Gameboy Retrospective

History:

My history with the Gameboy is actually, surprising, extremely limited. In fact, when I first got one it never occurred to me that it could actually play games that weren’t Pokemon! I thought it was some kind of single person device that was designed specifically for the one game!

There was also the general lack of interest in portable devices given that I’m legally blind. Even with Pokemon I often had to hold up a magnifying glass to the screen just to see any sort of detail.

It wouldn’t be until starting this project and buying a bootleg GB Boy Colour that I would actual experience a larger amount of the Gameboy’s library. Why the GB Boy? It can be bought brand new for $25 brand new and it has a proper backlight! Sure I could play games on a GBA SP, and did for a while, but then you risk knocking the cartridge and resetting your game…

Expectations:

When I first started playing Gameboy games for the project, and honestly I didn’t really have any set expectations. I was also playing them in tandem with the NES games, so it always kind of felt like that thing I did when I wasn’t working on the “main” portion of the project. As a result, I decided to the Gameboy on hold after a certain point, until I was done with the NES and could focus on it completely.

Incidentally, it was playing through the NES list that really gave some meaning to the games I’d be playing on the handheld. Suddenly I was looking forward to Legend of Zelda and Metroid, and had a deeper, or at least different, appreciation for how the portable entries stood up compared to their console counterparts.


Month 1:

Not a whole lot to talk about for the first month with the device. Pokemon TCG was obviously good, combining to of my favorite things (Pokemon and card games) and recreating what I’ve always considered one of the better card games on the market.

From there things start falling off though, with both F1 and Yoshi’s Cookie being pretty big disappointments. This was unfortunate, as I was looking forward to both game, but neither of them really had an impact on me.


Month 2:

The second month was a mixed bag of terrible, mediocre, average, and one fantastic stand out.

Perfect Dark was an awful experience, which is odd considering how much I enjoyed Metal Gear Solid on the Gameboy later in the list. Everything about it just seemed clunky and not very fun, so much so that I didn’t even bother putting it back on my shelf, instead tossing it into the overlow box.

Tomb Raider, Kid Icarus and Mario Golf were just incredibly average, enough that I was completely uninterested in finishing them. I understand the RPG elements of Camelot’s Mario sports games are really appealing to a lot of people, but they just don’t click with me. When I pop a golf or tennis game into my Gameboy, it’s because I want to just play golf or tennis… Street Fighter Alpha was relatively unoffensive, but it wasn’t really anything to get excited over either…

Luckily, Kid Dracula was there to save the day! I’d never heard of this game before this project, and it’s easily my personal favorite platformer for the handheld. This game is an absolute gem, so much so that I’m considering getting a reproduction of the Famicom version for the NES.


Month 3:

Month 3 caps out at “average”. Harvest Moon GBC served only to remind me why the original Harvest Moon game is better left as a memory, and Donkey Kong Land just seemed like a poor knockoff of its big brother on the SNES. Revelations quickly became boring, and I found Dragon Warrior Monsters downright bad.

The best games were Kirby Tilt & Tumble, which proved to be to uncomfortable to enjoy, and the Gameboy port of Duck Tales, which was… fine.


Month 4:

Spent most of this month focusing on the NES, but found time for Mole Mania and Dragon Warrior I & II. Both games were okay, but neither made me want to spend any real time with them.

I remember worrying about whether or not this would be a trend with the Gameboy. Every game I’d play was just okay at best, and I couldn’t imagine myself going back and replaying any of them, aside from a couple exceptions.


Month 5:

By this time I had finished up the NES list and was working exclusively on the Gameboy. It was a month like this that made it pretty apparent that my biggest issue with playing the Gameboy for this project, was that I’m playing most of these games in a way that they weren’t really meant to be played.

Sure, platformers like Mega Man V and Gargoyle’s Quest held up just fine, but when you set aside time to deliberately play games like Pokemon Puzzle Challenge or Wario Blast or Pinball, you really lose that grab and go appeal that is what’s meant to sell those games.

The most interesting entry from this month was Final Fantasy Legend. I was very skeptical going in to this one, and while I’m not singing its praises or anything it was still the first RPG on the Gameboy that kept me going from start to finish. I actually find this to be quite a great little game, though I don’t see myself picking up either of the sequels any time soon.


Month 6:

Another mixed month, featuring disappointments like Wario Land 3 and Final Fantasy Adventure, average games like Super Mario Deluxe and Bionic Commando Elite Forces, and a couple highlights in Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge and of course Pokemon Crystal.

I actually learned recently why most, if not all, copies of Pokemon Gold, Silver and Crystal have dead batteries. It turns out the the realtime day and night system uses the same battery as the game saves. As a result, after about three years of being active, all the batteries just started dying…


Month 7:

This was a good month for a few reasons, not least of which being that I finally got a PVR so I could take proper screenshots and captured footage from my games!

I enjoyed Mario Tennis exactly as much as I expected to, which was not very much. Same issue as Mario Golf, the RPG elements just don’t do it for me. The more disappointing items of the month were Dragon Warrior III and Shantae. Both of these games had some major hype, both were given a fair shake, and both just fell flat for one reason or another.

The biggest surprise was easily Metal Gear Solid, which has me pumped to play the PS1/PS2 games in the series. I was never into MGS before, just never played any of them, but I found the characters and story in the Gameboy entry so compelling that I can’t wait to see what the series does without the technical constraints. I know, I’m a bit behind the times, but better late than never to get on board?

Oracle of Seasons was fantastic, further hyping Link to the Past for me, and Metroid II was just perfect. Super Mario Land 2 was also great, while still not quite living up to its console cousins. Still great fun… despite nearly costing me an SNES controller…


Month 8:

Kirby’s still fun, surprise!

The puzzle games didn’t really excite me, though I could see them going good for a road trip, and I had a lot of fun breaking Pokemon, but for me the only game that matters here is Link’s Awakening.

Oh my gods this game! What’s really amazing, for me, is that just last year I never cared for Zelda games that weren’t centered around ocarinas or time travel. After beating the original game on the NES, I found myself willing to be more open to the 2D games. After Oracle of Seasons, I was willing to admin that I enjoyed them.

After Link’s Awakening? I’m a believer.

This game was by far the most impactful one I’ve played so far in this project, and I honestly don’t know if or how Link to the Past is going to top it, though I’m excited to find out.


Conclusion:

What started as, frankly, a slow and painful journey, ended with me experiencing a number of games that I’m grateful to have played. Sure, there was a substantial number of what I considered duds, but the games that stood out as good were generally VERY good.

The biggest issue, again, was the way I went about playing these games. Gameboy games are special because they’re meant to be games that you can enjoy in short bursts. Maybe you’ll only ever grab Pokemon Puzzle Challenge for that those bus rides across town, but in those moments games like that are invaluable. Meanwhile, you’d almost never sit on your couch and play that same game for a solid 45 minutes.

It’s also easy to question the value of even having an actual Gameboy considering things like the 3DS’ Virtual Console. Nearly every game I played for this list can be downloaded onto the 3DS at a fraction of the cartridge price, played on a bigger and better screen, and not come with the added hassle of dealing with multiple carts. Sure, there are some games like Pokemon or Kid Dracula that can’t be played that way, but for the most part you’re better off going virtual.

Personally I’ve found a very good reason for staying physical with the Gameboy: It’s the only console in the house that I can comfortably tell my 4.5 year old daughter she can go play unassisted. She knows where it is, how to put games in, and I don’t have to worry about her breaking it. When you have young kids, that kind of durability is invaluable!


My Top 10:

 1. LoZ: Link's Awakening      | 80
 2. Metroid II                 | 75
 3. LoZ: Oracle of Seasons     | 74
 4. Pokemon Red/Blue           | 73
 5. Kid Dracula                | 68
 6. Tetris                     | 67
 7. Super Mario Land 2         | 66
 8. Kirby's Dreamland 2        | 66
 9. Pokemon Trading Card Game  | 65
10. Super Mario Land           | 63
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