Top 10 Game Boy Games That Defined My Childhood

The original Game Boy was something that seemed so unobtainable as a child. When I was in kindergarten, I felt this unexplainable magic, yes magic, when I tried wrapping my head around the idea of a portable gaming system. “Are you saying I can play video games where I damn well please? Naw… fuck off. No way! Black magic!”. My mother had just enough money to get me lunch everyday at school, but that was about it. Even asking for a Game Boy was out of the question. I scooped together as much dough as I could through raking leaves, mowing lawns, shoveling snow, delivering newspapers – hell, I even fed the neighbor’s cats when they weren’t home. Everything I could possibly do as a 5 year old to earn those bills. After a year I managed to save up a little over $100. I was a little short when we finally got to Caldor (yup, Caldor), thankfully my mom picked up the remaining tab and I finally walked away with my Golden Fleece. The Game Boy.

It's hard not to be captivated by the box art alone.

It’s hard not to be captivated by the box art alone.

#10 Kirby’s Pinball Land
Kirby's Pinball Land

I’m not the biggest fan of pinball, but Kirby’s Pinball Land would’ve been my gateway drug. If you wanted to get the high score for bragging rights it would let you do that. But if you wanted something more than that, Kirby’s Pinball Land gave players boss fights as well. Objective-oriented players could launch Nintendo’s little fluff of pink across three boards and a final boss board against King Dee Dee Dee.

#9 Tetris
Tetris Game Boy

Like most people, I got a copy of Tetris with my Game Boy. It features perhaps one of the most delightful soundtracks on the Game Boy, forever immortalized in my mind’s ear. Honestly, as a kid I didn’t “get” what Tetris was at first. It didn’t take long before I started ignoring the other games in my collection to visit Pajitnov’s masterpiece. Even my mom started borrowing my Game Boy solely for Tetris. Everyone I knew; gamers and non-gamers caught the fever.

#8 Ninja Gaiden Shadow
Ninja Gaiden Shadow Game Boy

It was one of the first action titles I got for my Game Boy. In terms of Ninja Gaiden difficulty, it might have been one of the more forgiving titles. Which was a good thing and prevented me from flinging the handheld unit against the wall. True to Ninja Gaiden heritage on the NES, NG Shadow had you slashing your way through armies of evil ninjas, robots, and beyond. What’s a ninja game without doing ninja-like stuff? Throwing fireballs, hanging from ledges, outrunning collapsing spiked ceilings, and platforming to escape overflowing lava are some of the scenarios that made Ninja Gaiden Shadow on of the best 2D Ninja Gaiden’s ever. Plus, it had a dope soundtrack. Check out a sample of it below!

#7 Metal Gear Solid
MGS Game Boy

Okay, technically it is a Game Boy Color title, so my list falls apart a bit here. But I absolutely have to include it. MGS on the Game Boy had nothing to do with the MGS on the original Playstation. While the game still included Solid Snake and Campbell, the story stood on it’s own. Maybe a more hardcore MGS fan could tell you precisely where the timeline falls with this, but not me. All I cared about was the fact that the Metal Gear formula held up in the palm of my hand. Codecs, box-related stealth, and creative boss fights gave MGS on the Game Boy a console-style feel. It had a wonderful collection of colorful cinematics that really gave it a Kojima-esque feel. I really wish this version made it’s way to the recently (re)released Metal Gear Legacy Collection. It truly deserves a spot amongst the other MGS titles. If you think I’m exaggerating, I will think you’re missing out.

#6 The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening
Link's Awakening Game Boy

Nintendo always took care of their fans. Even haters can’t deny that. Link’s Awakening was a true on-the-go Zelda experience. It didn’t take long for this Zelda title to start up like they usually do. After a really sweet opening, you find yourself on the beach, recover your sword, and you’re off to adventure as you damn well please. I got lost in this when I played with stereo headphones on. To this day, I still remember throwing the boomerang and then grabbing a chicken as the boomerang swirled around me killing enemies and digging up rupees. I felt so smart.

#5 Super Mario Land
Super Mario Land Game Boy

Super Mario Land was a strange title. Yes, it was a classic Mario platforming game for the Game Boy so I had to have it, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that Mario was stuck in someone else’s game. Everything starts out normally enough, you’ll jump on Koopas and Goombas. Then suddenly, you fight a fire-breathing Sphinx, pilot a submarine, or engage in aerial dogfights. Typical Mario right? Regardless, it was still a really fun game.

#4 Kirby’s Dream Land
Kirby's Dream Land

Kirby’s Dream Land had the cutest cast of characters I had ever seen. But who cares, they’re in they way of all the Warp Stars. The simple mechanics of flying, spitting projectiles that were formerly enemies, and eating spicy food was a gameplay loop that made Kirby so unique at the time. The only downside was that you could beat it in about 20 minutes or so. But it wasn’t like you weren’t gonna play it again after you had beaten it. After the ending credits I usually jumped right into the next playthrough, revisiting the varied levels and catchy soundtrack. Below is a piece of the soundtrack from the last boss fight!

#3 Mega Man: Dr. Wily’s Revenge
Mega Man Dr. Wily's Revenge

I felt like the coolest kid on the playground to be able to play Mega Man at will. Mega Man for the Game Boy still had the precise tough-as-nails action any fan of the series has come to expect. I was a tad disappointed when I was greeted with a boss/stage selection screen of only four bosses, but that quickly dissipated when I got stomped by Quick Man, one of three other hard ass bosses in Dr. Wily’s castle. Here’s a sampling of the soundtrack from later in the game. In case you haven’t noted the trend; I’m obsessed with MIDI music.

#2 Metroid II: Return of Samus
Metroid 2

One of Nintendo’s biggest properties and a sequel to the original NES hit released… on the Game Boy? Fuck yeah. The atmosphere (as usual in Metroid) is relentlessly creepy and isolating. The 2D map puzzle/action style was served up again on the Game Boy. Samus’ player model looked huge on the Game Boy’s screen, due to the upgraded Varia suit. A proper save function also lessened the frustration of writing down passwords constantly. Metroid II found Samus on a crusade to eliminate the last of the Metroids. While the Metroid types were recycled over and over, I still found myself immersed as I dug deeper and deeper into SR388. I still get chills when I think about this one. Play it with headphones.

#1 Pokemon
Pokemon Blue

I mean duh right? Pokemon moved Game Boy units. It moved Link cables. Pokemon was an overnight sensation that sold gang busters. It became the reason you stocked up on AA batteries, it was the reason you’re friends with that kid you weren’t friends with before, it was the reason you lost sleep, it was the reason your grades started slipping, it was PERFECT. Pokemon needs no introduction. This RPG classic is always thoroughly remembered by those who came into contact with it. Leveling up, battling, and trading Pokemon is a tried and true recipe for your addiction and Nintendo’s success. While newer additions to the series work hard to add in new hooks, the foundation still remains solid and proven. I’ve beaten it countless times as a kid and I can pick it up and go just as easily now. As soon as I get Surf and Fly, game over. Missing No. will give me all the Master Balls, Proteins, Carbos, and HP Ups I want. I’ll roid up my Pokemon and you’ll go down. That’s how I roll with my level 236 Blastoise. And yes, I know how to get a level 236 Blastoise without a cheat device. I practically bleed G1 Pokemon code.

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Games From Each Generation that Defined Me as a Gamer Today (8-bit to 64-bit)

As the new consoles descend upon us next month, I find myself looking back more often than forward to the coming generation. Maybe it’s some dorky version of a mid-life crisis? With new hardware, games, online features, and controllers; it can be tough to let go of all those fond memories. When you think about it, gamers spend YEARS, several at that, interfacing with a specific controller for a specific system. This nerd-intimacy shouldn’t be underestimated. With that, here are a couple of games from the bygone years that shaped my taste in gaming today.

NES

3. Super Mario 3
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(Not explanation needed)

2. Contracontra_ok

This was perhaps one of the fewest titles ever that sold me on box art alone. Regardless of box art, I was glad it turned out to be a great game too. Contra really made me feel like an unstoppable commando. Throw in a millions explosions and swarms of aliens and you’ve got yourself an 8-bit action masterpiece. Many people have discussions about their favorite weapon, but for me it was the Spread gun or nothing. Screw that crappy Laser or the Corkscrew gun. I want either the Spread gun or the default white pellets. It’s the only way you can survive the game without using the Konami code.

1. Battletoads and Double Dragon

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In the early 90s, Battletoads Double Dragon was the ultimate crossover at the time. There are crossovers left and right now, but BTDD was the biggest piece of fan service for any side-scrolling beat-em up aficionado. There was no other. It did come out on the SNES and Genesis; but as a kid with only a NES at the time, the 8-bit graphics still held up very well. It had everything! Intergalactic fist-morphing toads, weapon elements from the Double Dragon series, the cycle sequences from Battletoads, side-scrolling shooting, on top of fighting your way to every boss from BOTH series!

SNES

3. Street Fighter II: Turbo

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My love of fighting games all started here. The SNES controller was perfect to the arcade configuration. Even to this day, whenever I play a Street Fighter game I maintain the buttons the same way I do on the SNES – Light and Medium on the face and Heavy on the shoulders. SF2T was the perfect arcade port for the perfect 2D fighting controller. This was my personal golden era of Street fighter.

2. Super Metroid
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Every room is a piece of exploration, every discovery a puzzle, every puzzle an action sequence. The precursor to the term “Metroidvania”, Super Metroid is one of the best 2D action platformers ever created. The world of Zebes was brought to life in colorful 16-bit glory. The sense of discovery I felt in my initial playthrough of Super Metroid has remained unmatched to this day. Nintendo constantly gave players a carrot at the end of the stick. The “level” design told the story through pure gameplay, new powerups, and a new suit kept me chipping away at my save file.

1. Final Fantasy VI
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I’m going to leave this here:

Genesis

3. Golden Axe
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Golden Axe was one of the first Genesis games I lost sleep over. Simultaneously, my grades in elementary school started taking a hit. It added a few new elements to the beat-em up genre, a spell system, mounted creatures with special attacks, and 3 characters that played somewhat differently. It used all of the Genesis’ 3 glorious buttons; attack, jump, and spell. That extra button really mixed things up.

2. Vectorman
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Vectorman was Sega’s answer to Mega Man. The spherical protagonist was one of the more graphically intense player models of the era. Every time something blew up the screen would shake absurdly. Boss fights sold games during the 16-bit era and Vectorman was no exception.  It had you shooting down fighter jets in the first level. It was totally rad. Yep, rad

1. Sonic & Knuckles
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Sonic and Knuckles was a game and concept all in one. You could play Sonic and Knuckles standalone, which was a great game in it’s own right. OR, you could connect previous Sonic titles onto the cartridge and play as the new title protagonist. It was an expansion and DLC on consoles years before it was taken to the degree it is at now. Not only that, but it was the best damn Sonic title yet.

Sega Saturn

3. Virtua Fightervirtua-fighter1

3D fighting games carried some form of mystique in the mid-90’s. We all knew where 3D was headed. To see 2 giant polygonal martial artists fighting on screen was nearly sensory overload. I didn’t understand the (now) common understanding of side-stepping – the idea of background AND foreground combat. As a hardcore Street Fighter fan, I had to admit I was a little jealous. Can’t beat em? Join em. I got a Saturn.

2. Panzer Dragoon Saga
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Addictive on-rails shooting, cinematic story-telling, RPG elements. You’re crazy Sega! They gave me what I didn’t know I wanted. I’ve never owned it, but I rented the hell out of this title from the local Blockbuster constantly. Currently, going for over $500 on ebay, it is clear that there is a passionate fan base surrounding the Panzer series. Panzer Dragoon Orta released on the original Xbox and Crimson Dragon is set to release on the Xbox One as a “spiritual successor”. They already have my money.

1. Virtua Cop421020-virtua_cop_cover

Virtua Cop cultivated my unhealthy obsession with light gun games. Yes, it was highly scripted. Yes, the visuals were kinda bland; even for it’s time. But if you had a light gun for your Saturn it was because of Virtua Cop. I use to go into 2 player mode holding both light guns like a proper badass.

Playstation

3. Resident Evil 2
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Zombies, zombies, zombies. I thought Resident Evil 2 was the pinnacle of the franchise. The memorable beginning set the tone for the rest of the game. It had a pitch-perfect sense of action and suspense. While ammo and supplies were scarce, it was never debilitating. It gave you head space to take down the undead hordes and it felt like the developers were taking care of you. RE1 was revolutionary and genre-defining, RE2 fine-tuned it’s previous masterpiece with better pacing and thrills. Plus, Claire and Leon were much more likeable than Jill and Chris.

2. Metal Gear Solid
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I remember the Volume 8 demo disc that came with my PS1. It had a little title called Metal Gear Solid on it. I recall trying it out and got something I wasn’t expecting. The initial sneaking point had credits popping up on screen as I continued my gameplay. This gave the game a more movie-like feel. At the time, it was strange having movie elements mix in with gameplay, but I was hooked ever since. As Liquid’s Hind took off and my Dualshock came to life, I knew I had to have it. Three console generations later I’m still awaiting the next title in the ongoing series.

1. Final Fantasy VII
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Everyone should play this game. 3 Discs to rule them all. I’ll leave it at that because this horse has been beaten to death.

N64

3. Star Fox 64
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I don’t normally like flight games and the original Star Fox didn’t strike my fancy (Mode 7 and all). But Star Fox 64’s included Rumble Pack really immersed me in the flight combat. Some levels were linear, but there were levels that opened up the battlefield to player freedom. The “All-Range” mode allowed players to navigate a 3D battlefield to take down other ace pilots. There was even a ballin’ cockpit view for the purists, one that I used in conjunction with the Rumble Pack to put myself in the pilot’s seat. I still take this title for a spin via the Virtual Console.

2. Super Smash Bros.
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It was the reason you bought more controllers than you normally would. It was the reason you walked around the neighborhood with N64 controllers hanging from your neck. You wanted to get together with 3 other friends and smash them into oblivion. At first, everyone was a little reluctant when it was known that Nintendo was making a fighting game. It didn’t take much convincing before everyone was on board with Nintendo’s grand gesture of fan service. The series has evolved since into a formidable competitive fighting space. I’m already looking forward to the next addition of Smash on the Wii U.

1. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
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No other game on the N64 was held in higher regard. Zelda not only survived the jump from 2D to 3D, but helped define 3D action (dare I say RPGs?) as well. Z-targeting removed any clumsy sword wielding and surprisingly the “auto-jump” feature lessened a lot of frustration. The scope of the story spanned years that led to ongoing discussions concerning the Zelda series’ timeline. No other game on the N64 has created more of a conversation. Gold cartridge. Gold cartridge. Gold cartridge!