The Gameboy… with the technology inside it’s little non-descript frame, it should never have made the impact it did. It didn’t have the guts that the Atari Lynx and Sega Game Gear had but they were different times. Gamers didn’t care about specs like they sadly do today. Nintendo got it right with a comparatively excellent battery life, solid hardware design, and of course, including a copy of Tetris with every single unit was an absolute stroke of genius. You know a game is special when you like it, but so do your parents. My mum played Tetris anytime me and my bro weren’t using the Gameboy, and I reckon she’d still kick our asses at it today.
I had to play with my Gameboy either being beaten down upon by the sun so I could see it, or under the harsh brightness of the living room lamp. But at the time, I didn’t think about this. I was too engrossed in hacking my way through Koholint Island, or plotting to drop a safe on Sylvester the Cat’s head to notice. I’d take it with me I was out travelling with the family, and despite the fact I didn’t have a lot of games for it back then, the few I did felt so special to me. They felt rare because I didn’t realise how big a catalogue was actually out there. It was, and still is, a great console and I still have mine next to me on my bedside table.
Of course, there was a WHOLE lot more to the Gameboy than just laying bricks for a Tetris. In fact, it had over 1000 games released for it worldwide, but we’re narrowing it down to the 10 essential games that the average Gameboy owner should consider an absolute lock in their collection. Like the Mega Drive collection, a series’ games will be respected individually, so expect to see more than 1 of a certain franchise in here.
10. Final Fantasy Adventure
Final Fantasy in name alone, the game is actually the first title in the Mana series, this being followed by the now legendary Secret of Mana on the SNES. With aesthetics that look extremely reminiscent of a NES Final Fantasy title, it actually plays more like Secret of Mana, it’s sequel. So you’ll find magic points on offer here, as well as the same action bar that features so prominently in the Mana series. The longer you leave the bar to fill in-between attacks, the larger the amount of damage you’ll dish out. Let the bar max out, and you’ll carry out a special attack. Simple fare today, but quite innovative for its time.
If you loved Link’s Awakening, and love Secret of Mana, you can’t go wrong with this title, and it’ll provide you a good load of hours to enjoy its winding storyline. If there’s one feature in here we don’t get to see enough of, it’s the ability to kill townspeople. Yeah!!! Let the blood flow just because you don’t like the cut of someone’s jib.
9. Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3
Wario had developed an unexpected following following his stint in Super Mario Land 2 (more on that later). What to do with a bad guy who was trying to kick the ass of your most successful mascot but somehow became loved by the fans? Give him his own game of course! And it doesn’t stray too far from the successful formula presented in SML2.
Wario comes across like a real meat-head here. He’s shoulder charging around, wearing a bull hat whilst doing so. He looks significantly larger in comparison to how Mario did in SML2, so we’ve seen a real jump in size from the main character of SML1, through to this SML3. With a very similar soundtrack to SML2, reminiscent graphics, and map screens which again follow like a copy of the Super Mario World map, a fan of the Land series will feel very at home here but it is still different enough to present a new challenge.
This is also where Wario’s fascination with money began, with coins no longer acting as a score counter, but as currency for Wario to spend or literally throw around at enemies. They play a huge part in the game, to the point that the ending you see at the end of the game all hinges on just how many coins you have in your possession come that time. Some call this the most successful spin-off from the core Mario series, and I can’t disagree considering just how popular the Wario brand became later on over the years.
8. Kirby’s Dream Land
To the less knowledgeable gaming fan, it might come as a surprise that the first Kirby title was not a NES release, but this solid effort on the Gameboy. Consider this the reason why we all love the little pink dude today. Oddly enough, he wasn’t pink on the original game’s cover, but white. He appeared pink in Kirby’s Adventure on the NES, no doubt so Nintendo could take advantage of the colour palette and not just have a generic looking white circle as a hero.
Anywho, it’s your standard platforming fare, Kirby running round taking on the Kirby enemies we all know and love such as Whispy Woods, Kracko, and the Poppy Bros. Sr. He did not have his copy ability in this first game, so you won’t find the awesome abilities that he’d incorporate later down the line, but the game is still a fun jaunt and definitely worth your time to get through. If you’re a big enough fan, on completing the game you receive a code to play it back through but on a harder difficulty! None of this paying for DLC bullshit we have to deal with today, no sir.
7. Metroid II: Return of Samus
Following up one of the NES most popular titles was always going to be a hard feat for Metroid II, but I think it did a fairly good job of it. It certainly doesn’t reach the heights of Metroid, but at least it tried something a little different and didn’t get punished for it. Also, if you’re a fan of Metroid, it’s all we got on the Gameboy so it’s all you’ve to treasure on the system.
While it looks and plays like NES Metroid, it’s gameplay goes down a fairly different route, following a much more linear route than Metroid did. Samus Aran is tasked with destroying the metroid population she finds on the planet of SR388, with more of the game map being unlocked with the more kills you get under your belt. Whilst the game doesn’t have the fun and wonder that the original did, it’s still worth a playthrough to see exactly where the story bridges Metroid and Super Metroid together.
Samus also looks like she’s punching mid-air when she runs. Just thought you’d like that.
6. Donkey Kong
I LOVE this game, especially for how it fooled me the first time I played it and I was convinced I was playing a straight up port of the original arcade classic. I thought graphically it was a massive improvement, but isn’t this just the exact same game?? And then I completed the 4th original level and that’s when Donkey Kong turns the game upside down with one fell bounce. Suddenly, I was playing what now felt like an expansion pack to the classic Donkey Kong. I’m in the city chasing DK who has now fled with Pauline, and I’ve now got a further 97 levels to beat following the 4 classic ones I just did.
Bonus games become a thing with lives to win, there are puzzles which on the surface seem easy to deal with but become tricky later on, there’s map screens which show you how Mario is journeying to find DK, it becomes this whole other entity. It would be great to see Nintendo do twists like this with some of their lesser-remembered classics like Dr. Mario and Wrecking Crew for example. It’s a rare treat to find Nintendo play around to this degree with one of their classics but it worked and you’ve got a real treat in store if you’re still yet to play this awesome game.
5. Super Mario Land
SML 1 is such an oddity in the Super Mario timeline. It’s considered an absolute classic, and yet Nintendo have barely went back to it or even referenced in it ever since its release. You only have to look at that game cover to see that other than Princess Daisy, every other element has never been returned to in following Mario games. Which is a shame, as there’s a lot of potential here that could easily be used, such as the game’s head-boss Tatanga. Outside of an appearance in the sequel to SML, he’s only ever been mentioned in passing in games like Super Smash Bros. Melee and Mario Superstars Baseball. There are side-scrolling shooting sections with Mario piloting both a submarine and airplane which work very well and and again, this isn’t something that Nintendo has ever come back to fully.
In comparison to Super Mario Bros. there’s a hell of a lot going on in that screen, and it IS a harder game as a result but I prefer it. If I have one niggle with the game, it’s that the physics of Mario just don’t feel quite right. His jump is nowhere near as floaty as it has been in other platformers he has featured in and you can really feel it, adding more to the already hard difficulty of the game. The soundtrack is memorable, the level design is tight, and the challenge is formidable, but if only we could have had a save feature…
The game was so popular, it sold more copies than Super Mario Bros. 3, which is crazy considering how this one has been forgotten to the average gamer while Mario Bros. 3 remains as popular as it ever has, maybe even more so following the release of last year’s NES Mini Classic. If you’re any kind of a fan of the Gameboy, you should already be owning a physical copy of this bad boy.
4. Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins
This of course was where Wario made his debut, and whilst the game is notable for this, he doesn’t actually make much of an appearance. Outside of the final battle with him, I can’t remember him appearing elsewhere in the game, and if you even want to know why he’s in the game, you better have that instruction manual to hand as the game gives you no indication as to his role whatsoever. I could be wrong as it’s been a while since I played through it, but it’s a little surprising how popular his appearance was as he’s only in the game for about 5 minutes.
It’s a game which truly improved upon its predecessor in every way. Graphically it’s a world away from what SML1 had going for it, all character models had a ton more detail to them, and the game felt more free, akin to Super Mario World. Whilst the challenge has dropped from SML1, it just feels more fun due to the slower tempo and the cartoon look it now presents. Mario has new power-ups, gets to visit the moon, traverses a map to reach the different zones, there’s a lot to like in this peach of a platformer.
It’s not all rosy of course. While the soundtrack remains listenable and the sound effects are just about right, the audio can be a little grating, a lot moreso than the original SML1. It also sometimes felt to me like you were zoomed in to a screen which could possibly show more, and you were sometimes left with a lot of sudden appearances from different things on the right hand side of the screen. These are probably more personal issues than wide-spread, I can be picky. Overall, it’s an absolute classic and a worthy sequel to another great in the Mario series.
I said it in the intro, but when I can enjoy a video-game, but also have to deal with the fact my mother could kick my ass at it, you have to see there’s something special going on there. Tetris is one of, if not the most, recognisable games in history. It’s up there with the Pokemon games, Candy Crush, Sonic the Hedgehog, Pac-Man, Super Mario Bros.,
Zool, and it’s simply down to simplicity. One of the most accessible premises in gaming, create solid horizontal lines, gain the points for doing so. Gain stacked points for making 2 or more lines at once, and if you score 4 lines in one go, you hit a ‘Tetris’ where the game gets its name from.
There’s not a whole lot more to say here, everyone knows the game, the incredibly familiar theme tune, the oddball ending scene if you managed to reach it, and the classic 2-player mode which no-one played because they couldn’t be arsed to buy the extra lead for the connection. If you haven’t played it yet, play the original for pure nostalgia, or grab Tetris DS for what I believe to be the absolute best version of the Russian stalwart.
2. Pokemon Red / Blue
I’m about the only Nintendo fanboy out there who enjoys very little about the main Pokemon series. Every new iteration of the game seems identical to the last and I’ve tried a fair few, having bought Sapphire, White 2 and Platinum, and have tried others as well. I just never got it. I did however love Pokemon Snap, that game’s wicked fun.
This isn’t my list however, this is our essential list for the Gameboy, and there’s no doubt in my mind this is an absolute lock for a top 10 spot, in this case 2nd place behind what is my favourite Gameboy game. Fans talk of their love for the Pallet Town music, of the attachment they feel to ‘their’ Pokemon they have brought up through it’s levelling up and breeding, and of course, the infamous truck. Whilst the blue and red versions are near identical in their journey, the different selection of Pokemon in each version was enough to convince players that both titles were essential if they were going to reach for a full pokedex.
On a sidenote, check out the guy on Youtube who plays through both versions at the same time… using ONE joypad. Insanity.
1. Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening
And here we are, the game which inspired me to (crazily) recreate its world in Minecraft, which co-incidentally was also the first article I did for Funstock a few years back there. Considering the supposed technical limitations that a system like the Gameboy should impose upon a series like Zelda, Nintendo absolutely destroyed any potential mis-conceptions about what a 90s monochromatic handheld device was capable of. The game is huge. Not Link to the Past huge, but it feels just as large I think due to the system you’re playing it on. It’s just a little screen there, and yet you’re plowing through 8 dungeons, traversing a map featuring 256 screens-worth of terrain (not including interior locations), and meeting a cracking cast of eccentric characters along the way.
The game is just near perfect. With a memorable soundtrack, a very unique storyline to enjoy, and one of the series’ best items in the Roc’s Feather, there’s just so much to do and you’ll love it all the time that you are doing it. This was the first Gameboy game I was given with my brand new Gameboy when I was maybe 7 or 8 years old and I got lost in it so much, constantly playing next to the living room lamp at night-time so I could see what I was doing. It has always felt like a game of this magnitude should never have been possible on Gameboy but there you go, Nintendo are creative geniuses. Mind you, they never cottoned on to the ol’ ‘Press Select as you leave the screen to warp’ glitch. As I said, NEAR perfect.
We harp on about how the classics are always the best, and yet Nintendo’s latest Zelda release, Breath of the Wild, has fans of the series considering knocking Ocarina of Time off its perch to replace it with the Switch title. Yet where the handheld Zelda games are concerned, we are left with a polar opposite trend; the first handheld Zelda title has still yet to be dethroned despite there having been maybe 7 or 8 games released for the likes of Gameboy Advance, DS, and 3DS. If you’re a Zelda fan but have never given the handheld titles a chance, you’re an idiot. Remedy this now and play one of the top 5 Zelda games ever released.
Had this been my own personal top 10 list, I might have thrown in James Bond 007, and definitely Kirby’s Pinball Land. Maybe even Bubble Ghost. But this is what myself and Funstock consider the ESSENTIAL list of Gameboy titles. If you’re going to own the ultimate 10 games for the system, these are the ones you need. If you’ve actually managed to live this long without playing any of them, get it fixed. Should you disagree with any of these (and based on the response to the Mega Drive article I’m sure you will!), let us know in the Fscebook / Twitter comments!
Honorable Mentions go to: Kirby’s Dream Land 2, Donkey Kong Land, Dr. Mario, Final Fantasy Legend, Mega Man V, WWF Superstars, Mario’s Picross, Ducktales 2, Gargoyle’s Quest, Looney Tunes, Double Dragon, Turrican
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