Every system has its gems, but the original Game Boy was something else. Despite some weak hardware compared to its rivals at the time, it managed to dominate the handheld market and last for years longer than it arguably had any right to, largely thanks to a certain yellow electric mouse.
So today we're going to celebrate the very cream of the Game Boy crop with the best 26 games the system has to offer. At least they're the best in our opinion. The first 21 are presented in no order whatsoever, but the final five is a 'top five' if you like. Think of it as getting two articles in one, you lucky, lucky people.
Do you ever think anyone bought this game expecting it to be like Super Mario Land 2? What a surprise that must’ve been. A pleasant one, or at least it should’ve been, Wario Land is so different to traditional Mario games it could honestly be argued it’s entirely unrelated to the mainline Mario series. Being the earliest entry it is a little bit raw compared to later games, but it’s still a cracking good time.
All right, Kirby can’t copy enemy abilities in this one, but like Wario Land it was the first, so shush. It’s not an especially tough game until you discover the secret hard mode, but it is a ruddy enjoyable one. Probably less forgiving than Star Allies, and its length isn’t anything to call your mother about, but it’s a perfect little portable romp.
Oh Donkey Kong, let me count the ways in which I love you. All three Donkey Kong Country games were ported in ‘Land’ form to Game Boy, and while none of them are as visually stunning as the SNES games, they play just marvelously. There’s also some new content in here that’s different to the originals, so don’t think you’ve played them if you haven’t played them. The second one’s the best, and I won’t hear any arguments otherwise.
As the name suggests, this is the second Castlevania game to come to the Game Boy, and thankfully it has nothing to do with Simon’s Quest. Belmont’s Revenge trimmed a lot of the fat of the first Game Boy outing and enhanced the whole thing to be better suited to the portable 8-bit beast. It still stands up surprisingly well, and if you somehow missed out on this, it could definitely be worth your while.
Don’t let the name fool you, this is basically Chuckie Egg on Game Boy. It’s a classic, arcade-style collectathon platformer which at first glance could have absolutely nothing to do with the film. It’s possible that like many licensed games back in the day that the Bill & Ted branding was essentially slapped on at the last minute, and even though it bears the LJN logo, it’s a bloody great game.
Balloon Fight on NES was the passion project of the woefully missed Satoru Iwata, and Balloon Kid is pegged as its sequel. Although it’s not clear how much involvement Iwata had in this follow up, it managed to get the Balloon Fight mechanics and gameplay down absolutely superbly. Fly around, collect balloons, it’s not a complex game, but it’s utterly adorable and wonderfully replayable.
The game shares the same name as the arcade original (it's also referred to as Donkey Kong '94 to avoid confusion), but that’s about it. Well, except for the first four levels that are carbon copies of those from the cabinet. After those though you’re plunged into what you’d now call a Mario vs. Donkey Kong game. The whole thing is an utter joy from start to finish, Mario’s got new moves, new enemies to combat, and an old flame to rescue. Miss this one and regret it.
On the face of it, Mole Mania doesn’t really sound like a top game for Game Boy, but ohohoooo lordy you’d be wrong to think that. It’s actually a first-party Nintendo property headed up by Miyamoto himself, and it shows. Every level is a bite-size chunk of puzzling goodness, slathered in Nintendo charm and sprinkled with a killer soundtrack. Think of it as an endless series of dungeon rooms from The Legend of Zelda, but with less direct combat and more lateral thinking. Also it has battery saving, which for a game like this is crucial, and not exactly the norm back in the day.
Not entirely unlike Mega Man, Kid Dracula tasks you with platforming and shooting foes left right, and unlike Mega Man, up as well. It’s one of the most visually striking Game Boy games, using big sprites to show plenty of detail, but without hampering the gameplay at all. Stick in a killer soundtrack and some very impressive cutscenes for such a limited system, and you’re onto a serious winner.
In case you didn’t know, platformers were kind of a thing back in the '90s. You couldn’t move for mascot platformers, and even more prevalent were licensed platformers like this. Thankfully not all of them were complete rubbish, and the combination of great graphics, genuinely original and innovative gameplay, and the charm of Tiny Toons, makes this one of best platformers on the system.
Think Contra can’t run on something as puny as Game Boy? Think again, sucker. Operation C, or Probotector as we know it in Europe, is a wildly accurate Contra game squeezed onto Game Boy with almost nothing sacrificed beyond resolution and colour. You might struggle to keep up with everything that’s happening on such a small screen, but if you’re dedicated enough you can have the full Contra experience on something with less computing power than your average calculator.
Just like Operation C, this is a full-fat Gradius game expertly squozen onto a tiny handheld. It really is bloody phenomenal what they were able to do back in the day. The graphics are brilliant not only for their variety, but also because there’s no uncertainty as to where you’re allowed to fly and where you’re not. Come on, it’s Gradius, do you need us to say any more than that?
What did Game Boy do to deserve so many genuinely excellent licensed games? DuckTales is yet another example of a tailor-made port for Game Boy shining brighter than it arguably deserves. Everything you’d expect or want is here and more in droves, and while it may not be the most accessible game given the cutesy aesthetic, if you’ve played a DuckTales game before, you shouldn’t overlook this one just because it’s in black and white.
Some people think the second one is better, but those people probably don’t even know who Bimmy is. I really feel like I’m repeating myself here, but this is yet another incredible port for Game Boy. It may seem primitive compared to the three brawlers that come out a year these days, but for the time this really was amazing. If you’re willing to give the throwback simplicity a fair shot you shan’t be disappointed.
There's one reason while this handheld F1 racer has made our prestigious list: the power of four play link-up. On the surface it’s a fairly straightforward racing game, but like so many other racers out there it only really shines when you rope three friends into the mix. The ordinary becomes extraordinary, and at the time you couldn’t do anything better on a long train journey.
It’s R-Type. Like, it’s exactly R-Type. All these people these days saying certain games outright won’t run on the Switch, look at this! Excellent port after excellent port. If Game Boy got any more love than this it might have to file a restraining order.
Think you’ve played all the classic Mega Man games just because you own all the NES games? Think again you dangerously confident sausage. Mega Man V on Game Boy is only identical in name to its NES counterpart. Other games on the platform recycled old bosses, but not this one. Also you know that arm cannon Mega Man is so famous for? Well now it takes an even more literal meaning, firing his hand from his arm if he charges it up. If you’ve not played it, it’s basically a new Mega Man game. Sort it out.
One of the weirder and more obscure Batman games out there. It may not be especially true to the source material given that Batman himself mainly totes a handgun and kills without mercy, but it’s definitely one of the most enjoyable Batman side-scrollers we've ever played. Pretend you’re actually playing as Robocop and you’ve struck platforming gold.
Despite technically being a Ghosts 'n Goblins game, Gargoyle’s Quest is much more like The Adventure of Link than anything else. Wander the world top-down in a top-down perspective and enter mini side-scrolling battles just like in Zelda 2. It’s always interesting to play from the villain’s point of view, and this is no exception to that rule.
Yep, it’s Picross. If you don’t know what that is, it’s what you’re looking at now. Mario’s Picross isn’t necessarily anything more than a superb Picross game with a Mario theme, but the charm and whimsy of Mario is what makes it special.
Despite its notoriety, Battletoads is an incredibly fun and challenging game, and the Game Boy version lives up to that in spades. It’s also not the same game as the NES and SNES games of legend, rather it’s an entirely new and less infuriating experience from start to finish. If only for the fact that the speeder section doesn’t exist. Well, it sort of does, but it’s actually feasible to beat it if you can imagine such a thing.
Before you say anything, this isn't breaking a rule, Super Mario land 3 is a Wario land game so we can have both. My mum said so. Super Mario Land got a lot of things right, but it still somewhat missed the mark. Super Mario Land 2 took a different approach, and played off the strengths of Game Boy’s portable nature. It’s not a facsimile of any other Mario game, it’s almost painfully unique instead. The bosses, the words, there’s no Mario game like it. It’s bursting with imagination and easily stands out as the best platformer the system has to offer.
This thing rocked the world, but you don’t need me to tell you that. Tetris is one of those games that essentially requires no instruction; after just a few minutes you’ll know exactly what’s what and what you’re expected to do. I can’t do it justice in this tiny segment here, so if you want to learn more about how Tetris came to be, I highly recommend you check out the video by Gaming Historian all about it, there’s a card up there. Needless to say, this is a game that hasn’t nor will ever age.
We’ve finally had a remake, so we suppose we can stop badgering Reggie about it now. Metroid II is one of those odd games that divides fans like no other. Some people love it to pieces, but some think its slower pace and over-sized sprites make it less enjoyable than other games in the series. True, it may not be as refined as Super Metroid, but from the NES original this was a massive step forward to what we know of Metroid today. Even if you’re played Samus Returns, we implore you to give this one a go as well. If not for me, then for the baby Metroid.
Pokémon. Pokémon. Pokémon. One of the biggest franchises in gaming today, and it all started here. A sprawling adventure with a staggering amount of variety and originality for the time. Today, a buggy and beloved callback. It hasn’t aged perfectly when compared to modern entries, but this is a game that defined a generation. If you can put up with the inability to run and some massive imbalances, you can still play this very happily today. Only bad thing is that Beedrill should be stronger.
How the hell do you make a sequel to a SNES game on Game Boy, and fix a lot of the issues it had to boot? Well, Nintendo managed to do it all with this one. A Link to the Past may have had more content than Link's Awakening, but all the nonsense like having to work through an entire dungeon just to have another pop at the boss has been properly sorted out. To this day it sits up there with Majora’s Mask as one of the ‘weird’ Zelda games, doing some really funky stuff such as bringing in Chain Chomps and a giant leviathan that hatches from an egg, but it all absolutely works. You can’t find a better adventure on Game Boy. It just can’t be done.
And there you have it! Be sure to let us know your favourite Game Boy games in the comments below...