The Game Boy Color was Nintendo’s stepping-stone handheld, offering a moderate power increase compared to the first Game Boy, but substantially less than the Game Boy Advance, which would release just three years later. It maintained the same two-button control scheme as its predecessor, but swapped out the green-hued display for a much more vibrant one.
Despite its short lifespan, the Game Boy Color managed to get several great games, including titles in classic series such as Pokémon and The Legend of Zelda, and many of them are just as entertaining today as they were two decades ago. In fact, some are even better than more recent 3DS games and Switch games, and they’re certainly still worth tracking down.
1. Pokémon Gold and Silver
One of the best Pokemon games of all time, Pokémon Gold and Silver refined the formula and helped prove the craze wasn’t going away. More Pokémon, including excellent starter and legendary monsters, a huge new region, the return of the original Kanto region, and continued trading and trainer battle integration made it feel like a complete game that players could enjoy for months or years at a time. It has received a remake with updated visuals, but the original Game Boy Color version has a certain charm that can’t be replicated. It’s no wonder that Pokémon fans continue returning to Gold and Silver two decades later.
2. The Legend of Zelda: Oracle and Seasons and Oracle of Ages
Taking a page out of the Pokémon book for the Game Boy Color, The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons and Oracle of Ages are very similar games that contain different items key mechanics to separate them, such as a seasons system or time manipulation. They’re classic Zelda games at their core and sit alongside greats like Link’s Awakening and A Link to the Past, and they weren’t even developed by Nintendo internally — instead, Capcom took over and would continue handling 2D Zelda games through The Minish Cap on Game Boy Advance. A special linking system even gave a bonus to those who played both versions, and it’s dying for a remake as a Nintendo Switch game.
3. Mario Tennis
A bizarre game that has almost nothing to do with Mario at first glance, Mario Tennis is actually a role-playing game as much as it is a tennis game. As Alex, players arrive at a tennis academy and must work their way through the ranks of other students, both as a singles player and a doubles partner. The tennis mechanics are simple, with basic topspin and slice options, but it’s perfect for a system that only has two face buttons. Mario Tennis is still just as fun today as it was two decades ago, and the same can’t be said for all other iterations of the franchise.
4. Tetris DX
Tetris is one of the best puzzle games that was pretty much perfected on the first try, and it’s been very difficult to improve on that original formula. The original Game Boy version, however, was not in color, and it included a limited number of modes. These were expanded in the Game Boy Color version Tetris DX, and its vibrant color scheme made clearing lines and performing complex maneuvers more engaging for a longer period of time. What was not changed was the core Tetris gameplay, an exercise in simplicity and precision that has held up for decades.
5. The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening DX
A colorful remastered version of the original Game Boy game, The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening DX changed almost nothing else from its green-hued predecessor. The beauty of Link’s Awakening is that the game didn’t need to change, as it was already one of the strangest and most experimental titles in the entire series — and remains so today. Elements from the Super Mario series found their way into the game, but despite its oddities, it’s still a Zelda game at heart, with all the dungeon exploration and boss battling that goes with it. For anyone who hasn’t played the Switch remake, it’s definitely a good — and cheaper — substitute.
6. Wario Land 3
The Wario Land games took the core platforming elements from the Mario series and gave them a healthy dose of weirdness. Wario solves problems with his brawn, and this includes defeating enemies as well as solving puzzles. Wario Land 3 continues the excellent series, with Wario once again transforming into a variety of different forms based on items from the environment. The coin-lover’s adventure looks simple but satisfying on the Game Boy Color’s screen, and the sound effects and music are cheery and bouncy. It isn’t Mario, but it’s a great substitute for players looking for something a little goofier.
7. Donkey Kong Country
One of the best games on the SNES, Donkey Kong Country, was eventually ported to the Game Boy Color, complete with the same gameplay of its biggest sibling. The visuals had to be cut down to make it run on the less-powerful Game Boy Color, but the unique and slightly stiff jumping remains intact, making it one of the most difficult games on the system. Donkey Kong Country may not have the same universal appeal of Super Mario Bros., but it has a certain charm and flavor that can’t be replicated. Being able to play it anywhere just increases its appeal.
8. Kirby Tilt ‘n’ Tumble
Motion control wouldn’t become standard in handheld gaming systems for more than a decade, but HAL Laboratory and Nintendo put the technology somewhere else: the Kirby Tilt ‘n’ Tumble game cartridge. A motion sensor built into the game allowed players to move Kirby around like a marble, solving puzzles that would be far too finicky and difficult on a traditional controller’s directional pad. With smartphones and modern systems like the 3DS supporting motion control across their libraries, the novelty isn’t quite as impressive in Kirby Tilt ‘n’ Tumble today, but it highlighted the creativity of designers who had to work with a limited piece of hardware.
9. Harvest Moon GBC
Who needs Stardew Valley on Switch when Harvest Moon GBC is available? An updated version of Harvest Moon GB for the original Game Boy, the Game Boy Color version is a portable take on the series’ classic farming gameplay, tasking you with overhauling a farm and turning it into a profitable plot for both crops and animals. The Harvest Moon series’ charm has made it a classic for years, and it’s both relaxing and rewarding to design your farm to your liking and
10. Mario Golf
The Game Boy Color version of Mario Golf gives the fantastic Mario Tennis a run for its money. Play it in role-playing mode or as an excellent arcade-style tennis game. Its story mode features several characters who aren’t found in the Mushroom Kingdom, giving it a unique feel compared to more recent Mario sports games that stick with the classic, recognizable heroes. The game can also be connected to its console counterpart for additional features, using the Nintendo 64’s Transfer Pak. A version of the game is also available as a download for Nintendo 3DS.
11. Super Mario Bros. Deluxe
Super Mario Bros. is a timeless classic that didn’t really need to be updated, but Game Boy Color decided to pack in some additional trimmings anyway. Some of the colors are now different, making it look extra bright and vibrant on the Game Boy Color’s screen. Fans of the NES original will appreciate the Deluxe version for nostalgic reasons if nothing else. But there’s plenty for newcomers to love, too – the perfect platforming and level design of the game make it an enjoyable game to play. It’s definitely more replayable than some of the “New” Super Mario Bros. that came later.
12. Pokemon Pinball
There’s simply no better way to make use of a two-button console than with a game that only uses two buttons. Pokémon Pinball is a themed pinball game that can be played the traditional way with a focus on getting the maximum score before running out of balls. However, it also has more Pokémon-specific features, with players able to capture monsters and even evolve them through proper pinball play. It’s one of the more successful spinoffs in a series that has certainly seen its fair share, and while it won’t keep players busy for as long as the main role-playing games, it’s still worth checking out.
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