The Game Boy, an iconic handheld gaming console, brought joy to millions worldwide with its library of classic titles. While many beloved games made their way to international audiences, some extraordinary gems remained confined to the shores of Japan. Here, we dive into the rich world of Japanese-exclusive Game Boy games that captivated players but never received an official translation or release outside Japan.
From action-packed platformers to enchanting RPGs and unique puzzle adventures, these hidden treasures showcase the creativity and innovation of developers during the Game Boy era. We'll explore the gameplay mechanics, captivating storylines, and distinctive art styles that make these titles stand out. Whether you're a nostalgic fan of the Game Boy or a gaming enthusiast looking to discover overlooked masterpieces, join us on a journey through the best Game Boy games that remained Japan's best-kept secrets.
10. Meitantai Conan: Karakuri Jiin Satsujin Jiken
Good detective games are few and far between, so it's too bad this standout sleuth title never left Japan. Based on the Detective Conan anime series (Case Closed in the US), Meitantai Conan: Karakuri Jiin Satsujin Jiken is a standalone murder mystery that melds top-down adventure action with visual novel elements in a way that puts the narrative and storytelling at the forefront of the experience.
There's a fan translation out there that lets you enjoy this game in its full glory. If pocket-sized mystery games are your thing, definitely check this game out.
9. Kakurenbo Battle Monster Tactics
Kakurenbo Battle Monster Tactics is a strategic RPG game set in the fictional kingdom of Iraldi. Players participate in monster-hunting tournaments in dungeons, strategizing their moves from a top-down perspective with limited visibility. The game's mix of turn-based strategy and Japanese-style adventure allows for tactical decision-making and character customization. With short playtime per map, it is perfect for quick gaming sessions. Positive player feedback highlights its nostalgic appeal and overall fun factor, making it a great choice for Game Boy Color enthusiasts.
8. Ultraman Ball
Ultraman is Japan's biggest superhero (both literally and culturally), so it's a bit strange that this is the only Game Boy game he stars in. Ultraman Ball is a quirky, humor-filled action platformer where the titular hero has the power to transform into a ball. Players must switch between Ultraman's regular and ball forms to traverse a variety of colorful stages and defeat funny-looking monsters and bosses.
I was surprised at how much fun Ultraman Ball is. The level design makes great use of Ultraman's two forms (with a few stages requiring some very creative usage of both) and the animations, while not the greatest the Game Boy Color has ever seen, are cute and fun.
Those looking for something fun to casually bounce through in their downtime should give Ultraman Ball a go.
7. Survival Kids 2: Dasshutsu! Futago Shima
We've talked about Survival Kids in the past (read our retrospective on Survival Kids), so you know we love that game to bits. Sadly, the Western market in 1999 disagreed, so the game's sequel never left Japan's shores.
Frankly, Survival Kids 2: Dasshutsu! Futago Shima is the first game but better. It has the same core mechanics as the first game (and a similarly threadbare plot) but with a lot more polish and shine. Gathering resources and crafting tools have been streamlined and made faster, and the hunger, thirst, and fatigue meters are a bit more forgiving this time around. Altogether, the gameplay changes introduced in Survival Kids 2 make it more approachable and enjoyable.
6. Masakari Densetsu Kintarou Action-hen
Okay, we get why this one never made it out of Japan. Masakari Densetsu Kintarou Action-hen is unapologetically Japanese, and it's hard to imagine the Western market in the early 2000s treating it as anything more than a cultural curiosity.
Today, though? Fuggedaboutit. Funky action platforming with a bit of demon hunting is exactly what people want to see in their platformers. The part where the hero Kintaro sumo wrestles with a bear would be in the trailer.
You can find a fan translation of Masakari Densetsu Kintarou Action-hen online. Again, the Game Boy fan community saves the day. Go play it now.
5. Hanasaka Tenshi Tenten-kun no Beat Breaker
Hanasaka Tenshi Tenten-kun no Beat Breaker for the Game Boy Color was a unique and challenging game that combined elements of "Simon" and Tetris Attack. This makes for an unconventional puzzle game experience with interesting characters like a naked angel baby and a devil baby and a quirky setting.
The game's crass humor isn't for everyone, but if you're a fan of potty jokes and sexual innuendo in the style of Crayon Shinchan, then you'll find Hanasaka Tenshi Tenten-kun no Beat Breaker a refreshing and entertaining addition to your library.
4. Grandia: Parallel Trippers
Grandia: Parallel Trippers for Game Boy Color was a great game with unique gameplay and appeal to Grandia fans. Despite being lesser-known, it offered an accessible and engaging RPG experience for both experienced players and newcomers. The game introduced a card-based battle system, making battles strategic and enjoyable. There are a whopping 29 playable characters, including beloved ones from the original Grandia, that help make this a memorable JRPG experience if you're already a fan of the series.
3. Star Ocean: Blue Sphere
Star Ocean: Blue Sphere for the Game Boy Color is a great action role-playing game and direct sequel to Star Ocean: The Second Story. It continues the adventures of familiar characters on the planet Edifice, offering real-time combat with character-specific finishing moves. The skill system and item creation through mini-games add depth to character development. With a top-down perspective for exploration and side-view battles, it has a classic RPG feel. Local multiplayer options allow for fun with friends. While not surpassing its predecessors, Star Ocean: Blue Sphere is still a worthy addition to the beloved series, with engaging gameplay and charming storytelling.
2. One Piece: Maboroshi no Grand Line Boukenki!
I'm only now realizing just how long One Piece has been around. This long-running series has countless video games, but this one on the Game Boy never made its way out of Japan. The game gives you a slice of the adventures of Monkey D. Luffy and his crew as they search for the legendary treasure, One Piece.
This is definitely a game for the One Piece enthusiasts — the game starts off when Luffy and the gang are well into their quest — but the characters and world design will win you over, even if you're just a casual anime fan.
1. Game Boy Wars 3
You may have heard of Advance Wars, but did you know the popular turn-based strategy game series goes back to the Game Boy? Game Boy Wars offers up a glimpse of what modern Advance Wars would become, but the clunky interface and frustratingly slow pace make it a slog to play.
Since the first game was a flop, its publishers decided that Game Boy Wars was a bust in the West and didn't localize the rest of the series. A shame as those issues were later fixed in the sequels, and the third game is far and away the best of the bunch.
Game Boy Wars 3 is much more in line with what Advance Wars is like today, and it both looks and plays great on the Game Boy Color's screen. Considering how well Advance Wars has done, I'm convinced Game Boy Wars 3 could have been a global hit if someone had bothered to take it out of Japan.