As a fan of retro games, one of my favorite trends is seeing community members interpret modern titles for older platforms. Considering the technical limitations of something like the Nintendo Game Boy, half the fun of a good demake is seeing how these community makers tackle the challenge of translating modern mechanics and graphics to outdated hardware. The other half comes from actually playing the demake.
We've covered plenty of demakes here at Nerdvana Central, and sadly, most never leave the drawing board stage. Fortunately, there's a thriving community of indie Game Boy developers producing quality demakes all year round. Too many of them don't get the attention they deserve, so here's my list of the 10 best Game Boy demakes that you need to check out today.
Hollow Knight Silksong
Tired of waiting for Silksong to release? While you wait, indie developer Elvies has taken matters into their own hands, creating a Game Boy demake of the unreleased Metroidvania that you can play right now.
The demake has all the things you'd expect from a follow-up to the hottest Metroidvania of 2017 — the controls are snappy, the graphics are decent, and the action is "silky" smooth (couldn't resist).
Of course, the real Silksong isn't out yet, so the demake's gameplay is basically a series of really exciting what-ifs. That raises the question: Is it still a "demake" if it's for a game that doesn't exist yet? With Silksong delayed for what feels like the dozenth time, and until Team27 gives us a concrete release date, this is the actual Silksong, as far as I'm concerned.
Super Smash Land
Super Smash Land has got to be one of the most complete demakes of all time. This free-to-play crossover fighter (a terrible descriptor for Smash Bros, by the way) is a fantastic showcase of what the Game Boy dev community can do.
Understandably, some compromises were necessary to make Super Smash Land look and feel like an actual Game Boy game. For example, the graphics and stage selection have all been scaled down, and the roster of fighters is limited to six. Still, you'll be surprised to see just how much of the original this demake preserves. From the iconic character selection screen interface to the pre-fight face-off graphic, Super Smash Land looks and feels like a product Nintendo would have released.
Disco Elysium Game Boy Edition
Disco Elysium is the critically acclaimed RPG known for its deep narrative, intricate dialogue system, and emphasis on player choices that impact the story. It's also one of my favorite games of all time. So, when I learned about this playable demake for the Game Boy, my Ancient Reptilian Brain demanded I check it out.
Kudos to developer Colin Brannan on itch.io, who's knocked this one out of the ballpark. The demake absolutely nails the grim tone and somber, dreadful atmosphere of Disco Elysium. That moment when you first see the hanged corpse strung up on the hotel lawn hits you just as hard as in the original. Considering the resolution of the Game Boy screen, that's an incredible feat.
Play Disco Elysium Game Boy Edition here. Also, if you haven't played Disco Elysium yet, go do that right now.
F-Zero Pocket brings the Super Nintendo's best racing game to the Game Boy Color. With incredible graphics, addictive gameplay, and super-quick matches that can be done in minutes — it might just be the perfect Game Boy game.
To be fair to Nintendo, actual Game Boy hardware would never be able to handle the MODE7 pseudo-3D that F-Zero Pocket uses. There are two types of demakes: those that try to make a game that would run on the target platform, and those that are inspired by the hardware and aesthetic of an era. F-Zero Pocket falls firmly into the latter.
So, no, you won't be able to load this up into a flash cart and play it on your old GBC. You can, however, play F-Zero Pocket in your browser here.
Animal Crossing GB
Today, Animal Crossing is best known as a handheld series, but the series first began on Nintendo's ill-fated home console, the GameCube. And to date, that's the only Animal Crossing title that can't easily be played on the go.
Until now, that is. itch.io user Villagerjj is hard at work on an Animal Crossing demake that will bring the cozy game forebear to a Game Boy near you. It's still a work in progress, but there's a very impressive demo that you can play right now. There's also an active Trello where you can keep tabs on the game's progress.
The Binding of Isaac Game Boy Edition
The Game Boy was the home of puzzle games and arcade shooters with tight mechanics, which is why this The Binding of Isaac demake for the Game Boy Color feels like such a no-brainer.
Developed by Joshua Robertson GBJam in a week, The Binding of Isaac Game Boy Edition was a quick and dirty attempt to bring the quirky bullet hell roguelike to the Game Boy. The playable demo looks and feels great, but there's clearly a lot of work to be done.
Elden Ring GB
This Elden Ring Game Boy demake made the rounds across news outlets a few months ago and for good reason. I mean, just look at it!
Developed by itch.io usershin, Elden Ring GB looks and plays like a combination of A Link to the Past and the OG NES Zelda but with dodge rolls. It's missing the massive scale and famous difficulty of the original, but you can't expect much more considering the technological rift between the Game Boy and modern consoles.
Still, it's lots of fun for what it is. It's easy to control, fun to explore, and filled with easter eggs that Elden Ring fans will appreciate. It's also short and sweet. Clocking in at a tight 20 minutes, it ends with an appropriately epic boss fight that neatly closes out this pocket-sized adventure.
Final Fantasy XI Adventure
Final Fantasy XI Adventure is Final Fantasy XI the same way Final Fantasy Adventure was a mainline Final Fantasy game. And by that I mean it isn't. But just like Final Fantasy Adventure, this clever demake is meant for established fans first.
The comments section in the Final Fantasy XI Adventure itch.io page is filled with old fans waxing nostalgic about the glory days of Final Fantasy XI. They praise the music and the visuals, the attention paid to the map layout and scale. If you ever rolled a toon in Vana'diel, I suspect you may appreciate this demake more than your regular retro gamer.
That doesn't mean those of us not in the know won't enjoy playing Final Fantasy XI Adventure. I never touched the original game, but playing the demake led me down a lore rabbit hole that I'm tempted to dive back into, even as I type this.
Metroid Dread Demake
Prolific demaker Elvies, whom you'll remember for their Silksong demake/imagining, makes their second appearance on this list with this stunning recreation of Metroid Dread for the Game Boy.
The Game Boy already has an excellent Metroid game in Metroid II: Return of Samus. Instead of drawing from that game's look and feel, Elvies gives us this incredible lo-fi rendition of the opening minutes of Dread rendered in their own, distinctive style.
If you haven't played the adorable top-down adventure game Tunic, do yourself a favor and get it now. It's inspired by classic Game Boy and SNES Zelda titles, which, coincidentally, also makes it a natural choice for a Game Boy demake.
Tunic GBC pulls from A Link to the Past without sacrificing the hallmark look of the original. Trees are stacked pyramids, map sections are distinguished by blocks of color, and in the middle of it all is our iconic fox protagonist.
In the original Tunic, players were expected to unravel the tale of Tunic for themselves, but don't expect much of a story in this demake. What you do get is a small slice of a great, great game that's well worth the ten-odd minutes it takes to complete.