Play GameBoy Advance games on Windows Phone 8 with VBA8

Sometimes it feels like there aren’t enough of certain game types on Windows Phone, such as RPGs and strategy games. Sure, we have a few of each to choose from, but it’s still slim pickings for the avid gamer. You know one portable platform that had an unabashedly great library? The GameBoy Advance, a color portable handheld console released back in the innocent year 2001.

Now ‘m.k’ – the developer of the Snes8x emulator, has brought the excellence of the GBA library to Windows Phone with a new emulator: VBA8. Like Snes8x before it, VBA8 uses the power of Windows Phone 8 (not 7) to accurately recreate a classic gaming experience.

GBA in your pocket

VBA8 comes with a free demo ROM (game image) called Bunny Advance that’s not good for much other than deleting in a hurry. To get more games, you’ll need to upload your own ROMs to SkyDrive, link your account to the emulator, and then individually download each game. Games can be renamed, deleted, and even pinned to the Start screen once they’re in your library.

The emulator’s main menu uses a vertical orientation, and games can be played from that perspective. Doing so makes the screen really tiny though, so I don’t recommend it. Flipping the phone horizontally is the optimum way to play.

The size and transparency of the virtual controls can be adjusted in the Settings menu outside of gameplay. The controls themselves don't look too hot, but looks aren’t such a big deal since they’re usually transparent anyway. During gameplay, tapping the edge of the screen brings up a menu that allows users to save and load at will or exit to the main menu.

VBA8 does a great job of recreating GameBoy Advance games on Windows Phone. I tested a variety of games, from platformers to beat-em-ups to RPGs. All ran at a great frame rate on my Lumia 920. I didn’t detect any graphical glitches, even during the 3D opening of Final Fantasy VI Advance. The actual sound is a bit scratchy though. The scratchiness didn’t hamper my experience, but it will be interesting to see whether the sound emulation improves over time.

Slippery fingers

The only major complaint I have with VBA8 involves its virtual d-pad. Reducing the d-pad’s size (which you might do to avoid obstructing your view) pulls it too close to the corner of the screen, making it all but unreachable. Regardless of size, move your finger anywhere past the edge of the d-pad and it won’t work. I often slid my thumb too far to the right and stopped moving, much to my chagrin. Hopefully the developer will add an option for repositioning the d-pad as well as extending its functional area a bit past the edge of the graphic.

Given the unpolished nature of the virtual controls, VBA8 is better suited for RPGs than action games at the moment. Thankfully there are tons of excellent GameBoy Advance RPGs out there: Final Fantasy IV-VI, Pokémon Emerald, Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga, Golden Sun, Fire Emblem, Tactics Ogre, Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, Lunar Legend, and many more.

GBA time!

The SNES lineup consists of older classics of the nineties, whereas the GBA lineup naturally consists of more technically impressive early 2000s-era games. Perhaps for that reason, VBA8 isn’t free (unlike Snes8x). It costs $2.99, but there is also a free demo with save states disabled. Windows Phone 8 users can grab VBA8 here at the Windows Phone Store.

Thanks to Joshua Jackson for the tip!


Paul Acevedo

Paul Acevedo is the Games Editor at Windows Central. A lifelong gamer, he has written about videogames for over 15 years and reviewed over 350 games for our site. Follow him on Twitter @PaulRAcevedo. Don’t hate. Appreciate!