Top 100 GameBoy Games #100-91
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 90’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 is it’s longevity. As Nintendo would prove to the world for the first time, 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, Neo-Geo Pocket – the GameBoy would endure and outlast all of them for over a decade until 1998 when the original design was replaced by a slightly upgraded model with a full color LCD and a slightly faster CPU called the GameBoy Color.
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 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.
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 that 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 it’s 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.
So without further ado, enjoy my picks for the top 100 GameBoy and GameBoy Color games!
Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare
System support: GameBoy Color only
Year of release: 2001
Developer: Pocket Studios
Genre: Action Adventure
Price range: $4-6
Region: North America & Europe
Edward Caraby, private eye of the occult and paranormal, is shaken when he learns his best friend, Charles Fiske has been found murdered near the mysterious Shadow Island outside of Maine. Vowing to solve his friend’s murder, Edward travels to Shadow Island to uncover it’s hidden secrets.
Alone in the Dark is a port of the PS1 and PC game of the same name using Resident Evil style still digitized backgrounds to explore, solve puzzles and otherwise interact with. To say that it’s extremely impressive for the GameBoy Color hardware would be an understatement – this is a stunning achievement on the limited hardware.
On the other hand, Alone in the Dark feels like a one trick pony – sure, it’s beautiful, but the sound design is very weak and the adventure puzzle solving elements are barebones and simple. Seasoned adventure gamers will be able to breeze through the entire game in as little as an hour.
The combat, played from a three quarters perspective, is slow and awkward – diminishing what otherwise would have been a fairly awesome game to one only slightly above average. Nevertheless, since there’s nothing quite like it on the hardware, if you see a copy for cheap, don’t hesitate to pick this one up – it’ll wow you and it’s worth playing through at least once. Alone the Dark is not fantastic, but it is worthy enough to make the 100th position on this list.
A reboot of the Alone in the Dark series originally released on PC in the early 90s, The New Nightmare was released on PC and PS1 before making the jump to the modest GBC. The PC/PS1 reboot marks a general shift towards survival horror rather than puzzle solving elements, but the GBC version seems to be somewhere in between the two. It is easy to compare to Resident Evil, although Edward does not have the tank control problems associated with the older Resident Evil games.
Gameplay video [no audio]
When you have destroyed 20 enemy tanks you advance to the next level with a different layout. In each level there’s some obstacles which you can use to your advantage. Obstacles include red bricks which you can shoot out of your way, armored bricks, water, foliage, and ice. You start the game with a basic tank, which you can power up to better one little by little.
The game includes a construction mode, so you can make your own levels when you have played through all the 35 original levels.
Essentially an expanded take on the Atari 2600′s pack-in game Combat, Battle City is very simple, but a ton of fun. The premise here is to command a lone tank and defend a base from waves of enemy tanks. As a landlocked tank, you will need to clear a path to your enemies. Each level has a unique layout that can be exploited to provide cover and points of ambush by both you and your foes. When some enemies are destroyed, they will yield a variety of power ups that range from effects such as instantly destroying all enemies from the screen to stopping time.
The entire game can be played cooperatively with a second player over a link cable and that there’s even a level editor that allows players to make whatever kind of stage they like. To make up for the GameBoy’s lack of screen resolution, a mini-map tracks enemy movement so even if they’re off screen, you know how close they are to your undefended base at all times.
Like the Famicom exclusive before it, the GameBoy Battle City never was released outside of Japan, making it rather difficult to track down. If you can find it, Battle City stands as one of the best early examples of GameBoy multiplayer gaming and remains just as fun today as it was when it was released over two decades ago.
After pressing start on the titlescreen, you can choose what level you’d like to start on by simply holding down the A button until the desired number appears. The level creation tool enables almost endless variety and new multiplayer battles.
Kwirk and his girlfriend Tammy were both out “painting the town red” when they both decided to explore the unnamed city’s subterranean labyrinth below. While down there Tammy suddenly disappears and Kwirk, with his Veggie Friends, now has to find her in the labyrinth and bring her home.
Another early GameBoy title, Kwirk is a deviously complex puzzle game masked as a simple kid’s game. The premise is to navigate a series of mazes to reach a exit goal. What makes Kwirk unique is that the challenge does not come from reaching your goal itself, but instead figuring out just how to reach the goal. Your destination is always evident, but any amount of blocks, holes, and rotators can impede your progress. The game begins very simple, but as it progresses, the difficulty will ramp up with puzzles that will challenge even expert puzzle solvers.
A simplistic game visually, Kwirk’s minimal design works in favor of the portable experience as at any time you can see everything you need to onscreen. The music has a certain charm to it, and the sheer variety of puzzles will keep this otherwise short game in your system for quite a while.
As one might expect, the tomato character was a marketing ploy for the US version of Kwirk only, and didn’t feature in the original Japanese release. Following the success of the GameBoy title, a port to the Famicom Disk System was made the following year entitled Puzzle Boys. A short time later, a PC Engine port was also produced. As interesting as the console versions are though, they lack the charm of the tiny sprites of the GameBoy original.
Gameplay Video of the easier stages
Like most of HAL’s pre-Kirby games, Trax is an excellent one-shot shooter that seems to have been ignored upon its release, and is all but forgotten to the majority of retro gamers today. I think it’s time to fix that and give Trax some of the spotlight it deserves. Continuing HAL’s obsession with circular heroes, the Trax tank is pretty unique not only visually, but also a gameplay stance as well.
Trax plays similar to other overhead shooters, but as a landlocked tank, there are some obstacles you can’t travel over, just like Battle City. What makes Trax unique amongst its peers is the vehicle’s rotational cannon, which can be aimed in any eight directions by pressing or holding the B button. This gives Trax a very Smash T.V.ish feel, but given the limited number of buttons on the GameBoy, the cannon can only rotate clockwise, meaning if you overshoot where you want to aim, you need to completely readjust the cannon completely around a second time.
Throughout the game you’ll gain various power-ups for your cannon which range from the standard spread or tail gun to the awesome explosive shot. Stages scroll in any direction, screen-filling bosses are commonplace, and best of all, there are no one hit deaths. Damage is measured by the amount of fuel you carry. Run out of fuel and only then is your tank kaput.
Trax had the potential of spawning an excellent series yet is almost completely forgotten by everyone. Given the prevalence of dual analog controllers today, one can only imagine how awesome a modern sequel or remake of Trax would be.
At the very least, HAL themselves haven’t completely forgotten Trax. Starting with Kirby Super Star and continuing with many of the DS games as well, the Trax tank has made cameo appearances in a few Kirby titles as the minor enemy called Moto Shotzo, a mobilized version of the standard black cannons in all the Kirby games.
#96Elevator Action EX
System support: GameBoy Color Only
Year of release: 2000
Developer: Altron Corp
Publisher: TDK Mediactive
Price range: $25-60
Region: Japan & Europe Only
Guide super spy agents 16, 17 or 18 on their mission to collect secret documents from an enemy building and escape unharmed. The secret documents are hidden behind specially marked red doors. Entering doors with a question mark will trigger a spinning wheel that contains various items to aid your infiltration such as machine guns, shotguns, hand grenades and health bonuses. As with the original game, you can use elevators to travel between floors. So get out there and show ’em what a spy can do!
Elevator Action EX is a rather elaborate remake of Elevator Action, a classic arcade platformer filled with enemy spies, power-ups, secret documents and of course, elevators. Unlike the original, there is now a health bar allowing the player to be hit multiple times before they die. You also now have the ability to choose between three playable characters that each slightly change the gameplay, offering players the option to choose the character that suits their style.
Sarah (Agent 16) -the obligatory girl- has the least health, but is nimble with the best jumps in the game and commonly picks up long range grenades. Mike (Agent 17) is the average joe with average health and jumping skill but can fire on just about anything. Finally, Guy (Agent 18) rounds up the group with the worst jump, but the highest health and tendency to pick up the extremely useful shotgun.
This time around, the levels have been greatly expanded with more emphasis placed on maze-like layouts filled with dozens of floors and several elevators. The controls are excellent with jumping feeling perfect and the ability to duck to avoid enemy shots a godsend. The newly arranged music is fun to listen to, and the varied stage layouts keeps the action exciting.
Overall, Elevator Action EX offers a great arcade style experience that easily exceeds the limited original while still remaining true to it’s roots. If you can track down a copy, EX is a good addition to any GameBoy Collector’s library.
Released in 2000, Elevator Action EX is essentially an 8-bit port of Taito’s impressive and excellent arcade hit Elevator Action Returns. Unlike the massively complex Returns, EX lacks the crazy variety of enemies and most of the bosses as well as the timer that causes the whole building to explode if you take too long.
In North America, a heavily censored version of Elevator Action EX was released under the name Dexter’s Laboratory: Robot Rampage. This version plays identically to EX, but features new sprites of characters from the Dexter’s Lab cartoon and recolored background pallets for better viewing of the new sprites. As a result of the tinkering, the true Elevator Action EX is a Japan and Europe exclusive, thus driving up it’s prices on the secondary market.
The peaceful people of the beautiful planet Gradius are in dire state. The evil Bactrian Empire has invaded Gradius space and has their sights on destroying the home planet itself. Assume command of the Vic-Viper – the most advanced starcraft ever built – and attack at the heart of the Bactrian menace. All hope rests with you! Good luck!
Released early in the life of the GameBoy, Nemesis proved a quality, established series shooting game could be produced for the GameBoy that not only looked good but also played well. Essentially a remixed port of Nemesis and Nemesis II for the MSX, the GameBoy release is refreshingly different from the NES Gradius that potentially could have been ported. The result is a game that is fun to return to without feeling like too much familiar ground has already been covered.
Like all Gradius games, Nemesis employs a tiered power-up system where destroying enemies yields power capsules that an be stockpiled until used to pay for weapon upgrades such as the ability to fire missiles, twin shots and of course, the series famous indestructible round drones called Options.
Nemesis is a short game at only five stages, but Konami designed the game to give the maximum enjoyment very quickly. Unlike typical Gradius games, enemies here yield power-ups every few seconds, giving players the ability to quickly amass armaments and clear enemies from the screen easily. If you happen across Nemesis and like shooting games, this one is a no-brainer.
In the early days of the series, Gradius was often interchangeably referred to as Nemesis in certain European countries for reasons beyond me. One theory is the word Gladius, referring to a Roman sword, was too similar to the Japanese title Gradius and the name needed to be more distinctive. Regardless, this game is the only title in the series to use the Nemesis name outside of Europe.
As with many early Konami GameBoy titles, Nemesis allows the player to select the stage and the number of available extra lives from the very start, affording gamers to easily replay their favorite parts of Nemesis on the fly. The game was later included in the GBC compilation Konami GB Collection Vol. 1, where it is titled Gradius rather than Nemesis.
A giant super weapon known as the Doomsday Machine now roams space, obliterating whole worlds in its path; its origin unknown. Invulnerable to all known weapons, Federation scientists scramble to develop a weapon capable of destroying the Doomsday Machine before it can enter Federation space. To make the situation worse, the Klingons have stolen the prototype to destroy the weapon, dismantled it, then scattered its parts across several worlds. The USS Enterprise has been assigned to recover the parts and defeat the Doomsday Machine before it reaches densely populated Federation worlds.
A Star Trek shmup? Sign me up! Even to this day I can count on one hand the actually good Star Trek videogames, and this would be among them. If you’re a Trekker, you’ll love the fact that the whole story of the game centers around the classic episode “The Doomsday Machine”. If you’re not a Trekker, you’ll appreciate there’s a decent shmup structure here with the ability to adjust your speed, power and shields. Guiding the Enterprise through 2D levels feels great, and being able to land on planets to explore and search out the dismantled weapon parts is just icing on the cake.
The music consists of mostly original tracks and is rather quite good, and the references to classic Trek will please long time fans. This one totally blows the NES Star Trek TOS game out of the water. Track it down.
1991 marked Star Trek‘s 25th anniversary. The Next Generation‘s popularity demanded Star Trek merchandise of all sorts, which of course included games. For the 25th anniversary of the original series, Star Trek games were produced for a number of consoles, including the GameBoy. Straying from general practice, the GameBoy Trek wasn’t a port of any console game. Instead of being an ill-conceived shovelware title to cash in on the popularity of the license, the GameBoy game played to the system’s limitations and strengths, delivering not a adventure-focused game, but an action shmup with only light adventure elements tossed in for good measure.
Gameplay Video [of a bad player]
In 1978, Earth successfully repulsed an invasion from outer space thanks to “the Tank.” The Tank was based on alien technology found when a scout ship had crashed years earlier. Now, over 20 years later, a new Tank has been created based on the technology recovered during the 1978 invasion. And none too soon, because the Invaders are back!
Yeah, Space Invaders. Simple right? Turns out that when it was made for the GameBoy Color, the idea was to make it a little less simple. This modern take on the classic shooter incorporates many enhancements such as multiple weapons including spread and rapid fire, shielding, the ability to dash and brand new enemies including giant bosses. Otherwise, this is still Space Invaders – repel a never ending stream of tiny pixelated aliens coming down to smash you and your planet. If you’re good enough to beat then entire game, Space Invaders X also includes a GBC remake of the original 1978 arcade classic.
The music this time around is actually quite good, and in the end, Space Invaders makes for an excellent portable game that can be enjoyed in short bursts or in long play sessions. No matter how you feel about the original release of the game, this remake does a lot of things right and deserves a spot among the top 100 GameBoy games. Like Elevator Action EX, this is much more than a simple port of the classic arcade game.
Before the GBC remake, Space Invaders was released for the Super GameBoy. This version was simply a port of the fairly boring arcade game to GameBoy, but it includes a very cool Super GameBoy exclusive version of the actual Space Invaders arcade game when played on an SNES. In Japan, to differentiate the two GameBoy versions, the GBC remake was given the more distinctive title Space Invaders X. In the US though, both are simply called Space Invaders.
#92Wendy: Every Witch Way
System support: GameBoy Color only with GameBoy Advance unlockable
Year of release: 2001
Publisher: TDK Mediactive
Genre: Puzzle Platformer
Price range: $10-20
Region: North America and Europe
When everyone’s favorite pre-teen witch accidentally opens a chest containing magic stones, they escape when they are given the chance! The stones run off to a floating castle, and the flying castle becomes grounded by the stones. Gravity has now gone haywire, and Wendy must now retrieve the stones. Join Wendy on her topsy-turvy quest to restore things back to normal.
Have you heard of this game? Chances are you haven’t. Released near the end of the GBC’s life when the GBA was already planned, Wayforward’s Wendy: Every Witch Way is a fairly obscure Gameboy Color game that you’d probably pass over without a second thought. Afterall, Wendy the Witch is a kid’s cartoon character and the GBC game was obviously marketed towards kids exclusively.
It’s a shame too, as this is one of the system’s best hidden gems. The big draw of Wendy is its gravity control system, which allows the player to reverse gravity at the touch of a button. Specifically, pressing Up+A reverses gravity, and Down+A reverts it to normal. This allows for some spectacular jumps, and also very creative level design. Stage one acts as a practice stage to let you get the hang of the controls, and as the game progresses more and more difficult obstacles and stages will be thrown your way making Wendy anything but a typical platformer.
In addition, Wendy is a fantastic looking game. Wayforward flexed their muscles showing off their talent of producing strikingly good sprite animations with cartoon-like fluidity that only they could pull off. The game really pushes what it means to be 8-bit, as it features parallax scrolling, vivid colors distinctive enemies and numerous other visual effects not common to the GameBoy Color.
As I said in my original review, Wendy: Every Witch Way is extremely fun, extremely short, and for whatever reason, extremely rare. If you should ever come across this game, pick it up. You won’t be disappointed.
Unfortunately, there’s very little dirt I can dig up for Wendy: Every Witch Way. It’s not tied to any cartoon or comic release at the time, and its not very well known, even as far as Wayforward games go. I’d love to be able to say the creative team based it heavily on the NES cult classic Metal Storm as it shares many of the same ideas and overall design choices, but I can’t even find any info to substantiate that claim. What I can say is that Wayforward included three exclusive levels that could be played and unlocked only when played on a GameBoy Advance. Such bonus features were placed in late release GBC games to smooth the transition to the newly released successor system.
System support: All, with SGB and GBC support
Year of release: 1999
Developer: Infinite Ventures
Publisher: Kotobuki Systems
Genre: Graphical Text Adventure
Price range: $10-20
Welcome to Castle Shadowgate, located deep within the forbidden dark woods. As the last of a great line of hero-kings, your destiny is to terminate the diabolical Warlock Lord before his dreaded black magic unleashes the hideous behemoth and destroys the world.
With a strong heart and shining armor, you carefully choose your path of travel throughout the castle’s sinister grounds. Along the way you’ll discover strange and wondrous objects. Some things may be useful on your journey, others may be deadly to the touch, so venture carefully through these grave ruins. Beware! Your next move could be your last. You stand at the entranceway to Shadowgate. Enter if you dare!
Shadowgate is a typical classic fantasy tale with all the predictable elements – brave heroes, evil creatures, spells, traps, wonders and most importantly, danger lurking around every corner. Played from a first person perspective with a cursor to select menus and interact with your surroundings, the original Shadowgate was one of the most popular point-and-click Adventure games of its era.
ShadowGate Classic’s name is quite apt as this is the very embodiment of a classic adventure game. The game tasks you to advance through each static area or room using the nine basic commands of vintage adventure games: LOOK, TAKE, OPEN, CLOSE, USE, HIT, LEAVE, SPEAK, and of course, MOVE. Using each of this commands to proceed is fairly obvious – use the OPEN command on a door, then MOVE through it. Encounter a sword on a shelf? Use the TAKE command, and so on. Simple logic puzzles like this make up the bulk of Shadowgate.
On the other hand, ShadowGate Classic, like most older adventure games, is heavily reliant upon trial and error. In order to proceed, you need to enter each area in a specific order, interacting with certain objects while avoiding others to avoid one of the countless ways you can die. Everything from spikes, acid, animals, monsters or fire to your own stupidity can result in death, and if this is your first time playing through Shadowgate, you will die.
Since Shadowgate is entirely pitch black, you’ll need to locate and light torches throughout the game in order to proceed. Eventually lit torches will go out, and if you don’t have a second torch lit when the first finally goes out, you will stumble in the darkness, and die. The torch system acts as a counterbalance to sheer endless amounts of trial and error as there are a finite number of torches to be found throughout the game. Luckily though, Shadowgate does offer you to save anywhere and and unlimited number of retries every time you do die, restoring you to the point just before you bit the dust.
A decade after it’s NES release, the GBC port uses the portable’s richer color depth to produce better drawn stills and more realistic backgrounds than any other 8-bit version of ShadowGate ever released. To accommodate for the lower screen resolution of the GameBoy Color, less critical menus, like item inventory, are hidden below the main screen but can still be quickly and easily accessed by simply scrolling downward.
Another key element that makes Shadowgate a true classic is the soundtrack. Composed by Kemco’s resident lead audio designer Hiroyuki Masuno, Shadowgate has some of the most memorable melodies of the 8-bit era, and the stereo arrangements on the GBC are a treat for the ears. Among my personal favorite tracks are Entryway, Mirror Room, and especially Hallway. That track kicks so much ass.
Granted, ShadowGate Classic won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but it is a functional and enjoyable experience with excellent and extremely memorable music, an entertaining story, great visuals and of course, a thousand ways to die. Next time, maybe you shouldn’t try command chains like USE → SWORD on → SELF just to see what happens.
Over the course of several years, many ports were produced for various systems such as the Amiga and Nintendo Entertainment System. The GameBoy Color release closely mirrors the NES version, using much of the silly child-friendly dialogue and censored terms such as hades instead of hell, or dark apparition instead of demon.
This concludes part 1 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 top drop a comment below regarding your thoughts and memories regarding these ten picks.
Part 2 of this list, #90-81, has been released! Click here to view!