It’s almost impossible to separate nostalgia from my personal best Game Boy games. Like many gamers my age, the Game Boy was the first handheld system I owned, and I still remember it fondly. I got it for Christmas in 4th grade with both Link’s Awakening (as a pack-in) and Wario Land. And boy, I got a TON of mileage out of those two titles! I played for countless hours under the lamp in our living room to ensure I could see the screen (no backlight, but at least we got a long battery life unlike Game Gear or Nomad!). Over the years, I slowly added to my collection, and still have all of my original games today!
I recently purchased a nice, refurbished, modded GBA Advance SP to play my old handheld carts. After checking out the best Game Boy Advance games, one thing led to another and I’ve replayed several of my original Game Boy games too! I’m actually quite astonished at how well some of these titles hold up. They’re “short but sweet”, something I highly value in game design! Difficult as it is, I do try to account for nostalgia by replaying and seeing how well games hold up today. And I can confidently say the titles below pass that test. These are my top 10 best Game Boy games-enjoy!
10. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Fall of the Foot Clan
I literally just finished this game for the first time a few nights ago! I saw it on a few other “best Game Boy games” lists and decided to order a cart and manual from eBay. While nowhere near as refined as beat ’em up entries like the exquisite Turtles in Time, it’s a solid action title! Essentially a 2D action game with mild platforming (like the first Turtles on NES), the game is only 5 stages long and over within an hour. But like the excellent Hyperstone Heist, sometimes 5 stages is all you need! With detailed sprites and cutscenes, a rockin’ Turtles soundtrack, and fun boss encounters, it’s a great ride! Also, I’m a sucker for a good instruction manual, and Fall of the Foot Clan design has 90s nostalgia written all over it. It even made my “best Turtles game” list-check it out if you’re a fan.
9. Mole Mania
Did you know this game existed? Because I didn’t until pretty recently! I picked it up cart only as an impulse buy during a Black Friday sale at the excellent Game Over Videogames a few years ago. And I was in for a surprise! One of the lesser known Shigeru Miyamoto titles, the game features Muddy mole trying to rescue his family from the evil farmer Jinbe (because videogames). You make your way through seven worlds consisting of puzzle screens you interact with by digging above and below ground. In each, you have to avoid enemies while figuring out how to push and pull a black ball through a “goal” to advance. The puzzles are generally right in the “sweet spot” of difficulty and the graphics, story, and mechanics are charming and satisfying. Check out this hidden gem if you haven’t!
8. Final Fantasy Adventure
When I bought this game back in the day, I didn’t really understand that it wasn’t a traditional Final Fantasy! Though I loved Chrono Trigger, I hadn’t yet played Secret of Mana or many other SNES RPGs. So I was in for a surprise! And you know what? This is a great game! It’s essentially like Zelda with a few RPG elements thrown in. The story is pretty interesting for an early Game Boy title, and the map is large, detailed, and interesting to explore! A few clunky mechanics aside, the gameplay is very solid and the world a joy to explore! The physical release even came with a full fold out map, which is awesome. You can check out this game on Switch in the Collection of Mana, which I highly recommend as you get three excellent titles!
7. Metroid II: Return of Samus
I got this game from one of my best friends who just wasn’t a fan of it. I had tried the original Metroid on NES but found it tough to get into. This one hooked me! The movement was faster and more fluid, and difficulty more forgiving. New power-ups like the Spider Ball and Spring Ball added a lot of depth to exploration. The manual had a lot more story and lore. And it was epic trying to take down 40+ evolved and intimidating Metroids! True, it’s very easy to get lost in the labyrinth of similar-looking-caves that is SR388. But the game is bite-size enough that it’s manageable. I personally feel the spectacular remake on the 3DS (Samus Returns) does nearly everything better, but the original still holds up!
6. Kirby’s Dream Land 2
I’ve been getting more and more into the Kirby series lately! I really enjoyed Planet Robobot on the 3DS and Kirby’s Adventure on the NES. But my love for Kirby started back on the Game Boy! I got this game as an Easter present way back in elementary school, and quickly fell for it. The original Dream Land (one of Satoru Iwata and HAL Laboratory’s first projects) is fun, but Dream Land 2 really does every single thing so much better! Levels are more complex. You could gain and use the powers of baddies. The animal buddies are a delight (I’m always a sucker for animal buddies in a platformer). And it was more difficult, especially going for all the Rainbow Drops! (that final battle was glorious if you did). It’s a great little title that is still wonderful to play today!
5. Pokemon Red/Blue
I still adore the original Pokemon games (the photo below are my original copies I’ve had since 1998!). The graphics still have an old-school charm, and the simple but addictive RPG gameplay is just as engrossing now as it was then. I don’t know why, but I always genuinely feel like I’m starting an adventure when I leave Pallet Town with my starter Pokemon! Slowly building your team and defeating all the gym masters gives you palpable sense of progress and achievement, and that blueprint is still being followed by the series today. And despite a few glitches and broken mechanics, the games are just fun, which is what matters! If I’m being honest, I do prefer the LeafGreen remake or Let’s Go Pikachu, as both retain the original spirit of the first games but with some nice quality of life upgrades. But I still love the originals!
4. Donkey Kong (1994)
I was very lucky to find a deal on a minty CIB copy of this game recently! It had long been on my wish list, so I was thrilled to play it for the first time as a “side game” to some Metroidvanias I was completing on my Switch. And…WOW. I’m honestly shocked at how excellent DK 1994 is! I’d always heard great things, but never being the biggest fan of the original Donkey Kong gameplay, had some doubts. The first few levels of the game are throwbacks to the arcade game, but then the formula changes up drastically! First, Mario controls far better, and has an entirely new move set that feels great. Second, level design is insanely innovative and far more expansive! Mario can grab all kinds of new items and power ups. Each level is just different enough from the last to keep you entertained and saying “just ONE more…” time and time again.
Though far from a pushover, the difficulty is scaled back substantially, which I appreciate. The environments are detailed and a lot of fun, and the game is surprisingly long too! I recommend playing on the Super Game Boy if you have one, for the lovely implementation of color and better controls. Now let’s see a revival of this style of Donkey Kong!
3. Super Mario Land 3: Wario Land
What a shakeup this game was! I got it with my Game Boy for Christmas and I still think it’s one of the best Game Boy games to this day. You got to play as Wario, who felt completely different from Mario and had a hilarious new mission-shamelessly get all the coins you can and buy a castle! All of the new mechanics were surprisingly satisfying. Wario could charge to knock enemies over, pick up and throw them, stomp the ground, and equip several new fun abilities via “hats”. The world map was beautifully detailed, and changes you made it individual levels effected the bigger map! There were multiple secret exits, not to mention 15 well-hidden “treasures” to find in the game, each worth a fortune. Creative, unique, enjoyable, and replayable, it was a perfect end to the creative Mario Land trilogy (that shamefully wasn’t included in the Super Mario Bros. Game & Watch)
2. Super Mario Land 2: Six Golden Coins
It’s tough picking between this and Wario Land! The gameplay of both is sublime an a massive improvement over the original Mario Land (which I wasn’t the biggest fan of). The sprites were much larger, levels were more creative, and power ups a lot of fun! Being able to tackle Zones in any order was a revelation at the time, and still makes the game feel very “open” today. The graphics and Zones were so creative and charming, but I think what really pushes it into a top spot for me is the soundtrack. Wario Land doesn’t have much in the way of memorable tunes. But Six Golden Coins certainly does! The Star Maze track in particular is extremely catchy and nostalgic (and that level might be my favorite in the game too!). I love Six Golden Coins-it’s not just one of the best Game Boy games but easily one of my top 10 Mario games!
1. The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening
This comes as no surprise if you know me! Link’s Awakening is not only one of my favorite Zelda games, but one of my favorite games of all time. I missed out on the original Legend of Zelda-this one was the actually the first I beat! And I have so much nostalgia for it because of that. I spent hours upon hours upon hours playing to get to the end! (this was before the internet and I didn’t have a guide, so I got stuck a lot). Even after all this time, I love everything about it. The charming characters and graphics. The depth of the story. A catchy and surprisingly emotional soundtrack. And the whimsy of the whole thing! I mean, Link could jump. And jump on Goombas, for some reason! That was awesome in 1993, and still awesome now. The Switch remake was also a joy to play, but I will always prefer the original release on Game Boy for the nostalgia. Check it out if you never have!
What would make your top 10 best Game Boy games list? Do you personally count Game Boy Color games as part of yours? (I couldn’t decide whether to include them!) Will you try to pick up an Analogue Pocket when it releases? Let me know in the comments below!