We all love the original Game Boy today, so it's easy to forget that Nintendo's gray gaming box was panned by critics when it was released. Compared to its rivals, the Game Boy was underpowered, bulky, and priced too high considering its specs. Some dubbed it dead on arrival; destined for the bargain bin amidst tough competition.
Turns out people that buy handheld consoles just want to play games, and Nintendo were the best in the business at that. With the collective power of Nintendo's greatest developers and producers behind it, the Game Boy's library was unbeatable.
The massive success of the Game Boy was proof that "good games sell consoles", not the latest chipset or shiniest screen. That philosophy has continued to influence Nintendo's consoles (for better or worse) ever since.
Here, we want to highlight 10 of the best Game Boy games that stood the test of time. Some of the titles here kickstarted major gaming franchises; others introduced gameplay mechanics that can still be found in modern titles. All of the games on this list, though, are still loads of fun to play today.
All multi-billion-dollar franchises had to have their start somewhere. For Pokémon, those beginnings were on the black-and-white 2.6-inch Game Boy screen.
The vast world of Kanto and the signature 151 first-generation Pokémon continue to captivate players to this day. Although not the first creature collector game (that achievement goes to 1987's Digital Devil Story: Megami Tensei), Pokémon is responsible for making the concept of catching, training, and battling monsters a cornerstone of the RPG genre, inspiring countless games in the years since its initial release.
Tetris on the Game Boy is widely considered to be one of the greatest video games of all time. You know it, too, because you've played it.
A big part of Tetris' longevity lies in its universal appeal — anyone can play it, regardless of age or skill level. Its gameplay is easy to understand but challenging to master, making it a game that players can enjoy for hours on end.
Even in today's gaming landscape, where graphics, sound, and online connectivity are highly valued, Tetris remains a classic, beloved by generations of gamers around the world.
Panel de Pon
Panel de Pon, released for Game Boy in 1995, might have been overshadowed by bigger titles of its time, but it has quietly influenced a lot of the modern mobile games we see every day.
The objective is to match three or more colored blocks to remove them from the board with player’s restricted moves. Sound familiar? Panel de Pon paved the way for future puzzle games like Candy Crush and Bejeweled to follow.
The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening
Released in 1993, The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening was the first portable entry in the series, allowing players to explore the vast world of Hyrule on the go. Play it today and you'll find its charming graphics, engaging storyline, and challenging gameplay still hold up.
Link's Awakening is a timeless classic that continues to captivate retro gamers and newcomers alike, inspiring countless modern games, like Ittle Dew and Blossom Tales
There have been a lot of ports of Donkey Kong over the years, and very few of them capture the simple joy of the original. Donkey Kong on the Game Boy is different, though.
It doesn't attempt to emulate the arcade cabinet's mechanics and level design, it builds on them. The first four stages are just like in the arcade cabinet version of the game, but once you beat them, you gain access to 97 extra levels. These extra levels add a new mechanic to the mix. Now you have to find a key somewhere in each stage and unlock a door with it to advance.
The Game Boy version of Donkey Kong went above and beyond your typical port, making it one of the most complete Donkey Kong experiences around.
Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3
Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3 has stood the test of time because of its unique blend of platforming and puzzle-solving gameplay, as well as its charming and quirky characters. The game introduced Wario, Mario's greedy and selfish counterpart, as its main character, which was a bold move that paid off. This game also introduced power-ups like the garlic that turns Wario into a bouncy ball or the dragon hat that allows him to shoot fire, which became staples in the Wario Land series.
Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3 has also influenced other video games, as seen in the treasure-hunting mechanic that was later used in games like Donkey Kong Country and Banjo-Kazooie. The game's unique style and gameplay have made it a classic that retro gaming enthusiasts continue to enjoy and revisit to this day.
Game Boy Camera
The Game Boy Camera, released in 1998, was a revolutionary accessory for its time. It allowed gamers to snap pictures with their 8-bit handheld console and even print them out with the Game Boy Printer.
Despite its limitations, the Game Boy Camera has become an iconic retro gaming accessory. Its influence can be seen in modern devices like the Nintendo 3DS, which includes a camera and allows for photo sharing.
The Game Boy Camera inspired a generation of gamers to experiment with photography and pushed the boundaries of what could be achieved with a simple handheld device. Some photographers like the aesthetic so much, they've built entire portfolios around it.
Kirby's Dream Land
Kirby's Dream Land for the Game Boy has endured as a classic game that has stood the test of time. Its charm lies in its simplicity, colorful graphics, and catchy soundtrack.
Kirby's Dream Land is also notable for introducing Kirby to the world. This adorable pink puff (fun fact: Kirby's white on the North America cover art) was quickly accepted into the Nintendo pantheon, and we've been seeing him in various Nintendo games ever since.
Interestingly, Kirby didn't get his signature Copy ability until Kirby's Adventure on the NES, so this first version of Kirby can't steal powers.
Dr. Mario, the classic puzzle game that first graced the Game Boy in 1990, has proven to be a timeless title that's still enjoyed by gamers of all ages. Its simple yet challenging gameplay mechanics, catchy soundtrack and vibrant visuals have all played a role in its continued success.
What really separates Dr. Mario from other puzzle games is its influence on the genre as a whole. Many modern puzzle titles, such as Candy Crush and Bejeweled, owe a great deal to Dr. Mario's addictive, matching-based gameplay.
Metroid II: The Return of Samus
Metroid II: The Return of Samus on the Game Boy featured graphics, sound effects, and gameplay that were considered top-notch at the time of its release. But it's notable for more than being a technical achievement; it's one of the most important games in the series.
Popular Metroid series mechanics like the Spider Ball and Space Jump were first introduced in The Return of Samus. Metroid II was also the first game in the series that made an effort to develop the lore and build the world of Metroid.
Suffice it to say, Metroid is what it is today in large part due to the innovations introduced in Metroid II.