The best Game Boy games are a window into Nintendo's past. Arguably the most famous handheld console from the company, the original Game Boy inspired many classic games in its time and across a breadth of genres. First-party Nintendo IPs were nurtured and adapted to the small screen, and arcade games were similarly shrunk down with often impressive results.
The Game Boy wasn't the first of its kind – or even technically the best handheld console – but it was the one that defined cool, was genuinely portable for a significant length of time, and had the best range of software. When considering a list of the best Game Boy games there are hundreds of titles to choose from, but we reckon it will be hard to beat this wonderful dectet of fabulous games for Nintendo's legendary handheld wonder.
Developer: BITS Studios
The famous Irem shoot-'em-up was getting a little long in the tooth by 1991, but that didn't stop the arcade company from recreating its most popular IP to the Game Boy. Legend has it that most developers turned the R-Type gig down on the handheld, with the perceived wisdom being that it simply wasn't possible. UK-based BITS Studios completely dispelled that notion and, with some cunning programming and a slower pace, ensured that R-Type is infinitely better than it deserves to be on the handheld. One of the Game Boy's finest shoot-'em-ups.
9. Metroid 2: Return Of Samus
This sequel to the 1986 NES game includes several enhancements to the original while smoothing out the gameplay for the Nintendo handheld and setting the stage for many of the sequels to come. The lithe Samus can now shoot downwards (an ability thoroughly exploited in the opening levels) and can space jump for the first time, significantly improving her mobility. The morph ball also has some improvements, yet it's the game's mature storyline that hits home and ensures that the Return Of Samus is a crucial part of Metroid, influencing the best Metroid games which followed.
8. Mole Mania
Developer: Pax Softonica
The hidden gem of Shigeru Miyamoto's glittering career, Mole Mania is a marvellously quirky puzzle game that had the unfortunate luck of being released just after the phenomenally successful Pokemon in its native Japan. The game's unique twist stems from its lead character, Muddy Mole, who can athletically dive underground, opening up another plane to each level. The combination of cute visuals and jaunty music may not be uncommon on the Nintendo Game Boy, but rarely can they have been coupled with such engrossing and satisfying gameplay.
7. Harvest Moon GB
Developer: Victor Interactive Software
Lightweight, uncomplicated, and sweet, Harvest Moon is the perfect game for stress-free gaming on the go. Released late in the Game Boy's lifetime, it's the second in the grow-'em-up series, following on from the Super Nintendo game a few months earlier. The storyline is slim: at the start of the game, your dearly-departed grandpa's spirit calls on you, bestowing the arduous task of managing the family farm. This ghostly visitation is a prompt for a video game full of seed-sowing, cow-milking, harvesting, and other farm-related activities. Harvest Moon is not the deepest of games, but what it lacks in complexity, it makes up with charm and personality.
6. Contra 3: Alien Wars
Developer: Factor 5
Factor 5 had experience with the run 'n' gun genre, so it made sense that the German company should have a crack at bringing this fantastic Super Nintendo game to the Game Boy. Yet, despite the developer's expertise, it was still a challenging project, and while Factor 5 was forced to make necessary changes to the levels and display, Alien Wars remains a remarkably faithful adaptation of the SNES classic. For Game Boy fans looking for some frantic shooting action, few games satisfy as much as Contra 3: Alien Wars.
5. Final Fantasy Adventure
Developer: Square Soft
This RPG has a curious background in that it's not technically a Final Fantasy game, lacking the turn-based gameplay of that famed series and exuding a style more akin to the Legend Of Zelda. Released as Mystic Quest in the west, Final Fantasy Adventure is actually the first episode of the Secret Of Mana series and boasts some striking visuals for the Nintendo Game Boy. With many items to collect, locations to explore and monsters to battle, Final Fantasy Adventure is an absorbing experience and one perfectly suited to the handheld.
4. Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins
Super Mario Land 2 is known primarily for introducing Mario's doppelganger Wario, but it's so much more than its chief villain. After the success of Super Mario Land, Nintendo improved upon the original without radically altering the gameplay template that had made it such a hit. Golden Coins' superior graphics and sound, superbly varied levels, and gratifying gameplay only serve to prove what amazing games could be created on the humble Game Boy. It's rightly revered today as one of the system's greatest games of all time, if not one of the best Mario games.
3. Pokemon Red/Blue
Developer: Game Freak
The legend that is Pokemon began here, and some still consider it to be among the best Pokemon games to this day. Having fermented as an idea way back in the early stages of the Game Boy's life, it wasn't until 1996 that gamers (at least in Japan) got to experience the monster collecting game for the first time. And while the core concept of Pokémon is solid, the multi-player aspect, utilising the Game Boy's link cable, caused the game to become a smash, as players collected and traded monsters with increasing fervour.
2. The Legend Of Zelda: Link's Awakening
With its large world to explore, action-packed combat, and breadth of gameplay, it's easy to dismiss this extraordinary outing for Link as a mere technical wonder. But the long-lasting achievement of Nintendo's wondrous RPG is its story-telling, making Link's Awakening an evocative tale that is still charming fans as one of the best Zelda games almost thirty years later. Stranded on Koholint Island following the sinking of his ship, Link is quickly embroiled in another quest, uncovering hidden treasures and exploring grimy dungeons where the game shifts to a faster-paced platformer. Funny, rewarding, and heart-meltingly memorable, Link's Awakening is a brilliant story, perfectly told.
Developer: Bullet-Proof Software
All the games on this list are magnificent within their own genre and often beyond. However, none of them has the cachet and phenomenal status of the Russian puzzle game that helped the Game Boy sell in its millions. Cleverly included as a pack-in title for the handheld's North American and European releases, Tetris' beauty is its uncomplicated concept and unfussy delivery: multi-shaped blocks fall from the top of the screen, and it's the player's job to fit them together logically. When a solid wall is formed, that line disappears, giving some valuable breathing space and keeping the game going. Although it didn't actually originate on the Nintendo handheld, Tetris always was and will be associated with the Game Boy – a flawless union of a game and its ideal format.
Looking for something a little more modern from Nintendo? Be sure to check out this list of the upcoming Switch games.