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Feature: Ten Must Play Titles on the Game Boy

Posted by Thomas Whitehead

25 years young

In this past week the venerable Game Boy celebrated its 25th Anniversary in North America, which means we've had a quarter century of monochrome gaming goodness. The iconic system established Nintendo's leadership of the dedicated gaming handheld market, a position it still holds in the 3DS generation.

It's not just nostalgia that prompts praise for the Game Boy, however, but the fact that a number of games on the title are still a lot of fun to play. Developers had an ability to make the most of the limited capabilities of the hardware, and excellent design really led the way. There are still chances to play these games, of course; some are on the 3DS Virtual Console, while acquiring an original Game Boy and some games can be a relatively affordable hobby.

With that in mind, below are ten games we've picked out as must play titles on the Game Boy; this is not a 'top ten', but these immediately sprung to mind as those we'd suggest for gamers keen to see what the system is all about. They're all games typically of their time and, in their own ways, show what made the Game Boy so special; they're all for the original Game Boy, to be clear, not counting those developed for subsequent models.


Although the first 2D Mario platformer on the Game Boy was excellent, this really was a notable step up, introducing more content, mini-games and power-ups all with an identity and style relatively unique from its home console brethren. It's a terrific example of what makes some Game Boy titles special. Available on the 3DS Virtual Console, here's our review.

The game that started it all, bundled with the system and a title that can certainly be credited with a major contribution to the outstanding success of the system. Some will still argue that this remains the best version of the ongoing series due to its simplicity and that music; most would agree it's still a blast on the Game Boy. Available on the 3DS Virtual Console, here's our review.

If the first title in this franchise on Game Boy was arguably a poor effort, this sequel righted those wrongs. It has tight gameplay, clever level design and a soundtrack that has to be considered one of the very best on the system; a testament to the skills of its development team. Available on the 3DS Virtual console, here's our review.

Same publisher, similar ideas, much different experience. Konami released some parodies of its own titles, and this riffs on Castlevania, as you might expect. That doesn't make it second tier, by any stretch, as this has excellent controls, some impressive visual effects and — again — a fantastic soundtrack to enhance it all; this can be tough to find, but is a gem.

This had to be on the list, as it was a release that launched an ongoing phenomenon and, arguably, gave the ageing Game Boy a vital kickstart just as it was slowing down. These games changed everything, in that respect, and considering the remarkably late arrival on the original system rapidly moved onto its Color successor and beyond. Many may have experienced this with some Color added in, but it was a good-old Game Boy monochrome release — check out our review.

The Contra series — though known here in its Operation C / Probotector (EU) guise — has sadly died away, with Konami doing little with the franchise recently; ironic in an era when guns and shooting are so prominent in gaming. The franchise, particularly on NES and SNES, is a definitive part of early '90s gaming for some, and this portable entry does an excellent job of converting that experience to the much smaller screen. You run, you gun, and that's just fine — not on the eShop, sadly, but you can still check out our review.

We're not talking about the admittedly lovely DX version, which is on the 3DS eShop, but the original that arrived a full five years earlier. It shouldn't be underestimated just how good this game is, especially as it was the first Zelda title on a portable system; it's a classic adventure that stands up today, which some will argue is the greatest gaming achievement on the Game Boy. You can check out our review of this original right here.

This starts off as a remake of the NES port of the arcade, which naturally leads you to expect a short adventure; then something happens — it keeps going, and going. This is a lengthy, robust, fun, terrific puzzle platformer with interesting power-ups and mechanics, and like some other on this list rocks an awesome soundtrack. _Available on the 3DS Virtual Console, here's our review.

While the earlier Mega Man series titles on the Game Boy simply aimed to recreate NES titles on the more limited hardware, with minor tweaks, this was different. It did have some content from its NES contemporary, but the development team went all out to innovate and introduce various features that were — at the time — unique for the series. It's not only ambitious, but brilliantly constructed, and certainly the stand-out Mega Man game on the system. _Available on the 3DS Virtual Console in North America, here's our review.

Before Keanu Reaves was an action movie star and unwilling meme victim, he was one half of this goofy partnership in films that made 'dude' a cool word for roughly 30 seconds. They were innocent times, and this simple platformer — spinning off both movies — is actually pretty darn good. It's not an absolute classic, but if you want a slice of nostalgic Western culture from the Game Boy era, this is very much of its time. Not yet on the eShop, but you can still check out our review.


There you have it, ten games that — in some cases — aren't even the 'best' on the system, but all provide a glimpse into what makes the Game Boy special. Let us know which of the ten is your favourite in the poll below, and share your own choices in the comments.

Which of our list is your biggest 'must play' Game Boy title? (430 votes)

Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins

12%

Tetris

8%

Castlevania II: Belmont's Revenge

  3%

Kid Dracula

  3%

Pokémon Red and Blue

28%

Operation C / Probotector

  1%

The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening

34%

Donkey Kong

8%

Mega Man IV

  1%

Bill & Ted's Excellent Game Boy Adventure

  2%

Please login to vote in this poll.

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User Comments (93)

Jazzer94

#1

Jazzer94 said:

Wario Land 2>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins

King47

#2

King47 said:

Link's awakening, 6 coins, Tetris, and Pokemon were amazing. I love the gameboy.

Link's awakening is my favorite Zelda and my second favorite game is all time.

Rargh

#3

Rargh said:

I keep hearing good things about bill and ted... Really need to try this

ajcismo

#4

ajcismo said:

Bill & Ted was a blast, especially if you grew up with those movies. Totally made my day today being reminded of that game.

Monkeh

#5

Monkeh said:

The choice between Pokemon Red and Link's Awakening is a pretty tough one to make for me, but I'd have to go with Link's Awakening, just because you might as well play Pokemon X/Y instead of Red/Blue. Though admittedly I'd totally still buy Pokemon Red on 3DS VC if it was available.

dinosauryoshi

#6

dinosauryoshi said:

Donkey Kong is one of my favourite games of all time and I'm delighted it's made this list. Might crack out the ol' brick and give a few of the ones I haven't tried a go at some point.

unrandomsam

#7

unrandomsam said:

Wario's Castle is the only good part of 6 Golden Coins.

Links Awakening - MIght as well get the GBC DX version.

Castlevania II: Belmont's Revenge - Not played it but I want to.

Donkey Kong - Cannot think of a way it could be any better. (Other than the VC version having Super Gameboy Support).

Tetris - Played it recently multiplayer but the people playing generally preferred Tetris DS.

Pokemon - There is loads you can get the best ones are not these.

Castlevania II: Belmont's Revenge / Kid Dracula - I suspect I will like these.

Megaman IV - There is also loads of Megaman games.

Kevin

#8

Kevin said:

I'm shocked you guys didn't mention Metroid II, Donkey Kong Land or Final Fantasy Legend II. Both are great games and I liked FFLII more than Pokemon. Also, the only great part of SML2 was Wario's Castle. I'll take Wario Land: SML3 over 6 Golden Coins any day.

Geonjaha

#9

Geonjaha said:

Correction: Castlevania II: Belmont's Revenge isn't actually on the Virtual Console yet.

I'd say Link's Awakening is the best game (made specifically) for the original GB. Gargoyles Quest would also easily be on my list along with Metroid II.

unrandomsam

#10

unrandomsam said:

Operation C is not that good. (Turrican for the Gameboy was loads better or its sequel (That was done by Factor 5)).

The_Ninja

#11

The_Ninja said:

Red and Blue is one of the best Gameboy games I've ever played. Yea.. Gold & Silver, Street Fighter, PKMN Pinball and Red & Blue are the only GB games I own actually :P

NintyMan

#12

NintyMan said:

I would have added Donkey Kong Land. While it might look dated today, I imagine seeing the Game Boy emulating CG graphics on a monochrome screen back then would've been mind-blowing. The soundtrack is also simply awesome, but that's to be expected since it was David Wise making 8-bit music.

Tsurii897

#13

Tsurii897 said:

sh....nap. I wanted to vote for Mario, but for some silly reason I automatically clicked Link's Awakening :|
I realy should've slept last night..

EDIT: Where's Warioland btw? I had a lot fun playing the 6 Coins, but I always preferred that one personally ;)

DarkCoolEdge

#14

DarkCoolEdge said:

Super Mario Land 2, Link's Awakening, Donkey Kong, Pokemon, Tetris... it's a tough one.

And lets not forget the Donkey Kong Land series, and Wario Land.

HaNks

#16

HaNks said:

links awakening all the way. incredible title considering the hardware limitations and one of the very best zelda games.

unrandomsam

#21

unrandomsam said:

If I could have one Gameboy game added to the VC I would go for Ninja Spirit (I like that like lots of people here like Megaman).

I would never want a Gameboy version (At least without Super Gameboy support in the VC) if a GBC version exists.

Trip World should be on this list. (I got it on the VC and I am really glad I did).

Kroisos

#22

Kroisos said:

Not enough people, starting with Nintendo Life (shame!), mentioning Gargoyle's Quest. And +1 to @accc for mentioning Catrap.

sinalefa

#23

sinalefa said:

I would say Tetris or Pokémon, as those two defined the system for me.

I got Mario Land 2 on VC as I never played the original cartridge. And as much as I dislike Sunshine, at least I bothered finishing that one. I found it so incredibly bland and boring. While DK94 is one of my favorite GB games that I "discovered" via the VC.

HandheldGuru97

#24

HandheldGuru97 said:

Some many, many great games on the Game Boy. I went for Pokémon, but Tetris, Link's Awakening (DX), 6 Golden Coins and Donkey Kong are all right up there for me at least. Quite honestly its pretty hard to not find something you'll love on the Gray Brick (or the Pocket or even the Color!)

Daruncic

#25

Daruncic said:

Red and Blue sadly don't hold up that well. Now I would recommend Gold and Silver, which are ALSO Original Gameboy games!

xj0462

#26

xj0462 said:

why is bill and ted on this list, it an LJN game and we all know all LJN GAMES SUCK!!! personally i think solar striker(the only shooter made by nintendo) should be on here instead, also replace kid dracula with the first wario land and this list would be perfect! they should ask me abpout ten must play GBA or genesis games! in fact: here is my list of 10 gba games u must play
super mario advance series
pokemon firered and leaf green version
pokemon ruby and sapphire versions
doom(a good port of the hit FPS game)
metroid fusion
metroid zero mission
sabre wulf(a remake/reboot of the hit ZX spectrum game series)
mario kart advance(called mario kart super circut in america)
sega rally championship
banjo kazooie advance

outburst

#31

outburst said:

Omfg I've played Kid Dracula a lot on famicom! I dunno if it's the same on the game boy. I've never finished the last stages because I couldn't understand Japanese. Although my older brother did a lot of times because he knew the sequences to the answers on the Q&A part.

Did they ever released it on NA or EU? Must play it again!

Edit:
Well it's not exactly the same as the Famicom according to Corbie's review.
http://www.nintendolife.com/reviews/2009/08/kid_dracula_retro

Pichuka97

#32

Pichuka97 said:

I was stuck between picking Pokemon and Zelda but I decided Pokemon because it has more reply value if you have friends to play with.

Xilef

#38

Xilef said:

I would add Gargoyle's Quest. Excellent classic Capcom action platformer.

Jazzer94

#41

Jazzer94 said:

@Tsurii897 My mistake I never knew I just remember the boxart
Untitled
and assumed they were GBC games had no idea they were GB compatible. :|

Zeldalover

#42

Zeldalover said:

Personal Top 10:

1. The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening
2. Donkey Kong '94
3. Pokemon Red/Blue
4. Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3
5. Kirby's Dreamland 2
6. Metroid II: Return of Samus
7. Gargoyle's Quest
8. Mega Man IV
9. Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins
10. Mega Man V

baba_944

#43

baba_944 said:

MY favorite are the following:

1: Wario Land 2
2: Tetris
3: Donkey Kong 94
4: Super Mario Land 2: 6 golden Coins
5: Super Mario Land 3
6: Kirby Block Ball

And that's it. I played some others, but I wont talk about it here.

Caryslan

#44

Caryslan said:

No Mole Mania? That is the most underrated game Nintendo made for any system:(

I loved Mole Mania. It was such a fun and enjoyable game.

Peach64

#45

Peach64 said:

I think I mentioned this in the article about the anniversary in Japan, but considering the vast amount of hours I put into playing a gameboy, I don't think it's library is that great. Looking back, most of the stuff I played were licensed games based on movies and TV shows, like a precursor to the shovel ware that plagued the Wii and DS.

Link's Awakening is probably the closest I'd come to going back and playing a game now, but even then I'd go for DX.

Shambo

#46

Shambo said:

Link's Awakening, by far the best Game Boy game ever, and one of my all-platform all-time favourite games. Also, my first game ever.

Another game I would consider worth noting that most people probably didn't even play ever, strictly grey classic Game Boy cartridges, is Dragon Heart. It may have been a movie game, but I saw the movie as a kid, and we got the game, and I find it to be pretty memorable. Recently played through it again.

paburrows

#47

paburrows said:

I'm shocked that none of the Gameboy Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle games were mentioned, those were some of the best TMNT games made.

VIIIAxel

#48

VIIIAxel said:

I'd definitely say Pokemon Red and Blue. I started with a Gameboy Color (With Pokemon Silver being my first Pokemon game), so I didn't grow up with many of these games, but Pokemon Blue Version is easily my favorite Game Boy game. I highly recommend that one to anyone looking for a good Gameboy game to play! Now I'll just wait for it to be released on Virtual Console...

Second place would be Mario Land 2. That's the only one of these that I can really say I grew up with, and I have a lot of fond memories of it. I still need to get it on my 3DS!

WaveyChristmas

#49

WaveyChristmas said:

Super Mario Land 2 just sucks....The stage design and controls were balls then and they're balls now. I'd personally swap it for Wario Land...The shining moment of SML2 was easily wario's castle. The only area with decent stage design structure that had rythem and depth.....everything else? SuperMarioSnoreLand. It had great presentation, fun tunes, wonderful quirky worlds & enemies, but it just played poorly...

Oh and Super C was amazing, easily one the best contra's. ;) Haven't played Kid Dracula, i'll definitely have to check it out.

Zeldalover

#51

Zeldalover said:

@WaveBoy I completely agree, SML2 and Tetris just didn't stand out for me. But since I haven't played many Game Boy games, those are at the top of my top 10 list.

As for Super Mario Land 2, I like the World themes, but the stages are far too easy and offer no challenge at all. Which for me, equals no enjoyment. Mario is floaty, the enemies aren't much of a threat and it has no rare collectable items. Wario's Castle was a blast to play. Oh, and Wario Land 1 had much, much better level design.

Dreamz

#52

Dreamz said:

This list auto-fails due to not including Metroid II: Return of Samus.

Better luck next time.

InsertTokenz

#53

InsertTokenz said:

Not at bad list. I would've added Kid Icarus: Of Myths and Monsters and Metroid 2 to it, but that's just me. :)
As for best to try out, can't go wrong with Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening. A stand out adventure for sure in the Zelda series and technical marvel on the classic Gameboy.

sketchturner

#55

sketchturner said:

I played a LOT of GameBoy games growing up. I'd say my top 10 are as follows (in no order except that DKL2 is #1 and LA is #2).

Donkey Kong Land 2
Link's Awakening
Survival Kids
Wario Land
SML2:Six Golden Coins
Wario Land 2
Spiritual Warfare (a Zelda clone that outshone the original, IMO)
Kirby's Pinball Land
Tetris
Donkey Kong Land 3

I want to include Fortified Zone and Cliffhanger on my list, but realistically that has more to do with their awesome music than the gameplay. As a Metroid fan, it's hard not to include RoS, but realistically the game has some rough mechanics that hold it back.

ejamer

#57

ejamer said:

I wish that Kid Dracula would come out on Virtual Console. Never played that game when the platform was still in stores, and would love to have a chance at trying it today.

NintendoFan64

#58

NintendoFan64 said:

There was a Bill and Ted game on the Gameboy? And it was good!? I honestly feel like I need to hunt a copy down, now.

retro_player_22

#60

retro_player_22 said:

My top 50 must play Game Boy titles that I recommend every Game Boy owners should own are these:

  • Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3
  • TMNT: Fall of the Foot Clan, Back From the Sewers, and Radical Rescue
  • Contra 3: The Alien Wars and Operation C
  • Mega Man I, II, III, IV, & V
  • Kirby's Dream Land 1 & 2
  • Donkey Kong 94
  • Pokemon Red, Blue, Yellow, Gold, and or Silver
  • The King of Fighters 95
  • Final Fantasy Adventure
  • Final Fantasy Legends I, II, and III
  • Donkey Kong Land 1, 2, & 3
  • Killer Instinct
  • Super Mario Land 1 & 2: Six Golden Coins
  • Tetris Plus
  • Street Fighter II
  • Mortal Kombat II
  • Harvest Moon GB 1 & 2
  • Dragon Warrior I & II (yes it a GBC game but it could be play on regular GB as well)
  • Dragon Warrior Monsters 1 & 2
  • Revelations: The Demon Slayer
  • Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening DX (or the original)
  • Wario Blast
  • Samurai Shodown
  • Avenging Spirit
  • Blades of Steel
  • Castlevania II: Belmont's Revenge
  • Metroid II: The Return of Samus
  • Tetris Attack
  • R-Type I & II
  • Battle Arena Toshinden
  • Castlevania Legends
  • Rolan's Curse 1 & 2
  • Batman: The Animated Series
  • Battletoads & Double Dragon: The Ultimate Team
  • Battletoads
  • Earthworm Jim
  • Bomberman GB 1, 2, and 3
  • Burai Fighter Deluxe
  • Cool Spot
  • Dig Dug
  • Dr. Mario
  • Gargoyle's Quest
  • Any or all of the Disney games (Duck Tales 1 & 2, Mulan, Jungle Book, Hercules, Aladdin, Lion King, Darkwing Duck, TaleSpin, Pocahontas, Toy Story, etc.)
  • Yoshi's Cookies
  • Gradius: The Interstellar Assault
  • Gauntlet II
  • Ultima: Runes of Virtue 1 & 2
  • Kid Dracula
  • True Lies
  • Kirby's Star Stacker
Link506

#61

Link506 said:

Wish I had a gameboy. But for now, I will just have to settle with the 3ds VC.

cheleuitte

#63

cheleuitte said:

There's a lot of good games in the list but there's even more good games for the gameboy but Link's Awakening is my pick!

LDXD

#65

LDXD said:

What the hell? OK where is metroid 2 ?
It should be #1 on this list
Good to see kid Dracula made it awesome game

Pokefanmum82

#66

Pokefanmum82 said:

Pokemon is the game I played most growing up, although I played it on my GameBoy color, not GameBoy. Tetris was another favorite of mine.

smirg

#67

smirg said:

I don't see why Tetris should be on this list. On a top 10 list, sure, but not on a must play list. I understand the significance of that game for the game boy and I played it a ton as a kid, however, that game is already available on what seems like virtually every electronic device ever made and everybody's already played at least one version of it before. There's really no reason why someone must play the game boy version over just about any other version. Surely, there's a more unique game that should fill that spot.

Hero-of-WiiU

#68

Hero-of-WiiU said:

I am much more of a zelda fan than Pokemon but I went with Red and Blue because of how much more important the game is.

Fandabidozi

#69

Fandabidozi said:

My favourite Game Boy games are Pokemon, Batman, Mega Man IV, Super Mario Land...
Shout out for Monster Max, cos it's excellent!

Xlll

#71

Xlll said:

Came here hoping to see Kid dracula, wasn't disappointed and pleasantly surprised:D I actually own the cartridge for that game, a gem indeed! One of my fondest gb games, along with dragon warrior 3, pokemon trading card game, buster bros and dragon warrior monsters:D(and of course all the other classic games previously mentioned)

AshFoxX

#72

AshFoxX said:

I still remember the first game I ever beat was on my old brick Game Boy. Kirby's Dream Land. Good times. I also remember playing a lot of Batman: The Animated Series, Blues Brothers, Tetris, F1 Challenge, Alleyway, Looney Tunes and Super Mario Land. There were probably more but those pop up in my brain as ones I had packed in my case on long car trips every summer growing up.

mystman12

#74

mystman12 said:

Donkey Kong is the only game on that list I've played, but I loved every second of it! Since I've got a Gameboy Color now, I should keep an eye out for these games.

Tasuki

#75

Tasuki said:

Wow is Mega Man IV really that much better then Mega Man V? Now for sure I am going to have to check out Mega Man IV on the GB.

King_Johobo

#76

King_Johobo said:

Super Mario Land 2 was the first game I ever owned! I got it for my birthday along with my beautiful Green Gameboy.
Aaaaaaah memories

unrandomsam

#77

unrandomsam said:

Which original Gameboy games have people played to completion on the 3DS VC.

(For me its only Trip World / Donkey Kong '94 - Bought others I had as a kid but they are for the most part rubbish)

kurtasbestos

#79

kurtasbestos said:

I like that the game I voted for is the only game to have received less than 2% of the total vote. Ouch.

RantingThespian

#81

RantingThespian said:

My favorite Game Boy games are:

Wario Land - Super Mario Land 3
Metroid 2 - The Return Of Samus
Kiby's Dreamland 2

dkxcalibur

#86

dkxcalibur said:

Choosing from this list, I chose Tetris. I enjoyed Pokemon, Link, Mario, and many many other games not on the list but the one game that both kids and parents played, plus sold systems was Tetris. My siblings and I all had versions of the original Pokemon and we loved it but we played so much Tetris that it can't compare for me.

TreesenHauser

#87

TreesenHauser said:

Of this list, I'd say...

1. Link's Awakening
2. Super Mario Land 2
3. Pokémon Red and Blue

And though it was technically a Game Boy Color-labeled release, I'd say Pokémon Gold and Silver were great. I'd go as far a saying I like those ones better than Red and Blue actually.

Pod

#88

Pod said:

I like Zelda the best by far but I had to go with Tetris. I'm sad when I meet kids on 10 who don't even know what Tetris is.

Prizm

#91

Prizm said:

I really have to go back and play Super Mario Land 2. I don't think I've played it since I bought it in 1992. It was a lot of fun, and huge — compared to the sub-par Mario Land 1.
I spent many enjoyable hours on Metroid II, but it's not really a 'first game you should play'. It's very long and you spend hours wandering around. The game didn't have a map, so you had to try and remember everything.

PigmaskColonel

#92

PigmaskColonel said:

I'm trying not to flip out with Wario Land: SML3 and Metroid II not being on this list.

I mean, seriously?

NTELLIGENTMAN

#93

NTELLIGENTMAN said:

Between my GameBoy and 3DS, I have owned every one of those games at some point except Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure. I would like to add some titles: Metroid II, Battletoads (Arcade Port), Adventure Island (GB port of II), Castlevania Legends, Picross, Killer Instinct, and Wario Blast.

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