10. Kid Dracula (GB)
Kid Dracula might not be quite as lengthy or quite as diverse as the Famicom release, but you still have to give Konami a lot of credit for being able to cram so much platforming goodness into one Game Boy cartridge. It’s a delicious piece of self-parody from Konami poking fun at the Castlevania series. Great visuals with big sprites, a catchy musical score, and some of the tightest play control seen on the system all come together to form one of the most charming and playable platformers available on the portable. The cartridge has become quite rare over the years, so you'll likely have to do some serious searching in order to land a copy, but once you give it a try, you're sure to find the effort well worth it.
Big fans of the first game (Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3) might lament Wario Land II's sudden significant change in gameplay, but if you give it a try, you'll find that it's actually rather brilliant. All the unique new gameplay features help flesh the series out and turn it into a wildly different, yet still equally entertaining game. This game would quickly get a Game Boy Color version with backwards compatibility for the original Game Boy, but its standalone grey cart release makes it eligible for this list and a fine entry it is, too.
Released as Mystic Quest in Europe, Final Fantasy Adventure plays more like The Legend of Zelda than the turn-based series it was spun out from. Developed by Koichi Ishii, it tells the story of a hero who escapes from a Dark Lord intent on controlling the Mana Tree, a unique source of energy. The seeds planted here would sprout and become the Mana series, but this first game captivated many players on that little monochrome screen.
With Wario Land, Nintendo completely reinvented its portable platformer and gave its greedy new character his own game, instead of merely plopping him down into the middle of another standard Super Mario Land presentation. Indeed, anybody who might have picked up this ‘sequel’ expecting something similar was in for a shock. A wealth of new gameplay features combined with a unique visual and musical style make this title stand on its own and it gives fans of the previous Mario Land releases a fresh spin on the series. If you want to experience some of the best platforming the Game Boy system has to offer, you needn't look any further.
While Pokémon Red & Blue are both vintage games with the occasional issue, they're still extremely engaging and involving titles in which to drown your free time. The gameplay is simpler by modern standards, but there's still a wealth of intricacies and complexity to be explored if you want to train a team to pixel-powered perfection. If you were to drag everything about the game and dump it in a nice, shiny, new 3D engine, you'd be forgiven for thinking these were brand new games, and you can't say that about many Game Boy titles.
There are certain wrinkles that were ironed out in subsequent entries, but there’s a special charm to finding those first 151 Pocket Monsters. Let’s Go Pikachu and Eevee may have updated these games for the Switch generation, the depth of the originals still makes them compelling to play on original hardware – just make sure you’ve got a mate and a link cable - you have to trap all of them!... Hang on, that’s not right.
First impressions can be misleading. With 101 stages, Donkey Kong for the Game Boy is far more than just a simple sequel to the arcade game – beyond the first four that copy the levels from the original arcade cabinet game, the rest of the levels laid the groundwork for the gameplay of the Mario vs. Donkey Kong series that we know and love today. It adds a metric ton of new features, while still managing to keep the ‘arcadey’ feel of the original. The graphics and music are outstanding for a 1994 Game Boy title and the game itself is just incredibly fun to play, even if you do receive an over-abundance of extra lives. It may not be part of the ‘main’ Mario series, but this is easily one of the best Mario games ever made.
This enhanced version of the original games brought over elements from the incredibly popular anime, so Pikachu takes centre stage as your starter Pokémon – he follows you around outside his pokéball and can’t be traded or evolved. The nurses and police officers around Kanto were substituted for Nurse Joys and Officer Jennys, some Pokémon locations and appearances were altered, and various sprites and world elements were reworked to better reflect the wider brand as it had been established since Red & Blue launched.
The western version of Pokémon Yellow got a minor palette enhancement which works well if you’re playing on a Game Boy Color, although this was not a full GBC game. The changes add an extra layer of charm (and the surfing Pikachu minigame is a lot of fun), but whichever version you pick up, the original Pokémon titles remain an enjoyable gaming experience. Simple in appearance and lacking the bells and whistles of later games, they nevertheless engross from start to finish.
The original Super Mario Land was a solid start for the series on Nintendo's Game Boy system, but nothing could prepare gamers for what the developers were able to do with this sequel. They managed to improve every aspect of the game and even made the adventure a much longer and more rewarding experience this time around. The difficulty is perhaps a bit on the easy side, but it's still one of the best Game Boy titles ever released and a testament to just how capable a game system the Game Boy truly was, and still is for that matter. If you're a Super Mario fan, you absolutely must play this game; if you're not, this legendary release is good enough to make you one.
2. Tetris (GB)
With few of the bells and whistles that would arrive later on, Game Boy Tetris is arguably the purest expression of the original idea. There have been countless ports of this addictive puzzler made available for just about every electronic device in existence, but the Game Boy version is arguably the most loved and its clear visuals, responsive controls and that theme tune make it easy to appreciate why. The very deadliest of killer apps, no self-respecting Game Boy enthusiast should be without a copy.
It would be difficult to argue against The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening being the pinnacle of gaming on the Game Boy system. The developers at Nintendo were able to squeeze an extremely lengthy quest into the package and push just about every facet of the Game Boy's hardware to its limit. Not only is Link's Awakening not the dumbed-down Zelda adventure many initially feared it would be, but it turned out to be one of the best releases in the series and one that is beloved among Zelda fans the world over.
If you want to experience the very best of what the portable system has to offer, do yourself a favour and get this (or the DX version for Game Boy Color with the extra dungeon) immediately. It’s one of the best games available for any game system, and even if you’re eyeing the upcoming Switch remaster, we’d still recommend playing the original first. It’s a beautiful, beautiful thing.
What a machine! What a library! Remember, this is a fluid, ever-changing selection governed by each game's Nintendo Life user rating, so if you disagree with this ranking you can do something about it! Click the 'Games' tab above to find all the Game Boy games and see about getting your favourites on the list.
It’s been brilliant to revisit some of these classics as we’ve been putting together various 30th-anniversary features, but it’s also highlighted how older games can really benefit from some contextual knowledge of their development and release. While many on this list stand up very well today, others are arguably best enjoyed with a little background information to frame how truly impressive they are. If you’re thinking of checking out these games, a bit of light reading/viewing can really enhance your enjoyment. Game Boy Works, a wonderful video series from gentleman, video game scholar and gin enthusiast Jeremy Parish chronicles every title released for the handheld and he does a brilliant job of contextualising each game and highlighting what to look out for. The volumes are even available in lovely hardback physical form if you really want to go old school.
We’ve also written a whole bunch of pieces on the Game Boy and associated topics over the years, so be sure to check out some of the archived highlights below for all sorts of lovely writing about the portable:
- Feature: The Making of the Nintendo Game Boy
- Gunpei Yokoi Discusses The Struggle To Make The Game Boy In One Of His Last Interviews
- Hardware Classics: Nintendo Game Boy
- Hardware Classics: Game Boy Pocket
- Hardware Review: GB Boy Classic And GB Boy Colour: The Best Way To Play Game Boy Today?
- The Game Boy Was Nearly a Cheap, Short-Term Project
- Ninterview: Jeremy Parish On Cataloguing The History Of The Game Boy, One Game At A Time
- Video: It's Fun To Learn About The Game Boy's CPU
- Feature: Creating The Ultimate Game Boy
- Video: Here's The Ultimate Game Boy Cartridge Storage Solution
- Art: If Nintendo Did Resurrect The Game Boy, We'd Want It To Look Like This
- Bertil Hörberg Releases Playable Game Boy ROM of Gunman Clive
- Video: The History Of The Super Mario Land Series
So how many of these dusty carts do you have hidden in the loft? Which ones are your absolute favourites? Feel free to share your thoughts and monochrome memories with a lovely comment below.