The best of the Game Boy Color: a guide

As we live through the nostalgia of celebrating the 20th anniversaries of the system’s best releases, it’s a great time to revisit the Game Boy Color and play some old and new favorites! (As well as some original Game Boy releases celebrating their 30th!) We’ve spent… well, a lot of time with the library over here, and we’ve compiled a list of the games you simply shouldn’t miss on the platform. Read on, will you?

Editors’ Note: While Michibiku typically focuses its coverage on Japanese games, this guide will cover games developed in all territories.

The Hardware

While there were a ton of variations of Game Boy hardware during its time, there was never a truly ideal revision at the time, and any choice is going to be compromised in some way. It’s unfortunate!

Still, there are two options that stand above the rest. The second version of the Game Boy Advance SP, known by its model number AGS-101, is the best option for playing these games on a portable with a backlit screen. It’s a bit harder to track down these days, and not filling the screen is a bummer, but it’s the best you’ll get.

Alternatively, you can play these games on the GameCube’s Game Boy Player, an official solution that offers a larger screen. For the original’s monochrome releases, the SNES’ Super Game Boy is a fair choice, and the import-only Super Game Boy 2 and Game Boy Light are worth a look as well.

The Essentials

The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages
The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons

2001, Capcom/Nintendo — GBC
Available on 3DS Virtual Console
This pair of titles defined the end of the Game Boy Color’s life by building around what the system did best. The two versions not only offered some signature link cable play, but also used the opportunity to build games catered to different sorts of players, be them fans of action combat in Seasons or more puzzle-focused ones in Ages. They even adapt when you play one as a sequel to the other! – Graham

Donkey Kong

1994, Nintendo — GB
Available on 3DS Virtual Console
This is one of those releases that’s way more ambitious than you’d guess at first glance. A full, experimental sequel to the arcade classic, Donkey Kong ’94 focuses on puzzle-solving and proves to be way less reflex-contingent than its predecessor. The ideas from this game were explored more in the GBA’s Mario vs. Donkey Kong, but this one does many of the things arguably better. – Graham

The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening / DX

1993/1998, Nintendo — GB/C
Available on 3DS Virtual Console
Time will tell whether the upcoming Switch remake will totally replicate the original’s charms, but until it does, this one’s still an essential play. An experimental side project from the talented team behind the classic Zelda and Mario releases, it’s an example of the sort of thing they could make when they were free to pursue their own creative whims. The result is a delight. – Graham

Metroid II: Return of Samus

1991, Nintendo — GB
Available on 3DS Virtual Console
Even though this game already did get a remake, the gameplay of Samus Returns is different enough from Return of Samus that both are worthy plays. For such a “small” game, Metroid II offers a large, almost narrative experience in much the same way as the original NES Zelda. The Game Boy release’s tight controls and more structured environments are a nice change of pace from the more improvisational 3DS iteration. – Graham

Pokemon Crystal

2000, Game Freak/Nintendo — GBC
Available on 3DS Virtual Console
When it comes to early Pokemon games, we’ve already established that Pokemon Crystal is the best GB/GBC installment. Naturally, this means it is one of the Best Game Boy Color games too. It is a massive journey that lets a player choose their avatar’s gender, go through Johto to become a champion, then head to Kanto to conquer that region too. It also set a precedent for an updated third release, what with its Ruins of Alph segment and more personalities for trainers. – Jenni

Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins

1992, Nintendo — GB
Available on 3DS Virtual Console
While the original Super Mario Land has its merits and is an interesting experiment, Super Mario Land 2 is a full-fledged traditional Mario game, with inventive worlds and its own set of iterative platforming ideas. It’s a much bigger game than you’d expect from an early Game Boy release, and its worlds hold together even now. It does push the limits of the system in a way that shows its weaknesses, but leaning into its strengths shows a different side of Mario. – Graham


1989, Nintendo — GB
If you’re going to play some Game Boy games, one stop you should absolutely make is to the hardware’s first classic: the original release of Tetris. Though other versions have released (including on the Color), the original’s simplicity makes for exactly the sort of experience you want if you’re skipping modern releases and going back to an earlier time. One might say it’s an essential Tetris game to play.– Graham

Wario Land II

1998, Nintendo — GB/C
Available on 3DS Virtual Console
Wario Land was, in its heyday, a way for the design team at Nintendo to try out all the ideas that would never work in a Mario game. Wario doesn’t die, and the afflictions enemies give him are exactly what he needs to solve puzzles. All of the first three games are worth a look, but II strikes the best balance, becoming much more comfortable with its formula than the first game but not needing to be different for difference’s sake in the way the third does. – Graham

The Gems

Final Fantasy Legend III

1993, Square — GB
What does a company do when it has a new RPG series, but another IP is doing well outside of Japan? If it is Square Enix, it takes the SaGa installments and slaps Final Fantasy on the box. Of the three SaGa Game Boy games passed off as Final Fantasy Legend titles, the third one is notable for doing fun things with its characters and stories. This is a time-traveling adventure where you influence reality by going to different time periods to save the future. But you aren’t just altering a timeline, you are altering your party! As you play, you can take meat from beasts or electronic components from robots to change your characters’ nature and alter their abilities. (Read more about SaGa here!) – Jenni

Kid Dracula

1993, Konami — GB
Is Dracula too scary for you? Did you always wish he, and maybe the Castlevania series as a whole, was a little more friendly? Well, maybe it is time to meet Kid Dracula. He needs your help. His has been usurped and lost all of his friends/minions to Galamoth, and it is up to players to eventually help him regain his glory by reacquiring his heirlooms and spells so you can take back the night. It sometimes plays more like Mega Man than Castlevania, which is interesting. Plus, it has this sense of whimsy you wouldn’t expect from a game about unholy and terrifying creatures of the night. – Jenni

Kirby’s Star Stacker

1997, HAL/Nintendo — GB
Available on 3DS Virtual Console
While it’s not as heralded as Tetris or Dr. Mario, Kirby’s Star Stacker brings mechanically sound puzzle gameplay in spades. You, well, stack stars between matching symbols to clear them all, and the positioning needed to pull off combos well is a fun thing to learn and execute. There’s a rare Japan-only Super Famicom port, but this original release brings all the complexity and modes you need. – Graham

Motocross Maniacs

1989, Konami — GB
This standout third-party launch release proves that a strong, simple gameplay hook can carry a game quite far. With its tight controls, Motocross Maniacs shows three decades ago what games like Trials do today: that controlling a bike on some tricky courses is a great formula. Check it out, will ya? – Graham

Mario Golf

1999, Camelot/Nintendo — GBC
Available on 3DS Virtual Console
Do you like golf? How about Mario? If you answered yes to any of those things, you will like Mario Golf for the Game Boy Color. Also if you answered no. You see, this game is for everyone, with its easy approachability and satisfying RPG-style progression, and it shouldn’t be overlooked just because you don’t usually like its theme. Heck, even the Mario stuff is largely to the side, focusing on your created hero and a cast of quirky club pros. – Graham


2002, WayForward/Capcom — GBC
Available on 3DS Virtual Console
Timing can play a big part in the success of a game, with some amazing titles being forgotten due to coming out at the wrong time. That’s exactly what happened with Shantae, a Metroidvania sort of game about a half-genie who uses her magical dances to transform and gain abilities that allow her to do more in the world. It was bright, colorful and had challenging gameplay that encouraged you to explore new areas. But, since it came out after the GBA was released, it didn’t get its proper due until years later. Fortunately, she’s stepped into the spotlight since! This early installment really shows how much has been preserved over the years. – Jenni

Gargoyle’s Quest

1990, Capcom — GB
Available on 3DS Virtual Console
This Ghosts ‘n Goblins spinoff was an early highlight for the Game Boy, and its ideas still hold up today. (One might say “more than Ghosts ‘n Goblins,” but those are the sorts of words that draw quite a bit of ire.) This small side project proved so engaging that it got sequels on the NES and SNES, but in its original form, its platforming stood out a lot more. – Graham

Pokemon Trading Card Game

1998, Hudson Soft/Nintendo — GB/C
Available on 3DS Virtual Console
As addictive as the original Pokemon games are, the formula has been improved and iterated upon in many, many installments over the years. Other than a Japan-only sequel, the TCG never really got that chance, making this original release that much more special. It and Yu-Gi-Oh!, a franchise that most certainly got more releases, set the stage for an entire genre: the card-battle RPG. And it’s good enough to make you see how so many would want to copy its successes. – Graham

The Curiosities

Lufia: The Legend Returns

2001, Natsume — GBC
Available on 3DS Virtual Console
Lufia: The Legend Returns is a weird game, in that it abandons a lot of the things that made the SNES Lufia games so beloved and great. But what makes it stand out and notable today is the unique battle system. There are 12 different people who can join, and nine of them will be with you in each turn-based fight. Their position in the 3×3 grid, the people they are placed alongside and the flow of different color Spiritual Forces determine which skills can be learned and used in battle. It really makes you think about who you use, what they do and how you handle each situation. (Learn more about it!) – Jenni

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

2001, Warner Bros. — GBC
You probably wouldn’t expect much from a licensed movie game on a mostly-dead platform, but Harry Potter for the GBC is a surprisingly fun JRPG with a lot of charm and a play time that doesn’t overstay its welcome. It may have been a bit too brief for players at the time, but now? For the asking price this thing commands these days? It’s a steal. – Graham


2000, Nintendo — GBC
Crystalis’ Game Boy Color port is fascinating. The original version on the NES was made by SNK, and Nintendo took it and basically remade it on the handheld. The story is different, the translation is different, there is an entirely different look to make it work on the portable, it has changed fights and it even has an additional dungeon. Some people may even say it sounds better, since Nintendo created all new music for it. Seeing Nintendo’s take on it may help people see how alterations can make a familiar adventure feel fresh. – Jenni

Pokemon Pinball

1999, Jupiter/HAL/Nintendo — GB/C
It may be mostly known for its special rumble-sporting cartridge, but Pokemon Pinball brings some lasting fun gameplay along with the gimmick. The table itself is fun, but the idea of catching ’em all brings a lasting goal to the proceedings. And you know what? That rumble stuff really is still a cool addition. – Graham


2000, Bits Studios/Nintendo — GBC
A real-time strategy game? On the Game Boy Color? That couldn’t possibly hold up, could it? Warlocked certainly tries its hardest against some truly difficult conditions and makes something that, once you get used to its controls, is still worth a play. It embraces its platform, building out a single-player campaign that is more involved than multiplayer-focused PC games tend to craft. It’s an odd little title and the sequel never ended up seeing the light of day, so it’s truly one of a kind. – Graham

Super Mario Bros. Deluxe

1999, Nintendo — GB
Available on 3DS Virtual Console (no Vs. Mode support)
While it may initially seem like a simple port of the NES original, Super Mario Bros. Deluxe offers some cool extras, like a compelling two-player mode that got the spotlight in recent years in the Nintendo World Championship. It also has full challenge maps and a remade version of The Lost Levels. (Fun fact: this game was only released in Japan through the Nintendo Power download service. It was easier to get in the West, for once!) – Graham

Survival Kids

1999, Konami — GB/C
The survival genre has found a place for itself in more modern times, with games like Minecraft tasking people with crafting and dealing with a hostile environment, but it was still in its infancy during the Game Boy Color’s time. This meant Survival Kids was ahead of its time. Players follow a young man or woman who is stranded on a desert island after a shipwreck. Your goal is to keep your health up, avoid starving or becoming dehydrated and sleep regularly, while exploring the island and crafting items that might help you escape. There are multiple ways to eventually survive or escape, allowing you to go out at your own pace. – Jenni

Kirby Tilt ‘n’ Tumble

2000, HAL/Nintendo — GBC
More gimmicky cartridges? Sure, the tilt sensor in the game is silly sometimes, but the game HAL built around it is an engaging action labyrinth that’s definitely worth a try. The studio’s great at experimental games that happen to have Kirby in them, and this is one of those that can’t be so easily emulated. It’s a great excuse to bust out the real hardware and pop in that pink Game Pak. – Graham

The Imports

Due to the low-cost nature of developing on the platform and the Color’s truncated life span, there are a ton of great import-only games for the Game Boy Color! In fact, we have a whole guide for them. Enjoy!

For more helpful information for classic game enthusiasts, check out our Guides section.

Questions? Comments? Talk to us on Twitter or Facebook!