Newer handheld systems like Nintendo’s 3DS and Sony’s upcoming PlayStation Vita might be garnering a lot of excitement, but all their innovation is built on the backs of the handheld systems that have come before. Though it had lesser predecessors, the undisputed granddaddy of handheld gaming is Nintendo’s first Game Boy system. Not only did this tiny toy help popularize portable gaming with its accessibility, but its little green screen was home to a wealth of amazing games. Join us as we take a look back at the 25 greatest Game Boy and Game Boy Color games of all time.
Before we begin it should be noted that in issue 59 of Game Informer (March 1998), we put together a similar list. Check out our original list below and see how it compares to our modern update. It’s interesting to note the absence of titles like Pokémon – Pokémon Red/Blue was still a few months from its North American release when we crafted our original list. And be sure to check out many of the original commercials that enticed customers to buy these classic games in the following pages.
Note: This story originally ran on June 24, 2011. We've republished it in honor of the Game Boy's 25th anniversary. The handheld was first released on April 21, 1989 in Japan, before making its way to North America on July 31, 1989. A European release followed on September 28, 1990.
First Release: August 1989
The world’s most legendary puzzle game came as a pack-in title for the original Game Boy system. Not only is its addictive nature apparent to anyone who starts moving falling blocks into place, but Tetris helped push Game Boy sales, making the system a household name, and vice versa. The Game Boy version of Tetris alone has sold over 35 million copies.
2. Pokémon series
First Release: September 28, 1998 (Red/Blue), October 19, 1999 (Yellow), October 14, 2000 (Gold/Silver), July 29, 2001 (Crystal)
Considering Pokémon’s long-lasting success, it’s hard to image that there was a time when people thought this crazy Japanese critter catcher was just a fad, but buried under Pokémon’s kid-friendly façade lies a solid RPG. Whether you started with the original Red and Blue release, or later with Yellow, Gold, Silver, Crystal, or the myriad other additions to the series, at some point in your life you’ve likely felt the urge to catch them all.
3. The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening
First Release: August 1993
Link’s Awakening may be a rarity in that it doesn’t feature Princess Zelda or the Triforce, but that doesn’t detract from the game’s overall quality. After waking up on the shores of a mysterious place called Koholint Island, Link begins a puzzle-filled quest to collect eight musical instruments that will awaken the sleeping Wind Fish and allow him to escape the island. A 1998 DX release updated the game’s graphics and expanded the quest with an exclusive color-based dungeon. The game is so influential that Nintendo released the title as the first entry in 3DS’ virtual console.
4. Super Mario Land 2: Six Golden Coins
First Release: November 2, 1992
Super Mario World released on the Game Boy Advance in 2001, but a decade earlier portable-minded games got the next best thing with Six Golden Coins. This follow-up to Super Mario Land eschewed the strange creatures and vehicle segments of the original in favor a world map, awesome power-ups like bunny ears, and some of the most creative levels the series has ever seen. Mario gets swallowed by a giant fish, explores a gigantic mechanical version of himself, and even goes to the moon. Six Golden Coins also marked the first appearance of a new antagonist: Wario.
5. Mario Picross
First Release: March 1995
By cleverly throwing Mario’s face on the cover, Nintendo slyly introduced us to the nonogram logic puzzle. We loved it. Using math to knock out blocks aligned on a grid and create pictures has never been more fun.
6. Donkey Kong
First Release: June 1994
This puzzle masterpiece has been criminally overlooked for 17 years and is only now getting a second chance on Nintendo's eShop for 3DS. Maybe Nintendo should have called it Donkey Kong 2, because at first glance it looks like a straight port of the arcade game. Sure, it has the original four stages, but then DK opens up to over 100 levels of pure platforming puzzle bliss. This series eventually morphed into the very different Lemmings-esque Mario vs. Donkey Kong games, but pick up Donkey Kong '94 any way you can to experience this true classic.
7. Dr. Mario
First Release: October 1990
We don’t normally like to take our medicine, but Dr. Mario knew how to deliver it. It was easy to get sucked into this simple puzzle formula. Mario threw pills at the player, which they had to align next to viruses scattered around the screen in order to cure their patient. Fighting off the flu to catchy tunes has never been more fun.
8. Metal Gear Solid
First Release: May 5, 2000
Given the cinematic nature of its bigger console brethren, you’d think that Metal Gear Solid wouldn’t translate well to the Game Boy. You’d be wrong. Metal Gear Solid for the Game Boy Color managed to tell an intriguing story, and its blend of stealth and action harkened back to its classic MSX2 computer origins.
9. Metroid II: Return of Samus
First Release: November 1991
Metroid II can be polarizing for series fans. Some people love it and some people hate it, but given the limitations of the Game Boy, Nintendo developed an entertaining adventure that featured a certain Metroid flare. If you haven’t joined Samus on her mission to exterminate the Metroid creatures from their home planet SR388, then you’re missing out not only a great game, but the setup to the undisputed classic Super Metroid.
10. The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages & Seasons
First Release: May 14, 2001
About a decade ago, Zelda fans got an impressive gift. Not just one new Zelda game, but two. Developed by Capcom, each one of these twin Zelda titles featured their own unique adventure, but they could also interact with each other via a Game Link Cable and a password system, allowing players to unlock special bonuses and experience the entire story.
11. Mega Man V
First Release: September 1994
Mega Mans I-IV were fun in their own right, but they merely featured recycled bosses from Mega Man’s NES adventures. Mega Man V, on the other hand, was a completely original game developed by Capcom. When a group of powerful robots from outer space called the Stardroids begin invading Earth, only Mega Man proves noble enough to stand against their tyranny.
12. Pokémon Puzzle Challenge
First Release: December 4, 2000
While Tetris Attack deserves a nod here, Pokémon Puzzle Challenge took the same gameplay formula and polished it to a beautiful shine. As a tower of blocks slowly rises skyward, players must hurriedly slide colored blocks around to match colors and rows and shrink their ever-growing stack.
13. Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3
First Release: February 7, 1994
The Mario Land games used to be about Mario’s adventures, but all that changed in 1994 with Wario Land. One of Mario’s most successful spinoffs, Wario gave players platforming adventures that was similar to the Mario games, but had a greedy twist and a greater emphasis on action.
14. Kirby’s Dream Land
First Release: August 1, 1992
Back before anyone knew Kirby was pink, this Game Boy title introduced us to Nintendo’s adorable little cloud puff. Designed to appeal to a younger audience, Kirby’s simple platforming controls and playful atmosphere proved to be a relaxing adventure for “kids” of all ages.
First Release: June 2, 2002
Developed by WayForward Technologies – the studio that would go on to develop modern classics like Contra 4 and A Boy and His Blob – Shantae is an often overlooked platformer about a young half-genie who must redeem herself by retrieving a stolen prototype steam engine from a gang of pirates. While traveling across the magical land of Sequin, players were able to transform into a variety of animals using Shantae’s dance magics.
16. Wario Land 3
First Release: May 1, 2000
Wario’s greed leads him on a quest to find five mystical artifacts and free a mysterious figure from a magical music box. Wario’s gameplay evolved over the years, leading him to become more and more indescribable. Unlike Mario, Wario’s gameplay was more puzzle-based, requiring him to use enemy attacks in creative ways in order to access new areas.
17. Donkey Kong Land series
First Release: June 26, 1995 (Donkey Kong Land), September 1, 1996 (Donkey Kong Land 2), October 1, 1997 (Donkey Kong Land III)
In 1994, Rare reinvented Donkey Kong with Donkey Kong Country. Nintendo followed up the success of this series with the Donkey Kong Land games for Game Boy. While this series wasn’t able to retain Country’s impressive visual style, the Land series perfectly captures the platforming action that made the SNES version so popular.
18. Gargoyle’s Quest
First Release: July, 1990
Protagonist Firebrand debuted in the arcade series Ghosts 'n Goblins and then went on to star in this portable action/platform title of the same vein. Firebrand was a gargoyle predestined to be the savior of his realm. The side-scrolling action levels posed a nice challenge, but the game’s mild RPG elements really helped set this game apart.
First Release: March 1990
Kwirk is a bit of an oddity, not just because of its unique puzzle-based gameplay, but because the main character himself is a tomato. When Kwirk’s girlfriend gets kidnapped, the rotund adventurer must enter a subterranean labyrinth to rescue her. The game’s mix of moving block puzzles has been used repeatedly in series like Zelda, but Kwirk mastered the formula.
20. Harvest Moon GB
First Release: December 18, 1997
If your grandfather’s ghost visited you and told you to take care of the family farm, what would you do? In the Game Boy version of Harvest Moon you didn’t have much of a choice. Players renovated their grandfather’s farm by tending crops and managing livestock. A year later, a Game Boy Color update allowed events within the world to progress even when players had their system turned off.
21. Super Mario Land
First Release: July 31, 1989
Mario’s first handheld adventure sent the intrepid plumber on a quest to defeat the mysterious spaceman named Tatanga, and save the lesser-known princess of Sarasaland, Princess Daisy. This Mario adventure might have been squeezed down onto a portable screen, but it featured all the classic head stomping that fans expected.
22. Mario Tennis
First Release: January 16, 2001
Before the Mario sports titles became burdened by an overuse of power ups and special moves, they were actually solid sports games. Mario Tennis featured a nice variety of minigames for players to explore. Unlike its N64 brethren, this portable version also featured an RPG mode that started players out as rookie tennis players at the Royal Tennis Academy with the ultimate goal of becoming academy champion.
23. Kirby Tilt 'n' Tumble
First Release: April 11, 2001
Motion-based gaming may be old hat these days, but back in 2001 it was a novel treat. Thanks to an accelerometer built into its cartridge, Kirby Tilt 'n' Tumble was one of the first games to experiment with tilt controls. Players tilted and rotated their Game Boys in order to help Kirby collect stars and navigate through a series of maze-like levels.
24. Dragon Warrior I & II
First Release: September 18, 2000
Dragon Warrior is one of Japan’s longest running and most highly regarded franchises. On this single cartridge, players were given a copy of the original NES version of Dragon Warrior as well as an updated version of its sequel. The Dragon Warrior titles are RPGs of the oldest tradition, but these first two entries somehow withstood the test of time.
25. Pokémon Pinball
First Release: June 28, 1999
One of Pokémon’s earliest spin-off titles, Pokémon Pinball featured a variety of different gameplay modes that encouraged players to try to top their high scores, but it also featured a unique Pokémon twist. After hitting certain bumpers enough times, players would have the option to catch Pokémon and add them to their Pokédex. Could you capture all 151 original critters?
Those are our picks for the top 25 Game Boy games. What did we miss?