It’s fair to say the Nintendo Game Boy was a runaway success. It’s still one of the top ten best-selling consoles of all time, and in the years following its release, it routinely topped hardware sales charts, demonstrating the incredible staying power of this handheld marvel. Much has been made of the Game Boy’s hardiness, resilience, and battery life, but we feel that a large majority of the platform’s best and most interesting games have been overlooked by history. In no particular order, here are the top 25 Game Boy games of all time.
1. The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening
Nintendo’s first foray into the Zelda series on Game Boy is a little more linear and prescriptive than Zelda usually is, but it’s no less fascinating. Its world is full of nods and references to other games and Nintendo properties, but there’s a dark, dreamlike atmosphere to it as well, particularly as you reach the later stages and start learning about the true nature of the world.
2. The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons
Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons are meant to be played together, so we’re including them as a single entry in this list. They reference each other, and importing your save data from one to the other using passwords or a Link Cable results in a different ending. Ages is a puzzler and Seasons is more about combat, but together, they represent a superb third-party Zelda offering.
3. Pokemon Red, Blue, and Yellow
What kind of a Game Boy list would this be without the presence of Pokemon? It’s still the biggest media franchise in the world, after all. Going back and playing the originals might seem a little primitive now, but there’s a simplistic charm to them that feels refreshing after the feature bloat of the more recent titles. With an emphasis on building a team and exploring the Metroidvania-style world, Red and Blue were a revelation.
4. Pokemon Gold, Silver, and Crystal
What’s the best way to make your sequel look even bigger and more impressive than its predecessor? Include the entire first game in the new one, of course. After finishing your journey in Johto – itself a marked improvement over the originals – you can visit Red and Blue’s region of Kanto, face off against all of its gym leaders, and explore it all over again. It’s an astonishing feat of development even today.
What more is there to say about Tetris? It’s the game that essentially launched the casual gaming revolution. With many Game Boy consoles coming bundled with Tetris, families and gamers everywhere got to experience this simple, fiendishly addictive puzzler, with its pleasing emphasis on clearing away rows of blocks and its rapidly ramping challenge factor.
6. Super Mario Land
This simplistic yet charming take on the Mario platforming formula may not have been particularly long, but it was great nonetheless. With several immediately iconic melodies to hum while you play, as well as a set of expertly-designed levels to take on, Mario Land hails from a time before the Mario mythos was set in stone, so some of it might feel a little unusual today.
7. Final Fantasy Adventure
Unlike most Final Fantasy games, Adventure isn’t a turn-based RPG; rather, it’s a top-down adventure game akin to The Legend of Zelda, which is fitting given that it would go on to birth the Mana franchise. It’s a relatively basic affair, but there’s something addictive about its core combat and exploration loops, so give it a look if you love Zelda and Mana.
8. Metroid II: Return of Samus
For many years, Metroid II was something of a black sheep for the franchise; it was a more linear affair (although it did still have a sprawling world to explore), and it focused on exterminating Metroids over organic exploration. Despite these discrepancies, Metroid II was a satisfying, full-size Metroid adventure on the Game Boy, and many still prefer it to 2017’s 3DS remake.
9. Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins
Super Mario Land 2 is actually a direct followup to the original Super Mario Land, and while the sequel numbering may make that an obvious conclusion to draw, it’s actually pretty unusual in the world of Mario. This game marks the debut of Wario, who acts as its antagonist throughout its delightfully creative running time. Mario Land 2 is a better Mario Land in almost all regards.
10. Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge
The original Castlevania Game Boy game is not worth writing home about; it’s clunky, awkward, and overly difficult. Belmont’s Revenge, on the other hand, is a worthy followup, improving almost everything about its predecessor and becoming a pretty solid Castlevania game into the bargain. It’s no masterpiece, but it’s a great platformer with lots of fun levels to explore.
11. Bionic Commando
Contrary to popular belief, Bionic Commando on the Game Boy isn’t a straight port of the NES game. Instead, it’s an adaptation; it features the same swinging, grappling gameplay, but the setting has been changed and the protagonist’s name is now Rad Spencer instead of Ladd. Otherwise, it’s still the same innovative platformer you knew and loved on the NES.
12. Contra: The Alien Wars
Much like Bionic Commando, this is an adaptation of the SNES classic Contra III: The Alien Wars. It’s a stripped-down version of the game; you can’t carry more than one weapon, and there aren’t quite as many levels and bosses to take on. Still, the fact you could play Contra on a handheld was already enough for most people, and The Alien Wars is still tremendous fun today.
13. F-1 Race
Remarkably, F-1 Race adapts similar Mode 7 technology to the SNES, resulting in a pseudo-3D racing game. On the Game Boy. That’s a pretty impressive achievement, and if that wasn’t enough, F-1 Race also came packaged with a four-way adapter in many cases, allowing you to play the game alongside your friends. This is one of the most influential handheld racers of all time.
14. Gargoyle’s Quest
After the release of Ghosts ‘n Goblins, something very strange happened: one of that game’s enemies, Firebrand, got his own franchise. Gargoyle’s Quest is part of that franchise, and it’s a similar side-scrolling platformer, albeit with a stronger emphasis on vertical exploration thanks to Firebrand’s expanded set of powers. If you like this, you should also check out the SNES game Demon’s Crest.
15. Kid Dracula
This kid-friendly platformer was an examination of the Castlevania series through a lens of irreverent fun. You play as a young version of Dracula, and you must explore a series of levels in order to put a stop to the machinations of Garamoth (who later appears in Symphony of the Night). It’s a whimsical, less difficult version of Castlevania, so if you love that franchise, check this one out.
16. Kirby’s Dream Land
Kirby was originally intended as a placeholder, but developer HAL liked him so much they decided to keep him. The result is one of Nintendo’s most enduring characters, and he got his humble start here in Kirby’s Dream Land. It’s lacking the ability to steal enemy powers, which is now considered integral to the Kirby franchise; that power would be added in the also-excellent sequel.
17. Harvest Moon GB
It’s Harvest Moon on your Game Boy. What more could you want? This addictive farming sim allows you to grow plants, tend to your livestock, and get to know the villagers in the sleepy town in which you live. The ability to take your farm on the go with you calls ahead to time-sinks like Animal Crossing and Stardew Valley, and the Game Boy version of Harvest Moon has barely sacrificed any features, either.
18. Donkey Kong Land
A followup to the iconic SNES platformer Donkey Kong Country, Donkey Kong Land stars Diddy and Donkey Kong once again as they set out to defeat the Kremlings and once again defeat King K. Rool. The game is also, bizarrely, a meditation on the nature of sequels, and whether games need fancy graphics and music in order to be successful. They don’t, and Donkey Kong Land proves it.
19. Kid Icarus: Of Myths and Monsters
Until 2012, Of Myths and Monsters was the last Kid Icarus game in the series. It’s still the last platformer in the same vein as the NES original, which is a style that many prefer to Kid Icarus: Uprising’s rail shooter-3D adventure hybrid gameplay. Protagonist Pit must ascend upwards, defeating enemies and navigating tricky level design along the way. It’s similar to the NES version, and no less fun for it.
20. Ninja Gaiden Shadow
Like many Game Boy releases, Ninja Gaiden Shadow is a cut-back, clean version of its home console brethren. This is a core Ninja Gaiden title; none of the series’ trademark freewheeling platforming or monstrous difficulty has been lost in the transition to a handheld. It’s impressive how Konami managed to squeeze so much game into such a small cartridge.
21. Wario Land II
After Wario proved unexpectedly popular in Super Mario Land 2, Nintendo decided to give him his own game. The original Wario Land is a perfectly decent platformer, but Wario Land II introduces backtracking and Metroidvania elements, as well as puzzle-solving gameplay. It’s tremendous fun, and if you like it, you should take a look at Wario Land 3 as well.
22. Mario’s Picross
You’ve probably come across some variation of Picross in your lifetime. Also called “nonograms”, this kind of puzzle revolves around deducing which squares in a grid should be filled in or left alone, revealing an image at the end. Mario’s Picross was the perfect fit for the Game Boy, offering a huge number of puzzles to take with you while on a lengthy train journey.
23. Dr. Mario
This Tetris-style puzzler (well, let’s not mince words: it practically is Tetris) stars Mario as a medical practitioner, administering medication to patients. It features pills instead of blocks, but otherwise, it’s pretty much just Tetris, so if you like that game and want to see it with a Mario-style aesthetic applied to it, then this is definitely a game you should check out.
24. Double Dragon
Despite some wonky platforming and some seriously questionable music, Double Dragon on the Game Boy still manages to be an excellent side-scrolling beat-’em-up. You’ll find plenty of combat moves on offer to try out, as well as lots of exotic weaponry with which to beat up your opponents. Double Dragon is undefeated in its genre, and this Game Boy version shows why.
25. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
The final game on our list is for the Game Boy Colour, not the core console, but we’re including it anyway because it’s surprisingly good. Unlike its console counterpart, which is a fairly standard 3D collect-’em-up adventure, Philosopher’s Stone is a turn-based RPG akin to Final Fantasy. It’s a much better game for it, if you ask us, with a great combat system and some solid visuals.