The best Game Boy games

We remember Nintendo’s first portable console, a machine in force throughout the nineties, choosing its best titles.

Although technically Nintendo’s first foray into laptops was through the Game & Watch series , single-game machines that have become fashionable again to celebrate anniversaries , it was with the appearance of the Game Boy in 1989 when this branch of entertainment Interactive exploded and paved the path that decades later has brought us to Switch . Conceived by Gunpei Yokoi , a toymaker turned video game designer like so many other Nintendo employees at the time, the console had humble features and a single-color palette , which perhaps prevented it from impressing at first glance, but not succeeding thanks to a tighter price.longer battery life and a constantly growing catalog .

The ease of development and its dominance over other laptops such as Atari Lynx and Game Gear consolidated the Nintendo machine as the queen of that market even when things did not look so good on the desktop in the battles against Sega or, already crossed the equator of the nineties, Sony. With the help of first party emblems such as Mario , Zelda or Metroid , third licenses such as Mega Man , Castlevania or Final Fantasy , adaptations of multimedia franchises such as Batman or the Ninja Turtles, countless arcades and puzzles ideal for quick games , original concepts such as Mole Maniaor, of course, the irruption of the Pokémon phenomenon , the Game Boy did not falter, nor did it need relief until the turn of the millennium . Although 1998 would receive a review in Color with some exclusive games (Oracle of Ages / Seasons, Metal Gear Solid, Shantae, etc.), today we have decided to focus on the original catalog to vote and choose our ten favorite games from this historical console.

10. Shadow Warriors / Ninja Gaiden Shadow

We started with an action game with a pedigree , although its European title may lead to some confusion because at that time the Ninja Gaiden saga was not yet called as such in our continent. Shadow Warriors was already the name of the first NES installment, also included in our top of that console, and Shadow Warriors was once again the name chosen for this Game Boy spin-off . And we say spin-off because Ninja Gaiden Shadow (American name) actually started life as a portable port of Shadow of the Ninja , a ninja game created by Natsume.for the NES which had also been renamed here (as Blue Shadow) because the Japanese seemed unable to decide on a single title for all regions.

Joking aside, seeing the potential, Tecmo seized the rights and swapped his two leads for Ryu Hayabusa to rethink it as a prequel to the NES trilogy . As a result, the level design and enemies were even more in line with Shadow of the Ninja, and the game did not inherit the wall climbing or secondary weapons from Ninja Gaiden, although it did inherit the ability to hang from platforms and ceilings that it implemented. Ninja Gaiden III – surely already influenced by Natsume’s work – including a hook to launch himself up. And, loyalty to the series aside, Shadow Warriors was first-rate portable action: the graphics were detailed , theThe music was catchy , the platforming was accurate, and the difficulty curve was demanding . A game that lives up to any of its names.

9. Wario Land II

Despite being part of a popular and long-lived saga (although currently in hibernation), Wario Land II is a rather atypical game within the extensive Game Boy catalog. Bearing the name that it bears, and playing as it is played, it would be easy to classify it as one more platform, but the truth is that its development could also be described as a kind of narrative puzzle adventure with ramifications . Because in Wario Land II there were no lives, no traditional power-ups like the caps from the first installment. What’s more, Wario himself was immortal.It didn’t matter if we fell off cliffs or were hit over and over again, the game never ended. So the key was not getting to the end of each level alive because that was taken for granted.

The key here was what ending we reached , where that ending led us, and how we could find another one by replaying later with the experience gained. Completing the game for the first time revealed a diagram with the different possible routes , indicating where we could detour to other branches with different levels and outcomes . The first alternative route, in fact, was activated if we let Wario sleep during the first level – whose objective was to find and turn off an alarm clock – an opportunity that the enemies took advantage of to throw him out of his castle and force him to reconquer it. The temporary altered states produced by attacks likebecoming a human flame after being burned or destroying blocks after filling up with the food thrown at us by enemies, they were also essential to experiment and locate both hidden treasures and these secondary exits . An unusual game, and still quite unique in its proposal.

8. Donkey Kong

At the end of 1994, the British Rare reimagined Donkey Kong as the protagonist of his own platform series instead of as Mario’s antagonist in arcade profile games. The success of the Country in SNES would follow, of course, portable adaptations with the recurring Land in its title; However, if there is one game that suited the Game Boy like a glove and was not overshadowed by the tabletop exponents , it was Donkey Kong. To dry. Also launching in 1994, months before the first side scrolling platforms , this title took the baton from the original arcade of 1981 and then expanded its concept with dozens of new mechanics and obstacles.. Despite its arcade approach, the game was even longer than Rare’s, climbing to a hundred levels spread across several worlds with different themes.

The premise, yes, was still easy to understand as well as addictive: in Mario’s skin, our goal was to grab and carry keys to the relevant locks through phases that did not always take on a screen, but kept things dense , measured to the millimeter, to focus as much or more on the puzzle component than on the pure platform . The plumber offered renewed agility , implementing side jumps and back flips a couple of years before Super Mario 64 got more out of them; but the real protagonist was the level design, with ropes that allowed us to turn to launch ourselves through the air, lots of mechanisms to activate or deactivate and even some aquatic parts. It was the evolution and culmination of the game that put two of the most important characters in the field on the map.

7. Kirby’s Dream Land 2

The first Kirby’s Dream Land was a surprise success for HAL Laboratory , which after a season of financial hardship ended up becoming Nintendo’s second party and signed some of its most popular games. Kirby himself immediately made the leap to the NES, in a port project that evolved into a completely new game (Kirby’s Adventure) where the iconic ability to gobble up enemies to acquire their abilities was released . When it was time to make the formal sequel to the Game Boy, Dream Land 2, Kirby lost his pink color again, although he kept this mechanic (albeit with fewer abilities) and added a new one to better differentiate the identity of the portable series: the animal friends.

Throughout the adventure, HAL’s pet encountered and rescued a hamster , an owl, and a fish , which joined him to offer advantages in movement and combat . Playing with them also conditioned the copy skills : if Kirby swallowed a fire enemy, for example, his attack was enhanced when used on one of the animals, increasing the number of variants despite the initial reduction. Although, on the other hand, they were not always convenient (the hamster did not allow floating, the fish was very clumsy on land), so getting off was also part of the strategy. As usual in the series, it was an easy game, but with an exquisite stagingand a lot of replayability if we wanted to complete it 100% as it required exploring and using the appropriate skills with the appropriate animals on some levels.

6. Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3

Wario allows himself the luxury of repeating himself with his first game as the protagonist. After introducing him as the final boss in Super Mario Land 2, Nintendo decided to turn the villain into a hero – or rather, an anti-hero – in order to allow himself to experiment a little more with the formula than what Mario allowed (which would no longer have an exclusive delivery of laptops up to Nintendo DS). Beside its already discussed sequel, the first Wario Land was still a relatively conventional platformer, but the twist on Mario Land was instantly apparent, reducing both the speed and the number of cliffs to navigate to focus on the more thorough exploration of levels in search of coins and alternative exits to the map if there are any.

Despite the limitations of the Game Boy, the pixel art was very detailed due to the increase in size of the environments and Wario himself , who lunged at enemies instead of jumping gracefully at them. The power-ups also were the order of the day, with caps as soon allowed to plan a few meters as spit fire or breaking more blockswith each onslaught, making it easy to navigate the level and defeat enemies. These could also be grabbed and thrown, which was particularly useful to avoid damage if they carried weapons such as spears or spikes. The need to be more careful, to comb each phase well to accumulate coins (destined to open doors and access the best endings ) and find treasures, differentiated a more replayable proposal than Mario himself.

5. Tetris

We cross to the upper half with a classic among classics, the most popular puzzle video game in history . Its origin and fame, in fact, dates back to before the launch of the Game Boy, when, in the middle of the Cold War, its creator ( Alexey Pajitnov ), its promoters and several Western companies had to negotiate the agreements under the watchful eye of some organizations. of the Soviet Union. At the end of the eighties, the game managed to make its way to home and arcade computers in the rest of the world , capturing the public’s interest thanks both to its original and addictive proposal and to the mystery that surrounded that title from the other side of the curtain. of steel. AlthoughIt was not until the intervention of Nintendo that it became the true mass phenomenon that we know now.

Because the most explosive reaction occurred when the Kyoto company took control of the distribution rights on consoles and developed a Game Boy conversion to include it with it in a pack in some markets. Its operation in short doses and its infinite replayability made it the portable game par excellence : rotating and nesting pieces to form lines was intuitive, but the increasing speed increasingly complicated the process, inevitably leading to defeat and a record that later we would like to overcome. The use of Cable Link also allowed connecting two consoles and playing doubles. Even after the appearance of more elaborate proposals such as Zelda or Pokémon, Tetris did not lose steam, reaching 35 million copies sold and remaining until the end as the most successful game on the Game Boy.

4. Pokémon: Red / Blue / Yellow Version

I will become the best. The best there will ever be … At the end of 1999, quite late compared to Japan (1996), the first editions of Pokémon were released in Spain followed by their television adaptation (which in turn would later motivate the Yellow Edition), unleashing a fever that had been established in other countries for a long time and continues to spread throughout the world today. The concept was as original as it was attractive: going on an adventure through villages, forests and caves ; find and hunt creatures with your own abilities, improve them by fighting other wild or tamed Pokémon, and become the best trainer in the regionafter overcoming the challenges of the local gyms and the High Command. In the middle of 2021, this explanation is unnecessary; But in 1999 (or before, depending on the continent)? There was nothing like it.

The success of Pokémon, however, was not only due to offering something new, but also to executing its ideas with great efficiency from the first installment . With an extensive map to explore, 151 different species to collect (if we count the elusive Mew, designed for special events and the source of innumerable hoaxes), 15 elemental types (fire, water, grass, etc.) with different strengths and weaknesses in combat , or the use of the Cable Link to exchange the exclusive creatures of each edition and challenge friends , the work of Game Freakmanaged to transcend beyond that initial hook, so easy to sell through advertisements, magazines or the series. Training and evolving our Pokémon required dedication and the development of some tactical thinking . The path to the High Command forged a bond difficult to forget. And so, where Tamagotchi had been a passing fever, Pokémon endured, spurring aftermaths that maintained their appeal for many, many years.

3. Pokémon: Gold / Silver / Crystal Version

Although we did not even have to wait for the next laptop to see how the saga continued, because Game Boy was once again graced with a new generation of Pokémon. Upon its arrival in 2001 in Europe (again with a significant delay compared to Japan, where it was released in 1999), many already played Gold / Silver on Game Boy Color or even Game Boy Advance, but the original console was still compatible despite of the remarkable expansion of the formula. Satoru Iwata , then about to become president of Nintendo, devised a compression system that doubled the size of the world : after exploring Johto , the new region, players could travel back to Kantoand challenge your gym leaders again before taking on the protagonist of Red / Blue in a thrilling final duel.

Of course, the success of Gold / Silver (and later, Crystal) did not reside only in the increase in numbers, although the Pokémon themselves also rose from 151 to 251 species (again, if we count the mysterious Celebi). Despite the limitations of the Game Boy, the battle graphics improved and Johto offered a personality of his own, well differentiated from Kanto. Thanks to the implementation of an internal clock and calendar , the days of the week influenced some events, the day-night cycle conditioned the appearance of Pokémon and the nursery introduced breeding . The local mythology was also richer thanks to the legends of Ho-Oh and Lugia, the pursuit of the elusive legendary dogs. Raikou, Entei, and Suicune (who moved around the entire region instead of staying in one place) or the Unown ruins, capturing fan imaginations and establishing this generation as one of the most beloved ever since.

2. Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins

Did you think we were done with the Land? Of course not, because Super Mario can never be missing from a good top of Nintendo consoles. It is true that the plumber was already seen in Donkey Kong and made a cameo in the first Wario Land, but his star game on Game Boy was, without a doubt, Super Mario Land 2. After a competent first installment, which accompanied the console during its first year of life, 6 Golden Coins revolutionized the formula in a clearer way, offering an open development such as has never been seen before or has been seen since in the saga: after passing the brief initiation phase , the player was free to traverse the entire map and enter any world in any orderto get one of the six coins that gave it title and then set off in search of the rest.

This had a small counterpart in the difficulty curve, without steep escalation as in the most conventional development platforms, although it continued to offer a challenge in another way: if halfway through the adventure we would run out of lives, we would lose all the coins and we had to start over. Although, luckily, the game was generous and had plenty of mini-games to increase the counter. On the other hand, its originality was not limited to its structure, and Super Mario Land 2 was also characterized by themes that had not been seen on the table : horror levels based on Halloween , an oversized house where we ran among ants, the interior of a giant treethat allowed us to swim in its resin, the interior of a mechanoid in the shape of Mario or even the first foray into space many years before Super Mario Galaxy. A riot of creativity that even today outshines many modern installments.

1. The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening

The duel between Super Mario Land 2 and Link’s Awakening was close, but in the end the first pocket Zelda managed to rise with the victory. After all, how many 8-bit games can boast of being able to be relaunched decades later and still be among the essentials of a modern console like Switch ? It is just what has happened with its remake , a 3D recreation of Koholint Island with the same story, the same map and even the same puzzles that still amazes thanks to its validity. Because in 1993, the date of its original release, Nintendo had just consecrated itself with A Link to the Past and took advantage of that experience to create a dense and excellently designed adventure , which took oil from theGame Boy hardware .

And it is that Link’s Awakening will not be the largest or epic Zelda, but it is one that boasts an exquisite balance in all its facets: the narrative is not convoluted or intrusive, but it is full of characters and memorable moments , and culminates in a emotional ending ; the combat is simple, but also agile thanks to the possibility of reorienting oneself in the eight directions at the same time as we swipe (something not possible in ALLTP); and dungeons scale more and more in complexity , counteracting the limitation of the color palette with clever design twists , good use of items , and even the need to use the mapto check the relationship of the rooms to each other in our search for the keys. Link’s Awakening was a masterpiece of its time that is still tremendously enjoyable in this one.

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