The Nintendo Gameboy was a juggernaut back in the day and was the first console in the realms of portable gaming as we know it. With its strange green coloured screen it really didn’t make for gamings clearest picture. But if you were in a well lit room or traveling when the sun wasn’t blazing, reflecting off the screen and turning your eyes to ash, you could really have a helluva blast.
Although there are many lists of the best Gameboy games out there, I decided to compile a list of five of my own personal favourites. And if you disagree, that’s fine, but the Gameboy is still one of my favourite consoles to collect games for, so I feel I owe it some acknowledgement on this site. So in no particular order, these are just five I loved as a kid and haven’t stopped having fun playing ’em yet!
1. Super Mario Land
Being a list for a Nintendo console, a Mario game had to be present and this is it. Released in 1989, this was the first real portable Mario game that wasn’t an LCD Game & Watch. I didn’t realise it as a kid, but it has a weird feeling for a Mario game especially seeing as it came out after Super Mario Bros. 3. Everything you are used to in a Mario game is here, but it’s also a bit different. In nearly every Mario game you come across an enemy known as a Koopa Troopa, an anthropomorphic turtle. Usually if you jump on their back, they will retreat inside of their shell, and you can jump on their shell again and send it flying. In this game they will retreat into their shell which you must hastily get away from as it will detonate after a few seconds. It’s a cruel twist but adds an element of challenge to those who are avid players of the previous (and even later) titles.
This game doesn’t take place in the Mushroom Kingdom like previous titles,but instead Sarasaland which seems to take a lot of inspiration from the real world with levels seemingly set in Egypt, Asia and the Easter Islands. Unlike other Mario games where Bowser is usually the prime antagonist, Sarasaland is under threat from the Alien invader Tatanga. See, sounds weird right? Although it is a strange title, the gameplay is fairly similar to that of the original Super Mario Bros. from 1985 with linear, A to B style levels. Unlike the original Super Mario Bros. there were a few added features like levels which are side scrolling shooters (in the same vein as R-type or Gradius) where you have to pilot either a submarine or aeroplane and dodge and shoot at oncoming enemies. It did spawn a couple of sequels for the Gameboy, with Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins opting for an overworld like Super Mario Bros. 3, and although technically more impressive I much prefer the simple and more familiar style of Super Mario Land.
2. The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening
Link’s Awakening has had it’s own post on here before in the form of the Gameboy Color version. Although I think that the Gameboy color version is superior due to having an extra level in the game (as well as the obvious benefit of colour) but the original version deserves the most credit I think.
Released two years after the highly successful Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past for the SNES, this was the first game in the series to not take place in the kingdom of Hyrule, or feature the villain Gandondorf or even Princess Zelda who lends her name to the title of the series. Instead the protagonist Link is washed up on an island inhabited by a variety of creatures and characters and can only leave once he has acquired all eight musical instruments from dungeons that will wake the Wind fish, a huge whale that resides inside a giant egg on top of the islands tallest mountain.
Featuring a ton of classical enemies from the series and some new ones as well as cameo enemies from the Super Mario series, this game is challenging but not too challenging. It’s fun but not a complete breeze, with enough puzzle aspects, hidden items and extras that you can spend a lot of time exploring or replaying if you choose to.
I won’t gush about this game too much more as I have already done that in my review of the colour version, but if you are a Zelda fan you should really do yourself a favour and go download a copy off the Nintendo eShop or the internet. It probably isn’t the best Zelda game in the series but due to it being a lot of fun and being my introduction to the franchise, it’s probably my favourite Zelda game so it thoroughly deserves it’s place in my list of five favourite Gameboy games.
3. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: Radical Rescue
This is probably one of the lesser known game on this list which is close to criminal in my opinion. Whereas the first two games in the series (Fall of the Foot Clan and Back from the Sewers) were just slow paced, side scrolling platformers, this game ninja flips high above the other two in terms of gameplay, exploration and fun.
The best way to describe it is very much like early Metroid or Castlevania titles without the monotony of having to trudge around places you have already visited. Though you have to do this a small amount it really is minimal compared to some some of the early Metroid games.
The basic storyline of the game is that the Turtles have been kidnapped along with April and Splinter. The only one to escape this fate is Michelangelo who you assume control of and must journey into the heart of the Foot Clans hidden base to rescue your friends.
The neat thing about this game is that every turtle that you rescue has a different feature which is necessary to proceed in the game. A lot of Ninja Turtles games at the time just made it so as the Turtles were identical to each other just with a different colour pallet or different weapons in their hands, but every one has their own ability which is useful in different situations. Mikey can spin his nunchucks in the air like helicopter blades which will make him float down slowly. Leo can spin like a drill using his sword which will cut through certain terrain, Raph can retreat into his shell nullifying any damage and Don can climb walls.
The enemy selection in this game was also a slight break from the standard enemies in Ninja Turtles games. Granted there are the Foot Soldiers and robot enemies, but there were also a ton of ‘boss’ enemies that I wasn’t familiar with back then, like Scratch, Dirtbag, Triceratons and Scale Tail. For a change, Rocksteady, Bebop and Krang just weren’t anywhere to be found like they were in most games.
This game wasn’t the easiest of games, but with some patience it was possible to beat it. It has a password based system so you can continue at another time which was pretty useful to me as a kid as I think this was one of the first games that I remember completing without any help and I had been working on it for the best part of a year.
Graphically, it’s very good for a Gameboy title and the music is just fantastic. For all of their faults now, there once was a time where Konami made really fun, solid video games and this is one of their finest in my opinion.
The only downside is that for a Gameboy game it is a little on the expensive side these days so you might want to keep an eye out for one that’s a good price if you want an actual physical copy as opposed to a download. If you have a love of Gameboy games or old Ninja Turtles games, then you really should give this a shot.
4. Bionic Commando
Though Bionic Commando is a fairly well known series of games originally appearing in arcades in 1987, I had never heard of it until I picked up a boxed copy off a market and carboot sale in the mid ’90s. The box art was what truly drew me in, it featured a metallic armour clad soldier who was swinging from a cable, delivering a kick to the face of an unknown person whilst simultaneously firing from a machine gun. This guy looked like he kicked ass and was up there with the likes of classic ’80s action movie heroes.
Though I didn’t realise it at the time, the Gameboy version was similar to the NES verion but much easier as it replaces the ‘one hit kill’ with a health bar. Which is far more preferable, as even though the Gameboy verion is easier, it certainly isn’t an easy game. The other difference is that the NES version is semi futuristic, but still maintaining a very World War II feel with the final boss even being a resurrected Adolf Hitler (in the Japanese Version at least, whereas he was known as Master-D outside of Japan). The Gameboy version is very much in a futuristic sci-fi setting with characters being depicted stylistically as looking very manga/anime.
If you have never played a Bionic Commando game before (and I don’t include the awful 2009 Xbox 360 or PS3 game here) it can take a small amount of time to get used to the fact that you cannot jump, which is a rarity in action platformer games. Instead you use your bionic arm to hook onto platforms above you and you can swing along like a weird gun toting Spider-man. Once you get used to this, it is a whole lot of fun.
You can collect different weapons and power-ups through completing different levels, and in between is each level is an overworld map where you control a helicopter which you move to choose which level you want to descend to. Every time you move, enemy ships will also move and if you end up on the same space as an enemy then you automatically end up having to descend and doing a short A-B level. It’s a lot like the overworld of Super Mario Bros. 3, which had Hammer Bros which moved every time you did.
Enemies in the game are pretty varied. You have your standard bullet fodder enemies, robots, heavy weapons enemies, and even bio-mechanical cyborg enemies. Some can prove very challenging and I remember sulking a fair amount as a kid if I couldn’t beat certain levels.
The music in this game was also awesome. I don’t know if anyone other than me ever does this, but I sometimes have tunes in my head that I just hum to myself and I have to stop and work out what or where the tune is from. I hadn’t played this game in years, but for years the tunes from this game still lurked in the recesses of my brain, showing themselves when I was doing the washing up or something.
Like the previously mentioned Ninja Turtles game, it can be quite tricky to find a good copy of this cheap so you might want to keep an eye open for it or download it. But I really can’t recommend this game enough. There was also a Bionic Commando game for the Gameboy Color and though I had a go on a friends copy, I didn’t find it that appealing at all. This game is definitely where it’s at.
This is probably a game that really does need no introduction. These are the games that spawned the multi-billion franchise that exists today and will continue to exist for the foreseeable future.
I won’t talk too much about Pokémon right now as I would really like to do a full post on the first Pokémon games in the future, but Pokémon was a near instant success. Released in 1996 the first games were Red and Green in Japan and Red and Blue to the rest of the world. The goal in these games was to catch and train all 150 Pokémon (Pocket Monsters) and beat all eight gym leaders by battling your Pokémon with theirs.
Kid’s loved monsters, some of which were dangerous looking and some cute. Kids also loved collecting things and loved playing video games, so it was no real surprise as to why this was such a successful game as it seemed to tick all of the boxes of what kids loved. But underneath the collecting of cute and colourful monsters lay a tight game with solid features typical of an RPG. Leveling up, turn-based combat, stats and lots of grinding were all present in this game and I think personally it is what drew me into playing other games of a similar style later on (Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy in particular).
The most unique thing about these games was that you could not catch all 150 Pokémon from one cartridge alone. There were certain Pokémon that would only be available to catch on either Red or Blue (or Green and Red in Japan), so you had to connect a link cable to your friends cable to trade for the ones that you didn’t have. You could also battle with your friends which seemed a popular argument starter at my school. Before this, I had never heard of a link cable though there probably were some other games that used this feature as well.
If you are reading this then I am quite sure you have experienced Pokémon in some form, be it the original games, the cartoon series, the toys, later generation games or the Pokémon GO mobile app but it all started with the original Gameboy games. And to be fair,they are still a lot of fun to play to this day. The only downside is a lot of the original Gameboy cartridges have lost the ability to save the game due to the internal batteries which power the save feature being long since depleted, so unless you have some skill with a soldering iron so you can put in a new battery, it might be worth downloading off either Red or Blue from the Nintendo eShop.
So that was five of my favourite Nintendo Gameboy games. I may do a look at another five in the future as it was tough to choose just five games as there really was a library of fantastic titles. The Gameboy truly was a revolutionary masterpiece which laid down the foundations for gaming-on-the-go.
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