover the dummied-out rumble games. Not emulated anywhere else.
- GBA Gyro Rumble: WarioWare Twisted was shipped on a cart with rumble support. It would rumble when you tilt to one "extreme". Emulated by VBA-M GX (Wii-only, functional), mGBA has this feature but it's not enabled in current builds,
- GBA Variable Rumble: Drill Dozer has rumble support, with variable force and speed depending on the rock type you drill through in-game. Partially emulated by VBA-M GX (Wii-only, functional), mGBA has this feature but it's not enabled in current builds.
- Game Boy Player Rumble: Many regular GBA games, shipped on regular cartridges, enable rumble during gameplay when played on GB Player hardware (which is essentially GBA hardware). These include Super Mario Advance 4, Summon Night Hajimari no Ishi, Mario & Luigi 1, Shikakui Atama wo Marukusuru Advance (both releases), Pokémon Pinball, as well as Drill Dozer which disables its original cartridge rumble scheme and enables this one instead. None of the emulators support this, though it's being under development for the mGBA emulator.
- 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.
An peripheral device by Capcom and Takara compatible with Mega Man Battle Network 4 (Japanese edition). It can be connected to the Game Boy Advance and allow the player to transmit real-life toy Battle Chips to the NetNavis in the game. It's also compatible with toy Advanced PETs and Rockman.EXE 4.5 Real Operation. It can also unlock minigames in Mega Man Zero 3.
- Glucoboy: An obscure medical peripheral designed to monitor a child's blood glucose levels and reward them for keeping tabs on their condition. No known emulator supports this so far, especially given the niche nature of this accessory. Not to mention that Bayer Healthcare destroyed all unsold stock making it hard to find.