Everyone had a Gameboy.
Nintendo’s first handheld system aside from the Game & Watch series, the Gameboy, was a powerhouse in its own right, rivaling home consoles with its limited graphical capabilities but massive user base.
Towards the end of its life, it was a system that could boast a library of games as competent and developed as any on the NES or SNES. This alone was an impressive feat for a console intentionally developed to be underpowered, but what sticks with posterity is how timeless these games are.
Not only are they great handheld entries in console franchises, but also they’re amazing games in their own right. Every game on this list deserves a shot, especially if you’re a fan of retro gaming.
Here are the ten top Gameboy games ever released on the system;
10. Donkey Kong Land
When Donkey Kong Country hit the Super Nintendo it revitalized one of Nintendo’s oldest brands and showcased some jaw-dropping graphics for its time. Of course, a handheld version was inevitable and, in many respects, faithfully captures the spirit and addictive gameplay of the SNES original.
In fact, many of the graphics, sans vibrant colors, were ported directly from the SNES to the portable version although Donkey Kong Land has completely unique levels from the SNES Donkey Kong Country. Occurring directly after Donkey Kong Country, the game puts the player in charge of Donkey Kong and Diddy Kong as they once again attempt to retrieve Donkey Kong’s banana horde from the Kremlings.
If you’re a fan of Donkey Kong or Nintendo’s platformers in general, you owe it to yourself to get this game.
9. Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3
Released by Nintendo for the Gameboy in 1994, Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3 is the first time Wario is featured as the main protagonist in a video game as well as the first appearances of Wario’s longtime rivals Captain Syrup and her Brown Sugar Pirates. Wario features interesting tweaks to the traditional Mario platforming formula. He can bump into enemies to stun them.
This allows the player to also throw the enemies as projectiles. Like Mario, Wario can also obtain special abilities – Wario’s being various helmets that give him upgrades that allow him to gain access to areas of the stage or complete certain objectives. Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3 was a huge success upon release for the Gameboy and launched the titular character into a string of spinoff titles.
8. Kirby’s Dream Land
Satoru Iwata and Masahiro Sakurai’s work on HAL Laboratories’ Kirby’s Dream Land solidified their prowess as a games designers and launched another one of Nintendo’s many mascots. The lovable pink puffball made debuts on both original NES and Gameboy, with the gameplay between the two being markedly similar.
A side-scrolling, action-platformer game, Kirby’s Dream Land excelled by being the best in its niche. Some people are torn on Kirby’s Gameboy debut but, in an era when platformers defined consoles, Kirby’s portable outing is markedly superior to many other offerings. Like Wario Land, Kirby’s Dream Land helped launch another major property for Nintendo, a marquee that still enjoys currency to this day.
7. Harvest Moon Gameboy
Before Farmville and its many iterations, prior to Stardew Valley and its “sensation,” there was Harvest Moon, a simple farming simulator for the Super Nintendo and Gameboy. Mimicking much of the gameplay of its Super Nintendo big brother, Harvest Moon Gameboy puts you in charge of a farmer who has to make it work.
Filled with all of the charm and addictive gameplay of the SNES version, Harvest Moon Gameboy is one of those handheld games that will make you forget you are playing on a portable console. Gameplay centers around farming, upgrading your farm, getting married, participating in town events, and watching the changing of the seasons. It’s all quaint and charming, but fiendishly time-consuming.
Enter at your own risk of losing track of the hours.
6. Metroid II: The Return of Samus
Recently re-released for Nintendo’s 3DS handheld, Metroid II: The Return of Samus is the direct sequel to the Nintendo original Metroid. If you did not get a chance to play the NES classic, you owe it to yourself to give it (or one of its remakes) a shot. Metroid revolves around exploration, platforming, and action gameplay.
Players are put in the role of Samus Aran, an intergalactic bounty hunter who is also the bane of the Space Pirates, the baddies seeking to control the titular Metroids for ill purposes. The Gameboy sequel features huge sprites, detailed graphics, sprawling stages – in many ways it was way ahead of its time and way beyond the scope of a Gameboy game. Released somewhat early in the system’s long life, Metroid II was a showcase of how potent portable gaming could be.
Long after its release it was held in high esteem in most Metroid fans’ hearts, even garnering grassroots remake efforts that turned out some of the best homebrew ports on the Internet.
5. Mario Picross
You wouldn’t think a collection of nonogram logic puzzles would be the basis for one of the Gameboy’s best games, but that’s just what Mario Picross is. There are 64 puzzles in all, each with varying difficulty, and a time trial for those really skilled players.
Laced with references to the Mario universe, Mario Picross is one of those games that shouldn’t be as fun as it is. If you enjoy brain teasers or are a fan of puzzle games, Mario Picross has plenty to offer you.
4. Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins
Super Mario Land was an amazing game, and in many respects deserves a spot on this list. We didn’t add it because Super Mario Land 2 is such a leap beyond what Super Mario Land offered that it isn’t right ot have them share the top 10. Graphically, Super Mario Land 2 looks like Super Mario Bros. 3 – only one of the most legendary entries in the series – and, in terms of gameplay, features the best of that entry as well.
Super Mario Land looked like a portable Mario game, but Super Mario Land 2 looked like a Mario game. It was a mind blowing experience back than, and one that still holds up today. Easily one of the best portable Mario games on any Nintendo handheld, Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins is a treasure of a game.
3. The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening
The first Zelda game ever on a handheld console, The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening took its cues from The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past in terms of graphics and overall gameplay presentation. One interesting fact about the entry and why it looks so similar to the SNES A Link to the Past is that the game began as a side project a few programmers at Nintendo undertook to make a port of A Link to the Past for Gameboy.
This side project eventually developed into its own game with its own story situated within the larger Zelda mythos. The game differed in that it did not task Link with saving Zelda, but rather he has to escape from an island. Wildly successful upon its release, critics praised the game’s depth and mechanics. Like many entries on this list, the game exceeded what someone would expect of a handheld game.
2. Pokemon Red and Blue
What more can be said about Nintendo’s Pokemon series of games that hasn’t already appeared somewhere else and in a possibly more elegant fashion? Pokemon Red and Blue are where it all began and are the games that breathed life into the system such that it morphed into a renewed phenomenon upon Pokemon’s release.
Players find, collect, and train Pokemon, scouring the world to improve and gather better monsters. Featuring RPG gameplay and a simple but deep combat system, Pokemon Red and Blue for the Gameboy established many of the convention that still govern mainline Pokemon entries to this day.
The game that launched the system is also the game that holds the title of system’s best. Tetris is a puzzle game that you can sink hours into and not master nor ever become bored. Developed in a Soviet lab, Tetris became a phenomenon that was the perfect launch title for Nintendo’s big foray into portable gaming, a then somewhat untested concept.
Proving that not only could portable gaming compete with home consoles but offer experiences just as addicting and dynamic, Tetris for the Gameboy also helped broaden the gaming demographic, introducing a whole new generation of people to Nintendo’s products.
Additionally, Tetris and the Gameboy’s launch at a lower price point opened up a new market of consumers that were left out by the NES price point or who were ambivalent about hooking something up to their television. To keep it short – Tetris helped revolutionize gaming along with the Gameboy and its hard to imagine it happening any other way.