Back in 2001, the Gameboy Advance (GBA) was introduced as the latest installment in Nintendo’s series of handheld gaming consoles. It was considered the successor to the original Gameboys, providing more processing power, a larger screen, and two shoulder buttons. Fortunately, there are ways to load up those GBA games without even needing a physical copy of the system. In this article, we have detailed a guide on how to play GBA games straight from an Android phone for free.
The GBA was home to some classics like Super Mario Bros 3, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2, and Pokemon Emerald. The handheld gaming industry has reached different levels recently, with reality-like graphics and ridiculous amounts of processing power. However, the nostalgia of heading back to the first games of our childhood just feels different. For many, the GBA was the host of some of these games.
How to play GBA games on Android for free
An emulator is just a bit of software that can virtually simulate another device. They are completely safe to download and can be found straight from the Google Play Store. On an Android device, the emulator will be nothing more than just another app.
Step 1: Download a GBA Emulator (My Boy!)
There are many emulators available which can emulate the GBA system. In this guide, we will be using the My Boy! Lite emulator, developed by Fast Emulator. The app has amassed over 10 million downloads and averaged a 4.1 rating at the time of writing, so we can assume this is a reliable app.
The emulator has two options – one is the free Lite version which is what we’ll be using for this guide. The other is a paid application and it comes with additional benefits such as no ads, multiple code lines for when using in-game cheats, options for quicker fast-forward, etc. For basic casual gaming, the free version has enough to offer a complete experience
Step 2: Download some GBA games
The emulator will not come pre-installed with games. We have to find and download these ourselves and websites are a good place to look. It is easy to get tangled with shady websites so make sure to only use those that are completely trustworthy. A trusted site for GBA games is EmulatorGames.net, they should have almost all the GBA games available. From a legal perspective, just ensure you own a physical copy of the game before obtaining a ROM file of that game.
For any emulator, the game files to download are called ROMs which stands for Read-Only-Memory. Put simply, an emulator ROM is just a digital copy of one of those physical game cartridges you would put into the console to play the game. Each GBA ROM has an average file size of a few megabytes, so storage space shouldn’t really be a worry.
Step 3: Extract and Organise the game files
When downloaded, the file will be in an archived format, so we need to extract the file first. To do this, first, download a file explorer app such as ZArchiver. Your device may already have one pre-installed as well. Navigate to the archived file on the file explorer, then select it and click the option to extract.
The file of interest is the one ending in “.gba“. This is what the emulator will identify and run as a game. It is a good idea to create a folder on your Android phone specifically for GBA games. This makes it easier to locate where GBA games are stored if needed later and keeps GBA games separated from other ROMs you might have for other emulators.
Step 4: Loading up the games
Now, open the “My Boy!” emulator downloaded from Step 1. The menu is quite basic and consists of a file navigator. Use this to locate the game file we extracted in Step 3. When using a folder for all GBA games, this step is easier since that folder can be automatically updated whenever a new game is added. Just click on the 3 dots in the top right corner and click refresh,
To load up a game, just click on the file that ends with “.gba” and the game should quickly load up by itself.
Step 5: Getting familiar with the controls and settings
The emulator offers on-screen controls to interact with the game, and they are fairly alright to work with. It’s possible to play the game in landscape and portrait, in the latter option, the top half of the screen will show the game, and the bottom will be the controls. If the on-screen controls are tricky to deal with, it’s also possible to connect a remote via Bluetooth as well.
There is a settings option that allows tweaking of various things such as video quality, audio, key mappings, and on-screen control layout. It’s better to leave the more technical features as they are to avoid making any drastic changes to the emulator functionality. This emulator also offers a save/load state feature, fast-forward, use of game-specific cheats, and linking of two local devices for game features like trading.
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