Ninja Gaiden Shadow
Set three years before the NES Ninja Gaiden, Ryu makes his handheld debut to stop Emperor Garuda from taking over New York City. Though this entry lacked the pizzazz of its home console brethren, Ninja Gaiden Shadow was nonetheless a rollicking ride, with clean graphics, straightforward controls and Ryu in peak ass-kicking form.
Here it is, folks, the RPGs that launched a media empire. Who could have guessed that when Nintendo released Pokemon Red and Blue–first in Japan in 1996, then in the U.S. in 1998–they were the beginnings of a multibillion-dollar franchise, including more video games, a trading card series, a TV show, comic books and feature films? Maybe the brainiacs at Nintendo and Game Freak (the company that developed the games) did, but still, it’s an astounding achievement. And the games themselves are impressive as well, with a sprawling overworld littered with critters. The RPG format was tailor-made for the “catch ’em all” mindset as players sought to boost their stats and level-up their Pokemon. Pokemon Red/Blue, we salute you!
Originally developed and published for SNK’s Neo Geo console, then ported to numerous other consoles including the Game Boy, Samurai Shodown [sic] was released following the blockbuster success of Capcom’s Street Fighter II. For the most part, the two games are similar, except for one key distinction: Samurai Shodown features weapons-based combat, as opposed to the hand-to-hand combat of Street Fighter II and its clones. It was also set in 18th century Japan, rather than in the present, and focused on quick, damaging strikes instead of racking up those combos. These small but meaningful differences made Samurai Shodown an underrated gem of a Game Boy title.
Super Mario Land
It’s not really fair to the competition when you throw Mario into a “best Nintendo games” race. He’s gonna come out on top, or close to it. Here he is, close to the top with Super Mario Land, a 1989 launch title for the Game Boy. Just as Super Mario Bros. introduced many to the NES and home consoles in general, Super Mario Land showed the world what handheld gaming could do. Yeah, the monochromatic graphics are way old-school now and so is its side-scrolling gameplay, but the game is still super fun.
Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins
The first Super Mario Land introduced us to a pocket-sized Mario, but there were a few weird things about this version: odd power-ups, horizontal shooting levels and goofy sound effects. For the sequel, the development team ironed out those wrinkles and went back to basics, delivering a title that was a lot like Super Mario World for the SNES. With creative level designs, an overworld map and the ability to move right and left through a level, Super Mario Land 2 was a welcome re-introduction.
Super R.C. Pro-Am
Developed by Rare as a follow-up to R.C. Pro-Am for the NES, Super R.C. Pro-Am was one of those few Game Boy titles that employed the console’s four-player adapter, letting you race against three of your pals through 24 different tracks. Super R.C. Pro-Am was also notable for its visual and sound design, with its revving engines and screeching tires, which put players in the racing spirit.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Fall Of The Foot Clan
As far as tie-in games go, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Fall Of The Foot Clan is a pretty good one. Developed and released in 1990, during the height of Turtlemania, the storyline and gameplay are both pretty basic stuff: the Ninja Turtles must side-scroll their way to victory against Krang and Shredder, as usual. But where Fall Of The Foot Clan lacks in imagination, it makes up for in execution. The game is simply well-made, with a keen visual style and fun, engrossing gameplay. It takes less than 30 minutes to beat, but you’ll want to play it again and hang out with those pizza-loving turtles some more.
Who knows how many hours have been wasted playing Tetris? Probably years’ worth, but ya know, no regrets, because Tetris is an amazingly fun, simple and addictive puzzler, one that has imprinted itself onto our brains. Along with Super Mario Land, Tetris was a launch title for the Game Boy in 1989, making it synonymous with handheld gaming.
The Legend Of Zelda: Link’s Awakening
What started out as an after-hours experiment by members of Nintendo’s Analysis and Development division became a Game Boy port of SNES’s The Legend Of Zelda: A Link To The Past, which then turned into an original title, Link’s Awakening, the first handheld Zelda release. It was notable for not being set in Hyrule–instead, Link is stranded on an island guarded by something called the Wind Fish. The gameplay follows Link as he searches the island for eight musical instruments that will awaken the Wind Fish and allow him to escape from the island. Despite its monochrome limitations (that’d be ameliorated when the game was remade for the Game Boy Color), Link’s Awakening was an engaging, appropriately legendary action-adventure title.
Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3
Super Mario Land 2 introduced a new character to the Mushroom Kingdom canon: Wario, Mario’s main antagonist. In the third installment of the Super Mario Land series, you get to play Wario, you get to “be the bad guy,” as its advertising campaign declared. This time, you don’t have to rescue a princess in peril or anything like that. Just collect as much money as you can in order to build a bigger castle than Mario’s. That’s it. It was refreshingly rotten, a delightful departure from the usual do-gooder storylines.
What do you think of our list of the best original Game Boy games of all time? Any titles we missed? Let us know in the comments below.