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Home / Features / The Game Boy at 35 – and six of the best Game Boy games

The Game Boy at 35 – and six of the best Game Boy games

The Game Boy’s green screen might not have made rivals green with envy, but, boy, did its games shine

Nintendo Game Boy

The NES was great, but you couldn’t play it on the bus, even if you were armed with a portable telly and an extra long extension cable. The Game Boy, though, was a different matter. On 21 April, 1989, it changed everything, redefining gaming as something you could do – wherever you happened to be.

Yeah, yeah, we know. Everyone’s top retro handheld. As long as they liked green. And motion blur.

It’s easy to scoff at the Game Boy’s dot-matrix display, with its four shades of murk and visible ghosting. And yes, next to the Sega Game Gear and Atari Lynx, the lack of colour – and clarity – was stark. But while falling short in terms of visual clout, the Game Boy excelled where it mattered and quickly became a handheld for the masses. It didn’t munch through batteries; it was affordable and light; and most importantly, it had those stellar titles that you really wanted to play.

So what you’re saying is that it was mostly all about the games, boy?

Don’t do that. But… yes. Super Mario Land did enough to set itself apart from its NES forebear, with innovations such as shooting levels with forced scrolling. And then there was Tetris, whose endlessly replayable Game Boy incarnation is still considered definitive. It was bundled with millions of them, sucking in a much larger demographic than the Lynx’s dated sports sim California Games. And you could even link two consoles together for head-to-head action, whereupon Mario and Luigi would guest-star. Nice.

Sounds like these titles turned the Game Boy into a real… gamechanger!

Don’t do that either. It wasn’t the first of its kind – the Microvision did ‘handheld with cartridges’ a decade earlier – and it didn’t pack the most advanced hardware. But the Game Boy clicked with the public: it was approachable, the impressive battery life let you dig deep into RPGs, and it was the birthplace of Pokémon and Kirby. In short, it prioritised fun over shiny tech – a lesson that others would do well to heed… and one that Nintendo has kept alive through to the Switch, which in many ways feels like the Game Boy’s spiritual successor. 

Six of the best: Game Boy games

Hundreds of Game Boy titles exist. Over a thousand if you roll in unofficial games. We’ve picked six that mix up top-tier classics and lesser-known – but still quality – fare.

Tetris (1989) might have started out on an obscure Russian computer and spread like wildfire on PC. But the Game Boy version was where it made sense. It remains our favourite version of the game. 

The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening (1993) achieved the unthinkable, cramming a proper Zelda adventure into Nintendo’s diminutive handheld. And beyond the quests, it had time for quieter moments too, such as fishing and mucking about with an ocarina.

Donkey Kong (1994) started out as a solid port of the arcade game. But once you’d finished four levels, it whisked you off to dozens of new challenges that laid the foundations for Mario vs Donkey Kong.

Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3 (1994), as its name suggests, decided against giving everyone a third Super Mario title. Instead, you got to play as the bad guy, in a superb platform game that shook everything up just enough to feel fresh.

Parasol Stars (1992) was the third entry in the Bubble Bobble series, yet never appeared in the arcades. The Game Boy take is the better game on Nintendo’s handheld and feels like someone’s squeezed an arcade cab into the system.

Game & Watch Gallery 2 (1997) makes our list because it’s fitting to play Game & Watch titles on that hardware’s spiritual successor. But also because it showcased Nintendo’s penchant for thoughtful recycling, with classic and modern takes on the five included games.

Profile image of Craig Grannell Craig Grannell Contributor


I’m a regular contributor to Stuff magazine and Stuff.tv, covering apps, games, Apple kit, Android, Lego, retro gaming and other interesting oddities. I also pen opinion pieces when the editor lets me, getting all serious about accessibility and predicting when sentient AI smart cookware will take over the world, in a terrifying mix of Bake Off and Terminator.

Areas of expertise

Mobile apps and games, Macs, iOS and tvOS devices, Android, retro games, crowdfunding, design, how to fight off an enraged smart saucepan with a massive stick.

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