Top 100 GameBoy games #80-71
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 is 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, 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 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 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 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 is 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!
When a science team investigating a mysterious group of asteroids vanishes, it is revealed through surveillance satellites that they have been taken captive by a race of mysterious insert-like aliens. You are sent in piloting the advance Tiger Alpha-1 known as Cosmo Tank – the only hope for the hostages.
Even amongst hardcore gameboy fanatics, here’s one I’m sure most of you have never heard of before. Cosmo Tank uniquely combines overhead shooting like Jackal with first person dungeon crawling like Deep Dungeon, and sidescrolling shooting like Blaster Master. Unlike most shooters, there is a heavy emphasis on exploration, and even an RPG style experience system which rewards more powerful weaponry as the player accumulates kills.
As mentioned, Cosmo Tank employs an early 3D perspective when entering caves that sets it apart from virtually all other shooters on the GameBoy. The only basis of comparison I can draw is the late NES release game Wurm which also uses a similar technique. As with the overworld, caves and dungeons need to be thoroughly explored to find powerups as well as the aliens you are hunting. There are even first person battle sequences from this perspective. It’s all really rather cool.
Unfortunately, for all that Cosmo Tank has going for it, the difficulty can be rather off-putting. There is no password system and you are afforded only a limited set of lives which when consumed, spell game over without the choice to continue. Even with the sparse upgrades throughout the game, bosses are often overpowered. It isn’t a truly unfair challenge, but don’t expect to breeze through the game on your first playthrough. Luckily there are a few excellent guides online.
When I played through Cosmo Tank again for this review, I couldn’t help but notice many ideas in place in modern games, and in that sense, Cosmo Tank feels like a game that was way ahead of its time. As long as you are prepared for the learning curve, this is one of the more unique shooters out for any system even beyond the GameBoy.
I wasn’t able to dig up much dirt on this one, although this game is evidently a favorite of game journalist and designer Greg Sewart. What can I say – the man has taste.
Nekketsu Kouha Kunio-Kun – Bangai Rantou-Hen (天神怪戦)
System support: All
Year of release: 1990
Genre: Beat ’em Up
Price range: $8-12
Region: Japan only
When the mysterious Munakata company came to town, it’s workers began to harass the town’s people. Munakata’s president son Yuji was passing by Nekketsu High and fell in love with Miho, and so he tried to take her. Luckily Hiro helped Miho escape, but Yuji’s goons quickly caught up with them, beating Hiro and kidnapping Miho! Hearing the news, Kunio-kun heads out!
Considering how much Technos supported the Famicom, it should come as no surprise that they also produced some truly excellent Kunio-Kun titles for the GameBoy as well. Essentially a simplified version of River City Ransom, Bangai Ratou-Hen is a whole lot of challenging fun. As you progress through the game, many locales from previous Kunio-Kun titles reappear and many of them look rather impressive considering the hardware limitations.
The game offers three levels of difficulty, but even on the easiest setting, the challenge can’t be ignored. Bangai Ratou-Hen is far tougher than any other Kunio series game I’ve played. Even the first boss is a real challenge. Still, the charming sprites, detailed areas and quality audio lead to a game you could do worse than import.
Since the Kunio-Kun series was lost on western audiences, Technos decided to change the sprites and some stage elements and release the same game as as Double Dragon II in North America and Europe. The change is entirely superficial as all of the game’s absurd challenge is intact, although the plot has been completely reworked.
Bomberman GB 3 (ボンバーマン GB 3)
System support: Super GameBoy
Year of release: 1996
Developer: Hudson Soft
Publisher: Hudson Soft
Genre: Action Puzzle
Price range: $12-15
Region: Japan only
The evil Bomber has been awakened and has stolen the power of the bomber capsules. Bomberman and his friends must now slowly regain their powers, defeat enemies and bosses, and confront the Evil Bomber before it’s too late for the galaxy.
This is the best version of the classic Bomberman formula on GameBoy. It’s faster, better looking and plays better too. You really shouldn’t need any more explanation than that. You should know how Bomberman works by now – bomb bricks to gain powers, then bomb enemies, then find the exit and repeat. The formula established over two decades ago still works and this is actually one of the best games in the Bomberman series to date, not only on GameBoy. Bomberman GB 3 uses the extra power of the Super GameBoy to create basic colorized graphics and better digitized explosion sounds that the GameBoy alone could accomplish.
In addition to the single player story mode, Hudson soft included a robust multiplayer mode as well, taking advantage of the Super GameBoy and their own multitap that allowed simultaneous deathmatch play for up to four players at once using Super Famicom controllers.
Although Bomberman GB 3 was a Japan only release, Bomberman GB 2 was released in the west, though under the title of Bomberman GB (1), since the actual first Bomberman GB wasn’t released in the west either. If you can’t get ahold of Bomberman GB3, the North American Bomberman GB is a decent substitute as it does still carry through the same basic Bomberman forumla. It is the sequel to Wario Blast: Featuring Bomberman!
I couldn’t find a gameplay video for GB3, but here’s Bomerman GB1 Gameplay Video
Centuries ago, the Lord of Darkness sent his fearsome army to terrorize the Japanese countryside spreading famine, plague, and pestilence wherever they went. While meditating, the great Shogun Tokugawa had a divine vision where he saw a small group of mighty warriors rise up to defeat the evil Lord. He immediately set out to recruit the five bravest and most skillful fighters in the land. After months of searching he was finally ready to put his dream into action. It was time to unleash the Mercenary Force.
Mercenary Force is a novel take on the shoot-’em-up genre. Rather than piloting a spaceship or controlling a ground based vehicle, this game tasks players with running a team of up to four mercenaries at once. Players choose their party character classes from the selection of five available – Peasant, Samurai, Ninja, Monk, and Mako (Shrine Maiden).
Each class has their own characteristics, strengths and weaknesses. For example, the Mako can only shoot vertically, the peasants can only fire horizontally, and the monks only attack on an angle. The key to success is party variation, but like the original Final Fantasy, you can choose a party made up of any single class if you so wish. To make the system even more complicated, different classes have different HP values, cost different amounts of yen to hire, and are more or less effective depending on their position in the party.
By pressing the B button, you can cycle your squad into various formations. The key to mastering this difficult shooter is to constantly monitor the position’s of your party members to make them as effective as possible given the surroundings and enemies you are facing. Even with the best planning though, there are situations where the best solution is a kamikaze attack. By pressing the B and A buttons together, the squadmate in the leading role will sacrifice themselves to unleash a powerful attack that can severely damage bosses, acting as a ‘bomb’ power in traditional spaceship shoot ’em ups.
Mercenary Force won’t appeal to everyone, but it does have a unique charm and can be recommended to gamers who are tired of the usual shooters out there and also to fans of wacky Japanese mythology based videogames.
Following the success of the original game, a Japan-only sequel was developed that unfortunately took the series away from action and instead turned into a text-adventure. The choice seems strange now, but I suppose the developer wanted to try new things on the then new GameBoy.
Loosely based on the movie of the same name, Ghostbusters II sees Virgo the Carpathian appear in New York city. He captures Diana’s baby and it is up to the Ghostbusters to get him back. In order to accomplish this, the Ghostbusters: Igon, Ray, Peter and Winston, must chase Virgo through the courtrooms, the sewers, the apartments, the underground and the art museum.
GhostBusters videogames for the most part are rubbish – remembered only with fan disdain. Indeed, the NES game titled GhostBusters II is arguably eligible for the title of “worst use of a license on the NES.” Therefore, it is with irony that GhostBusters II for GameBoy manages to be not only good, but one of the best action games for the handheld, period.
Developed by HAL Labs instead of the NES version’s developer Imagineering (who brought us countless NES flops such as Heavy Shreddin‘, Barbie, Family Feud, and all three NES Simpsons games), GhostBusters II on GameBoy manages to be surprisingly fun and addictive – thanks in no small part to the fact that it’s a completely different game.
Tossing out all the silly ideas prior GhostBusters games tried, this one sticks with a top-down arcade structure similar to games like Gauntlet. At the start of the game, you choose any two GhostBusters. They all play the same, so it’s really just a matter of choosing the sprites you like the most. You can even choose Winston, a GhostBusters game first. Hurray for racial equality on GameBoy.
The meat of the game has you traveling throughout corridors, unlocking rooms and snaring ghosts with the proton pack, and then capturing them in the trap. Repeat until the level is cleared. It is simple, but fun. As an early GameBoy title, the visuals are sparse, but the high-contrast nature of the original GameBoy makes the action stand out and easy on the eyes.
The music is a little repetitive, but it’s nothing that will get on your nerves. If you’ve been disappointed with the other 8-bit GhostBusters offerings, give this one a shot. Best of all, having a North American release, it shouldn’t be too expensive to track down either. Unlike the movie, you won’t be left disappointed after spending time with this GhostBusters II.
Despite the cover, this game is only loosely based on the awful second GhostBusters film. Instead, it is a GameBoy port of the excellent Famicom-only GhostBusters game developed by HAL labs. An NES version was prototype phase and planned for release in North America, but licensing issues eventually cancelled the planned New GhostBusters II NES version. Still, there’s always this GameBoy port!
Seeking revenge on Wario after he stole their treasure in Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3, special agents from the Black Sugar Gang of Kitchen Island sneak into Wario’s newly built castle, steal back the treasure, and leave the castle and the surrounding area a mess. As Wario, you must clean the place up and take back what you now call your own.
Released around the launch of the GameBoy Color, Wario Land 2 tried many things to expand the scope of what a platformer on the handheld could be. Rather than simple left to right stages, areas now were massive, filled with treasure and other secrets.
In a change from the original Wario Land, Wario is now immortal, to a certain point. Instead of dying when hit by an enemy, Wario loses the coins he collected along his travels in each level. And he can also turn into other Wario forms. For example, if he is hit by a bee, Wario puffs up into a giant ball of air, and floats up to the top of the level. Only when hit by a sharp object will he return to normal. There are other types, like Fire Wario and Zombie Wario, and each can have its advantages, like getting to areas otherwise unreachable, or they can halt your progress.
Wario Land 2 is, in a word, charming. However, I do feel I have to be critical of it’s overall pacing and level design. Unlike a standard Mario game, Wario Land 2 is a little TOO focused on pixel hunting for secrets Metroid style. The music, while not awful, isn’t really that impressive considering the usual quality of Nintendo’s first party compositions.
Overall, I do recommend Wario Land 2 for GameBoy fans everywhere, and it’s a blast to play your first time through. It’s quarky, but it simply can’t hold a candle to Nintendo’s other first party offerings. If you should see it cheap, consider Wario Land 2 for your collection.
Magic is all the rage these days. All the popular girls practice it, and young May doesn’t want to be left out of the loop. Despite her best efforts, the only magic spell she seems able to manage is creating magic bubbles. Nevertheless, May is determined to graduate magic school even with her limited abilities. The trail before her seems impossible, but through sheer determination, nothing can stand in her way.
As early examples in the genre proved, puzzle games and portables are a match made in heaven. Little Magic is on the surface, merely yet another top-down puzzle game with a simple goal very similar to The Adventures of Lolo. Upon further analysis though, Little Magic turns out to be one of the most cleaver and interesting games to grace the GameBoy Color.
The goal of each level is to open the exit by pushing a magic stone (which looks more like a heart) on a designated spot. May can push the magic stone, but as she is unable to jump, very quickly she’ll need to use her bubble magic to aid her quest. The bubbles she is able to cast can be created in three sizes, and basically act as time delayed bombs. After a short time, bubbles grow smaller until they pop, forcing away any adjacent object, including the magic stone or other bubbles. Since May can create several bubbles simultaneously, it is possible -and often necessary- to create chain reactions to maneuver the magic stone toward the goal of each stage.
There are three difficulty classes to choose each with dozens of stages. As you would expect, the levels become increasingly difficult with progression. As you advance, new hazards and enemies are introduced, keeping the experience fresh and exciting.
You’ll need to import Little Magic from Japan if you’re interested in tracking down a copy, but the effort is well worth it as this is in my opinion, superior to the popular Lolo series and on-par with several other top-tier GameBoy puzzle games. There’s even an English patch for what little Japanese text the game does have.
Prior to the release of the portable GameBoy Color debut, Little Magic first appeared on the Super Famicom in 1993 to a Japan-only release. Interestingly, it seems Altron originally had plans to release their puzzler in Europe as well. A prototype European copy has been discovered, documented, and dumped.
There is also a Famicom game called Little Magic, although there is no connection other than the title itself.
Unfortunately, the GBC build doesn’t seem to have any videos up yet, so instead, here’s gameplay of the first few levels as seen int he Super Famicom version. The levels are identical and the visuals are similar as well, so this is the next best thing.
Join Bonk on his all-new adventure as he travels through the savage Dinosaur Land in search of the beautiful Moon Princess Za, who was kidnapped by Bonk’s old nemesis King Drool. Now Bonk has to use his head (literally) to save the princess and the kingdom. Use powerful head-butts to blast King Drool’s fools off of the map. Spring off the local wild flowers to gain altitude on your enemies. Knock heads with nasty beasts and strange critters to prove who’s king of the jungle! Explore an incredible realm filled with monsters, traps and the toughest kid from prehistoric times, Bonk!
One of the TG-16’s killer apps comes to the GameBoy! A port of the NES version of Bonk’s Adventure, the GameBoy version obviously couldn’t produce the same level of details the powerful TG-16 original, but the port is incredibly well done nevertheless, and is a ton of fun.
What first appears to be an average platformer, Bonk’s Adventure’s gimmick is that Bonk bashes his foes using his forehead as Mario uses his boots. The visual presentation is top-notch amongst GameBoy platformers and the music is pleasant and enjoyable. The game allows you to simply pick up from where you died if you loose all your health, which is very handy indeed.
Unlike the much more uncommon NES version, picking up a loose copy of Bonk’s Adventure shouldn’t set you back more than $20, which, considering the quality and high level of replay value, is well worth the expense.
Bonk was originally created as a comic character named PC Caveman (Genjin) in Japanese magazine ads for the PC Engine. So many people liked the character that a platformer starring the quarky caveman was inevitable. Humorously, when the original PC Genjin was ported to other consoles, the title would change to reflect the new system. On Famicom, it became FC Genjin, and on GameBoy, it became GB Genjin.
Top Gear Pocket 2 (Top Gear Rally 2 EU title)
System support: GBC only
Year of release: 2000
Publisher: Vision Works
Genre: Action Puzzle
Price range: 8-12
Region: North America & Europe Only
Start your engine. Feel the perfectly timed motor purr as you roll your rally race car up to the starting line. Ahead of you stitches ribbon of road packed with tight turns and mountainous bumps. And somewhere in the distance are eight rival drivers, jealousy clinging to their leads. But you know that there isn’t a car or a racer in the world that can stop you. Whether you’re racing on gritty desert roads or slick city streets, you’re going to win it all. You have a date with destiny – a gut wrenching, wild ride to the spotlight in the winner’s circle. Put the pedal to the metal.
There are certainly no shortage of racing games out there across 8-bit platforms, but limited by technology, most ultimately blend together and lack redeeming distinctive traits. Not so with Top Gear Pocket 2. Following in the wake of the decent though vanilla original Top Gear Pocket, this one attempts to break the mold by every means possible.
There are multiple types of roads, weather conditions and cars to choose from. As you win races, you can upgrade your car with gives an extra incentive to keep playing and see what lies ahead.
I’m not exactly a car nut, but I do admit that the car models in the game are great looking and replaying it for this review, I’m hard pressed to think of any other racing game on the GameBoy Color to even come close to the visual presentation of Top Gear Pocket 2. To me, Top Gear Pocket 2 seems the pinnacle of 8-bit racing game design. This is the final evolution of 8-bit racing games from the days of Pole Position.
Based on Top Gear Rally for the N64 developed by Kemco, the original Top Gear Pocket featured an AAA battery powered rumble pak in the cartridge itself. However, since it did very little to enhance the gameplay experience Kemco decided the sequel would be better off without it.
When given the opportunity, Speedy Gonzales, “The Fastest Mouse in all Mexico”, decides to embark on a journey of world discovery and adventure. Along his way he’ll visit ice floes, cities, forests, deserts and more. Will Speedy be able to collect all the cheese chips spread throughout the world?
Speedy Gonzales is essentially an extremely well designed 8-bit Sonic the Hedgehog clone. You’ll run through loop-de-loops, activate springboards, travel through multi-path stages and fight Sonic-style bosses. Even the stages themselves are called “zones”! Unlike the majority of actual Sonic titles for the Master System and GameGear, Speedy Gonzales manages to preserve the most important element of Sonic gameplay – the sheer speed. As you play you’ll be amazed how fast the game manages to run on the GameBoy without any hint of slowdown.
Where Speedy Gonzales differs from Sonic is that since he is merely a mouse, he cannot attack enemies and instead must jump over and avoid them. To me, this seems like a gameplay mistake, even if it makes sense given the character. Borrowing so much gameplay from Sonic already, it’s a wonder why Sunsoft didn’t give Speedy Gonzales any ability to attack; all he can really do is run and jump with the exception of boss fights. Even so, as with the Sonic games, enemies make up only a fraction of the challenge, as most of the danger comes from stage hazards and pits, especially as you build up speed.
Visually, there are quite a number of interesting tricks and its evident this is a Sunsoft title from it’s use of pseudo parallax scrolling to its extremely fluid sprites and tiles. Even in black and white, Speedy Gonzales manages to impress. The music is also suitably excellent, using many famous songs that will instantly be recognizable. The chiptunes here are really among the best on the GameBoy.
Even if you don’t particularly care about Loony Toons characters, give this game a try. Speedy could be replaced by almost any other character and the game wouldn’t be affected in the least. In fact….
There is an unlicensed pirate of this game that actually replaces Speedy Gonzales with sprites from Sonic the Hedgehog! The sprite hack only applies to Speedy though – all other sprites in the game remain the same. This elusive pirate, known as Sonic 6, can be found on multicarts out of China. If anyone happens to have a working ROM, please email me. I’d love to add in a screenshot or two in this section.
This concludes part 3 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.