The Game Boy celebrated its 25th anniversary in North America this year. Nintendo’s revolutionary handheld is undoubtedly the very foundation of the current handheld video game industry we see today. 25 years have passed since it launched in North America, a territory where it enjoyed immense success and became an important part of many a childhood.
Earlier this year we provided a historical retrospective on the Game Boy which you definitely want to check out. Continuing the celebration of this momentous occasion, a few select editors at Hardcore Gamer got together to share their fond memories of the Game Boy. We’ll be dusting off our old cartridges– and our nostalgic memories– to discuss some of our favorite games on the monochrome handheld classic.
Each editor will be talking about their three favorite Game Boy games. These games were either originally released for the Game Boy, or are Game Boy Color games that were backwards compatible with the original handheld. So without further ado, here are some of our most cherished Game Boy games and memories.
1. Pokemon Gold/Silver
The second generation of Pokemon is the best. Yeah, I said it. Pokemon Red/Blue might have had innovation and creativity on their side, but Gold/Silver made the first generation of Pokemon games look like Adventure on the Atari 2600. The world was bigger, 100 new Pokemon hit the scene, new types, new moves, new quests, and best of all a real-time clock that turned these RPGs into full-on virtual pets. I got up early in the morning to catch those early bird Pokemon and set aside time on the weekends to find rare items and Pokemon. The real-time clock expanded the already massive game into an involved and constantly busy world. There was so much to do in Gold/Silver. It hooked me, even more than Red/Blue did. Pokemon Gold/Silver aren’t just two of the greatest Game Boy games ever made, but two of the greatest RPGs ever made.
2. Donkey Kong Land 2
While I unfortunately didn’t own a Super Nintendo as a kid, I had a fondness for the Donkey Kong Country series. I’d visit friends’ houses simply to explore the jungle, ride the mine cart rails and take on King K. Rool with them. But my own original experience with Donkey Kong Country came from an odd place: Donkey Kong Land 2 on the Game Boy. As the Game Boy counterpart to Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest, Donkey Kong Land 2 was a powerful package for the platformer series. Every lick of action-adventure fun was present in the Game Boy cartridge, honed tightly in a more digestible way. The Donkey Kong Land series is routinely pushed aside by its SNES brothers, but Donkey Kong Land 2 is one of the best representations of the series, all in a portable form. Tackling Kremlings on the go hasn’t been easier or more fun.
It may seem a little weird giving a game like Tetris one of my top spots, but saying that I was addicted to Tetris during my youth is like saying Shia LaBeouf needs to sharpen his social skills. This was a game that swallowed gamers’ spare time, and the best part is that no one even realized it until hours and hours had passed. Alexey Pajitnov’s creation, long before it became the icon it is today, was a simple game. Match the falling blocks. But that simplicity was the kind of bite-size addiction that yearned to be played on the go. As a launch title for the Game Boy, you couldn’t think of a more perfect combination. Tetris became the game anyone would play on their lunch hour or on the playground at recess. Better yet, the ability to connect your Game Boy Link Cable allowed for multiplayer battles against friends. Tetris is a game so well-designed that decades after its creation, we’re still talking about it. We’re still playing it. We’re still loving it.
1. The King of Fighters ’95/’96
I’m generally not the biggest fan of stripped down portable renditions of fighting games, but SNK did the best job when it came to handheld fighting. The games they released for the Neo Geo Pocket are still as good as it gets when it comes to fighting on the go, but before their foray into the portable console wars they gave the Game Boy some polished fighters too. The King of Fighters was a great game on the Game Boy, and I honestly enjoyed it a lot more than the original arcade version. The limited controls were put to effective use, the visuals were fun and charming, the soundtrack remains in my head to this day, and pulling off those massive chain combos was a joy. The King of Fighters was great because it didn’t try to replicate its source material, as it instead offered a fun and thorough fighting experience that was tailor made for the Game Boy.
2. The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening
Initially the Game Boy was just a fun diversion to me, offering simplified alternatives to superior console releases. Then I played The Legend of the Zelda: Link’s Awakening and that changed my perception entirely. With Link’s Awakening I found myself engrossed and engaged the same way I would be for a console game. It took portable gaming to a whole new standard, showing developers and gamers that Game Boy games could be so much more than a casual car trip companion. Link’s Awakening was the first game that really showed me the true potential of that simple monochrome handheld, and to this day it remains my favorite Zelda game ever.
3. Kirby’s Dreamland
I remember Kirby’s Dreamland as the first game game that made me kick, beg, and scream for a Game Boy. It took a long time for my parents to budge, and in the meantime I had to settle for playing it on my cousin’s Game Boy. My cousin was a mean kid who didn’t enjoy sharing, and I felt really deprived for not having the game and handheld myself, but now these sad moments from my childhood have become fond nostalgic memories. Such was the allure of Kirby’s Dreamland at the time, and it was simply the fact that I couldn’t have it which made me want it so desperately. While I’m not the biggest Kirby fan today, that original Game Boy release was one of my most desired games.
1. Pokemon Red/Blue
As a ten-year-old, it was only natural for me to begin my journey on becoming the greatest Pokemon master. I received Red for my birthday as well as a red Game Boy Pocket. It was the perfect match. I even remember starting out with Charmander and quickly realizing how terrible a decision that was once Brock trampled me in my first gym battle. However, it did not deter me from loving Pokemon. I then got Blue and finally became a Pokemon master as I actually did catch them all. I put my Game Boy through some tough times. I managed to drop it and bust the volume dial. Because of these two games, I’ve enjoyed every subsequent release of the series. I have so many fond memories and I know there are still more to come. I remember playing it at Denny’s, my sister’s gymnastics practice and even leaving it plugged-in with the adapter overnight.
2. The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening
If we were to measure how much playtime I spent with each game, we’d have to base it on how worn-out and faded the cartridge art has become. This was actually the second game I ever got for Game Boy but took me the longest to figure out. There’s a certain point in the game where you need to sprinkle magical dust on someone, but I never knew that! Once I figured it out, Link’s Awakening was so much fun. The best part is screen-skipping, going from one end of a screen to the other side of the opposite screen. I remember opening the game before even leaving the van. I played immediately, only using the small light above me to light the way.
3. Metroid II: Return of Samus
This is another game I played until the artwork became faded. It was my first taste of the series and because of this game I enjoyed Super Smash Bros. and the Metroid Prime series. It took me awhile to realize where I needed to go. It was exciting finding new attacks and skills. There wasn’t much in the game in terms of depth, just go around hunting down the Metroids but that was enough to keep me entertained. A pretty disappointing feature of the game was the specific locations for saving data. It could take awhile before running across those podiums. I remember getting pretty far into the game that I couldn’t put it down. Luckily, mom didn’t yell at me when I brought my Game Boy inside the Chinese buffet and continued playing while everyone else went up for their plates.
1. Kirby’s Dreamland
Kirby’s debut was also the first Game Boy game I ever played. As a Game Gear owner first, I had never played the original Game Boy until my uncle Jimmy got one and I tried it out. The little white puffball’s first adventure was an easy one, but perfect for the small screen. There was no frustration, and the cheery music calmed down whatever nerves were built up during boss battles.
Tetris was a staple of every original Game Boy library, and it’s among the greatest pack-in games of all-time. It did for puzzle games what Super Mario Bros. did for side-scrolling platforms and didn’t just revolutionize the genre, but introduce a lot of people to a genre they wouldn’t have partaken in otherwise. Two and a half decades later, this version of the game is still one of the finest available.
3. Donkey Kong
Donkey Kong for the Game Boy was the original confusingly-named reboot, only instead of a need for speed, you’re left with a need to save the princess. The arcade original’s four boards toppled the NES’s three, but this king-sized installment gives you 101 levels to play. It gives Mario new abilities he lacked in the early ’80s, and was a showcase title for the SNES’s Super Game Boy peripheral.
1. Dr. Mario
In the ’80s and ’90s there were dozens of puzzle games, but the only two that really stand out are Tetris and Dr. Mario. Tetris has already been highlighted by my colleagues so I will take the latter. Dr. Mario was a very simple-to-learn, hard-to-master game of stacking colored medicine capsules onto like-colored viruses in a jar in order to eradicate them. The hard-to-master part comes in the later levels when there’s viruses galore and very little room for error. That said, it’s every bit as addicting as its Russian counterpart, in that even when you get to a game-over state you never quite want to give up and stop playing for a long time. Add to that some infectious music, I mean the kind where the tunes get stuck in your head long after you’ve put the game down, and you’ve got yourself a legendary puzzle game.
2. Super Mario Land
The second game I ever popped into my Game Boy was Super Mario Land, a game that took the traditional Mario platformer to a new land, so to speak as we take Mario out on a quest to save not Peach this time, but Daisy, with her introduction into the Mario universe. It works much like a typical Mario game, but the enemies and powerups are a little different, and I think this was to take advantage of the monochrome screen, for example the “fire flower” is more of a super-ball that bounces around, and when you bounce on turtles their shells explode a fewe seconds later. In addition to these slight variations, there are also a couple levels where you get to fly a plane and navigate a submarine, both of which are first for Mario and are items never seen in the console titles. The game spawned 2 sequels, both of which introduced and then featured another stapleof the Mario universe, Wario. So without the Game Boy, we may never have seen these characters.
3. NBA All Star Challenge
In 1991 I took whatever games got bought for me, without even a part-time job for another 3-4 years, a beggar cannot be a chooser, so while I didn’t choose this title, I certainly ended up playing the living hell out of it. Luckily at this time in my life, I also gave a crap about basketball. The game itself consisted of some skills challenges you could pit one all-star from each NBA team into playing, so for example you could take Larry Bird through a 3-point tournament or Michael Jordan into a game of H-O-R-S-E, or Clyde Drexler in a Slam Dunk contest. The short-play of these were perfect for a handheld, rather than playing full-on basketball games. While this game probably doesn’t quite hold up to the test of time against things like NBA2K14 and the like, it was great for what it was at the time, and may quite possibly be one of the few things LJN put out that didn’t suck.
1. The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening DX
After the epic adventure of Link to the Past, it must have been odd to think of Zelda as a smaller handheld game. But odd as the circumstances of the game’s release might seem, its story is odder still. Link’s Awakening is a fever dream full of talking animals and surreal circumstances. With devious dungeons and inspired bosses, it quickly washed away any doubts that it was a proper Zelda game. The DX version of the game gives you access to a special bonus dungeon on Game Boy Color, but even with out a GBC it still edges out the original version with its Game Boy Printer compatibility.
2. Pokemon Gold/Silver
Pokemon is more or less the defining cultural touchstone of the millennial generation, and with good reason. Its anime, comic, and movie spinoffs paint a unique fantasy world full of wonder and possibility, and between them managed to excite the imaginations of children around the world. Beyond that though, at Pokemon’s core, is a very simple and solid RPG with an addictive emphasis on collection and personalization. While Pokemon Red/Blue sparked the phenomenon, it was Gold/Silver that really delivered on Pokemon’s promise. A hundred new critters joined the fray, but what made Gold/Silver special were the ways it changed the core experience: a real time day/night cycle made the world’s ecosystem feel alive, and breeding mechanics introduced a new layer of strategy to building your perfect Pokemon team. Plus, shiny Pokemon gave kids a new impossible dream to chase after – one that blew “Mew under the truck” out of the water.
3. Pokemon Trading Card Game
Speaking of cultural touchstones, who under 25 doesn’t remember lusting after a hundred dollar Charizard in their youth? The Pokemon card game was a smash hit to rival Magic: The Gathering, and its unique stock-driven win condition set it apart from more conventional card games. While it was fun to toss around the little glass counters and battle on a tabletop, nothing beat Pokemon Trading Card Game for Game Boy. On top of the expected game link mode, Trading Card Game featured a full-fledged role-playing campaign that took you around a strangely card-obsessed corner of the Pokemon world. It went on to become the gold standard for video game adaptations of the card game, and the likes of Yu Gi Oh! and Duel Masters both shamelessly copied it time and again.
The Game Boy certainly brings back a lot of cool memories thanks to its massive library of timeless classics. We had fun reminiscing, but the birthday party isn’t over yet. Be sure to share your favorite games and memories of the Game Boy in the comments below.