The best Game Boy games of all time

As video games continue to evolve and improve with realistic graphics and other high-tech features, you might miss the excitement and simplicity of a device like the GameBoy every once in a while.  

Maybe you’re in the mood to play a little Tetris or experience the world of Super Mario Land again. It might just be time to dust your Game Boy off, and while you’re at it, you might want to consider purchasing some of these classic games to play on it.`

Adventure Island 2: Aliens In Paradise

Adventure Island 2: Aliens In Paradise
‘Adventure Island 2: Aliens In Paradise’

The original Adventure Island for the NES wasn’t quite, well, original. It was a Nintendo adaptation of Sega’s Wonder Boy, a fun but derivative platform-adventure title where you play Master Higgins on his quest to save his beloved Princess Leilani from the Evil Witch Doctor. In Adventure Island 2: Aliens In Paradise (which is really a Game Boy port of the third NES installment), Master Higgins must once again rescue his girlfriend, this time from aliens. He’s got some help, however, in the form of dinosaurs, including a triceratops and a pterodactyl, which he can ride and use to attack enemies. The addition of Flintstones-esque vehicular dinos, along with an expanded inventory system (eight items instead of the NES version’s five) and a more developed power-up element, made Adventure Island 2: Aliens In Paradise a classic title for the Game Boy.

Bionic Commando

Bionic Commando
‘Bionic Commando’

Like many of the games on this list, Game Boy’s version of Bionic Commando is a port of the NES original. There are a few minor differences: Instead of the contemporary military setting of the NES release, the Game Boy adaptation is futuristic, and — for some reason — your character is named Rad Spencer, not Ladd Spencer. Maybe Game Boy made him cooler? Those tweaks aside, the portable Bionic Commando features all the impressive platformer gameplay of the home-console predecessor. Instead of jumping, Ladd/Rad Spencer gets around using the grappling hook in his bionic arm. This might seem like a small adjustment from the usual script, but it gave the game unique mechanics and set it apart from other similar titles like Contra.

Castlevania 2: Belmont’s Revenge

Castlevania 2: Belmont's Revenge
‘Castlevania 2: Belmont’s Revenge’

The first Castlevania release for the Game Boy, 1989’s Castlevania: The Adventure, was an unoriginal and unimpressive misfire. For Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge, the developers returned a couple of years later with a portable game worthy of sitting alongside the home-console titles in the Castlevania series. Set roughly a hundred years before the events of the original NES Castlevania, you play another member of the Belmont clan, Christopher, as he seeks revenge against Dracula for kidnapping his son and turning him into a demon. To save his son and the rest of humanity, Christopher Belmont jumps and whips his way through four castles, each representing a different element. Unlike Castlevania: The AdventureBelmont’s Revenge features sub-weapons like holy water and axes. It also boasts improved graphics and a great, atmospheric soundtrack, a staple of the Castlevania franchise. Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge demonstrates that the Belmonts can kick, er, whip ass regardless of console size.

Contra: The Alien Wars

Contra: The Alien Wars
‘Contra: The Alien Wars’

The Contra series began as a coin-op arcade game, then it moved into living rooms worldwide as an influential and infamous (considering its difficulty) run-and-gun title by Konami. Then, it migrated from home to handheld consoles with Contra: The Alien Wars, a Game Boy adaptation of Super Nintendo’s Contra III: The Alien Wars, dropping the Roman numeral somewhere along the way. The developers dropped some other things too, like many of the enemy bosses, an entire level, and the ability to hold two weapons. Don’t let these changes be a buzzkill, though! The game was still loads of run-and-gun fun, and this time you could take it to go.

Donkey Kong

Donkey Kong
‘Donkey Kong’

By most accounts, Mario is the most famous video game character of all time. He first appeared, as “Jumpman,” in the 1981 arcade game Donkey Kong, in which he must save a damsel in distress, Pauline, from the titular Donkey Kong, all while dodging barrels. The 1994 Game Boy version didn’t mess with a winning formula, and simply took the super-influential arcade game’s four stages and made them portable. Oh, wait–hold up! After you’ve “beat” the game and the victory theme begins, Donkey Kong wakes up, snatches Pauline, and runs away. What follows is 97 more stages across nine worlds, with a final battle against a mutated, gigantic Donkey Kong. Now that’s a plot twist!

Donkey Kong Land

Donkey Kong Land
‘Donkey Kong Land’

This — the Game Boy translation of Donkey Kong Country for the Super Nintendo console — looks remarkably good, especially considering that by 1995 the Game Boy was becoming an antique. Developed by the storied Rare company, Donkey Kong Land follows the Kong clan as they try to save their home from the dreaded Kremlings. It was also pretty meta, with Donkey and Diddy Kong reflecting on their video-game fame and setting out to prove that a game doesn’t need “fancy [SNES] graphics” to be good. They were right.

Dr. Mario

Dr. Mario
‘Dr. Mario’

Originally developed for the NES, Dr. Mario worked better as a Game Boy title, despite lacking the colorful visuals of the home version. Apparently, Mario got his MD and has to prescribe pills to patients, filling up bottles with your help (this angered a lot of parents at the time, concerned that the game was teaching their kids some informal pharmacology). This is all pretty much just window dressing to hide the fact that Dr. Mario is a rather blatant ripoff of Tetris. As far as source material to crib from, though, Tetris is a stellar choice. So, by the transitive property, Dr. Mario was a fun and habit-forming puzzle game, just what the doctor ordered.

F-1 Race

F-1 Race
‘F-1 Race’

F-1 Race was perhaps most notable for its accompanying hardware. It was often sold alongside the Game Boy four-player adapter, which let you compete with three of your friends, and it was the first Game Boy game to include a battery backup, which allowed you to record your best times. These two features made F-1 Race a technical achievement, plus it was a solidly enjoyable racing game.

Final Fantasy Adventure

Final Fantasy Adventure
‘Final Fantasy Adventure’

This action-RPG title is more Zelda than Final Fantasy, featuring a top-down point of view and real-time battles. You could also kill townspeople if you were so inclined. Along with hack-and-slash elements, Final Fantasy Adventure emphasized player stats and leveling up, making it the best of both the action-adventure and role-playing worlds. It also sported an excellent soundtrack, crisp graphics,  and hours of quality gameplay.

Final Fantasy Legend 2

Final Fantasy Legend 2
‘Final Fantasy Legend 2’

Now here is a Final Fantasy Game Boy game with all those classic RPG features: A world map and a focus on statistics and long and challenging gameplay. The storyline revolves around your character’s quest to find his or her father while collecting shards of a broken goddess statue that contain magical properties. It all adds up to a sequel that outshines its predecessor.

Gargoyle’s Quest

Gargoyle's Quest
‘Gargoyle’s Quest’

What a journey: Firebrand, the gargoyle of Gargoyle’s Quest, goes from being a stock villain in Ghosts ‘n Goblins to being the hero of his very own adventure game, on a mission to stop an even badder bad guy, a demon called King Breager and his army of Destroyers. Gargoyle’s Quest follows in the same vein as Ghosts ‘n Goblins, featuring difficult side-scroller gameplay. As the game progresses, Firebrand becomes more powerful, gaining new abilities and new types of projectiles to shoot at enemies, making it the kind of game that rewards you for putting up with its difficulty.

Harvest Moon GB

Harvest Moon GB
‘Harvest Moon GB’

Harvest Moon let indoor kids sit back and plant crops, raise livestock, and chop wood for fun. Though farming doesn’t quite sound like the basis of a thrilling game, this simulator somehow worked. In case farm chores didn’t hold players’ attention, ghosts of deceased relatives and harvest sprites were thrown in for good measure. This Game Boy release was followed mere months by the Game Boy Color version.

Kid Dracula

Kid Dracula
‘Kid Dracula’

Kid Dracula is both a parody and spin-off of the much more serious-minded Castlevania series. While Castlevania is gothic and ominous, Kid Dracula is cartoonish and bouncy, a lively take on the franchise’s vampire mythology. You play Kid Dracula, the pint-sized bloodsucker, who has to stop the villainous Garamoth. That name will sound familiar to Castlevania devotees: Garamoth, renamed Galamoth, appears as a boss in Castlevania: Symphony Of The Night for PlayStation, albeit a lot meaner-looking. With breezy mechanics and an emphasis on exploration, Kid Dracula was a fun and inspired homage to both Castlevania and the platform genre as a whole.

Kid Icarus: Of Myths And Monsters

Kid Icarus: Of Myths & Monsters
‘Kid Icarus: Of Myths And Monsters’

The handheld sequel to the NES original, Kid Icarus: Of Myths And Monsters is just as good. Pit is back, armed with his trademark bow and unlimited supply of arrows, defending Angel Land from the evil Orcos and his army of demons. Like the original, it was a tough platformer, with fluid graphics and interesting enemy designs. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a huge hit, and Nintendo wouldn’t pick up the Kid Icarus series again until 2012, with Kid Icarus: Uprising for the 3DS.

Kirby’s Dream Land

Kirby's Dream Land
‘Kirby’s Dream Land’

The developers at HAL Laboratory grew to like the dummy character they’d drawn so much that when it came time to replace it with a more advanced image, they decided to stick with the stand-in. That dummy character, Kirby, is now one of the most iconic video game characters, a part of the Nintendo canon. Compared to the frenetic, intense platform titles of the period, Kirby’s Dream Land is, appropriately, relaxing and dream-like. Alas, as fun and fluffy the game was, the cartridge had no save files, which meant that players had to beat the game in one sitting. Not an enormously difficult task, to be sure, but still–c’mon, guys, save files! Those are important.

Kirby’s Dream Land 2

Kirby's Dream Land 2
‘Kirby’s Dream Land 2’

As is the case with most sequels, Kirby’s Dream Land 2 takes the formula of the original and adds more, more, more, featuring more worlds and more enemies. The developers also gave Kirby the ability to “borrow” the powers of the enemies he swallows, a skill that was introduced in Kirby’s Adventure for the NES. In his quest to save his beloved Dream Land, Kirby’s accompanied by his animal buddies — an owl, a hamster, and a sunfish — each with their own abilities. And this time around, they didn’t forget about the save files.

Mario’s Picross

Mario's Picross
‘Mario’s Picross’

This brain-teaser was huge in Japan and nowhere else, turning it into a bit of a cult classic in Europe and the United States. The game featured 256 Mario-branded logic puzzles in which players are guided by vertical and horizontal sets of numbers to mark boxes in a grid, which together form an image. This nifty puzzle game was perfect for folks who preferred Sudoku to Street Fighter.

Mega Man 5

Mega Man 5
‘Mega Man 5’

The maniacal Dr. Wily is at it again! In the year “20XX AD,” Mega Man, with a powered-up Mega Arm and a robot sidekick, must confront eight powerful robots called Stardroids, which he discovers are all part of Dr. Wily’s latest plot to take over the world. Unlike previous Mega Man releases for the Game Boy, which were just portable rehashes of home-console titles, Mega Man 5 featured all-new bad guys (the Stardroids) and storyline, welcome changes to a series that was starting to show its age.

Mega Man: Dr. Wily’s Revenge

Mega Man: Dr. Wiley's Revenge
‘Mega Man: Dr. Wiley’s Revenge’

Mega Man: Dr. Wily’s Revenge was the first handheld title in the Mega Man series. As great a milestone as that is, it came with a cost: Instead of the typical eight levels, this portable iteration had only four, making it a relatively brisk endeavor. Well, maybe not so brisk, considering it retained the high difficulty that the Mega Man franchise is notorious for. Even though it wasn’t exactly innovative, Mega Man: Dr. Wily’s Revenge ought to be appreciated as a game that paved the way for bigger and better things.

Metroid 2: Return Of Samus

Metroid 2: Return Of Samus
‘Metroid 2: Return Of Samus’

Metroid 2: Return Of Samus dramatically polarized fans and critics. Some praised its level design, replay value, and final scene (more on that in a second), and others criticized it for bland and fuzzy graphics and unimpressive audio. Even its sharpest critics, however, give credit where credit is due. Metroid 2 sets up the rest of the series perfectly with its last scene, in which Samus is unable to bring herself to exterminate a baby Metroid, the last of its kind. This was heady stuff for a Game Boy title.

Ninja Gaiden Shadow

Ninja Gaiden Shadow
‘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.

Pokemon Red/Blue

The Pokemon Series
‘Pokemon Red/Blue’

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!

Samurai Shodown

Samurai Shodown
‘Samurai Shodown’

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

Super Mario Land
‘ ‘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

Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins
‘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

Super R.C. Pro-Am
‘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

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Fall Of The Foot Clan
‘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.

Tetris

Tetris
‘Tetris’

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 LandTetris was a launch title for the Game Boy in 1989, making it synonymous with handheld gaming. Tetris has been re-imagined on numerous consoles — and even received the Battle Royale treatment with Tetris 99 — but it all started with this handheld game.

The Legend Of Zelda: Link’s Awakening

The Legend Of Zelda: Link's Awakening
‘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, Link’s Awakening was an engaging, appropriately legendary action-adventure title. In fact, the original game was so successful that it was remade nearly 26 years later on the Nintendo Switch.

Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3

Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3
‘Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3’

Along with Super Mario Land 2’s introduction of Wario came Super Mario Land 3: Wario Land. Rather than playing as one of the other classic heroes, you now roam the Mushroom Kingdom as Wario – a.k.a, the bad guy. 

Instead of rescuing the princess per usual, your goal becomes finding as much money as possible. The end game? Building a castle that far surpasses that of Mario. This twist and turn in the typical good guy race is refreshing, fun, and interesting.

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