Hello, and welcome to another installment of the top ten games on each Nintendo system, as voted by the Nintendo Enthusiast staff and readers. This time, we will be looking at Nintendo’s first programmable portable system, the Game Boy. One very unique feature of the Game Boy is that it was forwards compatible with some of the Game Boy Color’s library. That makes it difficult to differentiate between Game Boy and Game Boy Color games, so this top ten list will combine them. Games released for both systems (the DX games) will be counted together.
The Game Boy had one of the longest lives of any Nintendo system, with many incarnations before it received a true successor. While it never received the most attention from Nintendo or third parties, the Game Boy and Game Boy Color’s combined reign lasted over a decade, ensuring that there are plenty of classics for them. Without further ado, here are the top ten Game Boy (Color) games!
Number 10: Super Mario Bros. Deluxe
The only game on the list that was ported from a previous system — well, unless you want to get into the complex history of a certain puzzle game we all know is coming — Super Mario Bros. Deluxe remains one of the best re-releases in Nintendo’s history. In addition to a perfect port of the NES Super Mario Bros., SMBDX has special challenges for each level, a simultaneous multiplayer mode, and the first eight worlds of the Japanese Super Mario Bros. 2. In a time when just having a faithful console port on a portable was a huge deal, the extras in Super Mario Bros. Deluxe made it something Nintendo fans would remember forever.
Number 8 and 9 TIE: Super Mario Land
While games played for ending instead of a high score had been well established by the time the original Game Boy was released, the majority of the Game Boy’s launch line-up was composed of simpler high score-based games. Super Mario Land was an exception, a short but fully functional Mario platformer. Playing similarly to the original Super Mario Bros. but with a new setting and some twists that Mario hasn’t had since, Super Mario Land showed what the Game Boy was capable of. The game is still a solid platformer today. Even if Tatanga will probably never show up again, Super Mario Land’s legacy will not be forgotten — and not just because of Daisy.
Number 8 and 9 TIE: The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages
After eight years with no 2D Zelda, the Game Boy Color somehow managed to release two full-length ones on the same day. Oracle of Ages won out over Oracle of Seasons, being a larger game with more emphasis on the puzzles that are Zelda’s signature. With an overworld you could visit the past and present of that was as fun to explore as the dungeons, Oracle of Ages is still one of the most fondly remembered 2D Zeldas. While the Oracle games definitely benefit from being played together, Oracle of Ages is a complete and satisfying Zelda adventure even if played by itself and a great send-off to the Game Boy Color as the torch was being passed to the Game Boy Advance.
Number 7: Mega Man V
While the first four Game Boy Mega Man games steadily improved in quality even with how derivative they were of the NES games, Mega Man V was when portable Mega Man showed what it was truly capable of. Mega Man V is a completely unique game, with a new set of bosses for Mega Man to fight and even a new type of Mega Buster to use. The control and level design is 8-bit Mega Man at its best and the graphics are shockingly good for a black-and-white Game Boy game. Aside from the omnipresent zoomed in view, MMV is as good as the NES Mega Man games. With the tragedy of Mega Man V’s repeated re-release cancellations finally averted on the 3DS eShop, there has never been a better time to try one of the most underrated Game Boy games.
Number 6: Metroid II: Return of Samus
Before Zelda, Metroid was the first non-linear Nintendo series to do the seemingly impossible and get a Game Boy release. We got a completely new Metroid that used the Game Boy’s limitations to its advantage. While it still had some of the rough edges you’d expect from an 8-bit game of its type, Metroid II is still a full Metroid adventure that made some advancements for the series. Adding the iconic Spider Ball and the ability to save for gamers outside of Japan, Metroid II was so good that it made people overlook how disturbing the story — Samus going to a species’ home planet to exterminate them — was. The game could certainly benefit from a Zero Mission-style remake, but even in its original form, the game is still playable and one of the most atmospheric titles on the system.
Number 5: Donkey Kong (1994)
It may have the same name as the arcade Donkey Kong from the early 80s, but the Game Boy Donkey Kong is anything but a port. Donkey Kong 94 might start out with the four levels from the arcade classic, but that’s just a speck of the 100-level puzzle platforming masterpiece. Mario has a move set comparable to his 3D platforming outings and he’ll need all of it to keep up with Donkey Kong and rescue Peach (Pauline?). Getting the giant key to the locked door or reaching Donkey Kong at the end of deadly obstacle courses will take equal measures of thinking and reflexes, and the game constantly throws new things at you. This series was sadly abandoned when its direct sequel (Mario vs. Donkey Kong) was turned into a Lemmings-style puzzle game, but Donkey Kong 94 is a timeless masterpiece that still demands to be experienced.
4: Super Mario Land 2: Six Golden Coins
In some ways, Super Mario Land 2 is very similar to the original Super Mario Land. It takes the basic gameplay of its console Mario contemporaries, but puts it in a new setting with a new villain. And like Super Mario Bros. 3, it is superior to its predecessor in every way. Mario has had his castle stolen by Wario in his debut role and must find the six golden coins to take back his home. The worlds containing each coin can be tackled in any order and have themes that were new to Mario at the time and still fairly rare for the series even today. With unique enemies and a Bunny Ears power-up that had floating far more broken than the Cape or Tanooki Suit could ever dream of, Super Mario Land 2 still has its own flavor today. That, however, is not what makes it so great. The perfect control and great level design may be in a lot of Mario games, but they never get old. Even if you’ve played every console Mario game, Super Mario Land 2 is required playing for platformer fans.
Number 3: Pokemon Red/Blue/Yellow
True story: there was a time when Nintendo executives thought Pokemon could never be popular outside of Japan. As literally anyone alive in 1998 can tell you, they could not have been more wrong. Pokemon saved the Game Boy and arguably portable gaming as a whole, outselling the state-of-the-art 3D console games it was released alongside. While readers of the right age range will doubtlessly remember the all-consuming Pokemania that consumed schools, the games themselves were much more than a fad. The triple-digit amount of playable characters, insane degree of customization, and compulsion to catch every Pokemon was something most gamers had never experienced before, portable or console. As broken as the meta-game was in retrospect, the first generation Pokemon games are still great RPGs and as addictive as ever. You may have outgrown the merchandise and no longer be willing to believe that Pikablu is in the forbidden garden, but the games will last forever.
Number 2: Tetris (DX)
We all knew this was coming. You can’t mention the Game Boy or even portable gaming without thinking of Tetris. You have seven combinations of four blocks and you have to fit them into complete horizontal lines. That’s it, that’s the entire game, and that’s all it needs to be. While many games on this list transcended the simply high score gameplay people associated portable games with, Tetris embraces it and does it better than anyone thought possible. The effort Nintendo went to in order to get the license for Tetris from the Soviet Union was worth it tenfold, as no other game has been as important to portable gaming. There isn’t much more to say about Tetris, but honestly, nothing else needs to be said.
Number 1: The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening (DX)
While I won’t say this game winning was a foregone conclusion, I think everyone knew it would place very high on the list. While previous Game Boy games had shown that you could make full adventures on a tiny black-and-white screen and some had even made advancements over their NES incarnations, The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening actually managed to evolve the Zelda formula beyond its Super NES incarnation and has aged like wine. Link’s Awakening was the first Zelda to achieve the modern formula of puzzle-filled dungeons that made constant and creative use of Link’s many items. The story is one of the most memorable and touching of the series and the music is among the best of any 8-bit system. The enemies are varied and require item use just like the puzzles while the overworld is densely layered with challenges and rewards for exploration. Whether you’re playing the game in color or its original black-and-white, Link’s Awakening is a masterpiece that needs no “portable” qualifiers. It has been over twenty years since the game was released, but it is every bit as enjoyable now as it was on the day when you first heard the commercial rapping about it.