Game Boy games are good, actually

Well, of course, it had to happen, didn’t it? Game Boy games finally come to Nintendo Switch Online and naturally, someone with a big mouth and a platform from which to shout things had to hatebait the Internet by bellowing “Game Boy games are mostly awful” and then being all “I’m right, you’re wrong” at anyone who disagreed. No, I’m not linking to it.

So naturally here we are using our platform to clickbait right back, though I like to think we’re at least marginally morally superior by simple virtue of the fact that we’re not attempting to incite angry comments. Instead, a rebuttal; Game Boy games are not “mostly awful”, least of all the ones that Nintendo has provided us with so far on the Nintendo Switch Online service (and which they’ve also said are on the way soon). And, in fact, they’re long overdue a renaissance.

Kirby's Adventure for Game Boy

It’s worth remembering that the Game Boy was a worldwide phenomenon on its original release. In a world blissfully free of smartphones (and mobile phones in general, for the most part) it had a formidable stranglehold on the world of portable gaming. Sure, there were numerous pretenders to the throne such as the Atari Lynx, Sega Game Gear and TurboExpress, but for one reason or another not one of them managed the same degree of worldwide popularity that the Game Boy did.

Not only that, but the Game Boy kicked off Nintendo’s near-total dominance of the handheld gaming market for four hardware generations — five if you count the Switch, too.

So why doesn’t the Game Boy get much love today? And, moreover, why should modern gamers care about these old, low-colour, chunky-pixeled games? Let’s ponder that latter question first, as that’s probably the most immediately relevant to what we’re talking about today.

Gargoyle's Quest for Game Boy

Why should 21st century gamers care about the Game Boy?

The main answer to this question is simple: the platform and its library provide experiences that are quite unlike anything else out there, for numerous reasons.

Firstly, the limitations of the original hardware meant that developers often had to get rather creative in terms of how they squeezed games onto a low-resolution screen and a low-capacity cartridge. And a lot of developers got really good at this, making their Game Boy versions of various franchises completely distinct from the versions seen on more powerful consoles.

And by “distinct” I don’t mean “inferior” either; developers knew what the inherent limitations of the Game Boy were, so rather than attempting to hide them and just create a crappier version of a game, they’d embrace those limitations and provide a unique experience for those playing on handheld. Unique enough that in many cases it’s actually worth playing both the TV-connected console and handheld versions of a game to see quite how different these versions can be.

Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare for Game Boy

From the lineup of Game Boy games available on Nintendo Switch Online at the time of writing, probably the best example of this is the impressive Game Boy Colour version of Alone In the Dark: The New Nightmare.

This title is best-known in its PlayStation and Dreamcast incarnations, but in some ways the Game Boy Colour version has aged more elegantly than its polygonal counterparts thanks to the way in which it exclusively uses pixel art. And I’d argue we’re even more receptive to pixel art these days than we were back in the PlayStation and Dreamcast era.

Super Mario Land 2 is also an interesting case. Rather than being a straight port of another Mario game, this is an all-original 2D entry in the series that, in many ways, is one of the portly plumber’s most solid adventures from the era. And it’s important to remember that this is the game that first gave us Wario, too — and without Wario, we probably wouldn’t have Waluigi, either. Wahhh.

Other great examples from elsewhere in the Game Boy’s library include Metal Gear: Ghost Babel, which is an all-original Metal Gear game that neatly straddles the line between the classic 8-bit entries in the franchise and the later cinematic renditions, and Resident Evil Gaiden, which transplants the fixed-camera survival horror of the series into an isometric adventure with abstract, stylised combat and an all-new (albeit non-canonical) storyline.

Tetris for Game Boy

Better than Candy Crush

I detest most modern mobile games, particularly those which use the trappings of classic casual games as a means of extracting money from gullible punters. And it’s refreshing to be reminded that prior to the age of in-app purchases, platforms such as the Game Boy — particularly the Game Boy, in fact — played host to some of the most enjoyable, compelling and addictive casual gaming experiences out there.

And this isn’t to use “casual gaming” as a pejorative, either; it simply means the kind of experience that you pick up for a few minutes when you want to play something fun, but you don’t have time to get invested into something with a lot of substance or depth. The exact niche that most mobile games fill today.

Among the Game Boy games already available on Nintendo Switch Online, we have two of the most formidable casual games ever created: the original Tetris and Game & Watch Gallery 3. Add WarioWare Inc. from the Game Boy Advance app to that list and you have near-instant access to three games that are all absolutely perfect for whiling away a few minutes… or hours.

The worth of this shouldn’t be underestimated. These games are great — and not a microtransaction in sight, meaning that you know they’ve simply been designed to be enjoyable experiences, rather than manipulative piles of shit intended for nothing more than fleecing you for everything you’re worth. Which is, you know, nice.

Super Mario Land 2 for Game Boy

Great entries in classic franchises

Among the launch lineup for Game Boy games on Nintendo Switch Online, we have some great entries in classic Nintendo series, including the aforementioned Super Mario Land 2, plus Metroid II and The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening — not to mention the first ever Kirby game.

All of these tie in with what we talked about above; they’re by no means “inferior” ports of existing games, but rather all-original titles designed specifically to shine amid the Game Boy’s technical limitations.

All are worth playing, but Link’s Awakening is arguably the real standout title here; still to this day cited by many people as their favourite entry in the series, Link’s Awakening is a wonderful refinement of Zelda’s 2D top-down era, featuring a compelling story, memorable characters, a wonderful soundtrack and, as you would expect from the series, excellent dungeon and encounter design.

Yes, Nintendo did that remake a while back, and that was pretty good. But the Game Boy original is still a worthwhile and magical experience.

Zelda: Link's Awakening on Game Boy

So why don’t we talk about the Game Boy?

I suspect part of the reason is to do with the way in which we communicate with one another and enjoy online media to this day. Up until relatively recently, it was quite hard to share your experiences of playing Game Boy games through anything other than the written word. And, as we’re often told by inherently untrustworthy people, video is the future.

There’s still a place for the written word, of course — but it’s fair to say that a significant chunk of gaming material online these days is video-based, be it livestreaming on Twitch or videos on YouTube. And that presents a bit of a problem for the Game Boy: it’s tricky to hook up an actual Game Boy to a TV (though not impossible, thanks to devices such as the Super Game Boy for the Super NES or the Game Boy Player for GameCube) and, for one reason or another, people don’t seem all that interested in capturing video from an emulator.

Part of this may stem from the fact that Game Boy games, by their very nature, are less obviously “impressive” than games built for TV-connected consoles from a similar era. Perhaps some creators feel that the limited colour palette and low resolution of Game Boy titles don’t have much in the way of visual appeal.

This is silly, of course — it’s the video game equivalent of refusing to watch Casablanca because it’s in black and white — but we live in a shallow, image-obsessed world, not to mention one where people like convenience above all else.

Game & Watch Gallery 3 for Game Boy

Well, while the Nintendo Switch Online lineup of Game Boy games won’t do much to make Game Boy games look “better” — though you do have access to the Game Boy Colour’s ability to “colourise” the black and white games — it certainly makes them immediately accessible and easy to share your experiences with. It’s even possible to play online with friends.

So stop yer moanin’ and go enjoy some of the best retro games out there, thanks to the Switch’s revival of a platform that deserves a lot more love and affection than it tends to get these days. Just don’t come crying to us when you’re still playing the best version of Tetris at 3 in the morning.

The Game Boy app for Nintendo Switch Online is available for free to subscribers of the Nintendo Switch Online service.

Join The Discussion

Rice Digital Discord
Rice Digital Twitter
Rice Digital Facebook

Or write us a letter for the Rice Digital Friday Letters Page by clicking here!

Disclosure: Some links in this article may be affiliate links, which means we may earn a small commission if you make a purchase after clicking on them. This is at no additional cost to you and helps support Rice Digital!

Pete Davison
Spread the love!

Related post

This will close in 0 seconds