It's fair to say that Nintendo's Game Boy revolutionised portable gaming when it arrived in 1989, giving gamers a genuine portable alternative to sitting in front of the TV. In the decades that have passed since then, the name has been inherited by more powerful systems but it now lies dormant, with Nintendo's 'DS' line of consoles taking over.
This year sees the launch of the Switch, which will fuse Nintendo's handheld and home interests into a single system, marking the next fascinating chapter of the portable gaming industry. Given the significance of this new hardware release, what better time is there to look back at the handheld which truly kicked off Nintendo's dominance of the portable arena? Here are the 10 Game Boy games you really need to play, a mixture of obvious classics and perhaps a few titles you might not have heard of previously.
Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge
Konami's Castlevania series may be on something of a hiatus now but back in the '90s, it was one of gaming's premier franchises following some amazing outings on the NES and SNES. Its Game Boy debut was actually quite disappointing, but this 1991 sequel more than made up for that. Belmont's Revenge is tighter, more playable and better looking than its 1989 forerunner, and ranks as one of the best action platformers on the console. It also boasts some of the best music to emerge from the Game Boy's weedy mono speaker – proof that even the most humble of audio tech can produce mind-blowing results when placed in the right hands.
The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening
Released in the wake of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past on the SNES, Link's Awakening was nothing short of a revelation; while the visuals and sound naturally took a hit, it was on par with the 16-bit classic in almost every other regard and some fans even consider it to be the superior offering. Packed with items, dungeons, secrets and characters, Link's Awakening proved categorically that the Game Boy could rival home consoles when it came to delivering adventures with epic scope, and was later remastered for the Game Boy Color with improved graphics and more content. Irrespective of which version you choose to play, this is an utterly essential pocket-sized quest.
This one might be a bit obvious – and to be fair, there can't be many people on the face of the planet who own a Game Boy and haven't played it – but Tetris is a title that simply cannot be recommended highly enough. It was this Russian puzzler which effectively sold the system to the masses; Nintendo's decision to bundle it in free of charge was a masterstroke, and ensured that the Game Boy became the must-have gadget of 1989 and the years that followed. While Tetris has been iterated upon almost incessantly since then – and even received a Game Boy sequel in 1993 – the original version has a purity which makes it instantly appealing and endlessly playable. Grab yourself a link cable and you've got one of the most addictive two-player games ever created.
Super Mario Land
You might assume that Super Mario Land 2 would be the obvious pick for this particular bucket list, but the portly plumber's first portable outing certainly deserves a look. It might not possess the flashy visuals and massive game world seen in the sequel, but it has a charm which is unmatched anywhere else in the Super Mario series. The somewhat sparse visuals make the action easy to follow and the inclusion of side-scrolling shooter stages lends the game some welcome variety – as do the varied locations, which include Egyptian pyramids and a Chinese-themed stage. It's true that you can comfortably complete Super Mario Land in a single sitting but that doesn't make it any less enjoyable.
It goes to show just how important the Game Boy was to Nintendo when you consider that it allowed the humble black and white portable to play host to some of its most important sequels. The first Metroid on the NES secured a considerable fanbase and this follow-up didn't disappoint in gameplay terms, despite lacking a full colour display; it offered another sprawling sci-fi adventure in which Samus Aran does battle with the fiendish space pirates, attempting to eradicate the Metroid creatures before they can fall into the wrong hands. Metroid II has since been remade by fans as AM2R , although last year Nintendo issued a cease and desist order to prevent the game from being distributed online. Boo.
Kid Dracula is an offshoot of Konami's Castlevania series, and stars Dracula's son Alucard in the lead role. Alucard would of course go on to find further fame in Castlevania: Symphony of the Night on the Sony PlayStation, but this portable adventure – which also saw release on the Nintendo Famicom – keeps things light-hearted and cartoon-like. While there are some obvious Castlevania links, including a watchtower level, Kid Dracula's focus is on platforming action and cute enemies. The original Game Boy version is quite rare these days, but it's worth every penny.
Pokémon Red / Blue / Yellow
Prior to the release of the first Pokémon title the Game Boy looked set to enter its twilight years gracefully, but the Pocket Monster phenomenon in 1996 changed all of that. The monochrome handheld was suddenly one of the most popular consoles on the planet again, and Nintendo capitalised on this by releasing the Game Boy Pocket, a smaller revision which boasted a better screen. Despite the passage of time, this first Pokémon adventure is surprisingly feature-rich, and laid down the foundations which continue to make more recent entries – such as Pokémon Sun and Moon – so globally appealing. To mark the 20th anniversary of the series Nintendo published the game on the Nintendo 3DS Virtual Console, which is perhaps the cheapest and most hassle-free way to play it today; the original carts are quite expensive on the secondary market and many of them will have save data batteries which require replacing due to age.
Donkey Kong ’94
1994 might have been when Rare rebooted the Donkey Kong series with Donkey Kong Country on the SNES, but it was far from being the only outing for the unruly ape that year. Donkey Kong '94 on the Game Boy follows the formula of the arcade original more closely than Rare's SNES classic, with the player assuming the role of Mario as he attempts to rescue Pauline from Kong's clutches. The opening stages make the game feel like a straight port of the coin-op, but once these are complete it really opens up in terms of gameplay mechanics, mixing puzzle-solving with platforming action. In short, it's one of the most inventive Game Boy games ever made and perfectly illustrates Nintendo's skill at refining past classics.
Mole Mania was released in 1996 – very late in the Game Boy's life span – and isn't as well known as it perhaps deserves to be. However, it has a rather unique claim to fame, because Shigeru Miyamoto – the creator of Mario, Zelda and Pikmin – served as producer. The Miyamoto magic is present and correct here, too; the objective is to get a black ball from one part of the screen to the other by digging holes to get around obstacles. As with all the best game concepts, this apparently simplistic goal requires some serious brainpower on later levels, where digging in the wrong place can totally scupper your chances, forcing you to leave the screen and re-enter to reset everything. A recent release on the 3DS Virtual Console has opened up this underappreciated gem to a whole new audience.
Based on Balloon Fight , Balloon Kid was an early Game Boy title which passed under the radar of many players at the time, perhaps due to its terrible western cover artwork. However, it's a title which offers hidden charms and depths, despite the basic visuals. Once you get over the fact that the game scrolls from right to left, Balloon Kid quickly sucks you in with its simple yet challenging premise. You float around and are capable of kicking away enemies, as long as you don't allow them to pop your balloons. If this happens, you have to move around on foot, but you can inflate more balloons to return to the air. The controls might feel a little sluggish and awkward to begin with, but this offers a refreshing change to your typical 2D platformer and deserves more praise than it gets.