It’s honestly kind of shocking how long the original Game Boy lasted as a handheld that Nintendo was actively marketing and actively developing games for. Between 1989 and 2003 (!!), the Game Boy was the handheld to own. Sure, Sega had the GameGear and Bandai had the Japanese exclusive WonderSwan, but there’s really no competing with Nintendo when it comes to the handheld market.
The Game Boy may be overshadowed these days by everyone’s love and nostalgia for the Game Boy Advance, but it’s arguably the better handheld of the two, doing more with its limitations and outputting a truly impressive library of games– some of which that have only gotten better with time.
10 Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge
Considering Castlevania: The Adventure and Castlevania Legends are both fairly low quality games, with the former one of the worst Game Boy games outright, it’s only natural to want to dismiss Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge. A direct sequel to said horrible game, it really only makes sense that Konami would churn out another low quality title.
But they didn’t, and instead Belmont’s Revenge is one of the best Castlevania games outright. Taking a Mega Man style approach to levels, players can choose which order they progress through the game. It’s classic Castlevania on the go. Fans of the NES trilogy owe it to themselves to play Belmont’s Revenge.
9 Final Fantasy Adventure
Released as Seiken Densetsu in Japan, Final Fantasy Adventure is one of a kind when it comes to gaming. Although similar to Link’s Awakening, Final Fantasy Adventure predates the handheld Zelda by a few years. While its puzzle design is lacking and inventory management is clunky, FFA is the definitive RPG on the Game Boy.
In spite of its shoddy localization, Final Fantasy Adventure tells a mature, gripping story that never breaks its pace and never stops being interesting. Its soundtrack is incredible, with compositions more sophisticated than other scopes on the handheld. FFA has two remakes, but the original is still worth playing today.
8 For The Frog The Bell Tolls
A Japan exclusive, but an easy enough English translation to find online, there’s no excuse not to check out For the Frog Bell Tolls. In many respects a predecessor to Link’s Awakening, For the Frog the Bell Tolls sets down some very important foundations that would contribute in the handheld Zelda’s success.
While technically an action RPG, For the Frog the Bell Tolls features a uniquely cinematic (using that term lightly here) battle system where players don’t really interact with combat. It’s interesting and, surprisingly, it does work well. Coupled with the game’s charm and overall solid world design, and For the Frog Bell Tolls is a great, often overlooked, Game Boy RPG.
7 Gargoyle’s Quest
Demon’s Crest is one of the moodiest, coolest, and hardest Super Nintendo action-platformers ever made. It can be a very overwhelming game in spite of its quality. It’s very directionless and the difficulty curve will be an acquired taste. You’d think its predecessors wouldn’t be as good with DC’s reputation, but Gargoyle’s Quest is arguably better.
No, it doesn’t have as good an atmosphere or soundtrack as its Super Nintendo sister game, but Gargoyle’s Quest has better level design, a less frustrating core gameplay loop, and a much, much better difficulty curve. Looking for style? Play Demon’s Crest. Looking for substance? Play Gargoyle’s Quest.
6 Kid Dracula
Who knew a sequel to an okay at best NES Castlevania could be any good, but here we are. Kid Dracula is a sequel to Kid Dracula, but unlike Kid Dracula, Kid Dracula is a genuinely fantastic game. Oozing with charm and packed from start to finish with great level design, Kid Dracula is the surprise standout platformer of the Game Boy.
Worth noting, while a sequel, Kid Dracula is also technically a remake of its NES counterpart, lifting concepts and ideas that didn’t quite work in order to give them a second go. The NES original was recently included on the Castlevania Anniversary Collection, but Kid Dracula for the Game Boy has yet to see a convenient re-release.
5 The Legend Of Zelda: Link’s Awakening
Link’s Awakening has a pretty good remake for the Switch, but it doesn’t really capture the game as well as its Game Boy counterpart. Link’s Awakening in its original form is surreal, ethereal, and strangely grounded. It’s a fast paced game, but with plenty of time to breathe. It never outstays its welcome and the Game Boy’s limitations force style out of Link’s Awakening.
While it doesn’t have the best script, Link’s Awakening arguably has the best told story, with a clear arc for Marin and themes that are fleshed out consistently. It’s surprisingly cerebral for a Nintendo game, and marked a very important shifting in priorities for the franchise.
4 Mega Man V
Completely independent to the NES series, Capcom was quietly developing a mini-series for Mega Man on the Game Boy. While the first four titles aren’t too great (but are worth playing), Mega Man V is right up on up there with the best entries in the series. It’s the most fully realized Game Boy Mega Man and puts other action-platformers on the handheld to shame.
Tight level design, great boss fights, A+ music, and a story that’s surprisingly interesting. While it can be played standalone, Mega Man V really shines at its best if the player has some concept of the first four games that came before. The jump in quality from the first four to V is so high, it’s almost alarming.
3 Pokemon Red, Green, Blue, & Yellow
Fun fact: Pokemon Gold, Silver, and Crystal were actually developed so they could be played on the regular Game Boy. They’re also compatible with the Game Boy Color, which is how most played the games, but Game Freak wanted to ensure that everyone with a Game Boy could play. All the same, Gen II is kind of the poster boy for the Game Boy Color, so best to leave it off.
Generation II also doesn’t have the same cultural impact as Generation I. Like any art, it’s important to go back and consume media that is historically and culturally relevant, and Pokemon Red, Green, Blue, and Yellow were huge deals for the Game Boy. They’re great RPGs lacking in the series’ modern day QoL features, but they’re still incredibly fun and addicting.
2 Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins
Super Mario Land is one of the most important launch titles of all time, releasing alongside the Game Boy in Japan and essentially showing audiences that, yes, Super Mario can be done on the small screen. Of course, the west’s appreciation for Super Mario Land was clouded by Tetris’ burst of popularity, but that’s not too bad.
SML has an incredibly improved sequel in Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins, a rare non-linear Super Mario game. Not just that, SML 2 actually takes notes from Super Mario World, offering fun, eclectic level design that rivals even that of the big league Mario games.
The game that took the world by storm, Tetris makes up the holy trinity of “video game” alongside Pong and Super Mario Bros. Three distinct styles of gaming that changed the industry entirely. Tetris was a bridge for casual audiences to finally start gaming, and pairing itself with the Game Boy was a genius choice.Tetris is addictive by nature, which means anyone who bought a Game Boy in the west would be playing it a lot. The best part about Tetris is that its design transcends time. It doesn't necessarily get better and, as long as the core mechanics are left untouched, it doesn’t get worse. Needless to say, Tetris on the Game Boy is still an amazing way of experiencing a classic.