As part of the jet-setting, thrill-a-minute life of a games journalist, I’ve just moved back in with my parents while I’m between leases. Aside from getting to spend plenty of time with my family during the holidays, I also had the good fortune of finding all my Game Boy stuff during the move, and hot dang y’all I still have some real bangers left over from my childhood.
While we wait for Nintendo to issue some sort of Game Boy Classic handheld (please Nintendo, please), take a look at these five Game Boy games that I found while moving, all of which are worth your time, should you find yourself in a position to play them.
#5: Pokemon Puzzle Challenge
The sister release to Pokemon Puzzle League on the Nintendo 64, Pokemon Puzzle Challenge was a Game Boy Color exclusive that had more in common with the original Tetris Attack than its polygonal namesake. There’s no story mode, no Team Rocket, no battle against Gary for the championship — just good ol’ fashioned block swappin’ and some cuties from Gen 2.
Honestly, I prefer this game to Pokemon Puzzle League in a lot of ways. Since Pokemon was always a Game Boy franchise first, the pixel art of Challenge felt a lot more natural than the blurry, transposed anime art of League. Similarly, Challenge‘s square-wave jams are way more pleasing to the ear than League‘s toot-y renditions of the 2.B.A. Master track list. Also this game has a “Garbage Mode,” which just sounds really hilarious in a tumblr-y, 2018 kinda way.
#4: Darkwing Duck
While the Nintendo Entertainment System release of Capcom’s Darkwing Duck received wide acclaim in 1992, the game’s 1993 port to the Game Boy failed to generate the same kind of lasting reputation, though for me it was always the definitive version.
A side-scroller of the Mega Man variety, Darkwing Duck saw the game’s titular hero taking on familiar villains from the Disney cartoon, such as Megavolt and Quackerjack. His trademark gas gun could be outfitted with a number of gadgets, which could be gained and lost mid-level, ala Castlevania. It’s an extremely clever and tight little platformer that desperately needs a password system, and while the NES version has more content and more colors, the Game Boy port is still worth your time.
As an aside, the Disney Wikia’s entry for this game lists a few pieces of trivia, including: “Negaduck does not appear in this game.” Please look forward to an upcoming Fanbyte list expanding on this fascinating bit of trivia, entitled “Top 50 Games That Negaduck Also Does Not Appear In.”
#3: Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins
Unlike the first Super Mario Land, which had weird-lookin’ coin blocks and a Mario based off the original Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Land 2 had regular-lookin’ coin blocks and sprites that more closely resembled those seen in Super Mario Bros. 3. These two facts made Super Mario Land 2 a clearly superior product to six-year-old me, and now at 31, I am still prepared to make this the hill I die on.
Real talk though, Land 2 is one of the best 2D Mario games in general, let alone one of the best Game Boy games. It had 32 levels plus secrets, which was absolutely massive for a Game Boy game. It introduced new power-ups (Bunny Mario, y’all) and had some really spectacularly bizarre enemy design — even by Mario standards — such as the Masked Ghoul, Mōgyo, and Bomubomu. And of course, Super Mario Land 2 holds the distinction of being Wario’s dramatic debut, cementing it as a cornerstone of Mario canon.
#2: Metroid II: Return of Samus
There are people out there who are going to tell you that Metroid II: Return of Samus is a bad game, and I want you to know that those people are liars. Metroid II rules. It has everything that made the original Metroid great: exploration, atmosphere, challenging battles, Samus’ trademark power-ups and suit variants — the whole nine yards. And it was all in the palm of your hand with battery back-up, for goodness sake.
Plus, Metroid II is on the shortlist of OG Game Boy games that feature pseudo-forward compatibility with the Game Boy Color. This means that, instead of being displayed in one of the generic, 10-color palettes applied to most original Game Boy games, Metroid II had its own specially-designed palette of 16 colors when played on a Game Boy Color. It may not sound like much, but trust me, it’s basically as good as Metroid II being a full-fledged Game Boy Color game.
#1: Pokemon Blue
Pokemon Blue is one of the greatest and most important games of all time, and I do not consider that to be a hyperbolic statement. While Gen 1 Pokemon games lack many of the creature comforts of later games (held items, move deletion, improved box management, etc), there is something to be said for experiencing the purest, most distilled essence of Pokemon in its original form, even today.
Yes, the game is heavily unbalanced in favor of psychic-type Pokemon, but really, who cares? Pokemon Blue isn’t about PvP, at least not anymore. Pokemon Blue is part of the curriculum of video games — one of its most vital chapters — and it’s worth being experienced for the same reasons that people still study and perform Shakespeare plays, even the rough ones like Twelfth Night.
If you haven’t played Pokemon Blue, you owe it to yourself to do so. Pokemon Red and Yellow are also acceptable in a pinch.