NL's Top 50 Game Boy List 15
Image: Damien McFerran / Nintendo Life

The Game Boy turns 35 years old today, 21st April 2024, and we've run several features over the past few days celebrating the system and its games.

Today, George goes on an epic quest to see if he can acquire the 50 finest GB games — as ranked by you — in physical form with just 100 pounds sterling in his pocket...

I’ve been enjoying something of a love affair with the Game Boy recently – or more specifically, its back catalogue of games. After purchasing the Analogue Pocket last year I unearthed my Game Boy collection with a plan to work through every title I owned. I have an OG DMG Game Boy of course and made sure to first fire up the big boy for that proper nostalgia hit — the miraculous little machine is only two years my junior and still works flawlessly. I wish I could say the same about my knees.

I am going to arm myself with £100 only and add as many games as I can to my collection in one week

Scrolling the contrast wheel under my thumb, feeling the ripples of the back case against my fingertips, sliding that satisfyingly chunky power switch; joyful memories came flooding back with that first iconic ‘bing’. It felt like I was last playing it yesterday.

But back to its games. I rummaged through the cartridges and was thrilled to load up some old classics. A Pokémon Red file with a Lv.100 Zapdos called ‘Kazooie’ (seemed like a good idea at the time), New Ghostbusters II (developed by HAL Laboratory and very much an acquired taste), a half-finished attempt of Metroid II which instantly murdered me again and again. Good times.

I did work through them and was so pleased with their pocket-sized goodness that I’ve been expanding my collection little by little ever since. This is where I have a thank you to say to the good readers of Nintendo Life, because it’s the list you’ve curated that I’ve been using as a template for my collection. And goodness me there are some gems. The fiendishly brilliant Catrap. Kid Dracula’s pint-size perfection — games I’d never heard of that provided hours of fun. Each so far has been a worthy addition.

So now, in honour of the Game Boy’s 35th anniversary and as a testament to my faith in your list-generating prowess, I am going to arm myself with £100 only and add as many games as I can to my collection in one week.

One week, £100, 50 games - a Tal Tal task

NL's Top 50 Game Boy List 9
It's time to beg, borrow, or steal buy — Image: George Banks / Nintendo Life

Some qualifiers here – the NL Game Boy list is a living list, so I froze it before beginning this challenge. The last thing I need is for Amazing Tater to miraculously slide on and bankrupt me.

Also, borrowing a game is fine – if experiencing it as a transient part of my collection for now is the best option, then that’s what I’ll go with. Speaking of which, though I singled out Catrap and Kid Dracula for their brilliance, I had to sell them on after playing as they were so expensive to obtain – and sadly that means they don’t count toward the total for now (drat…ula). It’s how many games are in my possession or ordered once the week is done. Let’s go!

The list

This is the list (in alphabetical order) as it appeared when I started – anything bolded is a game that is already part of my collection.

Avenging Spirit Dr. Mario James Bond 007 Motocross Maniacs Super Mario Land
Balloon Kid Ducktales Kid Dracula Nemesis Super R.C. Pro-Am
Batman: The Video Game Ducktales 2 Kid Icarus: Of Myths and Monsters Operation C Tetris 2
Bionic Commando Final Fantasy Adventure Kirby’s Dream Land 2 Parodius Tetris Attack
Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge Final Fantasy Legend II Kirby’s Dream Land Pinball: Revenge of the ‘Gator Tetris
Catrap Final Fantasy Legend III Kirby’s Pinball Land Pokemon Red & Blue The Final Fantasy Legend
Donkey Kong Game & Watch Gallery Mario’s Picross Pokemon Yellow The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening
Donkey Kong Land Game Boy Camera Mega Man IV Qix Tiny Toons: Bab’s Big Break
Donkey Kong Land 2 Gargoyle’s Quest Mega Man V Quarth Wario Land II
Donkey Kong Land III Harvest Moon GB Mole Mania Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3

10 out of 50. One fifth. Not a bad starting point. And for those interested, the latest addition was Kirby’s Dream Land, one I was astonished I didn’t own.

Press start

NL's Top 50 Game Boy List 2
Image: George Banks / Nintendo Life

So, where to begin? The first point of call is sounding the alarm with friends and family. I message the following:

“Hello! Does anybody have or know anyone who has a collection of original Gameboy games? And know if they may be willing to part with some of them? Loan or sell.”

I post a similar message to a few Discord groups and social media too.

While I wait for replies I open up eBay. I used to love scouring it for games in my teens. It's much harder to find bargains on there these days but still occasionally throws up a gem.

I opt to search for Mega Man IV and V first – the Blue Bomber is fairly ubiquitous, I sense these will be an easy find and relatively cheap. I cannot possibly repeat the expletive combination that fell out of my mouth upon seeing prices for these, but almost across the board they would blow my entire budget. There is one copy of Mega Man IV that is £70 and Japanese imports are in the mid-30s. Imports are certainly an option but I’d prefer to understand what’s happening if possible (not that Megaman’s story ever deviates too wildly). I 'watch' the £70 Mega Man IV because I’m an idiot and backburner this.

Let’s aim lower. It’s the law for every household in the UK to own at least one copy of Tetris, so these other two Tetris games may hold some hope. Tetris 2: £7.99 with free shipping. There’s quite a few of these, so I watch a couple for now. Tetris Attack: £4.99! Oh, but £3.50 shipping. Smug in the knowledge there’ll be a similarly priced one with free shipping, I generously offer £3 and move on.

I am astounded that there are two games that begin with a ‘Q’ on this list and as I had never heard of them I brace for a massive hit. Both QIX and Quarth range wildly from £7 to £40ish but shipping eats up the budget once more. Watch some cheap ones, move on again.

Stumbling blocks

NL's Top 50 Game Boy List
Image: Damien McFerran / Nintendo Life

Now, I have a confession. I don’t like Castlevania games. I have tried, I really have. And I love Metroidvanias! Just not actual ‘Vania’s, it seems. Again though – prominent series, probably sold well, cheap on the secondhand market, I’d wager. WRONG. Another budget blower. Backburner.

Worried that I’m making no progress I decide to go back and make some bids. I search 'Tetris Attack' – it’s gone! Shouldn’t have been stingy, time to find another £4.99 one. No. They’re all double the amount. Another volley of profanities. I cannot believe I didn’t pounce on it. This is not going well.

What’s rapidly becoming clear to me is that my instincts about this are way off. Established franchises that I assume would’ve sold tons of copies and therefore be freely in circulation seem to be really pricey, whereas the more obscure titles are less of a hit. This scattershot approach is doing me no favours and it’s all a bit pricier than I was hoping, I’ll barely be able to double what I’ve got if I just buy blind. It’s time to pull out the big guns. It’s time to make a spreadsheet.

I jot the 40 missing entries down and search them one by one, adding an average price for each, making a promise to myself that I will only buy a game when it’s below that.

I cannot possibly repeat the expletive combination that fell out of my mouth upon seeing prices

Bids are placed and my phone’s buzzing like a Beedrill as replies start to materialise. There’s a lovely outpouring of enthusiasm from people wanting to show off their collection - but most of the folks are miles away or, quite understandably, anxious to part with these little treasures. That’s fair, I know I would be. But there is some hope. My brother-in-law Nic’s been looking for an excuse to raid his attic collection and he knows of a good secondhand shop in the area. He also mentions the car boot sales that are on tomorrow that have served him well. We’re going to early bird it – if there’s any Game Boy games there, we’ll swoop in before anybody else has a chance.

Next is a reply on Twitter from Sean with an INCREDIBLE-looking collection, I can even see a few from the list from the picture he’s sent. We get chatting and although we’ve never met, it turns out he is, by an insane coincidence, from my neck of the woods. I ask if I can send a list for him to look at and he kindly agrees. It’s late now and I’m zero games up, but the groundwork has been laid.

Dawn of the second day

NL's Top 50 Game Boy List
Image: Damien McFerran / Nintendo Life

6am and raining. Through bleary eyes I clumsily pour tea into a thermos and question my life choices. “It’s better not to rush this,” I tell myself. “You’ll get more if you’re patient.”

With a wallet of cash and an Excel doc in my pocket, Nic and I enter the boot sale. I don’t know how many of you have visited a car boot sale in England but I find they are, generally, one of the oddest experiences you can have. Cars pitched higgledy-piggledy amongst boxes and tables, all overflowing with a random assortment of items as people rifle through them at lightning speed. Want to pick up a vintage Power Rangers doll and an ornate, three-tier, pyramid tiffin box? Great – they’re inexplicably next to each other on that table, by the pair of used Crocs.

This apotheosis of hodgepodge is all underscored by a man in a van with a mic informing us continuously about the beautiful cuts of meat he has on offer. The only Nintendo item we find is a Mario Kart Carerra Go track and the only gaming equipment we find is a Binatone TV Master MK 6. No, me neither. It turns out to be a fun little jaunt, but after two hours of perambulation we declare it a bust.

NL's Top 50 Game Boy List 1
Image: George Banks / Nintendo Life

Big break

We move onto the high street. CEX and secondhand shops throw up the usual suspects, Mario Land, Pokémon, Tetris, Zelda – all at a decent price, too. It’s heartening that these classics are still floating around out there for folks to discover, but they’re no use to me right now.

Then we reach ‘Wants’ – a majestic, treasure trove of old console games. There’s a copy of Illusion of Time for the SNES in the window for goodness' sake - how have I not been here before? I chat to Jon behind the desk and he passes me the Game Boy box. Jackpot! Motocross Maniacs, Tiny Toons: Babs' Big Break, Donkey Kong Land, Donkey Kong ’94, James Bond 007, Contra Operation C… My heart thumps. Mega Man! But it’s the original, not IV or V. Damn.

I decide to pull all the games from the box one by one just in case I missed a title when I feel something weird – a significantly weightier cartridge for a Star Trek game. Jon opens it up to discover it’s a fake! I guess the lack of ‘Nintendo GAMEBOY’ on the front should’ve tipped us off. The chip on the board is a behemoth and it fires up just fine. I’m giddy as I’ve never come across this before - the curio collector in me is screaming to buy it for the novelty, but with a daunting enough task ahead of me, doing so would be illogical, captain.

Operation C is a little above budget at £20 – although it does average at 30+ on eBay. The Tetris Attack sting is still fresh but I leave it and opt for the other five – I feel quantity is key at this juncture. The games total £49, much less than the combination of their eBay average, but Jon does me a solid and knocks off a fiver. I’m five games up and if I’ve got spare to splurge at the end, Contra may be calling – if I haven’t missed out again.

Harvest boon

NL's Top 50 Game Boy List 3
Image: George Banks / Nintendo Life

Some days and a little back and forth later the loan offers start to crystalise – Sean, Nic, and a few others pitch in to tackle a sizeable chunk of the list: Dr. Mario, Game & Watch Gallery, Nemesis, Super R.C. Pro-Am, Kid Icarus, Operation C (Probotector over here), Balloon Kid, Kirby's Pinball Land, Batman, Tetris Attack (thank heavens), Donkey Kong Land 2 & 3, Gargoyle’s Quest & Harvest Moon! I’m also offered Castlevania II, Mole Mania, and Picross – these last three are Japanese carts but Castlevania has English text, Picross has English menus, and I guess I can google translate Mole Mania? I’ve always wanted to play it so nothing’s going to stop me.

Nic messages again – “I have another Mega Man game here.” Heart stops… “Mega Man III”. More swears, though they’re not out loud this time, so that’s something. I’m cursed with that series. Still, that’s a staggering 32 games total up from 10 a few days ago and I’m left with a budget of £56.

There’s only a couple of days left and I’ve called every retro game shop locally and beyond and exhausted the charity shops and contacts for loans. It’s time to scour eBay. I calculate that if I can average £8 or less per game it’ll get me to 40 total. I know there’s some real pricey ones left so I’m going to leave those until last and with the others I’ll scroll all the way down on each search, offer audaciously low when I can (maybe even message folks directly), then just bid on anything below average. I get a lot of rejection, a lot of pushback, flat refusals, and lose out on a few that weren’t bad, but sticking to my guns does yield some great results.

Tetris 2 for £5 via a direct message and a lovely chat, Qix for £7, Wario Land 2 for £9! I do blow £15 on Final Fantasy Legend but I put that offer in as a cheeky lowball and never expected it to be accepted – it’s about half what it’s up for everywhere. That’s £20 left and 36 games in total. Can I scrape together another four at a fiver each?

NL's Top 50 Game Boy List 10
Image: George Banks / Nintendo Life

I absolutely cannot, but there’s a teeny, tiny chance I can squeeze out three. I’m sat on a £6 offer for Revenge of the Gator, £6 bid for DuckTales, and an £8 offer for Quarth. Gator comes in at £7 and I’m pipped on both Ducktales and Quarth as they go for over the average amount. £13 left. I’m going to have to settle for one if there’s a good Buy It Now option. Ducktales for a tenner to round it out? Sold. Not the rousing ending to this quest I was hoping for but I am happy with what I’ve picked up.

Picrossing the finish line

NL's Top 50 Game Boy List 7
Image: George Banks / Nintendo Life

So what did we learn? Well, I was able to grow my collection to a total of 38 games from this list (Ducktales and my loan of Game & Watch Gallery are in the post) – nearly quadrupling what I had in one week, all tested and working and ready to be adored. I’ll complete them all, return the loanees, and move on the ones that don’t sing to me. This will hopefully fund the remaining 11 which, really, are luxury purchases, all averaging over £50 unless you’re happy with a repro cart (and I must admit there is a £20 Parodius one from Italy calling to me) or one imported from Japan which tend to skew 40-60% cheaper.

But more than that – I learned that after three and a half decades of life, there’s still a community whose passion for this little brick burns brightly. Want a keyring of an obscure Game Boy title like Catrap? It’s a thing! Want to spend 100+ pounds on a special edition remaster of Avenging Spirit with a glow-in-the-dark cartridge? Go nuts! There are people making new games and physical releases for it as you read this – I got to speak to some of them recently and they’re mad and brilliant. People are keen to show off and sometimes even share their collections. Seeing listings for manuals and tattered boxes made me so nostalgic for the days when you could pop into a high street game shop and there’d be stacks of these little cartridges to grab - all boxed and complete.

And though that’s less of a thing these days, growing your collection with a reasonable budget is possible – you just need to be organised, check every day, and don’t hesitate when you see a good deal. I’ll keep this list up and also watch to see how you shape it in the future with keen interest.

35 and still going strong. Long live Game Boy.

Game Boy
Image: Damien McFerran / Nintendo Life