If you’ve played all the blockbuster games on the Game Boy already and need to dig into the lesser-known-but-equally-exciting games, this is the guide for you. I know a lot of people have been waiting a while for this guide, but we wanted to take the time to find some real gems for you. I’ve had many discussions with many experienced Game Boy fans in order to determine a list of all the best Gameboy games that most people haven’t played (or possibly even heard of). Much like previous entries in the Hidden Gems series, this guide is divided up by genre to help you find games that suit your tastes.
A special thanks to those the contributed their game summaries: Zen Albatross, PresidentLeever, Ack , Fastbilly1 and everyone else in the forum that pitched in with ideas! If you have more games to share, please use the comments section below and I’m terribly sorry if we overlooked your personal favorite!
In addition to being a solid platformer, this commonly overlooked title is possibly the only game on the Game Boy that is a straight-up parody of another series. Kid Dracula is a spin-off of the Castlevania series originally released for the Famicom in Japan, then ported to the Game Boy in 1993. Instead of the taking on the usual heroic role of a Belmont clan member, the protagonist is a lovable, pint-sized version of the Vampire Lord himself who is tasked with combating his rival, the demon Garamoth. It sounds like just another day in the life of the near-infinitely powerful Lord of Darkness. Unfortunately for you, our young scatterbrained Master of Evil has forgotten all of his magic spells and must re-learn them throughout the course of his adventure.
Kid Dracula is a pretty standard platformer, through and through. The player traverses through 8 levels of baddies, obstacles and bosses, gaining new powers along the way such as homing missiles, shield, gravity reversal and summoning bats. The powers are fun to use and the game makes sure to put you in situations where your full repertoire will come in handy. Kid Dracula’s true charm, however lies in its light-hearted parody of the Castlevania series’ traditionally dark setting — Standard baddies from Castlevania re-appear as adorable cartoon versions of themselves. The Grandpa Ghost Boss at the end of Stage 1 falls asleep during the fight. You might even recognize the game’s main antagonist, Garamoth as a boss in the later-released Castlevania: Symphony of Night. The music also pays tribute to the Castlevania games: Listen closely to the song in the first stage – It’s ‘Bloodlines’, the Stage 1 music from Castlevania III, re-written in an upbeat major key. The whole game reeks of silliness, and it works incredibly well, making Kid Dracula one of the most entertaining parody/spin-off games you’ll likely ever play on a handheld system.
As a spin-off, Kid Dracula easily surpasses novelty status and proves to be a truly satisfying romp. If you’re a fan of the Castlevania series, you owe it to yourself to try out this Hidden Gem. The cartridge is also relatively rare, so don’t you dare hesitate picking this baby up if you happen to see lying it lying around at your local flea market/thrift store.
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I’ll warn you now — if you are only familiar with your plain-jane Gameboy platformers, Shantae may make your jaw drop a bit when witnessing it running on a Gameboy Color. This late GBC release from Capcom not only pushes the limit in terms of what the aging hardware could do, but it is still one of the most diverse and satisfying portable platformers out there. What really sets Shantae apart though is the variety of gameplay, meaning that you’re never entirely sure what’s going to happen next.
Initially, Shantae’s only weapon is her ability to whip enemies with her hair, but can eventually add more powerful moves and gain powers that allow you to access areas that are typically out of reach. The action takes place on expansive levels that not only scroll from left to right, but also up and down. The levels are also incredibly well-designed, so there’s never just one route from start to finish (similar to the old-school Sonic games), and straying from the usual path usually delivers hidden bonus items. In addition to the expansive playing areas, you’ll also discover some mini-games where you’ll find yourself solving puzzles and even dancing. When all is said and done, Shantae is the complete package as far as Gameboy platformers go.
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Remember Mr. Gimmick? No? An almost equally unknown game as Trip World, it was a platformer from SunSoft with excellent art direction, smooth control, engaging gameplay, and some of the best music composed for the console.
Well, Trip World is very much a Mr. Gimmick for the Gameboy, sharing many key aspects with it while adding some new ones and removing others. It features some of the most impressive visuals I’ve seen on the system with a clean, uber cute art direction (reminiscent of the Kirby games), fluid animation, smooth scrolling and highly detailed, varied backgrounds that wouldn’t look out of place even in 16-bit games of the time. It even has a couple of nice animated cutscenes, telling the story of the game without any use of text.
As you play you’ll notice how every area of the game has a distinct feel to it and is inhabited by different creatures with different behaviors.You can affect creatures differently depending on which form you are in, and changing between them is done by a simple button combination or, in some cases by picking up a certain power up. These things make the game feel almost like an adventure game and half the fun of playing it is interacting with each new creature you meet to see what it’ll do. At the end of each stage though, there is the typical boss battle to fight, and the road to them is almost completely linear. These battles are fun and all, but the format ends up feeling somewhat forced and kept thinking the game would have really benefited from a more open ended world.
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Kid Icarus: Of Myths and Monsters
The original Kid Icarus was a unique cult classic game on the NES, but its sequel on the Gameboy was even more obscure. Kid Icarus II feels a great deal easier than the relatively challenging original. You can now backtrack downward through the stages now and it’s also a lot easier to get arrow upgrades from what I could see. (However, it has gotten more difficult to win the special weapons). The controls feel a lot tighter, the graphics are pretty amazing for a Game Boy title, and the music is still good.
Also, you can jump while aiming up, though you still can’t do it while crouching. Some of the harder to kill enemies have been toned down, too, like the grim reapers wandering around the level. And because of the horizontal wrap-around that NebackadnezzaR mentioned, it feels like the game is a lot more open to exploration than it actually is. Honestly, this is a pretty good sequel, and quite solid for a Game Boy game. I really suggest everybody else who’s finished Kid Icarus give this a shot.
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Wendy: Every Witch Way
Unlike most platformers on the Gameboy, Wendy is more than just your standard running and jumping. Things get much more interesting when you have the ability to reverse gravity on the fly. That’s right your two buttons in the game give you the ability to jump and to flip the gravitational pull, allowing you to walk on ceilings or platforms above you. As you could probably guess, this technique eventually becomes more of a necessity than a convenience as your progress through the game. It will work your brain in ways that you might be used to.
There are a health number of levels and they are well-designed to make the most of the game’s concepts. Wendy also has a great cartooney look that makes good use of the Gameboy Color. There are also three levels that are only available if played on a GBA. (Not sure about emulation). If you are a platformer junkie, I definitely recommend giving Wendy: Every Which Way a try.
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Don’t be fooled by its light-hearted appearance — The story behind Jaleco’s Avenging Spirit is actually pretty grisly: A young man who was gunned down by a gang of mysterious assailants has returned to the realm of the living to defeat the evil crime syndicate that killed him and captured his girlfriend. Luckily for our protagonist, being a ghost has its advantages — He can now possess the bodies of his enemies, each of whom have different abilities that will help him take down the syndicate’s evil bosses. Among those you can possess are gun-wielding gangsters, martial arts masters and fire-breathing… uh, kangaroos? Or maybe they’re suppose to be dinosaurs? Whatever.
Anyway, when the character you’ve possessed kicks the bucket, you’ll turn back into a ghost. When in ghost form, your energy bar will begin to drain. You’ll need to possess someone else quickly, otherwise your spirit will pass into the afterlife unavenged. Considering the heavy subject matter, the cutesy graphics in this game are a pretty hilarious (and slightly disturbing) aesthetic choice. Especially the continue screen, which shows the adorable ghost staring at you with sad puppy eyes, silently imploring you to help him rain vengeance and death upon his enemies. Avenging Spirit is a solid platformer with strategic elements and some interesting mechanics that were pretty ahead of their time. Highly recommended.
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Other Games to Try:
- Looney Tunes
- Ikari no Yousai 2 (Japan only)
- Banishing Racer (Japan only)
- Crayon Shin-Chan 4 (Japan only)
- Gourmet Paradise
- Momotarou Dengeki 1 & 2 (Japan only)
- Spanky’s Quest
- Tumble Pop
- Ultraman Ball (Japan only)
- Disney’s The Jungle Book: Mowgli’s Wild Adventure
- Tom and Jerry in Mouse Attacks
- Sabrina the Animated Series: Zapped!
- Looney Tunes: Carrot Crazy
- Donald Duck: Goin’ Quackers
- Disney’s Tarzan
- Asterix: Search for Dogmatix
- Disney’s The Lion King: Simba’s Mighty Adventure
Bionic Commando: Elite Forces
The first Bionic Command game brought to the original Gameboy was an enjoyable experience, but understandably not quite as good as the NES original. And while I enjoyed the graphical style of the first Gameboy port, Bionic Command: Elite Forces for the Gameboy Color brought more solid controls and an experience closer to that of the NES game.
As can be expected from a GBC exclusive, Elite Forces has more detailed spites and even some nice audio clips, but the real draw is being able to swing around with ease and deal out some punishment. Instead of being able to jump you are limited to a grappling hook for reaching higher areas and for swinging from objects. The the swinging action is actually more refined than the NES Bionic Commando allowing your to swing from platform to platform, never touching the ground for long stretches of time.
With Bionic Commando, you start with a short life meter, but it gradually grow as you kill enemies. Also after each stage, a weapon or item is added to your arsenal.? These elements give you a bit of an RPG experience similar to games like Super Metroid and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. And much like many Metroidvania games, you often explore a the expansive levels by traveling in a variety of directions. If you enjoy Bionic Commando on the NES or just want a solid action platformer for the Gameboy Color, you should give Elite Forces a try.
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Dexter’s Laboratory: Robot Rampage
On the surface, one might not think that a Dexter’s Laborotory game would appeal to old-school gamers, but if you’ve ever played Elevator Action, Robot Rampage will seem very familiar to you. It turns out that BAM Entertainment actually licensed Taito’s engine for Elevator Action EX (a Japan-only release) which was a very nice remake of the classic title. BAM essentially took the game and changed up the sprites to reflect the popular Cartoon Network property. In the end, it actually seemed to have a much more enjoyable personality than the original Japanese release.
If you aren’t familiar with the Elevator Action forumla, you pop in and out of elevators as they make their rounds, or ride on top of the cars as they cruise down the building. You can even jump across the open elevator shafts or leap down one floor via a shaft (two or more will kill you). As Dexter, you have a pistor to snipe robot agents who will sneak in and out of doors and try to take you out with gunfire.
The ability to jump down one floor and the addition of a life bar instead of the one-shot-kills takes much of the potential frustration away from the original game and keep you in the heat of the action. the stages have also been expanded and enhanced to add variety to Dexter’s adventure. Now there are ledges that crumble underfoot and zip-boxes that whisk Dexter to hidden locations of the lab. The puzzles in Dexter’s Lab still take a backseat to the action, but definitely add depth to this old-school forumla.
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Blaster Master Boy / Jr. / Bomber King 2
This pint-sized spin-off of Blaster Master is peculiar in that the gameplay is more reminiscent of Hudson Soft’s Bomberman series than the original 1988 NES classic. Jason, our protagonist from the first game has returned, but this time it seems he’s ditched his beloved car, SOPHIA III. Luckily, Jason has compensated for his lack of wheels by keeping his blaster, a handful of powerups and an infinite stockpile of bombs at his side. Blaster Master Boy (known as Blaster Master Jr. in Europe) eschews the platforming elements of the original game in lieu of a top-down run-and-gun dynamic similar to the dungeon sequences from the original NES title. The similarities to Bomberman become pretty obvious after a few minutes of playing, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
As it turns out, Blaster Master Boy was originally supposed to be released as Bomber King: Scenario 2, the sequel to a Japanese Famicom title released in the US as Robo Warrior. To avoid any disputes with Hudson, Sunsoft re-branded the game as a Blaster Master title. Okay, so it’s not really Blaster Master at all, but let’s be frank — At the end of the day, blowing stuff up is just plain fun. The music is pretty fantastic as well. As long as you’re not bothered by the diminished variety of gameplay, this Hidden Gem is definitely worth a spot in your Game Boy collection.
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Blaster Master: Enemy Below
Now this is more like it. While Blaster Master Boy/Jr. isn’t really a Blaster Master game at all, Blaster Master: Enemy Below for the Game Boy Color is a welcome return to the classic gameplay you’d expect from a title of this series. The game starts right where the original left off: After an unexpectedly brief holiday, Jason and his trusty tank SOPHIA III are called back into action when a science experiment gone wrong unleashes a new Plutonium Boss upon the world. This new Boss, cowardly as he is, once again establishes dominion over Earth’s cavernous underworld in preparation for his attack on humanity.
The game’s graphics, controls and gameplay are all nearly identical to its predecessor. Gamers familiar enough with the original might even feel as if they’re playing the exact same game. Still, with new dungeons, new weapons, crisp graphics and a new password save system, Enemy Below offers just enough variety to warrant a playthrough for any fan of the series. Despite it’s lack of innovation, it’s without a doubt the most authentic classic Blaster Master experience you can have on a portable console.
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Other Games to Try:
- Balloon Kid / Balloon Fight GB
- Heiankyo Alien
- Booby Boys
- Tweety’s High-Flying Adventure
- Racin’ Ratz
- Looney Tunes: Marvin Strikes Back!
- Inspector Gadget
- Nemesis 2
- Banishing Racer
- Ninja Gaiden Shadow
- Ninja Spirit
- Dr. Franken 1 & 2
- Monster Max
- Montezuma’s Return
Beat em up
Hammerin’ Harry: Ghost Building Company
This little beatemup has a lot of personality that keeps if from becoming just another Double Dragon clone. At first glance, the art style reminded me of River City Ransom and the gameplay initially seemed very basic. However, after giving it a few minutes of my time, I quickly discovered its own special charms and grew to appreciate the detailed spritework and backgrounds.
Hammering Harry only has one plane of horizontal movement, but you can jump and duck to avoid attacks and climb on platforms. Your attacks are also limited to swinging your hammer. Along the way, you can also obtain power-ups to upgrade your weapon to something bigger (giving you better range). However, the game isn’t so much about attacking as it is about avoiding attacks and surviving long enough to make it through the level. When I really stopped and thought about my approach to playing the game, it actually felt more like a shmup than your average brawler. You clear out your enemies as good as you can, but in the end, you’re just trying to survive. In addition to your standard enemies, you will also have numerous projectiles rising up and coming at you at various speeds and heights. Knocking down projectiles requires some good timing – almost like trying to hit slow-pitch baseballs out of a pitching machine. And, of course, many times you have two projectiles coming at your from different sides, which is always fun.
It also takes a good amount of concentration to avoid being hit. Each touch from an enemy or projectile takes a notch off an already small health meter, so you need to stay on your toes. And I have to warn you that there are some “cheap” shots throughout the game. As an example, first level boss was frustrating – actually hitting the boss wasn’t hard at all, but after every hit, multiple pieces of debris come falling from the ceiling. Not only are they fast and difficult to dodge, but if you get hit and start blinking, you aren’t temporarily invincible like in most games. No, Hammering Harry wants you to feel as much frustration as possible – in a good way, of course. I know that, in reality, it isn’t that bad, but I have a low tolerance for frustration. When all is said and done, Hammering Harry is a very fun old-school action romp that will be sure to please fans of Contra, Castlevania, and the like.
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Fighting Simulator 2-in-1: Flying Warriors
Possessing quite possibly the most unattractive and unnecessarily verbose title in videogame history, Fighting Simulator: 2-in-1 Flying Warriors can also take merit in the fact that it is perhaps the only game on the Game Boy platform that combines versus fighting with sidescrolling beat-’em-up action. Each stage starts out with a sidescrolling portion, which plays almost exactly like a level of Kung Fu for the NES (Make of that what you will). Bookending each level is a 1 v 1 match with a boss, each possessing a different fighting style. Circles appear at points on your opponent’s body to let you know when and where to strike, as well as on your character’s body, giving you time to block and dodge your enemy’s attacks. Alternatively, you can forgo the ‘story’ mode and jump right into 1 v 1 matches from the title screen. The controls are a little stilted and will need some getting used to. Everything else is pretty unexceptional too, but you might dig it if you’re on a nostalgia kick for early attempts at martial arts games.
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Other Games to Try:
- Gensan 2 (Japan only Hammerin’ Harry sequel)
- Nekketsu Kouha Kunio Kun (Japan only river city ransom sequel/spin-off)
- Kung-Fu Master
- Jida Igeki (another rcr spin-off)
World Heroes 2 Jet
It’s especially interesting when the Hidden Gems of the platform actually exceed the quality of the more popular/well-known games. The Game Boy has some decent fighting games in the handheld versions of Street Fighter 2, Killer Instinct, and Mortal Kombat. They aren’t great, but provide some mild entertainment. The problem with those games is the developers tried to cram a great game into a portable version and not really thinking creatively on how to make it work best for the limited hardware and control scheme.
However, with portable version of World Heroes 2 Jet (and the other gems mentioned below), we get to see how developers can miniaturize an arcade property and make it something that is solid and fun in its own way. Instead of having sprites and moves that are just miniturized versions of the original game, this Game Boy port features spirtes that are more of the super-deformed style and moves that animate and are more effective for the screen size and control scheme. If you are familiar with most of the fighting games on the Neo Geo Pocket, you can expect a lot of the same quality here.
Personally, I’ve never been a huge fan of the World Heroes series, but this version actually seems to be near the head of the crowd of fighters on the Game Boy.
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Nettou King of Fighters ’96
One might think that the super-deformed style might continue with a King of Fighters game on the Gameboy — especially since that approach was used on the Neo-Geo Pocket. However, Nettou King of Fighters ’96 has a bit more traditional sprite style (with some slight super-deformed styling), but unlike most fighters on the Game Boy, it has speed and control that gets rather close to playing in an arcade or on a console. (don’t get too excited, but it’s still quite impressiveve for an 8-bit handheld). If you’ve played KOF ’95 on the Game Boy (or was considering it), this installment is a solid improvement with less “blurring”.
The control scheme is a bit different, but interesting. A prolonged press registers as a “hard” attack while a tap is “light” attack. The special moves aren’t too hard to pull off and there is also a combo meter to keep you motivated to break your personal bests.
If you are a Neo-Geo Pocket owner, you might still prefer those versions, but if you are an SNK fan, it might be worth looking into picking this little gem up.
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Battle Arena Toshinden
Here’s yet another console-to-handheld port that actually turned out quite well. And much like World Heroes 2 Jet, it uses the super-deformed character style that is similar to many of the Neo-Geo Pocket fighters.
Again, this game is a refreshing port that will exceed most people’s expectations with its smooth animation and solid controls. Some of the moves requiring lots of motions can still be quite challenging to pull off, but if you use Easy Commands, it’s a bit more enjoyable/less frustrating. There is also some slowdown at times, but nothing to really take away from the game too much.
The fighting system isn’t especially deep — not as good as some of the SNK stuff, but it’s pretty good compared to some of the mainstream fighters. There are some extra modes such as Scorcher Mode and Full Battle that add to the replay value a bit.
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Other Games to Try:
- Samurai Shodown
- The King of Fighters ’95
- Battle Crusher
- Yuu Yuu Hakusho series
A fantastic port of the PC Engine shoot-em-up of the same name, Magical Chase is a light-hearted Japan-only shooter released by Quest in 1991. It’s part of an odd sub-genre that fans have affectionately dubbed ‘cute-em-up,’ a game where starships and laser cannons are replaced by more cuddly and charming elements (In this case, adolescent broom-riding witches).
Instead of the usual unforgiving, one-hit-kill mechanics, you have a life bar which slowly depletes as you take enemy fire, very similar to in games like Castle Shikigami. You can also buy health and weapon upgrades periodically during missions, making getting hit and losing lives much less punishing than in other games.
True to its pleasant and approachable visage, Magical Chase eschews the insane difficulty levels common in most shmups and focuses instead on simply being an enjoyable pocket title with good controls and lovable characters. And since I’m absolutely horrendous at most shmups, that’s something that I can easily get behind.
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This peculiar shooter boasts a style of gameplay that’s as much akin to Space Invaders as it is to Tetris. Instead of warding off aliens with laser blasts, your goal here is to shoot at the tetrimino-like objects falling from the top of the screen, eliminating blocks by filling them in to form complete rectangular shapes. It sounds simple enough, but the game can get pretty intense as L-shaped blocks nestled within each other begin to drop faster and faster, forcing you to quickly find the ‘order’ in which the blocks must be filled.
If you’re especially daring, you can fill the screen and create larger rectangles for more points. But if at any point an incomplete rectangle hits the bottom, it’s Game Over for you and your odd-looking spacecraft. The game allows you to choose from 6 different ‘ships,’ but the choice seems to be purely aesthetic. There’s also a two player mode possible with the Game Boy’s link cable. Definitely check this one out if you’re a fan of arcade games like Arkanoid or fast-paced puzzlers like Tetris.
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No, it’s not Beetlejuice’s cousin or the name of a weird German fetish club. But it is a pretty solid Japanese shooter for Game Boy. Vattle Giuce never saw the light of day outside of Japan, but it has a couple of features that make it noteworthy within the Game Boy’s sizable library.
The gameplay is classic top-down shooter, similar to games like 1942, except your craft is also allowed to switch between two different altitudes. This allows you to avoid enemy fire and hit ground targets that yield valuable power-ups, but also puts you in danger of crashing into the low structures existing in the background.
The game also sports some impressive parallax layer scrolling and detailed (albeit repetitive) backgrounds. Conversely, the game’s enemies are highly predictable and quite frankly, really boring to look at. Each new stage seems to be populated by slightly varying cookie cutter replacements of all the enemies from the last stage. I don’t know why, but it seems like whoever was in charge of the enemy graphics was just really uninspired
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Another classic arcade-style shooter that’s not too harsh in the difficulty department, Solar Striker was one of the few shoot ’em ups developed solely by Nintendo, with the lead designer being none other than Game Boy godfather Gunpei Yokoi himself. It’s a game of satisfying simplicity, with 6 stages of fast-paced, bullet-dodging action.
Admittedly, the graphics don’t really contend with those in Vattle Giuce or Sagaia, but I like the way the enemy sprites are animated and the overall pace of the gameplay. Once again, it’s nothing overly special, but succeeds as a pretty straightforward classic-style shoot ’em up. Definitely recommended for fans of pre-‘bullet hell’ retro scrolling shooters.
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If you’re looking for a pocket-sized Darius for Game Boy, you’re not going to get much better than Sagaia. This should come as no surprise being as how it’s actually a port of Darius II, the magnificent Taito shooter originally released for Sega Genesis in the early 90’s. This game has everything you want in a portable shooter: Frantic enemy patterns, highly detailed sprites, a kickin’ soundtrack and even that iconic ‘PEW PEW’ sound effect for maximum retro pleasure.
And don’t forget that totally rad cyber-nautical theme. Everything about the game is just extremely satisfying, both visually and gameplay-wise. Highly recommended if you dig on any of those old Taito games. Don’t pass up a chance to snatch this cartridge should you happen upon it.
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Chikyuu Kaihou Gun ZAS
It’s a damn shame that Chikyuu Kaihou Gun ZAS never left its native island of Japan. It has easily the most stunning graphics I’ve ever seen in a Game Boy shooter, with scrolling parallax background layers creating an amazing sense of depth despite the Game Boy’s limited processing power and color palette. This can also be a bit distracting at times, but for the most part, the differing shade of the background elements makes it pretty clear as to what’s there to kill you and what’s there to look pretty.
The controls are fluid and responsive and there’s also some extremely elaborate sprite graphics, especially for the boss fights. ZAS is one of the most impressive shmups you’ll likely ever play on the Nintendo Game Boy. Use whatever means necessarily to experience this fantastic game.
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An oddball shooter released in 1991 by Hal Laboratories, Trax isn’t your typical scrolling space shmup. Instead, you proceed at your own pace across a battlefield while inside a dome-shaped tank. The tank can fire in 8 directions, but in order to do so, you need to hit the A button to rotate the turret. The catch is, the turret only rotates clockwise and only at a rate of 1 turn per A button press.
Being that there are oftentimes targets on all sides of you, this can become slightly disorienting. However, you are granted a generous amount of power-ups that spread your shot in different ways, so it’s not so bad. The controls are tight, the music is peppy and despite my best judgment, I can’t help but note the tank’s likeness to Kirby. Maybe he’s actually in there? Poor guy.
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Other Games to Try:
- Battle Unit Zeoth
- Burai Fighter Deluxe / Space Marauder
- Dropzone/Dropzone Color
- Macross 7: Ginga no Heart o Furuwa Sero!!
- Namco Gallery Vol.3 (Sky Kid)
Puzzle Action / Platformer
This cute yet entertaining puzzle adventure give your control of a little yellow chick by the name of Toki Tori and presents you with the challenge of gathering all the eggs of your siblings that are stattered across various levels. The game starts out with a rather simple setup to get your familiar with the puzzle platformer basics and eventually gives your little yellow buddy extra abilities and tools to combat the added complexities in the later levels. Each of the levels and their respective tools are carefully designed, so you will need to think carefully and creatively to efficiently accomplish your goal. (If you don’t, you’ll end up going through a lot of trial and error and re-starting levels to try out a different plan)
In addition to being a solid puzzle platformer, Toki Tori is also a sight to behold on the GBC. The developers at Two Tribes took great efforts in taking full advantage of the Game Boy Color’s pallete and 2D capabilities. Much like Shantae (mentioned abover in the Platformers section), Toki Tori rivals many early Game Boy Advance games in terms of colors and animation. You’ll even notice some rather impressive effects like transparency in waterfalls.
During the time of its release, Toki Tori was essentially a neglected gem that was released as the Game Boy Advance was ramping up. About seven years later, Toki Toki eventually recieved some additional attention as it was remade for both the Nintendo Wii’s WiiWare download service and the iPhone.
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On the surface, Amazing Penguin doesn’t look especially exciting. However, if you give it a try, you’ll quickly realize it has an inviting Pac-Man vibe that is complemented with its own personality and gameplay tweaks (enough of which to keep it from feeling like just another Pac-Man clone)
While piloting your little penguin character, you need to navigate around the maze in the ice to hit certain spots (or switches) in the ice that will break certain parts of the ice and clear the baddies that happen to be in that section. Of course, much like Pac-Man, you’ll need to avoid your enemies while trying to efficiently fight them off. You also have to deal with bombs along the way, which can also be turned against your enemies.
As you progress through the game, the paths on the map get larger and more obscure, which keeps things interesting and provides a steady difficulty curve. Overall, the enemy AI is challenging, but fair. It will keep you on your toes and require quick reactions, but the enemies won’t corner you without a possible escape (at least from what I’ve seen). When you die, it’s pretty much your own fault. Eventually, you’ll encounter enemies that will dart around quicker — many times , you’ll be playing a game of “chicken” with your enemies to a dot that could kill them off.
As opposed to some games that simply reward progress with simple unlockables, Amazing Penguin, rewards you with new challenges – making the gameplay itself the true reward.
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Cat Trap / Pitman
In this gem, you push blocks and climb ladders to clear the stage of baddies (which don’t move). While it doesn’t sound like anything unique, it has some little quirks that make it a great way to pass time and work your brain.
What is rather interesting about the game is that you don’t have a jump button or any other abilities. Your only controls other than the D-pad is a rewind function (and a fast-forward, to reverse a rewind). The rewind function lets you step backwards in your action just like rewinding a video tape so you can recover from your puzzle-solving mistakes.
Since there is usually only one good way to solve most of the later puzzles, you’ll be using this function a lot (unless you are really good planning out your steps in advance) You probably won’t need it for the first batch of stages, but as you progress, you’ll probably paint yourself into a corner more than once. In addition to the simple yet compelling gameplay, I also enjoyed the small touches of animation and the fun soundtrack.
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Chalvo 55 – Super Puzzle Action
Somehow this little gem seemed like a cross between Metroid and puzzle adventure. You play as a little robot dude with just about no abilities, but can turn into what seems like a super-bouncy Morph Ball.
Throughout the game, you must bounce around through length, maze-like levels. While you will be bouncing around the majority of the time, you will nee to transform back into your normal mode in order to walk around, push blocks, and avoid bouncing into spikes and such.
Because of the size of the levels, it can be a little brain numbing at times, but it’s a very compelling title if you enjoy puzzle-solving and mazes (more mazes than puzzles).
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Bugs Bunny in Crazy Castle Series
This might not be as much of a hidden gem as the others, but I wanted to feature it for those that didn’t dig in to the Gameboy library much on its original run.
I played the original Crazy Castle at a friend’s house a good 15 years ago and I loved every minute of it. The classic gameplay is still just as compelling and will definately test your reflexes, efficiency, and puzzle-solving skills.
There are actually four games in this relatively unknown franchise, and while I haven’t played them all extensively, I would recommend giving them a try if you are enjoy either puzzle or platforming games.
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Other Games to Try:
- Lock ‘n Chase
- Karumuu-Cho No Daijiken
- Snoopy: Magic Show
- Snow Bros. Jr
- Spanky’s Quest
- Boulder Dash
- Nail ‘n Scale
- Booby Boys
- Solomon’s Club
- Miner 2049er
- Block Kuzushi GB
- Painter Momo Pie
The Game Boy version of this arcade classic is not something to be overlooked. Originally released on the Atari ST back in 1987, Bubble Ghost is a simple and addictive game that gives players control of a gleeful ghost whose sole charge is to guide a bubble through a danger-filled haunted house. It’s a delicate mission, but fortunately for you, your phantasmal friend has a great deal of control over his bubble and can blow it around in 8 different directions. As basic as this sounds, the game is actually very challenging, and it will require a great deal of patience and planning in order to circumvent the malignant ghouls, fans, candles and all manner of pointy objects found within the halls of the haunted house.
If you’re the easily-addicted type, a casual afternoon with Bubble Ghost will almost certainly lead to full-on obsession. It’s got all the traits of a classic arcade game — challenging and rewarding in all the right ways. It’s also got an upbeat and extremely catchy soundtrack, composed by the now-famous Hitoshi Sakimoto (Final Fantasy Tactics, Ogre Battle, Radiant Silvergun). Bubble Ghost is a game that suits the Game Boy platform perfectly, catering to both competitive speedrunners and casual time-killers.
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Yoshi / Yoshi & Mario / Yoshi’s Egg
This cute yet addictive puzzler was fairly well-marketed back at the time of its release, but has pretty much fallen off the radar of most gamers. I figured I should mention this classic in here as it would be a shame if puzzle fans missed out on this one.
Like most puzzle games, Yoshi involves items falling and stacking on top of each other. In this case the blocks are either different Mushroom Kingdom enemies or tops or bottoms of egg shells. And instead of controlling where the blocks land, you much swap the columns to attempt to group like blocks together.
Combining like blocks make them disappear. Also, any blocks that are in between a top and bottom egg shell with be packaged into the egg and disappear. If there is a chain of monsters within two yoshi egg shells, a Yoshi will form and give your bonus points.
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Yes, this is yet another under-appreciated puzzle game featuring our favorite dino sidekick, however Yoshi’s Cookie actually does not involve falling blocks. In this puzzle outing, you controls a cursor which can be used to slide rows of a single “square” of individual cookies in a method similar to a Rubik’s Cube.
The objective is to create lines of matching cookies, which are then cleared off the screen. Yoshi’s Cookie is one of the more unique puzzle games on the Gameboy and will help round out your collection if you need some variety.
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I was actually very surprised with how clever and original this game was. It has a very strong puzzle element to it, but it also is a bit of an action/adventure game as well. It turns out it was actually produced by Mario and Zelda creator, Shigeru Miyamoto (little trivia there).
As a mole you are able to dig a whole in the softer parts of the ground and create tunnels to get to parts of the screen that would be unaccessible only on the main level. There are also barriers underground, so you have the think carefully to reach the exit area of your current screen. As you progress you run into various enemies and you also have other elements such as balls to add to the depth and complexity of the game.
I think Mole Mania is definitely one of those unique games that really made you forget about the technical limitations of the original Gameboy because of all the pure fun you are having.
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Other Games to Try:
- Trouballs/Puzz Loop
- Puzzle Master
- Shanghai Pocket
- Pokemon Puzzle Challenge
- Puzzle Master
- Microsoft Puzzle Collection
- Adventures of Lolo
- Mario’s Picross 2 (japan only)
- Puzzle Boy 1 & 2 (Kwirk/Amazing Tater)
- Peetan (japan only)
- Shikinjou (japan only)
- Heiankyo Alien
Dead Heat Scramble
I tried this game out on a recommendation from a couple of people, but I wasn’t sure how a racer on the Gameboy could give me a reason to play it over the likes of Super RC Pro Am or Micro Machines. However, I was pleased to find out that instead of beating those racers at their own game, it took the racing genre for a completely different kind of spin.
Instead of your traditional race track, you race through what seems to be a very long and winding half-pipe. And instead of trying to place first in a race, you are trying to avoid and jump over other racers and obstacles while reaching checkpoints within a time limit – much like old-school arcade racers. In fact, when you lose, the game traces your path on the big map just like on Outrun.
For a 2D game with such limited colors, Dead Heat Scramble does a great job recreating some of the physics you would imagine in a setup like this. Overall, I found it to be a charming and challenging game to complement the more popular racers.
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Other Games to Try:
- Fastest Lap
- Maskrider SD
- Mickey’s Speedway USA
- Woody Woodpecker Racing
- Wacky Races
Gargoyle’s Quest is a gloomy action adventure set in the ghoul realm, a place inhabited not by humans but by ghouls. It involves fighting your way through legions of evil creatures and their masters and building your strength until you are ready to take on the King of Destruction himself and reclaim your stolen birthright as ruler of the demon realm.
You take on the role of the gargoyle Firebrand, who in the beginning of the game is forced to escape from his burning home town and enter the portal to the Ghoul Realm before the Destroyers manage to close it. Right from the get go you’ll have to master wall climbing, limited flight (you can hover slowly for a few seconds before dropping like a stone) and spitting fire at your enemies. Arriving at the portal you’ll face a giant fish that seems unusually resilient for a first boss. This is the first action stage among several, increasingly large and difficult ones on your way to the villains’ castle. When finished, the game switches from a sidescrolling perspective to that of a standard RPG, and after some traveling through barren lands infested by ghosts you arrive in a small village where you can interact with characters, do some shopping and collect a rather long password before setting out to your next destination, the Gremlin Tower.
Gargoyle’s Quest is the start of a series spanning three games, each one unique and worthwhile in its own right. The first one is still my favorite in the series because of its dark, fantasy themed soundtrack, the novelty of playing as a monster striving only to accomplish his own goals, and of course my fond memories of playing it as a kid, getting my ass handed to me over and over but sticking with it, finding the secrets, typing down pages of passwords and finally beating the game. The game is an immersive, rewarding experience that is well worth your time. Especially if you are like me and happen to consider the sub-genre that mixes sidescrolling action with RPG elements one of the finest forms of gaming.
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When you think of SNK, 2D fighters and Metal Slug games probably come to mind. However, you may be surprised to know that one of SNK’s first successes was actually an RPG for the NES that rivaled Zelda in terms of both gameplay and technical prowess. As you can probably tell, this NES gem was also ported to the Game Boy Color and it actually is a quite impressive port.
In SNK’s Crystalis, the mechanics and story are best described as the precursor of SNES’s Zelda:A Link to the Past. Despite its quality, Crystalis never became a runaway hit, although it is considered today a cult classic among 8-bit action RPG junkies. Even in these early days, you can see SNK’s skill for maxing out limited hardware to create colorful creations that were not only beautiful, but also had solid gameplay. So if you’re looking for a little gem to complement your Game Boy Zeldas and a bit of a showpiece for your GBC, Cystalis should be near the top of your list.
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Survival Kids isn’t your typical RPG – in fact it might be a closer fit to the Legend of Zelda games because of its overhead view and real-time battles. It also has a bit of a Harvest Moon feel to it due to simulation elements. You play as a 10-year old kid that is an island castaway left with only a knife and a broken radio. On your journey to find your way home, you have to make sure you get enough rest and eat and drink on a regular basis. Of course, since you’re on an unfamiliar island, you need to make sure the food that you consume isn’t going to make you sick. Even though some of these things might sound tedious, the game doesn’t make life too hard on you.
Along the way, you’ll find a number of items that you can add to your tool set. In fact, you can pick up and collect just about everything from your surroundings. You never know what might be useful. Survival Kids even has a cool “merge” system that lets you create more useful items by combining two existing items. You have to use your creativity and logic figure out what will help you out. It’s also interesting to see that the game’s weather and time of day can have an impact on what you can do and how your items are used and affected.
Overall, Suvival Kids is a pleasant experience in terms of visuals and audio in addition to its amusing game system. It also has good replay value as there are many different endings you can experience.
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Other Games to Try:
- Ninja Boy 2
- Rolan’s Curse
- Rolan’s Curse II
- Azure Dreams
- Looney Tunes Collector: Alert!
- Hamtaro: Ham-Hams Unite!
- Metal Walker
- Cave Noire (japan only)
- Dragon Heart
- Great Greed
- Knight Quest
- Sword of Hope 1 & 2
- Magic Knight Rayearth (japan only)
- Kaeru no Tameni Kaneha Naru (japan only)
- Ninja Taro
It is truly amazing how much polish and detail the developers crammed into this Game Boy Color port of this strategy classic. If you are familiar with the original Amiga version or its console ports, you should know what to expect. Considering the genre and the minimalist control options for the Game Boy, you probably wouldn’t expect much in terms of the conversion to the portable platform, however the resulting port is quite impressive with less compromises that you might think.
If you aren’t familiar with Cannon Fodder, you have to strategically move your troops around each map and eliminate the enemy forces. There are all sorts of obstacles along the way and a variety of weapons to deal with. As you complete levels, you have more troops joining your crew, but when you have some die off, they are gone forever. The game can be quite challenging, but if you enjoy strategy on the go, you should get a kick out of Cannon Fodder.
From a technical standpoint, Cannon Fodder is an except example of what could be done with the Game Boy Color hardware. When I first loaded up the game, my jaw nearly dropped as I was amazed that the game’s intro video and animated menus were actually running on a Gameboy. While the main gameplay graphics aren’t masterpieces, it features lush terrain, and nicely-animated sprites. 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.
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Other Games to Try:
- Kingdom Crusade / Legend of Prince Valiant
- Another Bible
Little Sound DJ (LSDJ)
Created by Swedish micromusician Johan ‘Role Model’ Kotlinski, LSDJ is the homebrew software that helped catapult the D.I.Y. ‘chipmusic’ movement, where classic videogame hardware like the Game Boy is re-purposed as a musical instrument. LSDJ functions essentially as a sequencer and allows users to create custom software instruments for the Game Boy’s 4 audio channels. Naturally, Game Boy audio has a great deal of limitations, and part of the appeal of chipmusic has been finding creative solutions to circumvent these limitations. LSDJ is ideal as a compositional tool, but is also capable of being used for live performance, allowing the user to make cuts, change loops and affect instrument properties in real time. It’s also possible to link LSDJ with MIDI interfaces, allowing a Game Boy to be used as part of a larger composition.
Nanoloop is homebrew music software for the Game Boy written by German programmer Oliver Wittchow, one of the founding members of the chipmusic movement. Unlike LSDJ, Nanoloop more closely resembles a drum sequencer than a traditional tracker. Because of this, it’s a lot more accessible to casual users who have no prior experience with trackers and other audio software. The main screen of Nanoloop is a simple visualization showing 4 squares, each of them representing one of the Game Boy’s audio channels. The user moves shapes around inside of the squares to adjust instrument properties like pitch, octave and timbre. After doing this a number of times, you can create patterns that can be played back in loops. Nanoloop is an ideal solution for loop-based live performance, and is often cherished for its percussive capabilities. There’s also another version of Nanoloop (2.x) available for Game Boy Advance which allows for more complex audio, including FM synthesis.
Supplies are usually extremely limited, but you can normally order a Nanoloop cartridge from Oliver’s site.
Revenge of the ‘Gator
Easily overshadowed by other pinball classics featuring popular Nintendo characters, Revenge of the ‘Gator is actually a wonderful pinball action game that was also developed by the team at HAL Labrotories.
Not only is Return of the Gator filled with a clever Alligator-themed table and addictive gameplay, but there are also many hidden bonus areas scattered throughout the game. There’s nothing glamourous about this little title, but if you enjoy pinball, you should get some solid entertainment out of this gem.
I actually had this cartridge when I was about 12 after obtaining it dirt cheap at Funcoland. It eventually became one it was one of my favorites on the original Gameboy even after I obtained the wonderful Kirby’s Pinball.
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Other Games to Try:
- Legend of the River King
- Ray-Thunder (japan only)
- Power Mission
- Spy vs. Spy: Operation Boobytrap
- Gameboy Wars Turbo
- Uno: Small World