My Top-5 and Bottom-5 Game Boy Games
One of the reasons I’ve been doing a lot of Bottom-10 lists recently is because a couple of years ago I made a bunch of Top-10s of my favourite game systems. Because I feel it’s healthy to contemplate both the positives and negatives of any game system or series, I decided to get cracking and finally let out my feelings about the games I don’t particularly enjoy.
Game Boy was an obvious topic for a Bottom-5, but I then realised that I had never actually done a Top-10 or 5 for the system’s games. So, in the interest of making a decently long list, I will present to you my absolute favourite and least favourite games for the Game Boy.
I’m not splitting hairs here so this list will include games from all incarnations of the system. Once again, just to remind people these lists only include games I’ve personally played. On with the lists…
There used to be a time when people considered having a fighting game on a portable game system to be a laughable prospect. However, the Game Boy Advance with its SNES quality power and performance finally did provide the handheld fans with fun and functional port of one of the greatest fighting games ever made. Of course, Street Fighter 2 Turbo on the Super Nintendo is definitively my favourite version of the original Street Fighter 2 – but the GBA version was still very close to my heart since it was the first Super-version of the game I owned.
I had previously only played Super Street Fighter 2 on a friend’s computer years ago, but I was only familiar to T. Hawk, Cammy and DeeJay largely through the 1994 live action movie. So I really cherished being finally able to play as these characters. And especially Fei Long, who may have actually become my favourite character of the bunch. For a portable version of Street Fighter 2, this is a really awesome version.
Granted, you have four attack buttons instead of the traditional six, but who really uses all the buttons in Street Fighter seriously? Beyond the very minor graphical and audio downgrade, this version blew balls off previous attempts to bring Street Fighter 2 to handhelds. That said, I did miss having animated cutscenes at the finale of the game and Super SF2 is now so widespread that this GBA version has really very little novelty to it. It’s an awesome SF game on the go, but still just a port of Super SF2.
I have never been a huge fan of the Metroidvania experience, hence why I didn’t really enjoy Symphony of the Night. However, when I found out that there was a Castlevania game available for the GBA, of course I had to buy it and try it out. And while it lasted, Circle of the Moon (confusingly released as just “Castlevania” in my home country) was a pretty kick-ass game.
The graphics were haunting and quite beautiful. The music really kicked ass. That opening menu theme is the shit! Sure, I later found out that it was just recycled from Castlevania X: Rondo of Blood, but even the game’s own original music was brilliant. The gameplay was action-packed and the level design was tricky and interesting. Over-all, I really loved playing it and I remember getting fairly far into the game.
However, I never actually played it all the way through. Why is that then? Well, for one there’s all the level upping and micro-management with your special powers and cards. This game fell victim to a level-grind and menu hell sins that I so despise about video-games (especially RPGs). At some point I ran into enemies and terrain I was unprepared for and I got so fed up with back-tracking and level grinding, I just gave up. Also, I will concede that the graphics looked really dark on the original GBA screen but this was a minor flaw you can fix by simply playing it with the GameCube Player (or with the back-lit SP model). However, I do have to say that Circle of the Moon was easily the biggest and most vast game I had seen on the Game Boy up to that point and it really impressed me. Just because I didn’t have the patience to play it all the way through doesn’t mean it wasn’t a good game. Because it was, a damn good game.
I of course have a mixed relationship with Rare’s little brother versions of their Donkey Kong Country titles, but luckily with Donkey Kong Land 2 for the Super Game Boy, Rare managed to overcome some of the more obvious failings of their first attempt. In fact, DKL2 was about as close of a port of Donkey Kong Country 2 as you could get on the original Game Boy and that made it something quite special. The level designs were almost exactly the same, Diddy and Dixie were still fun to play as and the music was also lifted straight out of DKC2 which was just awesome.
Compared to DKC2, Donkey Kong Land 2 was perhaps even a bit easier. I actually recall making it to the final world of the game much faster in DKL2 than DKC2 (which I only beat after it came out for the Wii’s Virtual Console). All around this was an excellent reinterpretation of the SNES classic. In that, it’s only real problem is that it’s a bit too much like the SNES original. While I wasn’t the biggest fan of the first Donkey Kong Land, to its credit, it had original worlds, levels and enemies.
DKL2 was truly an awesome title at a time when Game Boy games were still quite primitive, but there’s little incentive to really play it if you already have DKC2. Still, an amazing feat of programming from Rare on the Game Boy.
I have gotten to play most of the Game Boy Mega Man titles at one point or another, but the title which I’ve really been able to sink my teeth into the most was Mega Man 2. In the second portable game of the series, Mega Man faces off against an array of Robot Masters from the second and third NES titles as well as Quint, a robot from the future whose weapon is a pogo-stick of death.
Mega Man 2 on the Game Boy blends several elements of the two NES titles that were contemporary with it. Mega Man can slide and use Rush Items (including the super useful Rush Jet) and you get to go up against awesome masters like Metal Man, Crash Man, Wood Man and Air Man. As a stark contrast to the other GB titles featuring the blue bomber, this game actually had original stage themes for the robot masters, rather than GB reinterpreted versions of the NES themes, which was honestly a nice touch.
Beyond the much smaller screen, the controls are just as tight as before and this is truly an excellent gameplay experience. Mega Man 2’s few failings may be its slightly short length of only nine levels. The game may feel considerably easier than the NES games because of it and, to be fair, doesn’t really offer anything you wouldn’t get from any other 8-bit Mega Man title. However, it’s just a fun quirky action-packed title and of course, if it’s a Top-list of games on a Nintendo system, there needs to be a Mega Man game somewhere there.
Strangely, the very first Game Boy game I ever played has remained as the most impressive from this system. In the summer of 1995, I spent hours playing this fun platformer title and it honestly had held up surprisingly well after all these years. As Mario’s greedy doppelganger, Wario, you are seeking the treasure of the Kitchen Island Pirates and trying to retrieve the lost gold statue of Princess Toadstool.
Wario Land is just filled with goofy cartoon energy, from the silly enemies, to Wario’s priceless expressions to the inventive boss-fights. Wario Land also a rather impressive game in scope. There was a huge game-world to explore, secrets to be discovered and all around it was a very balanced out title. It’s little wonder why Wario Land turned into a series of its own. Who doesn’t want to play a game where your greed determines how well you do in the end?
Wario Land 4 on the Game Boy Advance was another solid entry in the series, but I honestly just prefer the original. It had depth, fun gameplay and you could keep on playing it after you beat it to try and get an even bigger price. This game is a true classic in and of itself.
To be fair, Qix is not a terrible idea for a game in and of itself. This Taito puzzle title has been ported to numerous systems, including the NES. Also, I will admit that I played this game quite a bit on the Game Boy so at least it fulfilled the purpose of every puzzle game, which is to suck up time from your day which you could be using more productively.
The idea in Qix is to control a cursor and draw lines inside the screen to form angular areas. Once the lines connect to a wall or some solid surface, the area within the line becomes solid. The idea is to fill up a certain percentage of the screen, while at the same time protecting your cursor from hazards like sparks which follow the outlines of the solid areas and of course, the Qix, a series of humming lines which fly around the vacant space in completely unpredictable patterns. The concept behind Qix is weird but not terrible.
However, the Game Boy port has some really annoying features to it. One of them is the obscenely loud audio. The main theme plays at a ridiculous volume. Also, the sound effects are tingy and annoying. You almost want to play this game with the volume turned off, but I hate doing that since audio is such a big part of the gameplay experience. Plus, there’s no option to continue the game. You get three fuck-ups and then you have start all the way from the beginning. It would be nice if there was at least an option to change the difficulty so you wouldn’t always have to start with the easiest rooms. The lack of features and the slip-shotty presentation are really the only reasons this game is in the bottom-5. If you want a good puzzle game for the Game Boy, there’s always Tetris.
People may remember from my Bottom-5 Nintendo 64 games, that while I love sport of Formula Ones, I am not the biggest fan of F1 video-games. Or F-1 for some reason with this game (what does that dash even add to the title, seriously). With F-1 Race I probably shouldn’t fault it for too much since the technology was so primitive at the time. However, how this even qualifies as a racing game is beyond me.
You have very little control over your car. The tracks are pretty much identical and it doesn’t really feel like the other drivers are really racing you. Also, it becomes painfully obvious that this game has no official Formula-licence attached to it once you notice that none of the cars have brands, all the racers are anonymous and while some of the tracks are located in actual countries hosting F1 races, some are clearly not. In the end, F-1 Race is just a generic racing game with little to no character.
Its only positive aspect is that some Mario characters make cameos to congratulate you when you win races, but that’s about it. However, it’s not a broken game or anything which is more than you can say about the next couple of entries.
As mentioned before, I am not a fan of Rareware’s first attempt at bring the banana-loving, tie-wearing gorilla to Nintendo’s handheld system. There were a lot of obstacles this game was to face technologically and although Rare put up a decent effort, the game which resulted from it is far from good.
For one, the graphics are annoyingly blinky. In some levels, DK seems to just disappear if he’s standing still. This game also failed to take into account the smaller screen of the Game Boy which makes playing unnecessarily difficult when you can’t see what’s directly beneath you. However, the most frustrating aspect of this game is the save-feature which only activates if you collect all the KONG-letters from a stage. Needless to say, in some levels the KONG-letters are near impossible to get and the game gets progressively harder as you go on. You also can’t just backtrack to the previous world to save your game, so in other words, finding out where those damned letters are becomes your main priority, rather than surviving the levels and that’s just a load of bullshit.
To its credit though, DKL1 did a lot of novel things, had original worlds and enemies, not to mention a surprisingly good original soundtrack. And there were some genuinely fun parts to the game, so it wasn’t a total loss, but definitely my least favourite game in the DKC-series never the less.
As I demonstrated in the Top-5, it is possible to emulate a bigger game on a home console successfully on a handheld – but what about a game that was originally in 3D. I have feeling the developers bit off more than they could chew, when they signed on to do the handheld 2D version of the adventures of the busty, gun-blazing archaeologist Lara Croft.
To its credit, the 2D version stays faithful to the original game by treating Lara realistically. Falls from great heights hurt you, Lara uses her guns and her wits to make it out of complex catacombs while facing against vicious animals and super-natural threats like skeleton warriors. The game even offers ample opportunities to save. However, other annoying design flaws make this into a pretty frustrating game. The controls are a little counter-intuitive and can lead to some unexpected deaths early on.
There’s absolutely no music outside the game’s terrible cutscenes (if you want to call them that) and the object menu is also programmed a little awkwardly as well. Also, there’s no map so you have to have pretty good spacial awareness before you start or else you will be hopelessly lost. Tomb Raider is a bad game, but it’s not bad for a lack of effort – but rather because the game was clearly a little over-ambitious and lacking some common sense in its execution.
1. Mission: Impossible
Holy fucking shits, Batman! Mission: Impossible isn’t simply the worst Game Boy game I’ve ever played, it might easily be one of the worst games ever created by human hands. Making an action-adventure spy game for the Game Boy, I’ll admit, was going to be challenging – but it’s rather inconceivable that anyone could make a game this incoherent and impossible to figure out.
In the game, you’re given non-specific instructions and let loose running around a nondescript city, shooting agents that already know who you are and having to listen to the f***ing annoying siren play every five seconds or so. This game is a sensory over-drive of badness.
The blurry graphics are hard to make out, you have no map or any kind of indicator about where to go, there’s a grating noise every five seconds and like all truly bad movie-based games, the only background music is the Mission: Impossible theme playing on infinite loop. After all that, if you can go for longer than 5 minutes of playtime before switching the game off in frustration, I salute you.
I’m almost convinced that this game was an exercise conceived by the real IMF to test how well people respond to torture. I wonder if beating the game will send you a self-destructing invitation to join a secret government agency. Long story short: worst f****ing Game Boy game ever.