10. Mario's Picross (GB)

With 192 "regular" puzzles and an additional 64 Time Trial puzzles, the value of Mario's Picross is impressive, containing over 250 puzzles that can easily be taken with you anywhere you go. They're not very hard compared to some of the brainteasers in the later games, which also have various extra features, but it's still a great, an addictive piece of software, and a nice start for Picross beginners or those who just want some more puzzles to crack.

9. Final Fantasy Adventure (GB)

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.

8. Wario Land II (GB)

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 time. 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.

7. Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins (GB)

The original Super Mario Land was a solid start for the series on Nintendo's Game Boy system, but nothing prepared us for what Nintendo R&D1 was able to do with this sequel. Every aspect of the game is improved to the point that it genuinely feels of a piece with its 8-bit, home console brethren, delivering a longer, more in-depth handheld Mario adventure. It's a bit on the easy side, but it remains one of the best Game Boy titles ever released and a testament to just how capable a system it was in the hands of talented devs.

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.

6. Pokémon Red and Blue (GB)

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.

5. Pokémon Yellow Version: Special Pikachu Edition (GB)

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.

4. Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3 (GB)

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.

3. Donkey Kong (GB)

It's exceedingly rare that the echo triumphs over the voice, but if we had to pick between playing arcade DK or the Game Boy port, there's really no choice. Donkey Kong on Game Boy — Donkey Kong '94 as it's often called — is far more than just a simple sequel or port. After finishing the first four levels, you might assume that's it, but with over 101 levels in total, there's a whole other game awaiting you. In fact, it laid the groundwork for spin-off series Mario vs. Donkey Kong's gameplay.

Adding a metric ton of new features while still managing to keep the ‘arcadey’ feel of the original, the visuals and music are outstanding and complement this impressively expanded take on an icon. It's up there with the Game Boy's finest, and another wonderful portable title featuring Mr. D. Kong.

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 block-falling 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 beloved 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.

1. The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening (GB)

It would be difficult to argue against The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening being the pinnacle of gaming on the Game Boy. The developers were able to squeeze an extremely lengthy quest into the tiny package and push just about every facet of the handheld 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 entries in the series and one that is beloved among Zelda fans the world over. It laid the foundation for so many Zelda mechanics we still see today, introducing flying with Cuccos, trading sequences, playing songs on an ocarina, fishing, and even minibosses.

For such a tiny game, Link's Awakening created enormous shockwaves in the Zelda franchise that we're still feeling today. If you want to experience the very best that 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 that's handily available via Nintendo Switch Online) immediately. 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 these handheld classics, but it has also highlighted how older games can really benefit from some contextual knowledge of their development and release. Many on this list stand up very well today, while 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.

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Image: Damien McFerran / Nintendo Life

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:

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.