Top 100 GameBoy Games #70-61
In 1989, Nintendo released the GameBoy Compact Portable Videogame system – a monochrome, non backlit interchangeable cartridge-based handheld with a low resolution screen and a less powerful processor than even their aging NES.
Thanks to brilliant marketing and the importance of the pack-in game Tetris, GameBoy would prove to be a massive success almost overnight. In the early 1990′s, everyone and their mother or father (often literally) needed to own a GameBoy.
As grand as the initial success of the platform was though, the real legacy of the GameBoy was it’s longevity. As Nintendo would prove to the world, flashy visuals and powerful hardware were not required to turn the so-called “inferior” GameBoy hardware into a roaring success when developers solely focused on simplicity and raw fun rather than expensive hardware.
The Lynx, GameGear, Game.com, Wonderswan, and Neo-Geo Pocket – the GameBoy would endure and outlast all of them for over a decade until 1998 when the original design was finally replaced by a slightly upgraded model called the GameBoy Color, with a full color LCD and a slightly faster CPU.
Like the original monochrome model, the GameBoy Color would face competition from superior hardware such as the WonderSwan Crystal and Neo-Geo Pocket Color and again outsell and outlast them both before it was finally retired in 2002 with the release of the 32-Bit GameBoy Advance – ending well over a decade of 8-bit portable titles from Nintendo and the their many third party partners.
This list is dedicated to the top 100 GameBoy and GameBoy Color games released between 1989 to 2002. It contains both original black-and-white and color titles. Placement was deemed after several hundred candidates had been evaluated in a number of ways including how well each holds up today in terms of playability and enjoyment.
Since many classic 8-bit games can be a real test of player’s patience and skill, I am ranking every game on its overall difficulty using a simple scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is brain dead easy and 10 is…well, Battletoads. A 5 on this scale means the game has average difficulty with perhaps some challenging elements, but nothing the average gamer should get stuck on for too long.
I’m also including many links to videos and other online information sources. Links are indicated by orange words. Please open these links in a new tab or window so you don’t have to navigate away from this article.
If you missed the prior entries, they can be found here:
So without further ado, enjoy my picks for the top 100 GameBoy and GameBoy Color games that still matter!
Some fighters have come for personal glory. Others have come to fight for those they love, but all will do their best to be victorious in this tournament that will decide their fortunes.
Unlike most of Takara’s other GameBoy ports, Battle Arena Toshinden is a great game for beginners as it’s not nearly as difficult, and complex moves are very easy to pull off. Similar to the ever popular Soul Calibur series, adversaries can be defeated either by knock out or by knocking them off the stage for a ring-out.
In addition to the fact that the game looks, sounds and plays beautifully, the story in Toshinden is incredibly laughable, full of many memorable lines that bring into question the original developer’s grasp of the English language, just as it was back in the glory days of 8-bit in the mid 80′s.
One of the premiere fighting games on the Playstation, the GameBoy version of Toshinden is remarkably accurate to the source material given what the handheld could do, and it’s also a ton of fun. If you’re looking for another excellent 8-bit fighter on a handheld, you can’t do much better than Toshinden.
And remember: Fu is constantly trying to figure out how to defeat Uranus.
Toshinden marked the final Takara fighter ported to the GameBoy. Other titles included World Heroes, The King of Fighters 95, and The King of Fighters ’96.
#69 Bonk’s Revenge (GB原人2)
System support: All, Super GameBoy Enhanced
Year of release: 1994
Developer: Hudson Soft
Publisher: Hudson Soft
Price range: $8-12
This time, the titular large-headed caveman is on a quest to recover half of the moon, which was stolen by the evil King Drool III. Its multiple stages each contain several specific areas, which range from outdoors to trains, underwater and even outer space. Help Bonk get back the moon before the tides go crazy.
Following the success of the GameBoy conversion of the TG-16′s killer app, Hudson quickly followed suit with a conversion of the Bonk’s Adventure follow-up.New to this title, when Bonk eats a slab of meat he can now turn into one of three forms: Master Bonk, Hungry Bonk or Stealth Bonk.
Becoming Master Bonk dresses Bonk in a cape and allows him to move faster and jump much higher. Hungry Bonk turns Bonk into a savage beast with huge teeth capable of eating through enemies and affords him a much stronger head crash attack. Stealth Bonk dresses him in a prisoner outfit and allows him to enter locked doors to bonus areas.
Outside of the three new forms, Bonk’s Revenge changes little from the excellent first game and instead delivers more of the same head bashing goodness with excellent visuals. This time around, the Super GameBoy lends its colorization abilities to give the levels a bit more flair and in doing so nearly looks as good as if it were an NES conversion rather than the GameBoy.
Although I ultimately feel Revenge is a stronger overall game than Adventure, I still recommend gamers play Adventure first to fully appreciate the gameplay changes in Revenge. The strangeness of this title might not appeal to everyone, but I think that this is one of the better platformers on the GameBoy.
Although this shares the same name as the second Bonk game for the TurboGrafx-16, this is actually a brand new adventure built from the ground-up for the GameBoy. It’s pretty much the same as the other games in the series, where the player takes on the role of cave boy Bonk. While most of the levels are completely new, the game reuses features from the first two in the series. Bonk’s Revenge was released in Europe as B.C Kid 2.
In the near future, Earth is finally at piece. Governments cooperate together to form a united world, and an unprecedented future of prosperity awaits. And then the invaders from the planet Cephei arrived. Not much is known about them except that they are hostile. As a lead pilot in the world self defense airforce, you pilot an advanced prototype fighter called Project S-11. The fate of the entire planet rests on your piloting skills.
Sunsoft has a long history of excellent 8-bit titles, and shortly before the end of the developer’s prolific golden age gaming legacy, they gave us one final 8-bit masterpiece developed by a small team called Paragon 5. Project S-11 has a thin plot about alien invasion in the near-future, but the plot ultimately doesn’t matter in the face of the sheer quality of the gameplay on display here.
The first thing you’ll notice when you play Project S-11 is just how crazy fast and smooth the game is. Similar shmups on the GameBoy, NES or even SNES had numerous preformance issues. Sprite flickering, slowdown, and slow gameplay were to be expected given the limitations of hardware. Somehow though, Paragon 5 manages to deliver a silky smooth shooter without any hint of overtaxing the GBC. For retro gamer aficionados, you can think of Project S-11 as the GameBoy Color equivalent to the Famicom’s Summer Carnival ’92: Recca.
Adopting a pseudo tate aspect ratio by positioning the status bar on the far right,Project S-11 is unique among GB shooters. The choice to further limit the tiny GameBoy screen by using precious space for a large vertical status bar might seem an odd even bad choice at first, but it accomplishes a tighter focus on the landscape and doesn’t allow for aimless wondering back and forth in similar GameBoy shmups such as SolarStriker.
Taking a page from shmup masters Compile, Project S-11 features a robust and varied array of weapons that each act very differently, and can be powered up. The weapons vary from simple laser guns to missiles, Gradius Moai head-like round circle shots, and even a flamethrower that weakens the longer the button is pressed, just like the NES classic shooter Gun-Nac. There are also bombs that detonate a large percentage of the screen doing massive damage to anything they hit.
Rounding off what is already a high octane shooter is the fact that it’s also one of the system’s most forgiving. There is an actual Megaman-style life bar meaning on hit deaths aren’t a major concern. That isn’t to say the game is devoid of difficulty, merely that the learning curve isn’t as strict as retro gamers would come to expect.
In the end, Project S-11 didn’t do much to innovate shmups on the GameBoy, but it did establish the sheer speed and fluidity the handheld was capable of. If you’re looking for a great shooter or just a piece of Sunsoft history, seek Project S-11.
Prior to it’s release, Sunsoft had announced Project S-11 via their website – a temporary concept title for the game project in which was to be their eleventh shooter. A contest was held to determine a name for the project, but at the time, Sunsoft’s Japanese branch went through corporate restructuring, the American arm neared bankruptcy, and the contest was cancelled. The game came close to being cancelled too, but Sunsoft managed to push it out the door as a budget title using their initial unwanted concept title and rather generic boxart. I’m just thankful it happened at all.
System support: GBC Only
Year of release: 2000
Developer: Will Software
Publisher: Kotobuki System Co. aka Kemco
Genre: Action Adventure
Price range: $20-40
Region: Europe Only
Hiro Miyamoto, the leader of the Miyamoto clan of Samurai, meets a stranger who brings bad news. Kage Mishima, the archenemy of the Miyamoto clan, has stolen the magical sword Daikatana, [lit, Large Katana] which allows the one who wields it to bend the fabric of time and change reality. In addition, Mishima’s minions kidnap Hiro’s friend Mikiko. He must rescue her, travel to different time periods and thwart Mishima’s black magic, reclaim the legendary Daikatana blade, and put an end to Mishima’s ambition.
Similar to Zelda DX in concept and visual design, Daikatana for GameBoy Color is a top-down dungeon crawler with action RPG elements that come together to form a lengthy, enjoyable experience, even though the formula is almost an exact copy of Nintendo’s mega-hit.
Progressing through the game’s intricate plot, you’ll travel from timeline to timeline acquiring weapons, solving Zelda-like puzzles, and defeating Kage Mishima’s minions. Along the way, you’ll quickly encounter two allies – the agile Mikiko and the charismatic Superfly Johnson – I’m not making that up – that’s what his name is.
Thankfully, a plethora of swords, lasers, hammers, discuses and other assorted weapons are at your offensive disposal. Better still, there’s a battery save to track your progress. A meaty game at around 6 to 8 hours, Daikatana on GBC is a far more enjoyable game than it’s PC and N64 cousins. It was not released in the US, but since the GBC is completely region free, look for the European release if you want to get in on some Samurai action with a heavy dose of Zelda.
Released only in Europe (wait… wat) this version of Daikatana is quite different from its PC and console counterpart. The games only share the same basic plot and title; they are completely different games in all other aspects. The original is an ill-conceived FPS, while the GBC version is a top-down action game with puzzle-solving elements similar to Zelda, though with less character customization and more focus on dungeon-crawling.
#66Return of the Ninja (忍者の戻す)
System support: GBC Only
Year of release: 2001
Genre: Action Platformer
Price range: $12-15
Region: North America & Europe Only
On the day when ninja Tsukikage and kunoichi Saiyuri return to their village after a long training session, they see it on fire, and their holy artifact stolen. If it isn’t reclaimed, the world will fall into calamity. The player takes the role of either of the two and has to stop the enemy ninja clan attacking the village and avenge their fallen friends.
Natsume have had great success in the 8-bit era with such excellent and gorgeous late NES releases like Shatterhand and Shadow of the Ninja, as I reported in my top 100 NES/Famicom games editorial. When I found out they were behind another Ninja platformer on the GameBoy Color, I had to investigate.
Like Shadow of the Ninja, Return of the Ninja is another similar sounding game that again amps up the wow-factor while delivering a solid ninja action platformer that even Tecmo would be proud to brand an entry in their famous Ninja Gaiden series.
Although the game gives the choice between male and female ninja, each play similarly and the choice is ultimately a cosmetic one. After the first few stages, the game branches out and allows players to choose the order they play through the stages, Megaman style.
Each level is packed with multiple pathways, enemies, environmental hazards such as fire, and secrets. To fully explore each area, you’ll need to equip one of several various ninja tools, such as a helmet to protect from falling rocks, or a claw that can dig through the ground to find hidden areas.
The game makes excellent use of contrasting colors to portray a vivid world and the sprites are well animated and easily distinctive from the highly detailed backgrounds. The music is mostly forgettable, but there are a handful of tunes that are quite pleasant to listen to just the same.
I rarely see this one in the wild, so if you should happen across it, consider the elusive action ninja game worthy of your wallet.
Developed by Japanese developer Natsume, this GameBoy Color only ninja game seems to be a western exclusive. The Japanese title I added is an approximate translation of what the game would be called if there were a Japanese build.
As the Dark Knight Batman, you are tasked with ridding Gotham Streets of America’s most notorious super villains. Stop the jokes of the laughing Joker, capture the insane Scarecrow, put the bitter Mr. Freeze on ice, declaw the feisty Catwoman, throw down the pesticide on seductive Poison Ivy, expose the mysterious Riddler and force the plotting Penguin to diet in jail.
Bringing so many villains to justice single handedly would be a monumental task for any super hero. Luckily, along the way you will be aided by your nimble trusty partner in crime-fighting, Robin. The fate of Gotham City’s people rests in your hands. Don’t let them down.
While there were numerous prior attempts to make an excellent Batman videogame, none of them – even Sunsoft’s NES efforts – hold a candle to Konami’s 1993 Batman The Animated Series. Based on one of the greatest animated shows of all time, this little-known Batman title is among the handful of truly exceptional superhero titles like the modern Batman Arkham series.
Designed from the framework and gameplay ideas from Sunsoft’s 1989 Batman: The Videogame, Batman Animated retains the wall jumping, the careful level design and the sub item system, but it also has plenty of its own tricks, Such as a grappling hook that can be used to bypass hazards or enemies, and the new ability to cling to certain ledges.
The sprite work on display is truly some of the best you’ll find on GameBoy, with the tiny sprites matching their characters perfectly. On the GameBoy where four shades of gray was all there was to work with, Batman uses subtle contrasts and creates some of the most vivid works of pixel art in grayscale. The Colorization abilities of the GameBoy Color and Super GameBoy only accent what is already superb. The music is fittingly brooding, although I have to say I prefer the Sunsoft compositions from Batman The Videogame and Return of the Joker.
Of all the retro Batman titles, this one is without question my favorite. Based on the cartoon series I grew up loving and still do today, the title captures the “DarkDeco” style and is a blast to play. If you’re looking for a superhero fix on the GameBoy, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better title.
In late 1993, the GameBoy Batman The Animated Series was released by Konami alongside the launch of the American cartoon’s airing in Japan, with hopes of boosting the popularity of the franchise in the East. Here’s the Japanese version of the famous show.
#64Donkey Kong Land (スーパードンキーコング)
System support: All, Super GameBoy Enhancement
Year of release: 1991
Price range: $6-8
When DK and Diddy tell Cranky all about their recent Donkey Kong Country adventure, Cranky admits that he underestimated their success, but attributes their accomplishment to the “newfangled advanced graphics” and the fact that “kids will buy anything nowadays”. Cranky arranges a bet they can’t do it in 8-bit, and has King K. Rool again steal the banana hoard and force the Kongs to recapture it on an 8-bit handheld system. Donkey and Diddy head out once again to get their precious hoard back and to prove Cranky wrong.
In 1995 Rare did the unthinkable and released a GameBoy conversion of their SNES megahit Donkey Kong Country. Often mistaken as a direct port, Donkey Kong Land is more accurately described as a reimagining. Donkey Kong Land has new levels, locations, enemies, bosses and music. It is in fact, quite a bit different from DKC.
Limited by what the GameBoy could do, there are fewer levels and the themes change from one stage to the next, but DKL is nevertheless an extremely impressive and ambitious undertaking for the GameBoy. Sprites lack the colors of their 16-bit counterparts, but are every bit as well animated, leading to a wonderful cartoonish quality about the design. Much of the music is reused from DKC, but there are a number of new tunes as well. The music is memorable and distinctive.
When played on a Super GameBoy, the custom pallets assigned work very well, but occasional bland color choices make it extremely difficult to tell sprites apart from backgrounds. It is also an unfortunate reality that the GameBoy’s resolution leads to leaps of faith where occasionally you’ll jump not knowing where you’ll land at all. Still, the experience is good enough you will likely overlook these flaws in the long term.
For fans of Donkey Kong Country, the GB port is well worth a look.
Donkey Kong Land was one of the only DMG GameBoy games to be released in a non-gray cartridge, in this case, a bright banana yellow. When the sequels were released the following two years, they too came in bight yellow cartridge shells, likely overstock shells from this first release. Scanning through old issues of Nintendo Power, some beta screenshots show characters that didn’t make it into the final game.
#63 Astérix: Search for Dogmaitrix (Astérix: Sur la Trace d’Idéfix)
System support: GBC Only
Year of release: 2000
Developer: Rebellion Developments
Price range: $15-25
Region: North America & Europe Only
When Obélix’s loveable pet dog Dogmatrix vanishes from Gual Village, Obélix is sure the Romans are behind the dog-napping. Obélix’s ever willing best friend Astérix joins him on his quest to rescue Dogmatrix. The duo’s journey will take them across all of Europe from the forests of France to the coliseums of Rome.
Astérix and his friend Obélix seem to be the underdogs of 8-bit platformer heroes in the western world. Their Europe only NES game is largely unknown, and their best appearances were in Astérix games for the Sega Master System and thus guaranteed for relative obscurity. It is therefore pleasant that the best GBC Astérix title was released in North America.
To stand out in the crowded platforming genre takes ingenuity, and Astérix Search for Dogmatrix is full of it. Players are presented with a map of selectable areas, making the experience somewhat non-linear similar to Megaman. As with the best Astérix titles, players choose between Astérix and Obélix before entering each stage. The choice matters because each character plays vastly differently and has their own unique strengths and weaknesses.
Astérix is smaller with the ability to run fast and jump high, but his punches are weak without the aid of the magic elixir. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Obélix is extremely powerful with the ability to send Romans literally flying and can bash through solid walls, but at the cost of speed and jump height. In order to collect all items in each stage, players will need to revisit with the opposite hero.
The audio throughout the game is the upbeat, cheerful style that Camerica’s chiptunes were famous for on the NES. If you’ve ever played any of their games or European games developed for the 8-bit computers such as the Commodore 64, the style will be immediately apparent as European in origin. None of it is bad of course, but the constant peppy happy-go-lucky style does become grating after a while.
The game’s visuals are refined and take full advantage of the GBC’s color pallet to create a colorful, gorgeous handheld experience. Sprite animations are extremely fluid and cartoony, just as you’d expect from comic book characters. A handful of developers were on this same level of animation late in the GBC’s life, but it is truly impressive how each of the characters drip with animation.
While not quite on par with the outstanding titles the Master System saw, Search for Dogmatrix is a game that is still head and shoulders above the majority of the cookie-cutter platformer games that were so present on the handheld. If you like Astérix or merely are curious to try something different, you can’t go wrong with this one.
For readers living in North America, chances are you haven’t heard of Astérix & Obélix before. The Adventures of Astérix is a popular long running series of French comic books published since the early 1960′s.
Astérix is a fictional series that takes place during the height of the Roman Empire in Europe. The main series character Astérix and his large but powerful friend Obélix are members of the indomitable Guals and hail from the only village independent of Roman rule. To maintain their independence in the face of overwhelming might, the duo are aided by magical potions brewed by their village druid, and engage in typical comic book adventures across Europe. The comics have spawned several tv shows, movies, and of course, videogames.
Cobi and Tara are both in a family of monster breeders who have come to the Kingdom of Greatlog to make a living. Shortly after they arrive, the siblings encounter the mischievous Warubo, who after playing around with them, knock a big drain plug out of a hole. Warubo uses himself to plug up the hole, and tells Cobi and Tara that the plug allows the island of GreatLog to stay afloat and without it, it will sink. He tells them to get a monster master and ask for his or her assistance. But when they cannot find anyone, Warubou says that they will have to do it. A quest to save the kingdom has now begun.
Following in the wake of the Pokémon craze, Enix tried their hand at the monster collecting genre with the creation of Dragon Warrior Monsters for the GameBoy Color. Unfortunately, the game was rough around the edges without any meaningful plot, and the end product felt like a work in progress rather than the next-best-thing. Then the sequel came out.
Dragon Warrior Monsters 2 polishes ideas established in the first and fixes broken game design elements to create a game that is engaging, interesting and much more importantly, fun.
The player begins on Greatlog island, where there are various shops, a monster farm, breeding area, and an arena. By advancing the story, the player is given keys that unlock gateways to new worlds. Players establish a team of up to three monsters at once, which serve as your party during battle. Using these monsters, the player can collect, tame, breed and battle dozens of new monsters. Each world the player visits is like a mini-RPG world unto itself, complete with towns, dungeons, mysteries, secrets, and of course, plot points.
Taking a marketing decision from GameFreak, Dragon Warrior Monsters 2 was released in two versions simultaneously: Cobi’s Adventure and Tara’s Adventure. The only differences between the two being the gender of the main character and the unique locations of some of the various monsters.
Visually, the game looks great – high up there among the best on GBC. The colors are incredibly lush and the two frame overworld sprites are charming as they’ve always been in the classic Dragon Warrior tradition. In battle, the static monsters are also colored well and show fine details and shading.
The music is equally top-notch. Composed by Dragon Quest’s classically trained conductor the “Big boss of game music” Koichi Sugiyama, Dragon Warrior Monsters 2 is one of the few GBC games that will have you reaching for headphones to enjoy the various compositions in stereo. As with the best RPGs, the overworld theme and the battle theme – the songs you’ll be hearing the most frequently – are extraordinary and really get you pumped up for adventures in strange and far off lands.
Although there are far newer, deeper RPGs, sometimes a classic 8-bit RPG is all you need. If you’re sick of Pokémon but want to try something similar, this is by far the best GameBoy alternative around.
Don’t have a GBC or GBA? Don’t worry! Oddly, Enix took the highly unusual move in 2001 and programmed backwards compatibility into Dragon Warrior Mosnters 2 for all previous versions of the GameBoy including the Super GameBoy.
Original Japanese Commercial
Once more awoken from his sleep by the presence of the evil demon Garamos, who has been wrecking havoc in Dracula’s Castle, young Kid Dracula decides to embark on a journey across the world to defeat Garamos’ minions and defeat the demon-king once and for all.
Konami have always had a great sense of humor with their self parody, even going as far as creating the self-mocking Gradius spin-off series amusingly called Parodius. The Castlevania series was a logical choice for another self parody. Rather than the dark, scary approach the Castlevania series has become known for, Kid Dracula employs a very cartoonish, light-hearted take on horror that’s downright kid-friendly, slapstick nonsense.
Although based on Castlevania, Kid Dracula plays much more similar to a standard action game by Capcom. In fact, Kid Dracula himself throws fireballs and can even charge his attack in a very Megaman-esque manner. Throughout the game as you defeat bosses, Kid Dracula will remember various transformations and attacks, again similar to the weaponry gained from defeating the robot masters in the Megaman series.
The game is incredibly well designed with fantastic sprite direction and the accompanying music is well composed and fits the pace of the game well. The game does suffer from occasional slowdown, but if you should happen across Kid Dracula in your game hunts, don’t pass it up. This is one of the GameBoy’s more well known hidden gems, but it’s still a hidden gem.
Although never stated outright, Kid Dracula is in fact, Dracula’s son Alucard. This is his only appearance as a youth, as although much younger than Dracula, Alucard appears as a full grown young man in every other appearance he has made.
After the success of Akumajō Special: Boku Dracula-kun, the parody take on Castlevania on the Famicom, a GameBoy port was made refining some elements and adding in many more comical cutscenes, mini games and characters. It is slightly on the rare side and ultimately the Famicom original version is slightly superior on a technical level, but not an artistic one.
This concludes part 4 of my look back at the overall top 100 games for the original GameBoy and GameBoy Color. Stay tuned for further installments as I count down the best-of-the-best 8-bit portable Nintendo games out there. Feel free to drop a comment below regarding your thoughts and memories regarding these ten picks.