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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.