Table of contents:
1) Top Ten Game Boy Games
2) Analysis of Game Boy and its competitors
3) Top Five Game Boy Color Games
4) Analysis of Game Boy Color and its competitors
5) A note on the Virtual Boy
The top ten Game Boy games with, as usual, an emphasis on variety. Some rules and regulations: for this list I am NOT pretending that the Game Boy exists in a vacuum. I will be assuming that anyone involved will have access to an NES or Super NES or emulator, whatever. So this list is not interested in scaled-down versions of games you can already play on a more powerful system. This list primarily concerns itself with handheld exclusives. Another note: if you’ve dealt with Game Boy Color games you know that some of the cartridges are clear and some have a black casing. The black ones work in the original Game Boy so they’re eligible for this list.
#10 OPERATION C (Konami): The title may be confusing but this is a Contra game. It feels a lot like the NES Contra games and that’s a good thing. This is one of the relatively few 3rd party games from established series that feels like a real member of its series and is also not just a port of a previous game. So, do you like Contra on NES? Then you’ll almost certainly like this one.
#9 TETRIS (Nintendo/Bulletproof Software): This was the most widely distributed Game Boy cartridge due to its being the pack-in title for several years. It’s simple and straightforward but strangely addicting. There have been literally dozens of remakes and reinterpretations by several publishers over the years but none are as captivating as the original.
#8 KID ICARUS: OF MYTHS AND MONSTERS (Nintendo): Like Operation C, this plays almost exactly like Kid Icarus on NES but it’s a new adventure. Like the original, it follows a format of 3 side- or vertical-scrolling action levels followed by a labyrinthine dungeon/castle. The final level is not for the faint of heart. Or maybe I just suck at it.
#7 METRIOD II: RETURN OF SAMUS (Nintendo): I remember this being a highly promoted game at its release. With an actual number in the title fans couldn’t ignore this game as a side-story or retread. This was undoubtedly a true blue sequel that Metroid fans were required to care about. Unlike Operation C or Kid Icarus, this game actually offers variations and new ideas when compared to its predecessor. Many of the mysterious exploration elements are reduced, replaced with an emphasis on finding, and destroying, a certain number of runaway Metroids. With the absence of mind-numbing numbness, the final product may be better than the original.
#6 GARGOYLE’S QUEST (Capcom): The title screen adds the subtitle “Ghosts ‘n Goblins” to make sure you know this is a spin-off of that venerable series. In this game you play as Red Arremer, the same flying asshole that plagues the hero of the Ghosts n’ Goblins series. Apparently, the Monster Realm is being invaded by . . . other monsters. The gameplay is features RPG style upgrades and ability-management and Zelda-ish wandering around but always with a clear purpose.
#5 SUPER MARIO LAND 2: 6 GOLDEN COINS (Nintendo): Even a dumb kid like me can feel that this game was not made by the same team that made the NES Mario games. In the end it doesn’t matter as Mario Land 2 develops an identity of its own, with new power-ups, enemies and cool themed levels (like floating in space). This game also featured Wario in his first appearance, serving as the final boss.
#4 WARIO LAND II (Nintendo): This is the only “black cartridge” Game Boy Color game on this list. If you ever wondered what would happen if you combined Super Mario and Metroid this is what you get. There’s a whole lot of hopping and bopping and also a whole lot of exploration and puzzle-solving. It’s surprising how well it all works.
#3 THE LEGEND OF ZELDA: LINK’S AWAKENING (Nintendo): Another hyped, true sequel for the Game Boy, made by all the same fellas that made the SNES predecessor. If you enjoyed “A Link to the Past” on SNES then you should definitely track down this cart. It has all of the dungeons, action and puzzles that you could hope for.
#2 MOLE MANIA (Nintendo): A forgotten game but a great one. You play as a mole, having set out to rescue your family from an evil farmer. It’s basically a puzzle action game utilizing a mole’s ability to dig and to throw stuff at bad guys. As the game progresses, the worlds become huge. It’s actually a bit like Zelda but without the item management.
#1 DONKEY KONG (Nintendo): The first four levels are adapted from the arcade original but after that it’s over NINETY new levels of awesome Kong action. Mario can do quite a bit in this game. He can throw enemies a la SMB2. He can do backflips and triple jumps a la SM64. He can even swing on wires a la . . . no other game. You should play it.
Honorable mention: Bonk’s Adventure, Bonk’s Revenge, Double Dragon II, Kirby’s Dream Land, Super Mario Land, Wario Land
Notable Game Boy games I haven’t played yet: Bionic Commando, New Dig Dug, Bubble Bobble Classic, Final Fantasy Adventure, Mega Mans, Tetris 2, Rolan’s Curse
Notable Game Boy games I haven’t played yet:
Throughout the 1980s, Nintendo released a long series of self-contained LCD screen games as part of the Game & Watch series. The creator of this series, Gunpei Yokoi, designed the Game Boy as the next logical step in the progression: a cartridge-based, handheld system. The technical limitations of the system are immediately obvious – the screen is a puke-greenish black and white and the speaker is ridiculous. These apparent liabilities actually proved to be very wise decisions that contributed to an impressively long career for the original Game Boy, which went on to sell 80 million units.
The black and white, non-backlit screen made the Game Boy battery efficient. Those that could tolerate the screen were able to do so for many hours. The technically-superior competition that closely followed the Game Boy couldn’t come close in the area of battery life or unit price, for that matter.
Most 3rd party publishers treated the Game Boy like a joke for most of its lifespan. Some games were legitimately good entries in their series or original games. Many others were just half-assed attempts to cash in on a proven series (Castlevania) or just adequate but uinspired ports of games already available on NES (Double Dragon, Adventure Island). Another route, falling somewhere in-between, were the games that felt like remixed versions of existing games; not quite new but also not just ports of old games (this category includes the Mega Man games and Kid Icarus).
The original Game Boy was available from 1989 until 1998, a very healthy lifespan.
AND THE COMPETITORS?
Atari was the first to enter the fray with an oversized, full-color system. It was a real battery muncher, making it completely impractical for a portable machine. Kinda dumb considering it’s meant to be a . . . portable machine. The library is full of crap ports of existing games. Nintendo released a lot of great original games for Game Boy but Atari seemed to treat the Lynx as simply an alternative for when you can’t get ahold of a TV-based console to play. It sucks!
This is a system that should have been great but didn’t deliver in any way. Like the Lynx, the vast majority of the Game Gear library is available in either superior form on Genesis or identical form on Master System. So what’s the point? The Game Gear was even more of a battery muncher than the Lynx. Even with all of it’s limitations, the Game Gear could be considered a mild market success, moving about 9 million units.
This was actually a portable version of the TurboGrafx-16 but without the CD functionality or the ability to save. No save? Ugh. This was a very expensive system at release and predictably went nowhere. Also a battery muncher. Foolish.
Top 5? Why not Top Ten? Well, because I haven’t played very many Game Boy Color games, that’s why. And you can’t blame me. The system’s library, while huge, is mostly garbage. This should be called “the system that crappy, licensed games built”. The whole damn library is SpongeBob and Power Puff girls. Also, I count the black cartridges as Game Boy Original games so they’re ineligible for this list. All right, let’s get on with it.
#5 METAL GEAR SOLID (Konami): This title was merely a cash-in on the part of Konami of America. In other regions it was more appropriately titled Metal Gear: Ghost Babel. So, no, it’s not just a remake of the PlayStation Metal Gear Solid. And it’s also not nearly as good as the PlayStation game, either. Still, it’s pretty deep and full of puzzling moments, punctuated occasionally by fun boss fights. Unlike the previously released Metal Gear games, this one is mission-based, so the free-roaming aspect is gone.
#4 SUPER MARIO BROS. DELUXE (Nintendo): Yes, this is a port/re-release of the original Super Mario Bros. but it doesn’t stop there. The reason why I’m allowing this game on the list is because of the awesome and new “You vs. Boo” mode. This mode consists of 8 brand new levels in which you race a Boo (previously introduced in SMB3). Each level has four different difficulty levels which can only be unlocked by kicking Boo’s ass. Completely clearing this mode takes HOURS. It’s always intense and frenetic. I loved it but probably only SMB pervs like me would feel the same.
#3 WARIO LAND 3 (Nintendo): This game re-uses the engine from Wario Land II but this game is twice as long and has twice as much exploration and puzzle-solving, complemented by all the jumping on bad guys you can handle.
#2 & #1 THE LEGEND OF ZELDA: ORACLE OF AGES (Nintendo/Capcom) & THE LEGEND OF ZELDA: ORACLE OF SEASONS (Nintendo/Capcom): These separately released cartridges are like “Use Your Illusion” I & II by Guns n’ Roses – they’re complete works on their own but combine to make a greater product. When you beat one of the games, you’re given a password to use at the beginning of the other. After beating the 2nd game, if you used that password, a whole new dungeon is opened, featuring the true evil mastermind boss behind the madness in both games. The Oracles re-use the engine from “Link’s Awakening” but introduce elements introduced in “Ocarina of Time” on N64. Strangely, Nintendo handed this project off to be created by Capcom, a trend Nintendo has utilized with other 3rd party publishers throughout the decade.
Notable Game Boy Color games I haven’t played yet: Bionic Commando, Blaster Master, Kirby Tilt n Tumble, Mickey’s Racing Adventure, Shantae, Survival Kids, Toki Tori
As I mentioned before, the GBC library is large but drab. That didn’t stop it from selling, though, as it moved about 40 million units over 4 years. Like the GB Original, the GBC was energy efficient, making it a PRACTICAL PORTABLE DEVICE. However, the upgrade from Game Boy to Game Boy Color was really quite minor and, considering how old Game Boy was, totally underwhelming. Indeed, many sources and sometimes Nintendo themselves seem to regard GB and GBC as the same machine. Because there are cartridges that will only work on GBC and not GB I feel the distinction must be made but only barely. It’s not surprising that Nintendo released the much more impressive Game Boy Advance only three years after the GBC.
AND THE COMPETITORS?
After the Game Gear released in 1990, there was a long span before any new systems hit the market. After the Game Gear fizzled out, the Game Boy ran almost unopposed for half a decade. Here’s what the “competitors” offered.
Released in 1996 exclusively at Toys R’ Us, this was a handheld version of the Genesis and used that system’s cartridges as its media input. Apparently, SEGA learned nothing from the Game Gear and this system is even MORE of a battery muncher. Ugh. Completely impractical as a portable system. Predictably, it completely crashed and burned.
Remember Tiger? They made those handheld LCD games? They decided to release their own portable system in 1997. No one noticed or cared. Like the Game Boy, the screen is black and white and the system is energy efficient. Unfortunately, the library is very small and notoriously crappy. Of interest was the inclusion of a stylus and touch-screen functions. OMG Nintendo ripped them off!
Originally released in 1998, its initial performance was so weak that SNK re-issued the system with color capabilities and renamed it NeoGeo Pocket Color. This 2nd version was released in the U.S. where it failed to make an impact. This machine is really not garbage and actually has several solid games for it. There are several games I have yet to play for it but it might have even been a better system than the old GBC.
Originally released in 1999. Just like the NeoGeo Pocket, Bandai released a color version only a year after release. This system was released in Japan only and many of the games are language-intensive, restricting my ability to play most of them. Bandai was always a crappy game publisher so one wouldn’t expect much from this system except for a couple of key factors: 1) The system was designed by Gunpei Yokoi, designer of the original Game Boy and 2) Bandai actually signed up 3rd party publishers that were pissed at Nintendo, like good ol’ Square Enix. Still, in my estimation, unless you speak Japanese it’s probably not worth it to buy this system. The WonderSwan actually moved a few million units – perhaps a modest mark but much better than Lynx, Nomad, Game.com or NeoGeo Pocket.
In 1995, Nintendo released the Virtual Boy, an attempt to cash in on the VIRTUAL REALITY craze. The system is basically a gigantic Viewmaster. You put your eyes up against the view area and look upon a 3D world of . . . red . . . on a black background. Yeah, there are some interesting capabilities but it can be pretty difficult to look past all that red on black. In fact, it can be downright depressing. Putting ‘Boy’ in the machine’s name was an obvious attempt to associate it with the Game Boy and technically the system is portable but it sure ain’t a handheld. The main console is as large as several Game Boys and there’s a stand plus a controller and cable. Impressively, the Virtual Boy is energy efficient. Easily the biggest strike against Virtual Boy is its library and this is all Nintendo’s fault. Only THIRTEEN GAMES were released in the United States. Another ten or so hit stores in Japan. There’s really no excuse for that. Imagine if you paid full price for this system and only ended up with 13 available games for it. Several of these games are crap, too. The main standout game for the system is ‘Virtual Boy Wario Land’, which I happen to enjoy quite a bit. But should you track down a Virtual Boy to play this game? No. Should you use a Virtual Boy just once to see what it’s like? YEP.