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
Castlevania II: Belmont's Revenge
Pokémon Red and Blue
Operation C / Probotector
The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening
Mega Man IV
Bill & Ted's Excellent Game Boy Adventure
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