Gameboy Games That Pushed The Limits

 As the first installment of my Games That Pushed the Limits: Portable Edition, I chose to take on the games for both the original Gameboy and the Gameboy Color.

While most of the games that I cover in this piece are only playable on the more powerful Gameboy Color (The processor is twice as fast as a Game Boy’s, and has three times as much memory), there will be some mentions of some games that were primirily for the original Gameboy.

It was quite a chore going through the Gameboy’s large library (especially when you consider how long the handheld was on the retail market), so I’m sure I missed a few titles. I’m still digging around more, so I just may find some more titles to add to this list. Either way, I’m sure you will find some times below that are quite impressive for this little 8-device.

 Shantae
When I first mentioned that I was doing a Portable section of my “Games That Pushed The Limits” series, I had numerous people recommend that Shantae be included. You can’t blame them as it set the bar for what the Gameboy Color was capable of. Unfortunately, Capcom released this game as the Gameboy Advance was capturing the attention of portable gamers, so there were few Gameboy Color games still reaching the market.

The GBA was mostly receiving simple NES and SNES ports that had yet to even push the new portable, so Shantae actually held up quite well to the early GBA games. The visuals easily match, and in some instances, exceed those that have appeared to date on the GBA. The developers have also employed some clever routines with color and light sourcing to give a wonderful illusion of time in both day and night.

This 2D platformer may be graphically simple by today’s standards, but the colorful graphics look very nice and features superb animation. Shantae (who happens to be a genie) moves very fluidly–especially when performing her special dance moves.
It is sad to see such potential end so abruptly on the Gameboy Color.
Full Review of Shantae

 Street Fighter Alpha
Just as it was surprising to see Street Fighter Alpha 2 show up on the Super Nintendo, it was equally surprising to see a port of the original Alpha game on the Gameboy Color. Crawfish Interactive (the team behind the Alpha 3 port for the GBA) produced a surprisingly good port of this great fighter, complete with amazing graphics and excellent control.

You won’t see really much of any facial expression on the fighters, but there are a surprising number of frames per character. This leads to smooth animation, which in turn, leads to better gameplay. There is no jerky motion like the GB version of Street Fighter II. Gameplay is extremely smooth and accurate, and you’ll find that you can pull off your favorite combos without any difficulty.

Alpha is also nice and colorful, making good use of the Game Boy Color’s palette. The fighter sprites are also not super-deformed like the popular SNK vs Capcom: Match of the Millennium on the Neo-Geo Pocket, but do their best to recreate the arcade original, thereby keeping the Street Fighter purists happy.

The backgrounds of the arcade version are duplicated pretty well, and some even feature animation. This is a very pleasant surprise and adds depth to an otherwise limited Gameboy atmosphere. You’ll find lots of small yet very pleasing surprises all throughout the game. Street Fighter Alpha also featured vertical scrolling — something else that the Neo-Geo Pocket’s fighting games lacked.

Street Fighter Alpha was undoubtedly the best fighting game on the original Gameboy hardware, and it is strong competition for the many fighting games that Neo-Geo Pocket owner cherish. I think it would also make a cool little bonus unlockable in the upcoming Street Fighter Alpha Anthology, but I’m not guessing that will happen.
Full Review of Street Fighter Alpha (GBC)

 Dragon’s Lair (Color)
In 1983, the original Dragon’s Lair from Don Bluth Studios broke ground with its own brand of motion-picture-quality animation and charming story. Eighteen years later, Digital Eclipse and Capcom released a Game Boy Color conversion, and despite some cutbacks, the translation is amazingly faithful.

Admittedly, a few scenes have been abbreviated, but the 29 distinct scenes that are present is certainly more than expected out of a 32-megabit Game Boy Color game. Its color palette is less than that of the arcade version, but instead of dithering colors to create new ones, the team at Digital Eclipse repainted the entire game in a more pocket-friendly manner.

The gameplay isn’t exactly cutting edge, but the experience is immensely pure and the onscreen result is immediately gratifying and you can’t ignore how good the game looks on the screen. The motions are smooth and the graphics are quite vibrant using the limitations of the GBC.

Dragon’s Lair purists will find faults throughout the game, but you have to give credit where credit is due — the Game Boy Color was never designed for this type of game.
Full Review of Dragon’s Lair (Color)

 Faceball 2000 (MIDI Maze 3)
A First Person Shooter on the Gameboy? Yep! And it’s not even a Gameboy Color game. Faceball 2000 is an amazing update of a PC game called MIDI Maze. This unique and quirky game is like Doom, except that the monsters are replaced with smiley faces.

The graphics are actually 3D and are absolutely amazing considering the hardware we are speaking of. Considering its age, it’s actually not too bad in terms of gameplay either. If you can actually get 15 other people with the same cartridge, you can have a 16-player deathmatch. Good luck finding 1 person. With all of these capabilities, there aren’t even many FPSs on the Gameboy Advance that can rival Faceball 2000.
Full Review of Faceball 2000

 Donkey Kong Country
Sure, it’s easy to take a high-end Super Nintendo game and port it to the Gameboy Advance, but what about cramming one into a Gameboy cart — and still have it turn out good?

The original Donkey Kong Country blew everybody away when it was released on the SNES. But who would have thought that Rare and Nintendo would be able to so closely replicate the look and feel of that ground-breaking game on the aging Gameboy platform. Other than the obviously lower resolution, you might actually find the Gameboy Color version of Donkey Kong Country to be a decent substitute for the Super Nintendo original.

Because of memory constraints, the main difference you will notice about the Gameboy version of Donkey Kong Country is that they don’t have both Donkey Kong and Diddy on the screen at once. This will initially throw of many Donkey Kong Country veterans, but its an acceptable trade-off to keep a smooth and enjoyable gameplay experience.

The Donkey Kong Land series also made the most of what it could with the standard Gameboy hardware, and while they weren’t nearly as graphically impressive, but the spot-on gameplay and the tight control (especially in Donkey Kong Land 3) resulted in a top-notch Gameboy Color title.
Full Review of Donkey Kong Country (GBC)

 Alone in the Dark
While I didn’t enjoy the actual gameplay of this portable “thriller”, the graphical techniques were fairly interesting to see on the Gameboy Color.

Developers Pocket Studios to created a pseudo-3D environment by putting your character in a series of beautiful pre-rendered environments and having certain points by which your character changes size to make it look like the character is moving towards and away from the camera. There are over 300 of these high colour environments and 6 different camera angles in total in the game, another feat to pull off on a Game Boy Color.

The use of color on Alone in the Dark is outstanding and the the backgrounds look like paintings specially colored for the Gameboy Color. The game actually does portray a creepy experience, but personally, I look at this title as more of a technical demo than a good form of entertainment.
Full Review of Alone In The Dark (GBC)

 Dragon Warrior III
The graphics in Dragon Warrior III are vastly improved over the NES version. In fact, this game is based off of the Super Famicom (the Japanese version of our SNES) incarnation of the game. Thus the game features colorful sprites, more varied tiles, and animated battles. With all of this graphical wonderment, it is no wonder the game takes up a 32 Meg cart.

What was really neat about the animations was that every enemy had different animations, depending on what attack they performed, and they all were smooth and accuratly portrayed. In addition to the battle graphics, the towns all looked unique. Every little area is well-detailed, and many places look better than a lot of what has been seen on the SNES.

It is also worth mentionning that the opening scene where Ortega battle the Demon Lord is the most beautiful cinematic scene that you will ever see on the GBC, and even topples most of them on the SNES’ RPGs. After seeing graphics of this caliber on the GBC, you have to wonder why Pokemon Ruby/Sapphire on the GBA doesn’t even look this good.
Full review of Dragon Warrior III

 Mario Tennis
A lot of effort was taken by Camelot to make Mario Tennis game look good on the Gameboy, and it paid off . The character sprites are very detailed for a Gameboy game and they even manage to squeeze some personality into those tiny pixels. You can easily see all of the features on people’s faces and you can even see the little white lines on the tennis ball move as the ball spins.

Mario Tennis also has a lot of shading instead of having big ugly blocks of solid color. A tennis court will be lighter at the top then gradually fade into a darker shade at the bottom. Mario Tennis has many vibrant colors and nice looking environments. The best example is shown when flying to the Island Open as you can see the ocean and various islands.

With Mario Tennis, you almost have to remind yourself that the Gameboy Color is an 8-bit system Because of the high amount of detail, it can easily be passed up as a 16-bit game at first glance. In fact, having both this game and the recent release of Mario Tennis: Power Tour for the Gameboy Advance (both developed by Camelot), I can tell you that the Gameboy Color version isn’t far behind its 32-bit sibling in terms of animation and how well the system handles the gameplay.

While on the court, the game runs smoothly with singles and both doubles action. If you look at everything going on, it’ll be hard to believe the GB Color can handle this, With 4 players, all with a high amount of detail on them, you would think this would get hard on your eyes, but there isn’t even a single flicker. Just some of the best graphics on the GBC hands down.
Full Review of Mario Tennis

 Mr. Driller
I was first exposed to this great puzzle series on the Sega Dreamcast and grew to love the cute and colorful game on Sega’s last console. I’ve also seen ports of the game Gameboy Advance and Playstation, however, when I loaded up the Gameboy color version, I expected to seem a cheap port with a relatively rough appearance. To my surprise, the Gameboy Color version of Mr. Driller was an incredible example of both wonderful colorful and smooth animation and gameplay.

While playing this game on my Dreamcast Gameboy emulator, a person walking by the TV could have easily mistaken the game for the Dreamcast version — its THAT good. I didn’t feel like I was missing much from the full Dreamcast Mr. Driller experience other than maybe the music.

While Mr. Driller for the Gameboy Color doesn’t use any highly technical graphical effects (what version of Mr. Driller did?), it definitely makes the best use of the Gameboy color’s limited color palette in addition to maxing out the handheld’s memory to keep the animation and gameplay smooth.
Full Review of Mr. Driller (GBC)

 Cannon Fodder
When I loaded up Cannon Fodder for the Gameboy Color, my jaw nearly dropped as I was amazed that the game’s intro video and animated menus were actually running on a Gameboy. Just the menus alone make this game worthy of being on this list. Seriously.

The rest of the game isn’t too bad either. While the main gameplay graphics aren’t techincal masterpieces, it features lush terrain, and nicely-animated sprites. The gameplay is pretty fun if you enjoy real-time strategy games.

While the full-motion video and such is nice, most of the cart space is dedicated to the audio portion of the game. A nice digital tune plays during the opening FMV, and the voice work is very well done. In fact, the voice work is so clear, you won’t believe this is coming from the single GBC speaker.

Cannon Fodder is one game handheld players should play just see how far ahead this game really was. Only released in very limited quantity, Cannon Fodder is a bit of a collectors item in the Gameboy Color universe
Full Review of Cannon Fodder

 Perfect Dark
Rare did an excellent job on bringing their SNES powerhouse game, Donkey Kong Country down to the Gameboy. So why not try to bring their headlining N64 shooter to the Gameboy Color as well? Obviously, this time around there needed to be more drastic adjustments in the graphics.

Instead of being a first person shooter, the GBC version of Perfect Dark is built around Konami’s Metal Gear Solid engine for the Gameboy. The most noticeable similarity is the camera perspective, which is from a 45-degree view. (I wonder how it would turn out if they used the Faceball 2000 engine instead)

Even though its not in 3D, the graphics in Perfect Dark are still a highlight, with some of the smoothest animation seen on the Gameboy. Joanna is rendered fairly large walks very naturally. The game is viewed on an angle from above, and the game includes some basic “cut scenes” that add to the story. Perfect Dark probably has the best sound of any original Gameboy game. The digitized speech in the game is gonna blow you away. There must be like 5 minutes of it — pretty good for a Gameboy cart.

I didn’t enjoy the gameplay nearly as much as Metal Gear Solid, but the animation and large sprites definitely pushed the Gameboy Color’s extra power.
Full Review of Perfect Dark (GBC)

 Alice in Wonderland
You would think that a Gameboy game that is both targeted toward younger girls and uses a licenced Disney theme would suck, but Alice in Wonderland is actually a game that is actually of high quality. Due in part to its Game Boy Color-only status, the screen is overflowing with vibrant colors. They are so good that it’s hard to believe that this game is being played on an 8-bit portable system.

With parallax scrolling and wonderful special effects the game almost reaches Super NES quality. The animation in the game is also very impressive. Alice probably has more frames of animation than some of the characters seen on more powerful home consoles. The locales are ripped right from the cartoon and the characters resemble their on-screen counterparts. The developers did their homework in the graphics department and Disney should be proud to have a game with such fantastic visuals associated with its license.
Full Review of Alice in Wonderland

 The Fish Files & Addams Family
These two Gameboy Color games are third person adventure games that have a similar style to the Lucas Arts PC adventure games of old. They were both humorous and enjoyable, but they also utilized the color palette to effectively create enjoyable scenes.

Due to the comical nature of the game, the graphics are animated in a 2D cartoon style which is generally very clean, fresh, and pleasing to the eye. However, due to the limitations of such a small screen, some areas come across as too busy, with the developers obviously trying to cram in as much detail as possible.

 Wario Land 1, 2, 3
The first Wario Land brought new life to the fairly plain Mario Land series on the Gameboy while not only bringing a new gameplay dynamic, but also upping the size of the sprites. Two more Wario Land installments followed, including Wario Land 3 which utilized the Gameboy Colors extra processing power to bring some amazing colors, scenes, and graphical effects.

Each level is very vivid in detail and each enemy is very unique. The trees sometimes have leaves falling from them and other elements such as fire are very well-done. This platformer, Wario Land 3, in addition to Shantae are excellent transition games between the Gameboy Color and Gameboy Advance.
Full Review of Wario Land 3

Honorable Mentions:

  • The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages/Oracle of Seasons – These two Zelda games started a partnership between Nintendo and Capcom and could be linked together to maximize gameplay. There wasn’t anything revolutionary, in these games on the technical end (the use of color was the strongpoint), but the games simply were painstakingly polished to bring one yet another wonderful Zelda title. (Review)
  • Kirby Tilt ‘n’ Tumble – This game is worth mention simply for its creative built-in tilt sensor functionality. The goal of the game is to guide Kirby to the level’s goal within the allotted time by physically tilting the Game Boy in the direction in which the player wishes to move him. The game registers a “pop” action when the player quickly jerks the Game Boy in the vertical direction; doing so will jerk Kirby into the air. (Review)
  • Samurai Shodown 3 – This port plays almost identical to Samurai Spirits on the Neo-Geo Pocket. Sprites are drawn in a similar Super-Deformed style to the SNK fighting games that came before it, although they’re a bit larger and animated slightly better this time around, but this actually comes at the price of a slightly wonky frame rate
  • Street Fighter 2 – While this port of the arcade classic is about as good as you can expect for the original Gameboy, its not nearly as enjoyable as Alpha for the color. Besides the undeniable fact that they’re in black and white, the graphics are really quite good and more arcade-acurate that Alpha’s. However, the game’s choppiness really degrades the game.
  • Mario Golf – This is another great Mario sports title developed by Camelot. And while it is a great game and does look pretty nice, its not quite as technically impressive as Mario Tennis. (Review)

If you haven’t already, be sure to check out the entire “Games That Pushed The Limits” series and watch my site or subscribe to my feed to keep up on my coverage of the other portable systems.

Related Posts:
Super Mario Mini for PSP – Awesome Homebrew
More Tetris DS Info and Screens
Review: Dr. Mario/Puzzle League Combo – GBA

21 Comments

  1. justin138 says:

    I had no idea there were so many great Gameboy games..I’m gonna have to try out a few of those. Street Fighter looks interesting.

  2. djera says:

    Wow you’ve got a lot of great picks here! Faceball 2000 was a classic game and awesome to play with the link cable. I can’ believe Alone in the Dark and Cannon Fodder looked that good. I’ll have to check these out now.

  3. romablog says:

    gameboy? *shrugs* not interested. gamegear/nomad/lynx, though, i’d like to hear about. even among new portables- PSP is much nicer.

  4. racketboy says:

    The rest of the portable systems will be covered in the near future.

    However, I probably won’t do the DS or PSP anytime soon since the list will probably be outdated by the time I finish it 🙂

  5. Mozgus says:

    Yes, do one for DS and PSP. I want to know how these CURRENT GEN handhelds have pushed the limits.

    That would NOT go against the entire title of the site would it? I mean, RetroGaming……aw crap it does.

    😛

  6. neohx_7 says:

    I was really impressed by this post, moreso than any of the other “push it to the limit” series posts. I would add Megaman Xtreme series and the GBC Tomb Raider are impressive because they look and feel a lot nicer than most GB games.

  7. Anonymous says:

    I think you covered most things, no shout out for Mario on the 64 or james bond tho and come on you can’t forget Mario Kart for the snes either!

  8. Anonymous says:

    Well, Daxter and Syphon Filter : Dark Mirror certainly pushed the limits in terms of what PSP can do. But since its lifecycle is far from the ned, we will see many more breakthroughs (or so I hope) and therefore it’s too early to discuss pushing the limits on PSP.

    Greetz,

    Barts-706

  9. Anonymous says:

    Well, Daxter and Syphon Filter : Dark Mirror certainly pushed the limits in terms of what PSP can do. But since its lifecycle is far from the ned, we will see many more breakthroughs (or so I hope) and therefore it’s too early to discuss pushing the limits on PSP.

    Greetz,

    Barts-706

  10. Myth says:

    What about Rayman, or Star Ocean Blue Sphere

  11. Kikimaru says:

    I really think you should have included Pokemon Gold/Silver/Crystal.
    As well as support for all 251 Pokemon (with backwards compatability), GSC also had a working clock which added time-related quests such as the radio competition, and time-specific challenges such as getting a Pokemon happy & seeing how different it evolves depending on the time of day.
    That’s not forgetting the large world, with 100’s of NPCs, and the almost endless customisability of the breeding center.
    There’s probably a bit more to the game than that, too; I’m just listing what I remember best.

  12. Rick says:

    You really should do the gamecube, xbox, and ps2 now, oh, and the gameboy advance

  13. Thomas says:

    To add to the list GameGear and Atari Lynx

  14. RoM says:

    Does anyone know if there were any 64 megabit (the limit of GBC) games for the Gameboy Color? A bit strange if there ain’t any, since it shoudn’t have been a money issue (if nearly every N64 game was a minimun of 64 megabit in the mid-90s it sure should should be possible on a hand held in 2001).

  15. Flygon says:

    I am a bit disappointed that Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets did not make the list.

    The last GBC game released in American (In Australia we got some hamtaro game) and it certainly had the effort put into it, the GBA version however was just plain shoddy…

  16. Alexandre says:

    Great post, racket! I loved it!

    From a brazilian reader.
    🙂

  17. CRTGAMER says:

    Anapan has posted scans of the Original Game Genie Code Book.

    They are here:
    http://www.racketboy.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=29&t=19023&p=217583#p217583

  18. michael says:

    nice list but i would definitely put a magination here. although gameplay was based on pokemon (but it definitely was something more than simply copying it)its graphics was artistic and beatifull, plot interesting and original (not that original though) and characters were really good designed and likeable. it was one of the best games for gbc but somewhat overlooked.

  19. michael says:

    *well designed

  20. Dr Devil says:

    Cannon Fodder looks eye popping. Even if it was a SNES/Sega CD/32x game, it would look impressive.