Game Boy Advance emulators

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The Game Boy 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
mGBA Multi-platform 0.5.2
Visual Boy Advance-M (VBA-M) Multi-platform GitHub SVN
higan Windows, OS X, Linux 0.102
iDeaS Windows, Linux
GBE+ Multi-platform GitHub
MAME Multi-platform 0.181 ?
Meteor Linux 1.4
No$GBA Windows, MS-DOS 2.8d
Name Operating System(s) Latest Version GB/GBC GBA NDS Game Link Support Libretro Core Recommended
VBA8 Windows Phone 8/8.1 2.27 ?
VBA10 Windows 10/Mobile 1.22 ?
Name Operating System(s) Latest Version GB/GBC GBA NDS Game Link Support Libretro Core Recommended
VBA GX Wii, Gamecube 2.3.2 ✓ (as VBA-Next)
TempGBA4PSP PlayStation Portable 26750221
gpSP PlayStation Portable 0.9


  • 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.
  • Visual Boy Advance-M (VBA-M) is a fork of VBA with additional improvements. It is not updated as often these days and is falling behind in terms of accuracy and performance compared to mGBA.
    • RetroArch's VBA-Next is based off an older revision of VBA-M with added speedhacks and tweaks, making it useful for lower-end devices. It is a bit less accurate in some respects, though it fixes a few games such as Advance Wars 2.
  • 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.
  • higan's GBA core is cycle-accurate, but up to v094 it was very much a WIP and not as compatible as VBA-M or mGBA. v095 made amazing strides, resulting in compatibility on par with mGBA.

NOTE: There's a huge vulnerability in the original VBA emulator (and most of its forks bar VBA-M) that could be used to run malware, similarly to ZSNES with malformed ROM files, but this time with cheat code files. The option under "Import > Gameshark code file" doesn't check if the cheat code file size is within 1024Kb, and this oversight can lead to parts of the file being exploited to run arbitrary code (which can be malware) if your cheat code file was tampered with to allow so, or you got it online from dubious sources. Fortunately, while VBA-M (the current actively developed fork based off VBA) still doesn't do sanity checks for those files, it just crashes immediately instead of the code running havoc. So, either:

  1. Avoid importing cheat code files bigger than 1024Kb you got online from untrustworthy sources
  2. Avoid using the Import GameShark code file feature
  3. Avoid using the old VisualBoyAdvance altogether, and settle for other options like mGBA and VBA-M. SRAM save files are compatible between all of them.

Emulation issues[edit]


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

The original GBA screen was not backlit, so the screen would appear to be rather dark. To compensate for this, games would have very saturated and bright colors. The bright, overly saturated colors would appear rather normal on the GBA. In emulation, however, the appearance of these colors are undesirable. 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 desaturation

- GBA SP (backlight) = strong desaturation

- Nintendo DS in GBA mode = some desaturation

- VGA Mode (poppy bright): no desaturation


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

- "Real Colors": no desaturation

- "Gameboy Colors": strong desaturation


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.


There are Cg shaders which can be used in OpenEmu or RetroArch that adjust the colors to those of a real GBA screen, as well as other screen types.

For GBA, there is[1], 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[2] instead.

There is also[3] and[4], which simulates the color profiles of the original Nintendo DS frontlit screen and the PSP-1000/PSP-2000 backlit screen, respectively.

Save file issues[edit]

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)[edit]

  • 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.

  • VBA Link + e-Reader

A combined version of VBA Link and VBA e-Reader is useful if you want to use the Pokémon Battle-e Cards. Downloads and instructions reside here.

  • mGBA

While running mGBA, 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.

  • 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[edit]

The GBA unit can connect to a GameCube.

Dolphin and VBA-M[edit]

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
  • Any Pokémon game
  • 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[edit]

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[edit]

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[edit]

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.

Solar Sensor[edit]


This feature has been emulated in mGBA, VBA-M and no$gba 2.6 onwards:

  • 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.

ROM Patches[edit]

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[edit]

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.

ROM Patches[edit]

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.

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

Rumble Feature[edit]

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 ingame. 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 Readers[edit]

  • 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.

Other Add-ons[edit]

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.