Nintendo’s GameBoy Advance had an extensive library of games, and almost all of them have aged well. If you are thinking of revisiting some of the old GBA titles, emulators provide an amazing experience that is both more improved and optimized than the original console. In this article, we go over the top five free GBA emulators available online.
What Are GBA Emulators?
GBA or Game Boy Advance was a 32-bit handheld console released in 2001 by Nintendo. Since the console has been discontinued, the only way to play those games is by using emulators, which are third-party programs. Emulators are software designed to simulate another device on a PC. You can also use GBA emulators on Android.
To play games on a GBA emulator, you must first possess a ROM file of the game you want to play, then load it onto the emulator. You can also map controls on the emulator for both keyboards and gamepads, then go on to relive all your favorite games on your PC without paying for the console or its games.
Let’s go over the five best GBA emulators found online.
If you are looking for a GameBoy emulator that does not require a BIOS to play games, the mGBA emulator will not disappoint. You do not need to go through a time-consuming installation: just launch it and load a ROM in either ZIP or 7z file format and enjoy all your favorite GBA titles.
The mGBA emulator can run on a wide list of platforms, specifically Windows, macOS, Linux, BSD, Nintendo 3DS, Nintendo Switch, Wii, and PlayStation Vita. Moreover, it also supports hardware like USB/Bluetooth controllers and keyboards, so if you have a DualShock 4 or an Xbox One controller lying around, you can pair it with your mGBA emulator to enjoy old Nintendo games.
It is one of the best emulators you can find for GameBoy Advance due to its lengthy list of features and perks. If you are using custom ROMs of GBA games, then you get many utilities that traditional consoles don’t provide.
One of the most important features is the ability to save games wherever you see fit, a feature that was not included in many games back in the early days of handheld gaming. In the older games, you could only save your games at certain locations within the game. However, mGBA allows you to save anywhere and anytime.
Furthermore, if you want to try a few cheat codes, mGBA gives you the ability to use them in selected games. This allows you to play your childhood games from a completely different point of view. Paired with the ability to save anywhere, it can turn each playthrough of your favorite games into a unique experience.
Aside from that, many of the previous GameBoy titles had some kind of underlying issue that somewhat ruined the experience. To mend those issues, the mGBA emulator allows you to enable custom ROM patches that fix the broken parts of those games. Overall, the mGBA emulator provides a well-rounded service for playing GBA titles.
VisualBoy Advance is the oldest emulator for the Game Boy Advance. It was released in the early 2000s but was soon discontinued. Recently, The more recent version is VisualBoyAdvance-M.
Even though VisualBoyAdvance-M is the most recent version of the VisualBoy Advance, it is still much older than all other emulators. The original VBA used to run on much older hardware and used to lag a lot due to compatibility issues, but the latest version has all those problems optimized with frequent updates and patches to the software.
The age of the software gives it a significant advantage of being able to run on any hardware, old or new, with ease and stability. Apart from being available on Windows, you can also run it on operating systems like Linux, macOS, AmigaOS 4, Wii, GameCube, AROS, webOS, etc. Its download size is a few megabytes and does not require any form of installation.
if you weren’t a fan of how the old GBA games used to look, VisualBoyAdvance-M allows you to tinker with the graphics settings by changing pixel filters, color saturation, and much more. You can adjust the brightness, contrast, hue, and other aspects of your game to make it look however you want.
Aside from that, you also get the ability to fast-forward your games with VisualBoyAdvance-M’s turbo mode. It increases the game speed, allowing you to run through tedious sections of the game without spending a lot of time in them. Similar to the mGBA emulator, VisualBoyAdvance-M also provides a flexible save state, so you can save and load your games from any place you want.
The BatGBA is perhaps the most straightforward and easy-to-use emulator on this list. It is designed to provide the original GameBoy experience on a PC and has a simple UI along with the original color scheme of GBA.
Apart from being simple, it’s also the most lightweight and compact, as it only takes up about 200 kilobytes of storage space. The best part is that it’s compatible with slightly outdated systems running Windows XP, despite being so compact.
However, compared to the mGBA emulator that had a wide list of features, BatGBA does not offer much. It has a small display size that mirrors how the original GBA typically ran on displays with much fewer pixels than the full HD screens we see today.
However, you can adjust the screen size by clicking on the “Window” tab. Despite its lack of pixels, it still runs on the standard 60 fps. All in all, if you want a compact, easy-to-run emulator that takes almost no space on your PC and runs all GBA games in an instant without straining your PC, the BatGBA is your best bet.
No$GBA is another free emulator that does not need any installation. Just download a compressed folder, extract the contents and run the No$GBA executable file to run it.
The method of loading a game onto the emulator is much different from all the other emulators. You have to manually go to the ROM file of your game and set No$GBA as the default app to launch that file, so playing a game on No$GBA can be slightly challenging if you don’t know this trick.
However, the best part of No$GBA is that it can also run Nintendo DS games. Not only that, but No$GBA also has gamepad support and straightforward controls with options to customize them according to your preferences.
In attempts to make this emulator look realistic, the default colors of the display have been set to appear a tad bit duller. In that regard, it remains authentic to the original GameBoy Advance console that we all know.
If you are looking for the vintage GBA feel, the No$GBA is a great emulator that can run a wide range of games. However, if you want a more color-corrected version of the GBA, be sure to check out the other entries on this list.
higan is a modern, advanced emulator made for gamers who like to have complete control over the games they are playing, even if they are more than a decade old.
Even though it does a great job running GBA games in Windows, higan is not limited to just that. It can also emulate games from a bunch of different vintage consoles like Famicom, Super Famicom, Sega Master System, Gameboy Color, Mega Drive, and even Game Gear.
Whichever console you want to emulate, you must first download the BIOS ROM for that particular console and run it from within the emulator software. Then you would load your games in “cartridges” from in the higan emulator by importing the ROM files onto it.
This whole process of setting it all up is quite hectic. This is why this emulator is more suitable for users who like to get into the nitty-gritty of the software and are used to handling complicated procedures.
However, once the games are loaded, they are saved in the emulator’s directory itself, and you do not need to import them ever again, which is one of the many nifty features it offers. It also has a complete button-mapping feature to use whatever controls you like on your keyboard or gamepad.
Apart from the main features, it also has many tiny perks like save states, pixel shaders, debuggers, adaptive sync, color correction, and much more. If you like to play around with all the controls and options when you are gaming, you may find the Higan emulator worth your time.
However, it is worth mentioning that higan does not handle in-game sounds very well. The audio is slightly muddy and distorted in comparison to other emulators, which may come as a slight drawback.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Are GBA emulators legal?
Yes, GBA emulators or any other emulators are completely legal to download on your PC. Even though Nintendo sells its console at an MSRP, the free emulators available online are permitted to be downloaded by Nintendo.
This is because emulators serve as a critical tool for game developers, allowing developers to create games from a computer. This is why there is no restriction whatsoever on downloading console emulators online. Just make sure that the emulator you download works properly and is well-suited to your personal needs.
2. Do I need a high-end PC to run a GBA emulator?
The GameBoy Advance console was released back in the early 2000s. Therefore, all the games used to run on much older and slower hardware, so as long as your PC is from the 21st century, you should have absolutely no problems whatsoever running a GBA emulator.
3. What features should I look for in a GBA emulator?
Even though most GBA emulators are alike, some options offer additional features that make it more accessible for newer audiences to enjoy old GBA titles. Look for features such as fast forwarding, save and load states, pixel filters, and color correction, as they give you full control over your gaming experience.
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