The new Switch Game Boy emulator is the best one yet and it's not even close

Nintendo Switch Online GameBoy and GBA games
(Image credit: Nintendo)

Switch's long-awaited Game Boy library is here, and in stark contrast to the terrible launch of its N64 games, the emulation is excellent.

During yesterday's Nintendo Direct, Game Boy and Game Boy Color titles arrived for Nintendo Switch Online subscribers, while the Game Boy Advance selection arrived for those on the more expensive Expansion Pack sub. Each platform has a small but impressive library of titles, with the promise of some absolute classics to come, from the Pokemon Trading Card Game RPG to Golden Sun.

Game Boy emulation is a tricky topic, and it's clear that Nintendo has gone above and beyond for these releases. For example, the original screens on the Game Boy Advance were notoriously dim, so game developers would often compensate by making their art bright and colorful - but those colors can appear garish when displayed on a modern, backlit screen. Here, Nintendo put in the work to properly color correct the GBA games, preserving the intent of the original graphics.

Original Game Boy games offer three screen types, so you can replicate how those titles would've been displayed on the sickly green of the original system, the crisp black and white of the Game Boy Pocket, or with the gentle colorization of the Game Boy Color. There's also a screen filter mode labeled 'reproduce classic feel,' which overlays an authentic pixel grid, just like you'd see on the original screens.

There's an even more impressive, absurdly technical detail in that 'classic feel' option, too. See, the original Game Boy screen displayed 59.7 frames per second, very slightly less than the even 60 frames per second standard for most modern screens. You'd expect a modern Game Boy emulator to simply speed up the games by a tiny percentage to make up the difference, and while that's fine in most cases, it can break some subtle graphical effects.

Turning on the Game Boy screen filter also causes those games to run at their native 59.7 frames per second. As Jordan Starkweather notes on Twitter, you can quickly see the difference with the Chain Chomp in Link's Awakening. With the default screen mode, the chain appears to go in and out of a flickering state every few seconds as the timing goes in and out of sync. With the filter on, the flicker remains consistent, leaving the chain simply looking transparent - just as it should.

There's another place where Nintendo went above and beyond, too. The GBA version of Super Mario Bros. 3 supported the old e-Reader accessory, allowing you to scan in physical cards which would unlock brand-new, original levels for the game. Those levels are automatically unlocked here. They were also preserved for the Wii U Virtual Console version of the game, but it's excellent to see them continue to be available.

Most of Switch's previous official emulators have been fine, though fairly barebones, with minimal filtering and scaling options. The N64 emulator, however, launched in a pretty bad state, with little account for the transition to the modern platform and major graphical issues in games like Ocarina of Time. Patches have improved some of those issues, and while N64 emulation in general has historically been tricky, Switch's N64 games have often been a clear downgrade from how they were presented on the Virtual Console for Wii and Wii U.

That's why it's so good to see Nintendo going above and beyond for this Game Boy emulator. While some might balk at the idea of paying for a pricey subscription in order to access some very old games, Nintendo premium treatment of these classics goes a long way toward easing the sting.

It's never a bad time to revisit the best Game Boy games of all time.

Dustin Bailey
Staff Writer

Dustin Bailey joined the GamesRadar team as a Staff Writer in May 2022, and is currently based in Missouri. He's been covering games (with occasional dalliances in the worlds of anime and pro wrestling) since 2015, first as a freelancer, then as a news writer at PCGamesN for nearly five years. His love for games was sparked somewhere between Metal Gear Solid 2 and Knights of the Old Republic, and these days you can usually find him splitting his entertainment time between retro gaming, the latest big action-adventure title, or a long haul in American Truck Simulator.