Top 10 Game Boy Games
(Note: Going forward, we've decided to exclude ports/remakes from our countdowns unless they represent a significant improvement or reimagining of the original title.)
10: KIRBY'S DREAM LAND
Kirby’s Dream Land first introduced us to the iconic pink puffball (who, at this point, was white due to a North American mix-up). Yes, the game is simplistic, but it’s impossible to knock the title’s charming aesthetic and story. Playing through Kirby’s Dream Land is like entering an interactive fairy tale, where it’s your job to ensure that good triumphs over evil. It helps that the game controls like a dream (get it?), with Kirby’s signature flying and sucking abilities. It wasn’t until the NES sequel, Kirby’s Adventure, that Kirby developed his absorb and copy ability, but the more simplistic controls still hold up remarkably well. Give the game a shot; from the moment you enter Green Greens and hear the lovely soundtrack, you’ll find Kirby’s Dream Land as endearing now as it was in 1992.
9: GARGOYLE'S QUEST
More than just a spinoff to the popular Ghosts ‘n’ Goblins series, Gargoyle’s Quest provides a uniquely challenging combination of platforming and RPG gameplay. The game stars Firebrand, a Red Arremer (yes, the pesky enemy from GnG), who is tasked with defeating the menacing King Breager in order to save and restore peace to the Ghoul Realm. During the side-scrolling segments, players can cling to walls, hover briefly, and fire various projectiles at enemies and bosses. In between the platforming sections, gameplay switches to an overhead perspective, where players can explore an overworld (complete with random encounters) as well as various towns. As the game progressed, Firebrand gains new abilities and weapons, which makes Gargoyle’s Quest a difficult, yet rewarding experience.
8: FINAL FANTASY ADVENTURE
Though a true Final Fantasy game this is not, Final Fantasy Adventure succeeds on its own merits despite its misleading moniker. The game, which is actually the first entry in the Mana series, plays similarly to overhead-perspective Zelda titles coupled with some traditional RPG elements. Players engage in real-time, rather than turn-based, combat, and can upgrade their stats and equipment throughout the adventure. During combat, you can even utilize a replenishable power gauge which, when full, unleashed more powerful attacks. Additionally, an NPC occasionally accompany and assist you on your journey. With its effective blend of action and role-playing elements, Final Fantasy Adventure is a classic portable quest definitely worth undertaking.
7: METROID II:
RETURN OF SAMUS
Metroid II is a direct sequel to its seminal NES predecessor. Sure, it may have forgettable audio and visuals, but the game is hugely ambitious, successfully condensing a vast, foreign world onto a 2½ inch screen. The story alone deserves praise. In Metroid II, Samus is tasked with eliminating all of the remaining Metroid creatures from their home planet, SR388, using her vast arsenal of weapons and tools (including the newly introduced Spider Ball and Spring Ball). Throughout the game, Samus behaves like an exterminator, but her actions at the conclusion of the narrative brilliantly set up for the events of Super Metroid. Fans of this epic sci-fi franchise should not overlook this underrated gem.
6: DONKEY KONG
At first, Donkey Kong tricks you into believing that it’s just a rehash of the original arcade title (a fantastic game in its own right) by starting you off with identical stages. But after you complete these four familiar levels, you’ll progressively unlock an additional 97 (yes, 97) stages that introduce completely new gameplay mechanics. Donkey Kong turns out to be an ingenious little puzzle game revolving around locks and keys, and the brainteasers can be downright devilish at times. And, after every fourth puzzle, you’ll get to face off against Donkey Kong using Mario’s elaborate new move set, which includes back flips, handstands, and triple jumps. Donkey Kong is a quintessential Game Boy title that masterfully blends platforming and puzzle solving using the age-old tale of plumber vs. chimp.
5: WARIO LAND:
SUPER MARIO LAND 3
Wario Land will forever be one of Nintendo’s most interesting spinoffs. By transforming Wario from a greedy antagonist into a greedy protagonist, Nintendo successfully created a unique and experimental platformer. Wario Land takes place in a large, dynamic overworld with a ton of hidden secrets. The gameplay feels distinct from Mario’s adventures thanks to some unique powerups, which include a Jet Helmet (that allows you to soar over chasms and other dangers) and a Dragon Helmet (that shoots fire at your enemies). And, after every level, you can gamble your earnings in a game of chance or an addictive bomb toss mini-game. Fittingly, at the end of the title, you’re rewarded based on the amount of treasure you’ve accumulated; if you’re as greedy as us, you won’t stop until you’ve found every last gem.
Alongside Wii Sports, Tetris is one of Nintendo’s smartest video game pack-ins ever. Originally created by Alexey Pajitnov, Tetris has players stack different shaped blocks onto a playing field while trying to eliminate gaps in the towering structure. Sure, the concept sounds boring and the screenshots look dull, but Tetris is an instantly accessible and addictive title. By packaging Tetris with the Game Boy, Nintendo showed people everywhere that video games were not just a children’s hobby; instead, adults and kids alike could pick up the game and immediately enjoy themselves. Give Tetris a try, and you’ll understand why it gets remade on every platform. Quite simply, it’s timeless.
3: SUPER MARIO LAND 2:
SIX GOLDEN COINS
The original Super Mario Land on the Game Boy was a strange addition to the series, featuring an alien villain, flying vehicles, and Princess Daisy. While Mario’s first foray into portable gaming dabbled in the bizarre, its sequel, Super Mario Land 2, absolutely reveled in it. The game features a Super Mario World-like overworld map complete with six quirky zones, including the inside of a giant pumpkin and an oversized mechanical Mario toy. With each zone presenting unique obstacles and enemies not seen in other installments, Super Mario Land 2 established itself as an adventure distinct from its console counterparts. The game also introduced us to Wario, who has since become a staple of the Mushroom Kingdom.
2: THE LEGEND OF ZELDA: LINK'S AWAKENING
Link’s Awakening is one of the most peculiar entries in the Zelda series. For one, Princess Zelda isn’t even in the game. Neither are the Triforce or Hyrule, the latter replaced by the mysterious Koholint Island (home to an odd assortment of out-of-place Nintendo characters). What started out as an after-hours project to port A Link to the Past to the Game Boy quickly morphed into its own standalone adventure, in which Link is tasked with awakening the powerful Wind Fish in order to escape the island. Unlike prior Zelda installments, Links’s Awakening allows players to assign items and weapons to both the A and B buttons, providing more gameplay flexibility. It’s also the first game in the series to feature an item trading sequence.
1: POKEMON RED/BLUE
Remember when you first stepped into the tall grass just outside Pallet Town? Pokemon tapped into our childlike sense of wonder and captured the imaginations of millions of players, while simultaneously creating a lucrative franchise and almost singlehandedly giving the Game Boy its second wind. Trainers could catch and train their own personal team of pocket monsters, mixing and matching different types to find the perfect combination to beat that tough gym leader. Trading between the game’s two versions was necessary in order to catch all 151 Pokemon, which turned handheld gaming into a surprisingly social hobby. Both accessible to newcomers and enjoyable for RPG veterans, Pokemon truly was – and still is – a revolution.
Agree with our list? Share your favorite Game Boy titles in the comments!