Today is the 28th birthday of Nintendo's handheld wonder, the Game Boy. This monochromatic marvel led the way to what we play currently, and many of its games still hold up. It's amazing to me the progression of tech in portables that has happened since the OG Game Boy. As a kid, I never could have guessed I'd be playing home console-quality games, 3D at that, on a portable device like I can now.
With the Game Boy's 28th anniversary, I wanted to do something special on SuperPhillip Central. Hence this top ten list counting down the best and boldest of original Game Boy software. That means no Game Boy Color titles like Pokemon Gold and Silver or Wario Land II.
10) Kirby's Dream Land 2
We begin with a game from a series known to be very beginner-friendly in not just its accessibility but its difficulty. While the original Kirby's Dream Land was a game one could beat in a breezy afternoon, Kirby's Dream Land 2 posed a much stiffer challenge. Not only was the game longer than its predecessor, but it was also harder, especially if you wanted to reach the secret portions of levels. Many required you to hold onto a power for an extended period of time throughout a given level, and in Dream Land 2, one hit meant your power would be removed and bounce away, usually disappearing instantly. Then there were the animal buddies that Kirby could team up, each bestowing onto Kirby a helpful ability to get through the more savage portions of Kirby's second handheld adventure.
9) Metroid II: Return of Samus
The original Metroid premiered on the Nintendo Entertainment System and brought to the gaming world one of the first gaming heroines. It also brought a massive map to explore for powers and abilities to access more of the game's map and beat bosses. Metroid II, as the subtitle succinctly says, brought the return of bounty hunter Samus Aran. Her first handheld mission had her seek out and eliminate a deluge of Metroids, located in all extremities of the world map. The map was sectioned off in a way so that when one area was complete, the next would open. The all-monochrome color pallet meant areas were even harder to distinguish from one another, yet those who persevered would find a portable adventure worthy of a followup to the original Metroid.
8) Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins
While Super Mario Land was a sometimes challenging game, it could be beaten in one sitting rather quickly with another skill. On the other hand, its sequel, Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins, offered a much larger adventure with the ability to choose which of the six starting areas to tackle from its world map hub a la Super Mario World. Each area had its own theme, enemies, and obstacles to overcome, and all concluded with a boss battle for one of Castle Mario's titular six Golden Coins. The game, as many Mario maniacs know, saw the debut of the portly plumber's rival Wario. Super Mario Land 2 is a bit odd to play nowadays thanks to its off-kilter jumping physics, presenting a much floatier feel to Mario's jumps. It's inconsistent with how Mario plays in most of his other adventures, from Super Mario Bros. and even Super Mario Land directly before it, so there is a learning curve, albeit a slight one.
7) Mega Man V
Prior to Mega Man V, the previous Mega Man games on the Game Boy were retreads with regard to the Robot Masters the Blue (or in this case, Grey) Bomber faced. Mega Man V not only saw its own exclusive collection of Robot Masters, themed after the planets of the Solar System, but also a story that was brand-new too. While the established and classic Mega Man gameplay was present, the ambition and reach of Mega Man V felt considerably larger. This felt like a game made as a huge effort and not just a side game. It posed a solid challenge with some tight platforming and fun levels, and the bosses and new characters were enjoyable as well. If you want to check out any of the five classic Mega Man games on the original Game Boy, Mega Man V is the one to pick.
6) Mole Mania
Mole Mania starred Muddy, a mole who was the father to his missing, mole-napped wife and children. In the game, you control Muddy through various rooms with the goal of pushing a black iron ball to a gate to move forward. Being a mole, Muddy had the ability to dig underground where he could find alternate paths and means to travel around topside where the main gameplay festivities took place. Dig too much, and Muddy wouldn't have means to transport the black ball to its proper ending location. The eight worlds sported multiple interconnected room where hidden items could be found in addition to solving each room's puzzles. If the concept doesn't impress, then maybe the fact that it was designed in part by Shigeru Miyamoto might help. All in all, Mole Mania is an excellent puzzle-adventure game.
5) Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3
Wario wasn't happy enough to just steal Mario's castle in Super Mario Land 2. In Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3, he stole Mario's series from him! Wario Land played much like a traditional Super Mario Bros. platformer with different power-ups in the form of hats for Wario to nab and wear. Where Wario Land strayed a little away from Super Mario Land and its sequel was with a focus on collecting coins and treasure locked away in chests. Depending on how much treasure and coinage you collected during Wario's adventure, his castle would be anywhere between a minuscule hut to a luxurious castle mansion. Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3 offered much more longevity than past Mario Land games, not just through treasure and coin accumulation but in all of its secret exits to uncover. Exploration was encouraged and delightful in Wario's first starring platformer role.
4) Pokemon Blue. Red, and Yellow
The games that started a phenomenon and sent shockwaves through not only the gaming world but the world in general, Pokemon Red and Blue (followed by a Pikachu-focused Yellow Version later) brought many a detentions to primary school kids for playing the games during class, catching, battling, and trading Pokemon. I'm still waiting for this fad of 20 years to finally end. Who knows if someday it finally will! But seriously, the initial Pokemon games made even the most ignorant of people know the names "Pokemon" and "Pikachu." Few games can claim to be events or shake up popular culture so much, but Pokemon Red and Blue were and did. The only downside of the original Game Boy games? Many things feel way too slow and archaic compared to the quality of life and gameplay improvements the series has since seen over the years.
Chances are if you had a Game Boy, then you had Tetris. Nintendo was smart as heck to acquire the rights to this Russian puzzle game as one of the premier titles for its Game Boy. Tetris was and still is the perfect pick-up-and-play game whether it's done in bite-sized gaming sessions or extended ones. There aren't many things as sweet in gaming as clearing four lines of Tetriminos to score big and see your point total skyrocket. Then again, there aren't many things that make you want to slap your forehead as badly as having as incorrectly executing a four line clear, instead placing your "I" Tetrimino on the space adjacent. Curse you, Tetris Gods!!!!
2) Donkey Kong ('94)
Starting up and playing Donkey Kong's Game Boy debut might have made players think they were just playing a monochrome port of the arcade and NES game. After all, the first four stages were the exact same. However, as soon as those are completed, the REAL game that asw Donkey Kong on Game Boy (lovingly known as Donkey Kong '94) reveals itself. Part platformer, part puzzle game, Donkey Kong sported eight worlds divided up between 97 levels, most of which requiring Mario to jump, climb, and maneuver his way through obstacle and enemy-infested playgrounds, all the while finding and carrying a key to a locked door (the exit of the level). Other times and at the end of each world, Mario faced off against Donkey Kong, needing to reach a platform where DK would nab Mario's girl and retreat. The Game Boy Donkey Kong retains its gaming value even 20+ years later because it's so smartly designed and fun to play.
1) The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening
The idea of having a Zelda game as packed with content and as a big a world to explore as the Super Nintendo's A Link to the Past was mind-blowing, but Nintendo did it with one of The Legend of Zelda series' most memorable and enjoyable entries, The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening. Taking place on Koholint Island, Link's objective was to find some means to get off the island, and to do that meant waking up the Wind Fish through playing eight magical instruments found in eight different dungeons. The dungeons are usually the most engaging parts of the Zelda series, and they definitely did not disappoint in Link's Awakening, especially Eagle's Tower, one of my personal favorites due to its overarching puzzle. The world was massive for a child like myself and remains wondrous to explore to this day. Perhaps the only flaw to the masterpiece that is Link's Awakening is the limit on how many items you can equip at once, resulting in lots of time bringing up the menu. Regardless, with how well Link's Awakening plays otherwise and how it ends on its melancholy but magical note, the game stands on top of the original Game Boy's software heap.