Friday 21st April 1989 — the day that the Game Boy launched in Japan. 33 years ago the video gaming landscape would be forever changed as Nintendo opened up the new frontier of portable gaming to the masses. The company’s Game & Watch line let you take limited gaming experiences on-the-go, but the Game Boy was a different beast entirely.
The 8-bit machine with the 160x144 pixel LCD screen might have been modest in the specs department, but it was just powerful enough to offer deep gaming experiences, with the best examples rivalling those on home consoles. More importantly, its limitations proved to be strengths in the long run; that blurry monochrome screen used significantly less power than a backlit colour equivalent, and therefore gave the portable decent battery life – an essential factor to consider when your handheld relies on AA batteries to function away from a wall socket.
Gunpei Yokoi’s design philosophy – using proven, inexpensive components in new and interesting ways – continued through Nintendo's handheld line
Primarily the work of Satoru Okada and Gunpei Yokoi, the console was designed to a specific price point and goal; to be a practical portable device. Rival companies got carried away with the technical possibilities and contemporary handheld consoles with far superior specs fell by the wayside as Game Boy marched on. Gunpei Yokoi’s design philosophy – using proven, inexpensive components in new and interesting ways – continued through Nintendo's handheld line and carried over to its home consoles with Wii. The Switch itself, and novel experiments such as Labo VR, show that this approach continues to keep the Kyoto company in rude health.
Of course, it’s software which makes or breaks any console and the humble Game Boy could never have endured so long without its catalogue of incredible games. Obviously, it had the archetypal killer app in Tetris, and many still insist it’s the finest version of Alexey Pajitnov's puzzler. The story of its convoluted journey to the console is well worth investigating – a thrilling combination of guile, subterfuge and blind luck that went on to shape Nintendo and the video game industry at large.
Any video game company would be overjoyed to have a game with half the appeal of Tetris on its books, but after seven years – when you’d expect the console to be winding down – the Game Boy got the biggest second wind in video game history with the Japanese release of Pokémon Red & Green in 1996. A smaller, lighter revision of the hardware, the Game Boy Pocket, also arrived that year, and the console’s true successor – the Game Boy Color – would launch worldwide two years later alongside the western release of Pokémon. Although this marked a transition away from the OG hardware, the Game Boy line continued to enjoy almost 100% backwards compatibility up until the Micro variant of the Game Boy Advance in 2005.
While Tetris and Pokémon were the system sellers, there’s a vast library of games released for the system
While Tetris and Pokémon were the system sellers, there’s a vast library of games released for the system. The following list showcases the very best titles. You’re sure to find lots of ‘lands’ here — someone at Nintendo HQ decreed that the diminutive handheld simply couldn’t contain massive ‘worlds’, so Super Mario Land ushered in an era of ‘Land’ games from the likes of Kirby, Donkey Kong and Wario.
As with our lists of the 50 best Switch games and other Nintendo console Top 50 lists, the ranking here is governed by the game’s user rating on this very site. Just as before, logged in users can interact and rate the titles directly on these pages by hovering over the rating, or alternatively from each game's individual page. To be clear, the games listed here are for the original Game Boy only — there are no backwards compatible 'black cart' Game Boy Color games included (unless they happened to also receive a separate release for the original). If it says 'Game Boy Color' on the box, you won't find it below!
Can't see your favourite on the list? Use the handy search bar below to find Game Boy games and input your own ratings. Already rated your collection? Without further ado, let’s dive in…
Note. In order for games to become eligible, they need a minimum of 30 User Ratings in total.
With a few different moves and weapons to experiment with, Double Dragon keeps the fighting interesting as you work through its varied environments. The first part of the game is a bit too easy, but it does a good job of training you up for the tougher second half. On the downside, using the jump attack to clear gaps takes a bit of getting used to and the music isn't always great (sometimes it's far from great). However, this is an offering that may appeal to fans of the series or genre. Overall, a short yet sweet experience.
49. Pac-Man (GB)
The Game Boy version of Pac-Man plays the same as always, but in terms of presentation it's a bit less appealing. You're probably better off getting one of the dozens of other versions available across virtually every console in the past 30 years.
Wario Blast is a Bomberman crossover that sees the our favourite antihero dropped into the world of Hudson Soft’s brilliant top-down bomber. Released in Japan as Bomberman GB, you get the classic maze combat of Hudson’s game with a dusting of Nintendo’s IP and Wario’s dastardly antics. Sounds good, no? Yes, it is.
Pinball: Revenge of the 'Gator may lack the refinements showcased by modern pinball games, but that doesn't mean it should be ignored if you're a fan of the genre. The simplistic nature of the tables means you can give high-score chasing your full, undivided attention without being waylaid by distractions, and the ball physics are respectable enough to ensure you don't lose any games through anything but your own fault. HAL's effort may have been improved upon in recent years, but it's still an appealing and addictive pinball outing.
Kirby's Pinball Land isn’t everybody’s cup of tea, but it serves up a solid game of digital pinball starring everyone’s favourite pink amorphous ball. It's an experiment that didn't quite come together properly, but it's not without merit and its engine would be used again in Pokémon Pinball for the Game Boy Color. Kirby and pinball seem like a match made in heaven; this isn't quite that, but it’s a fun little mashup that showcased the potential for future Nintendo X pinball crossovers involving Pocket Monsters and intergalactic bounty hunters.
There are a few problems such as invisible barriers blocking bullets, and visually it's not the most ambitious Game Boy game, but the simple look works well, as does the music in this 8-bit take on ol' JB. James Bond 007 is an exciting, fun little game that provides plenty of pocket-sized entertainment.
We're also suckers for its classic gun barrel, blood-soaked cover. Diwww-di-di-diw diwwwww diw-diw-diw...
44. Nemesis (GB)
This game was renamed Gradius when it appeared in colour form on the Konami GB Collection Vol. 1, but this original version kept the original Japanese name in all territories. A seminal shooter, this portable version was a little marvel back in 1990.
43. Quarth (GB)
Quarth has its share of issues to be sure, but it's certainly good for short bursts of puzzle-oriented fun. Repetitive gameplay and a missing two player mode hold this one back from being a solid recommendation, but for a time-killing Virtual Console title, you could do worse. Its simplicity is either its biggest problem or its main selling point, and that's something you may have to decide for yourself.
42. Kwirk (GB)
Originally called Puzzle Boy in the east, the title character – an anthropomorphic tomato – was given a dose of ‘90s cool when he was renamed Kwirk for the west (‘He’s A-Maze-Ing!’ according to the box art...). He’s something of a Cool Spot prototype, but fortunately the game bearing his name is a winner. It involves pushing and rotating elements in the centre of a room in order to get to the other side. This can involve pushing blocks to open a path or filling pits with blocks and creating a path or switching between multiple characters and working together to get them all to the end. It’s simple and addictive stuff – two adjectives you’ll find describing the very best games on the system. Forgive Kwirk his try-hard ‘90s affectations and be sure to track him down if you can.
41. R-Type (GB)
As with any port to the Game Boy, cuts are inevitable, but this still delivers an authentic R-Type experience. A slower speed, fewer enemies on screen and the omission of two levels make for an easier version. However, this port still manages to provide a challenge and it works well on the hardware it was designed for, with good controls and clear visuals. It may be a shorter gaming experience on the Game Boy, but it's still a very good one.