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 menu

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

VBA8 Final Fantasy and Double Dragon

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!

VBA8 Pokemon and Final Fight

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!




There are 93 comments. Sign in to comment

AriesDog says:

Too close to piracy for my taste.

Sergio0694 says:

Oh, please...

Piro.Garay says:

So you're saying it's not piracy???

Paul Acevedo says:

Let's drop the piracy discussion now, guys. If you're not interested in emulation, just move along.

mmali386 says:

As long as you have a copy of the game in question, then its not considered piracy.

sholokov says:

Babies everywhere!

Chill510 says:

For real...people there's not enough games...now we have a developer giving us more options and people are complaining. If you don't like cookies, then keep your hand out of the jar and keep moving. I for one love me some cookies. I hope the next emulator is N64. Keep it coming.

pookiewood says:

I love cookies as well but I'm really hoping for a Genesis Emulator. I want to play Beyond Oasis on the go.

schandlich says:

I feel grrrrreat.

Morq says:

It is legal as long as you have original version fo the game. Don't overgeneralize over what is or is not legal.

ListenUpGuys says:

Ha, I was just thinking how much it annoyes me when people say this. 
Emulation is no different to ripping a track of a CD and playing it on something else.
But you think that the thousands I spent on game cartridges should be written off, and I should have to buy them all again to use on modern hardware? Thanks but I'm with the law on this one: Emulation is fine so long as you bought the games.
Not convinced? Then go buy all your CDs again as MP3s please. And tell your friends to.

tylerh1701 says:

I actually agree with you, I'm not a big fan of emulation.  Surprised so many here are defending it is fervently.

Ali Farooqui says:

I think emulation is a blessing. Who doesn't want to play Pokemon emerald on a larger screen? I have literally every copy of Pokemon but I lost my GBA a few years ago. I don't think I'm stealing. If there was a slot for the cartridge in my 820, I'd  use it.

Pete Almanza says:

SNES emulator and now a GBA one. This is truly glorious. 

Maker of Purple Cherry GameBoy Color emulator is also working on with GBA emulator. And as beta tester of it, I must say it's much better than this.

WPSteve says:

Any idea on released time frame?

mrshamoozoo says:

any eta? love purple cherry to death

I'd like to know, too. Purple Cherry is really good.


Probably a stupid question, but it will be available for WP7 as well as WP8? The latter platform seems to be getting all the goodies recently. (Except for stupid broken Xbox Music)

Paul Acevedo says:

WP8 is way more powerful and has more direct access to the hardware, so it's capable of a lot more emulation-wise.

ChazTyldsley says:

In what way is it better?

expectafight says:

Maker of Purple Cherry GameBoy Color emulator is also working on with GBA emulator. And as beta tester of it, I must say it's much better than this.

Be that as it may, if he doesn't release it anytime soon, I'm going to download this.  Mario Kart will not wait.

DonnieV says:

how can one be a beta tester for this? I love my purple cherry gbc emulator!

Ali Farooqui says:

I want to be a beta tester. Please explain how I can apply?

Big Supes says:

Please someone release a Amiga 500 emulator. Me love you long time.

Rockartisten says:

Sorry if I possibly missed it in the article, but it is also available for Windows 8. Bunny Advance is awesome...hehe!

jsnod25 says:

Then you missed the entire article, as its only available for WP8

Honkie McGee says:

It wasn't mentioned in the article, but there is a Windows 8/RT version.  I just installed the trial on my Surface.

Sarang68 says:

Getting parse error while trying to download

mblanco7 says:

I am as well I haven't tried to download the she's emulator, does any any have advice of the best place for roms, that's what's holding me back really with these emulators

agm353 says:

Just Bing it.

skullbucket says:

On Bing just search roms. Not including the ad links you'll want to go to the 5th result. Starts with an e. Best site to get them.

Where can you find the games to upload to SkyDrive

l_n says:

There are plenty of sites that aggregate ROM sources. Finding them is an exercise left to the reader.

1. Download from a roms site.
2. Put in a folder in your SkyDrive named ROMS (if you don't have one, then you should just make one)
3. Go to the app
4. Press "Import ROM"
5. Go to the ROM folder
6. Download game to phone
7. Go to Main Menu
8. Pick game
9. Enjoy

Did this and the rom isn't showing up when I try to import a Pokemon emerald rom, basically did the same thing thing on purple cherry and it worked. I don't know what's up...lumia 920

Keefo says:

Im currently uploading my Roms to have not tried it out yet, but could it be that it does not support ZIP files?
Have you tried uploading roms out of the zip yet?

Paul Acevedo says:

I don't think it supports zipped ROMs.

Yea it has to be the zipped files but you can't upload the files in the zipped file over to skydrive, at least the ROMs.

iamoniwaban says:

I tried to download. But can't.

ChazTyldsley says:

Search in the store, QR code doesn't seem to be working for me.

Quin452 says:

I got a little bit too excited then - though FF6 was on WP8 :-( (legit)

ChazTyldsley says:

Amazing. Now all we need is a SEGA Genesis emulator and I will be 100% happy with getting my gaming fix from the platform.

oldpueblo says:

I've basically given up on any kind of serious gaming on Windows Phone because you can't backup/sync saved games.  It seems like hard-resetting or swapping a device still just happens a bit too often for me to want to invest the time in a game only to lose it 6 months later.  This makes me sad.

skullbucket says:

You can back up save states to SkyDrive with most of the emulators.


I hate to admit it but gaming is WAY easier on any other platform (except BB10), due to local storage and a very usable cloud database for your installed apps. Also, data can also be stored on the cloud unlike WP, where save data is local only.

instantcoffe says:

So the option to export your savegames to your skydrive account is not what you're asking? It works on SNES8X and on this new GBA emulator too. Xbox live games though, nothing yet.

aboodesta says:

make this available for purchase world wide please... cant find it in the UAE store. 

BRIZCorp says:

We need a Sega Genesis emulator asap! And if windows phone 8 is powerful enough, get that PSX emulator running :D

skullbucket says:

Psx would be amazing but I think it would be to cumbersome with all of those buttons on screen. And playing something like armored core would be next to impossible.

Fpsece (psx emulator for windows mobile) was great. I never had problems with the on-screen controls.
Although, it saddens me that we've gone away from hardware buttons. On-screen will never outperform them.

The creator of these emulators is doing WP users a great favor. I don't mind that he is charging money for this because his snes emulator is great, so its time for him to make his money. I think I will appreciate this one more tha. Snes one because there are less buttons to use than the snes one,so it will be easier game play.

How about a PSP emulator lol since Sony dnt wanna make a windows phone

This is good news but I find the virtual controls too hard to use, even on the fairly large screen of the 820. Of course, we cannot blame the emulator designers for this. Like you folks have mentioned, best suited for RPGs

jhoff80 says:

For what it's worth, I'm pretty sure he's not charging for this only because it's newer, but instead he's now charging for all of them. SNES8X isn't free anymore either on Windows 8, and I suspect the WP price will change soon as well.

Ticomfreak says:

With so many emulators in the store, I'm surprised no one has tried an Android emulator...

rfrapp says:

If you go to the store, you'll find the app. The link on here just doesn't work.

cadwr says:

Paul, have you tried turning on Synchronize Audio in the settings? That got rid of the audio scratchiness for me.

Paul Acevedo says:

Ah, I will do that. Thanks.

ladydias says:

Ooooh, is that FFVI?!

How do you download ROMS??

gcdc_lumia says:

7.8 users left out again. :( ughhh.... i want to play pokemon and FF

jhoff80 says:

It's because this would have to be coded in XNA to run on the older phones, which it most definitely is not.

1. Download from a roms site.
2. Put in a folder in your SkyDrive named ROMS (if you don't have one, then you should just make one)
3. Go to the app
4. Press "Import ROM"
5. Go to the ROM folder
6. Download game to phone
7. Go to Main Menu
8. Pick game
9. Enjoy

AskaLangly says:

I'd start emulating on WP once I get a physical QWERTY, kthx.

MetroChef27 says:

Lets just appreciate the awesomeness of this!!

stumlad says:

I really like the idea of emulation on my phone.  The problem I have is the touch controls.  Is there any sort of bluetooth controller support?  The other problem is that  every once in a while  i'll hit one of the capacative buttons.  They've got some BT controllers that can sit on a keychain.. anything is better than touch controls..

Paul Acevedo says:

No Bluetooth controller support yet, but I uspect we;ll get that in a future OS update like WP 8.5 or WP9.

Touch controls are less than ideal, but you do get used to them with enough practice. Plus, some games (like the RPGs I list in the article) don't require precision controls, and those are pretty much the same with or without physical buttons.

Murgatroyd7 says:

Boo, I wanna be a mobile pirate too!

Paul Acevedo says:

I'm sure I asked for the piracy discussion to stop.... So stop it. :P

supadryz says:

Nice! Shame i would never use it.  So not worth wasting my pennys.

Keefo says:

woooo couldnt be more happy with this!
I noticed a slight problem though, when I tried to import a ROM on the trial, it told me I needed to buy, which I knew, so I pressed "buy now", and it took me to his SNES smulator instead!
Obviously not a major problem, but something that needs to be fixed

ChazTyldsley says:

That happens here too haha! I'm assuming he copy and pasted the code and forgot to change where it points to.

schandlich says:

Jeez this thing is a power hog. My charger couldn't keep up.

As bad as the onscreen controls are for platformers, they work just fine for the NUMEROUS amazing RPG's and strategy games on the system. Hello Fire Emblem and Advance Wars!

Tim Sell says:

Link doesn't work for me?

Paul Acevedo says:

Sorry about that. Fixed!

Josh Hembree says:

Does anyone else notice the mudiness/yellowish tint to this emulation? after seing my friends S3 emulate, and my old iPhone 4, this one has what looks like terrible smoothing, and dirty colors, I hope to see a better emulater, i THANK that he made it, and gave him my money already, but if there is a better option, I will definitely buy it.

Paul Acevedo says:

Hmm, I hadn't noticed that. Guess I'd need to compare shots from a different emulator to see it. I do look forward to the upcoming emulator from Sam Blanchard though, as it never hurts to have some competition.

Love it so far, but it could definitely use haptic feedback on the buttons. 

How do you save the game you are playing?

Paul Acevedo says:

This is in the article already. Press the back button during gameplay and choose to use a save state.

Thanks, I tried that a couple times and it worked. I just needed to run the emulator more than once to get it working.

GundamMan001 says:

Pretty good emulator, sucks that you gotta buy the full version so you can use gameshark codes

Talena Floyd says:

Hi! I will have to send my cellphone to technical support center soon so they can fix some problems and they will probably format it. How can I make a back up for the saved game files? I mean, is the saved game file usually stored in the memory stick or in the phone memory? Thanks!

Paul Acevedo says:

You can upload save files to SkyDrive via the emulator's UI. Do that to protect your saves.

Talena Floyd says:

Thank you, I hadn't notice that option! pretty useful, great app! 

bluedevilsDC says:

How can I add roms to my surface? I tried saving them to skydrive but it wouldnt upload to vba.