Those sound like notable changes, right? Well sort of. In execution, Game Boy Color was little more than a holdover for the Game Boy Advance, which would launch barely two years later with substantially enhanced graphics, sound and controls. With GBA on the horizon (Nintendo sure didnt hide the fact it was coming), it was hard to shake the notion that GBC was a stopgap system meant to squeeze a few extra dollars before the real successor arrived in 2001.
Does that mean the system was a failure? Certainly not! There were still a dozen or so excellent titles released in its brief lifespan, which weve narrowed down to the top 10 in this list.
Super Mario Bros Deluxe
Nintendo could have simply ported over the original Super Mario Bros and sold a million copies. Instead, it packed in enough new content to justify playing this all over again, and managed to get us excited for a 14-year-old game like it was brand new. The only real downside to SMB Deluxe is the camera; its pulled in tight, limiting your view of much of the area. This is unavoidable due to the disparity between the resolution of the GBC screen and the NES though, so its theres only so much Nintendo could do.
Metal Gear Solid
The story takes a familiar path of betrayals and twists as Snake is called out of retirement to invade what was formerly Outer Heaven and stop a separatist group that has stolen the newest Metal Gear codenamed GANDER. You fight new assassins with their own ridiculous names and cool gameplay hooks, and once the engrossing tale is complete, theres a huge amount of bonus content, including numerous VR missions to attack. MGS was proof that just because you were making a portable spin-off doesnt mean you have to half-ass it.
Dragon Warrior III
Though the story follows the usual destined hero must destroy ultimate evil, it takes some really interesting turns, biggest of all being its twist ending. This second sequel, which seems completely unrelated to the previous two Dragon Warrior games, is revealed as a prequel late in the adventure. The story takes a back seat for a good reason though, as DWIII introduced the series stellar job system, where the hero and their teammates leveled up in their skills (like thief, fighter, mage etc) along the way, with mastery of a new job making random encounters all the more worthwhile. DWIII was a great introduction to what made the series so popular and is perhaps the best straightforward RPG on the handheld.
The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons/Ages
But why two games on the same day? Seasons and Ages actually talk to each other via a cumbersome password system or link cable, so they combine to form one complete tale. Beat one game, for example, and you receive a password you can input at the beginning of the next that notably alters the experience. Most importantly, the final battle will feature Ganon instead of newcomers Veran and Onox, making this feel more like a legit Zelda instead of another weirdo side story. Fun fact: these were actually developed by Capcom, who would go on to handle Minish Cap on GBA.
Things got even more tense when you finally met the legendary Pokemon, including the immensely elusive Mewtwo. Scores would skyrocket in seconds, soaring into the millions after a white-knuckle battle with one of these beasts, accurately echoing the experience found in the genuine Pokemon games. This could have been a pile of garbage and still sold like crazy; instead we got one of the systems best games.
Gold and Silver were more than updated versions of Red and Blue; the new series introduced the concept of Pokemon breeding, opening up all-new ways to disappear into the Poke-world for hours at a time. Customized, honed teams could now be built based on more than just their type. Hold items appeared, adding yet another wrinkle to trainer battles. A day and night cycle was added, which meant some Pokemon would only appear during certain times of the day. The list of additions goes on, and each one, while sounding simplistic, drastically altered the core game and solidified Pokemon as a no-nonsense, this shit is real RPG experience.
Though the story wasnt particularly deep, it followed a new recruit at a premier tennis school slowly working his way through different leagues and courses, which slowly taught the player all the rules of tennis. As you worked your way through a diverse number of challengers, you leveled up and could distribute ability points to specialize the character; this custom-made hero could then be transferred to the N64 Mario Tennis. Though the Mario crew only appeared as the final challengers in the story and could only be played in exhibition mode, this Mario sports game was truly great because of their absence.
Circumstances dont change how solid the game is, though. Shantaes filled with typical 2D platformer stuff (running, jumping, grabbing power-ups etc), but its all done remarkably well and with a visual flair the GBC rarely saw. Theres a happy ending to this story, too Shantae: Riskys Revenge hit DSiWare last year and proved this character and concept have legs. Perhaps a full-fledged sequel could be next?
Wario Land 3
Each level housed treasure to collect, but in true adventure game fashion, some couldnt be reached without a bit of backtracking or clever use of Warios newfound immortality. This unique execution of power-ups and exploration, two well-worn aspects of 2D games, helped make Wario Land 3 one of the best games on GBC. Add in some nice animation, fun music and a not-totally-throwaway story and youve got a sequel we hope finds new life on the 3DS Virtual Console.
Bionic Commando: Elite Forces
Despite generally high reviews, the Bionic Commando franchise went into hibernation after Elite Forces, emerging eight years later with the superb Bionic Commando Rearmed. We still love the grapple-arm mechanics and handhelds are a great place to push 2D gameplay, so surely this well-received entry will appear on the 3DS Virtual Console. Dont give up on this yet, Capcom!