Friday 21st April 1989 — the day that the Game Boy launched in Japan. Over thirty 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 50 best 3DS games, 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? Head to our library of Game Boy games (or click the games tab at the top of the page) and input your own ratings. We’ve reduced the eligibility from fifty votes to twenty for these vintage games, so we fully expect this to be a little more fluid than the other lists, especially in the initial stages. It’ll be fascinating to check back and see how the list evolves!
So, without further ado, let’s dive in…
If you're a fan of the original Kid Icarus you owe it to yourself to pick up the sequel. Not only does it capture the same magic found in the NES release, but it also builds on many of the great gameplay ideas featured in the original. The difficulty has been toned down to make it a bit more accessible, but there's still plenty of challenge to be found and a fairly lengthy adventure. Highlighted by some fantastic boss fights, Kid Icarus: Of Myths & Monsters is a great prelude to Kid Icarus: Uprising.
49. Dr. Mario (GB)
The Game Boy port of this pill-dropping puzzler offers a decent game, although it probably isn't top of the must-have puzzler list. Unlike Tetris, where the colours of the blocks are irrelevant, Dr. Mario’s pills are a little more challenging to keep track of, especially on the original system’s blurry screen. Still, if you’re a prolific practitioner in the medical field, you could do much worse than this falling-block title with a twist.
A first-party vertical-scrolling shmup, Gunpei Yokoi and Satoru Okada - the two designers primarily responsible for the Game Boy itself - were deeply involved in the development of Solar Striker. Released in the Game Boy's first year on sale, its hectic action showed just what the modest machine was capable of and, while it hasn't gone down as a celebrated classic in Nintendo's annals, it's still a quietly solid game with an excellent soundtrack.
This is a well-presented title with great music, sound effects and visuals that combine to capture the look of the show well. Gameplay is what matters, though, and this features varied levels and an assortment of different enemies that should provide a fun time even if you are not a fan of the Ninja Turtles (or this particular incarnation). The lack of adjustable difficulty is unfortunate, but otherwise Fall of the Foot Clan is an enjoyable gaming experience.
The sequel to Fall of the Foot Clan, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: Back from the Sewers gives the player the choice of the four turtles at the start of a level and it’s Game Over once you’ve gone through the lot. Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael and Mikey all control slightly differently and with chunky sprites and rockin’ music, Konami managed once again to deliver satisfying Ninja Turtle action on the Game Boy.
The Game Boy was, in many ways, the natural evolution of Nintendo’s Game & Watch line of one-shot portable devices, so the ability to play those games on one cartridge seemed like an acknowledgement of that handheld legacy. If you liked the originals, this collection is a must-have. Both the originals and remakes, which combine simple gameplay and subtle strategy, are here to enjoy and the newer versions play differently enough that you're quite likely to consider them new experiences in and of themselves. The musical and visual presentation is fantastic as well, and the entire package serves as a relic of a truly magical time in gaming. Or, perhaps, two truly magical times.
A fabulous portable cartoon platformer, Tiny Toon Adventures: Babs' Big Break is another example of a fine licenced game with excellent audio and solid visuals on the Game Boy. The charm of Tiny Toons might be the thing that grabs your attention, but the gameplay is remarkably good and Konami once again demonstrates why we’re so sad they don’t really make video games any more. Looney, indeed.
43. QIX (GB)
QIX is a classic game that suffers — if it suffers at all — from being born too soon. You essentially draw lines to cordon off areas of a rectangle for points - the larger the area, the better your score. Sounds simple but it's a great deal of fun, and satisfyingly simple to learn. This is definitely a game that some will find divine, while others will be puzzled by its popularity. It's quick to learn, easy to play and impossible to truly master. We can't promise you that you'll like this game, but if the game sounds even slightly appealing to you, we'd confidently say that it's worth the risk.
A cute little top-down fishing RPG, Legend of the River King charges you with saving your sister’s life by catching a magical fish... yep, that sounds about right. You sell your catch to buy supplies and work your way towards catching the big one. You can apparently even raise a pet fish, too. Charming.
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.