#25 - Castlevania II: Belmont's Revenge
Chosen by: FreezingInferno, Crono Maniac, Zeloz, Mash
FreezingInferno - So, let's look over Castlevania on Game Boy real quick. The Adventure is godawful. Everything about it is poorly designed and anyone who says Simon's Quest is the worst should be made to play it. Legends is playable, but it's a strange mess of exploration where there's only one good thing to find in each stage and every other branching path is there to waste your time. That leaves us with Belmont's Revenge. The good one. The really good one. I mean, it's not the best Castlevania game... but it's the best on Game Boy. Neat levels, great music, a real sense of challenge. I like it a lot and you ought to as well.
Crono Maniac - Tough as nails and stuffed with cool ideas, Castlevania 2 on Game Boy is a tremendous improvement over its abysmal predecessor, and a worthy entry in one of my favorite game series.
Zeloz - While I don't have the seething hatred for it's predecessor that many others have, I have to admit that it's sequel improves on just about everything in a way that makes the first Adventure pointless. The first four levels can be played in any order, the levels themselves look and are designed very well for the hardware, there are now honest-to-god sub-weapons, your whip upgrades don't degenerate with being hit, and the music is oh so very lovely. This is pretty much the definitive old-school Castlevania experience for the Game Boy.
Mash - Fixed what was wrong with the first Adventure (slow, boring gameplay+unacceptably lazy level design for a Castlevania) resulting in a game that's more or less on par with the NES ones. About the only flaw with it is that it's a bit too much on the easy side. Not piss easy like Symphony or SCIV, but still kind of a walk in the park for the most part.
#24 - Mega Man Zero
Chosen by: FreezingInferno, Pixel Crusher, Zeloz
FreezingInferno - Mega Man wasn't in the best of shape in 2002. What the christ happened to the X series? Mega Man X is a near masterpiece, and then we get to X6 and good fucking lord. Well, this is what happened to it. Its spirit flew through the void, screaming and crashing into the GBA. Ba-bam. Mega Man Zero. This is one of the hardest Mega Man games you'll ever play. Anyone who dares to call Mega Man 1 "impossible" should be made to play this. It fits the mood of the game well. Fighting against the all-powerful forces of Neo Arcadia in Zero's run down piece of shit body. Of course it would be hard. This game did what Ecco The Dolphin did, but pulled it off. They made a game that's hard and invokes a mood without making it go overboard. Goddamn. What an action gem.
Pixel Crusher - The only punishingly hard game I actually gave a damn about mastering until the very end, mostly because I loved its dark, grim and mature atmosphere when compared to the X series. The gameplay was also top-notch obviously.
Zeloz - This game is balls hard. This is an undeniable, empirically-proven fact. But hot damn, I have never felt so good beating a game. It essentially takes one of my favorite things about the 32-bit X games, namely the ability to play that lightsaber-toting speedster Zero, and expands it into it's own unique game with interconnected levels and a story that turns the X series on it's head. Like it's prequel series, there are ways to augment your health and strength, but the game makes using them a moral dilemma and challenges you to do without them for a higher rank. The rank system, in particular, encourages players to play at a skill level higher than they're used to, making them aware of the damage they take and the lives they lose with penalties. It may not have the reward system of the second game, making rank a simple matter of bragging rights, but I haven't made much headway in that game so I can't list it yet. This game, on the other hand, is one of the best action-platformers on the GBA as far as I'm concerned, despite how much better its sequels may be.
#23 - Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance
Chosen by: Pixel Crusher, Pauncho Smith, Master of AFTER, TJF588
Pixel Crusher - Despite the lazy "second castle" and a questionable soundtrack (good compositions, terrible exposition), Harmony was a much better offering than Circle of the Moon could be before the arrival of Aria of Sorrow. I especially loved breezing through the main game as Maxim and doing boss rush with 8-bit Simon.
Pauncho Smith - I do believe this was the very first of the Metroidvanias I managed to play. Initially, I found the whole experience to be a bit peculiar. What kind of name is "Juste" anyway? Why do so many character sprites have a weird colored outline to them? Was it really necessary to have Juste followed by his blue shadow/astral projection every time he jumps, dashes or slides? Was it REALLY NECESSARY to have an interior decorating sidequest? A respectable effort, but outclassed by the other GBA/DS 'Vania titles that followed.
Master of AFTER - As the middle child of the GBA Castlevania trilogy, HOD frequently gets lost in the shadows cast by its vampire-slaying siblings. Time has been rather unkind to this game, with its flaws becoming significantly embellished in hindsight. Which is a shame, I think, since this trek through the castle of chaos had a lot going for it. The sheer size of the game deserves praise, with two entire maps to explore and a humungous roster of enemies to whip into flaming corpses. While a lot of the game's most memorable encounters and locations were recycled in later games, I award full credit to HOD for being my first opportunity to take on the giant armor bosses and explore the eerie passages of the Skeleton Cave. Also, a round of applause to the team of artists that designed the spell effects for this game. The amount of visual oomph they were able to wrestle out of the GBA hardware for the hardest-hitting magic attacks was nothing short of amazing.
#22 - Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga
Chosen by: Pauncho Smith, Crono Maniac, Master of AFTER, Rhete
Pauncho Smith - At the time of this game's release, there had already been two different iterations of the Mario RPG concept. The Squaresoft-flavored Super Mario RPG for the SNES gave players a gorgeous, pre-rendered isometric 3D world to explore allowed them to place Mario, a pre-Peach Toadstool, and even Bowser himself, on the same team during battles. The follow-up, Paper Mario for the N64, went in a drastically different direction with a simplified, storybook-style motif (perhaps taking some cues from how different Yoshi's Island was aesthetically from other platformers at the time) and a collection of small sidekick characters with unique abilities that you could switch between on the fly. Superstar Saga for the GBA finally gave us the chance to have Mario and Luigi fighting side-by-side for the first time since the original Mario Bros. (which is also an added feature on this cart).
As with the previous two games, you are rewarded for having good timing; hitting a button at the right moment can increase the amount of damage your attacks could do, or block and/or avoid enemy attacks entirely. With the two brothers under your command, you have the option of pulling off some complicated, but very impressive combo attacks that can turn foes into mincemeat. As a result, battles are always engaging, and you're always tempted to nail that three-part jump attack perfectly.
One aspect of the Mario RPG series that has always received praise was its sense of humor. Sure, Super Mario RPG and Paper Mario had levity in spades, but Superstar Saga is in a league of its own. From the character animations to the at-times completely insane dialogue (MUSTARD OF YOUR DOOM!!!), there's always something to smirk, chuckle, or guffaw at in this game. It's also quite charming to hear the brothers talk to each other in what I can only assume was the director's approximation of what the Italian language sounded like. Reminded me a bit of what it sounded like when my mother would spend hours on the phone, chatting away in Spanish.
Crono Maniac - The Mario & Luigi games have one of the coolest combat engines I've ever encountered in an RPG, and Superstar Saga is where it was introduced. Many people swear by Bowser's Inside Story, but this is still my favorite iteration of the series.
Master of AFTER - While Paper Mario was originally touted as the spiritual successor to Super Mario RPG (*angelic chorus*), I always found the PM games a bit disappointing. For some reason I can't quite put my finger on, they just weren't my bag. For my money, Superstar Saga was were it was at. Here was a work that deserved to be recognized as a proper follow-up to Square's 16-bit classic. The level of craftsmanship that went into every aspect of this game was astounding: The combat nailed that tactile, interactive feel that so few turn-based RPGs manage to get right; the game world was lively and densely populated with appealing characters; the graphics were dripping with everything there was to love about the most garishly colorful Saturday morning cartoons of the 80s and 90s... It had the whole package, baby.
One of Superstar Saga's most standout features had to be the quality of the writing. The game's story was not only engrossing, but funny. And I mean, like, actually funny. As in the real-world kind of funny, where someone doesn't have to be in on nine hundred different esoteric video game in-jokes to get a laugh out of the dialogue. This was humor that was accessible to people who can remember feeling the sensation of sunlight on their skin.
Not all genres require a comedian's timing to be successful; to the contrary, I often find myself wishing most games that attempt to make me laugh hadn't. When it comes to something as plot-heavy as a role-playing game, however, I would like to see more designers make this kind of effort to include a little levity in their scripts. Jokes alone won't make a game, but they can certainly help make it more memorable.
#21 - Dragon Warrior III
Chosen by: FreezingInferno, Carmichael Micaalus, Zeloz, Voodoo Groove
FreezingInferno - I love Dragon Quest a lot. Or Dragon Warrior. Whatever you want to call it. Its finest entry is easily Dragon Quest V on the DS. That game is pretty much the Mother 3 of Dragon Quest... but it didn't come out on the Game Boy. That honor goes to the first three games. 1 and 2 were bundled together on one cart, but it's Dragon Quest 3 or Dragon Warrior 3 or whatever that earns the silver. Now, these days you can probably just grab the Super Famicom port of this game. It's this game, but prettier and less clunky. In 2002 that wasn't an option for me. This game sucked away whatever free time it could, and considering that I was trying to do final exams in high school and read Lord Of The Rings, that's an accomplishment. III has a million things to do, a grand adventure, plenty of monsters to murder, and is only overshadowed by V in my eyes. This game is good. Damn good.
Carmichael Micaalus - Any game with a fully customizable party is aces in my book. Adding class changes is also a plus. Scantily-clad, lavender-haired female soldiers? Icing on the cake.
Zeloz - Yeah, the Super Nintendo version may have gotten the fan-translation treatment, but I still think this one's the superior version. Sure, it may not have the spiffy graphics and beautiful synthesized orchestration, but it's portable! And it runs a lot better on a PSP emulator than the SNES version, too (I think). As for the game proper, it's easily one of the best Dragon Quest entries. Customizable party, a promotion system, a large world filled with genuinely interesting NPCs... this game was the ideal Famicom RPG and it translates well to the portable medium.
Voodoo Groove - I think DQ III has the distinction of being the single game I've started over more times than any other. Something about getting your team together and setting up all their personalities was oddly comforting. I'm pretty sure it also holds the honor(?) of being the first JRPG I ever owned.
#20 - Astro Boy: Omega Factor
Chosen by: Crono Maniac, Rhete, Voodoo Groove, Irish
Crono Maniac - A masterclass in crowd-control focused game design, and the mechanics are as frictive and satisfying as any other top-tier Treasure game. (I've heard great things about Gunstar Super Heroes, but unfortunately I haven't played it yet.)
Rhete - Take legendary game designers Treasure, and give them the world of Osamu Tezuka to play with, and you've got a recipe for a winner. While the action is great, it's the surprisingly well-told story that really elevates this game to being one of my all-time favorites.
Voodoo Groove - I borrowed this game from a friend and played the shit out of it for about 2 weeks. There was an impressive amount of customization in terms of upgrading your robo-shota.
Irish - There are two names in gaming that will guarantee a title has my money from day one. The first is Platinum Games, the Second is Treasure. Now, while the console versions of Astro boy drew a collective "meh" Treasure turned in a superb and reverential game that not only paid incredible tribute to the spirit of the original anime, and .... Various other characters, but it also delivered an incredible action adventure title with well realized RPG ideas mixed in.
#19 - Kirby's Dream Land 2
Chosen by: Pixel Crusher, Master of AFTER, Zeloz, Voodoo Groove, Irish
Pixel Crusher - In this sequel, you could actually copy abilities. Oh, and Kirby also had a couple of animal friends to help him, but I barely remember any of them.
Master of AFTER - I remember my main attraction to this game was seeing Kirby riding a hamster on the box cover. I wasn't particularly enamored by Kirby at the time, but the idea of playing a game where you could ride on a hamster? Sign me UP for that shit!
In retrospect, this game provided a pretty ideal introduction to the world of Kirby. All the trademark pinkie-puff cutesy-wootsey-ness of the franchise was slightly offset by the humor of Kirby's interactions with his animal cohorts, and the increased variety in the gameplay no doubt helped to capture my interest long enough to see the final levels.
Not gonna lie, though: 90% of the reason this game made this list is because of hamster.
Zeloz - Now I'll admit, I prefer Kirby's NES outing over this one. Apparently, that one got a GBA remake with Nightmare in Dreamland, but I can't vouch for the quality of that game. I have done a 100% run of this game in one sit down, however, and I don't ever do that with games. The game's fairly short length might have something to do with it, but addition of Kirby's little animal friends mixed up the ways Kirby could use his powers, expanding the game play in various fun ways.The game also takes advantage of the extra sound channels the Super Game Boy grants, something I found quite surprising considering that other Super Game Boy titles tend to just get more color added to them. This really isn't my favorite Kirby game, but it's arguably the best on the Game Boy and something of a unique experience for me.
Voodoo Groove - Kirby games lend themselves well to portable systems, and this was my favorite of the GB versions I owned. Those animal partners are so damned cute.
Irish - Well, you cant say Nintendo doesn't know how to do its platformers. While the rest of the industry was trying hard to imitate Sonic with smarmy anthropomorphic animals with gameplay gimmics, Nintendo just had no fucks to give and went about designing their own characters and just focusing on delivering solid games.
#18 - Super Mario Land
Chosen by: Miller, Pauncho Smith, Rhete, Zeloz, Mash
Miller - Mostly for nostalgic reasons, but I replayed it the other day and it holds up very well I would say (except for the somewhat stiff controls). The World 2 theme is still my all-time favorite Gameboy song.
Pauncho Smith - If I'm going to be completely honest, the placement for this one is probably more for sentimental reasons than anything else. The game is Mario platforming at its most basic, it's pretty dang short (the whole game should take 20 minutes tops), many of the staples of the series are curiously absent and/or altered (the flower lets you shoot BALLS instead of fire, and the Goomba was named "Chibibo"), and other than playing it a second time immediately after beating it once for a slightly (and boy is it ever slight) more challenging experience, there's little else to come back for. As it was one of the first releases for the Game Boy, it was very primitive and would be drastically outclassed by countless titles that would follow.
So why is Super Mario Land ranked so high then? That has a lot to do with my own personal history with the game, and with the Game Boy in general. I got my Game Boy for my 7th birthday (at least I think so, could either be 6th or 7th, it's been a while), and this was the very first game system that I could really call my own. Subsequently, Super Mario Land was the very first Game Boy game I ever played (there's no way you could've paid me enough to even contemplate playing Tetris with a Mario game waiting for me). I took the damn thing with me everywhere I went: the school bus, the city bus, the subway train, the city parks, the bodega on the corner, the aquarium, the therapist's office, to my Granny's apartment, at birthday parties for kids I never knew personally and never heard from again, up the block, down the block, EVERYWHERE.
Of course, there's more than nostalgia at work here. I still think that Super Mario Land is pretty neat. It's great to see Mario's first outing on a portable system, the music is instantly catchy (Muda and Chai themes being the game's strongest tracks), the gameply changes are well-implemented (being able to snag coins from afar with the power ball was a welcome touch), and dammit, I just love the hell out of the Marine and Air Pop sections. The main antagonist, Tatanga, was something of a pioneer himself, being the first space alien villain in a Mario game (to be followed much later by the X-Nauts and the Shroobs). Super Mario Land certainly isn't the greatest Mario title or Game Boy release, but it's a very important one, not just on a personal level, but for the trajectory of handheld games in general.
Rhete - I like this game because it is weird, even in the context of Mario games which are all kind of weird if you think about em too long. In Mario Land though, Mario shoots metal balls instead of fireballs, Koopa Shells explode like bombs, and the last level turns into a shmup as you shoot down an alien to rescue a different, non-Toadstool Princess.
Zeloz - You can tell me all you want about how Land 2 is the better game in every single respect, and for the most part I'll agree with you on an objective level. Otherwise, and keeping with my awful taste in everything ever, I will always love this game better. I traded a copy of Legacy of Goku for this game in middle school, and not once did I feel cheated out of anything (though I didn't have a GBA at the time). It was just such a quirky Mario game with a bunch of early Game Boy weirdness, like absurdly small sprites and odd physics, but with solid game play despite it all. People give early GB games like Castlevania - The Adventure flak for deviating a little too much from their console cousins. It's a criticism that applies to this game as well, but I feel as though it makes it all the more memorable in this case.
Mash - While not as good overall as it's NES counterparts, this game has a unique vibe to it that I still dig even today. Also the reason I got a Gameboy in the first place.
#17 - WarioWare, Inc.: Mega Microgame$!
Chosen by: FreezingInferno, Pixel Crusher, Master of AFTER, Rhete, TJF588
FreezingInferno - This game's really weird. But really fun. If you've never played a Warioware game, it's basically you taking on stages of "microgames". Shotgunning simple tasks for you to do in all of 3 seconds. MOVE. DODGE. SHOOT. Stuff like that. The better you do, the faster things get. It's got an undeniable charm, and as things get faster it gets really damn tense. Plus you can unlock a Dr. Mario clone called "Dr. Wario". I mean, it don't come with Tetris Attack but any chance to play Dr. Mario makes a game GREAT.
Pixel Crusher - This zany and bizarre game starring Wario and friends (I'm surprised he actually has any) was the perfect time killer for any occasion. I still wish Nintendo had made one for the 3DS rather than the Wii U.
Master of AFTER - The more cynical side of me would say this game was a happy accident; a messy, cobbled-together experiment in ADHD metagaming that managed to work despite itself. The less jaded side of me would say this was a brilliant deconstruction of a medium that reduced interactive entertainment to its most basic, most concentrated form - one that eschewed typical design structure and focused exclusively on the raw components of everything that make video games fun. Both sides are probably full of shit to some degree, but both agree that, for whatever reason, WarioWare was an absolute blast to play.
Rhete - On paper this sounds like a game that wouldn't be fun at all. Nothing but 3 to 5 second long mini-games? But somehow, thanks to fantastic presentation, a great cast of characters, and of course, the crazy mini-games, it all comes together and works perfectly.
TJF588 - Reading up on this, "ADHD" was no stranger to its description, and I've had three or four copies through my hands (two game paks, my attempt at making save file, and the 3DS). The series of, to think of it, gimmick showcases established itself well here, with the big distinctions coming from presentation styles. Most microgames have a clone or two (save the twice-as-long (read: still under ten seconds) IQ set), but the disparate themes are held together in a grander framework theme, culminating in Wario's "totally OC, guys!" ramped-up variants. Throw in less-than-micro unlockable games and a few secrets, and you can start losing track in the spiral of "this won't take long"/"I'm so close!"
Aside: The Game Boy Player makes for easier two-player sessions, though some of the charm is in cramming yourselves together.
#16 - Operation C
Chosen by: FreezingInferno, Miller, Pauncho Smith, Crono Maniac, Zeloz, Irish
FreezingInferno - This was my introduction to Contra. I can't NOT include it. Contra on the Game Boy didn't do so hot after this. You had a stripped-down Game Boy port of Contra 3, and then you had the actual port of Contra 3 that shoehorned in levels from Hard Corps for some goddamn reason. So Operation C wins by being a good and original Contra game. Yes, it's short. Yes, you can break it with the homing gun. Did it matter? Nope. I loved it as a child. Loved it enough to learn the hell out of it and one life the thing. It's excellent.
Miller - Who would've thought that Contra works so great on the Game Boy? (a lot of people, probably). Anyway, I like how it resembles the 8-bit Contra games in many ways and switches between sidescrolling and top-down.
Pauncho Smith - Another Contra title where the word "Contra" had been shortened to C? I guess somebody was really spooked by that whole Iran-Contra fiasco (or just really didn't want to get on Ollie North's bad side). Regardless, this miniaturized edition of everyone's favorite run 'n gun adventure more than holds its own against the rest of the series. Original levels and bosses, familiar gameplay and music, and a homing weapon that is somehow just as useful (if not more useful) than the spread gun, this is easily a must-own for fans of the old grey brick.
Crono Maniac - Old-school Contra at its most refined. It lacks the sheer chaos of Super C, and it doesn't have the relentless difficulty and inventiveness of Hard Corps, but what's there is perfect and polished to a mirror sheen.
Zeloz - Aside from the sorta wonky jumping and limited arsenal, this game delivers on pretty much anything you could expect from a Contra on a pea soup brick. It throws in stages that play by Super C rules, but overlays it with Contra music arrangements. It's also the first to throw in a homing gun, a stackable spread gun, and a machine gun from the beginning so you won't have to wear out that B button. All things considered, it's really not as "UNPOSSIBLE" as it's older brethren, and with it's short length it's a good "beginner's" Contra.
Irish - You know, I would loathe this game for how short and comparatively easy it is compared to other games in the franchise, but then it had to go and introduce a revolutionary weapon the shooters; the homing gun. This beast completely changed up the game and how you played it, It could be utterly broken once you got used to how it worked and enemy patterns. I guess there is also the graphics and level designs that stand out as well. Gamers of this era would probably struggle with it for a few days, but I used to beat it a couple times a day during lazy holidays.
#15 - Mega Man Xtreme 2
Chosen by: FreezingInferno, Pixel Crusher, computercat, Crono Maniac, Zeloz
FreezingInferno - This is one of the first Mega Man games I beat under my own power. It's also a great attempt at bringing Mega Man X to an 8-bit level. It's not perfect and the translation is laughable at parts, but it's got charm. Plus it has this neat mode where you play as X AND Zero working together, and whoever you kill a boss with gets the boss weapon. This is a mechanic that Capcom never played with again. Hell, the only other time I've seen it used is in goddamn Megamari. Good lord.
Pixel Crusher - Next to Mega Man X4, this is easily my favorite Mega Man X game. I simply loved its boss rush mode and being able to play as Zero, but what I loved the most was the parts customization system, which allowed me to make a X-Buster that broke the game and made Dr. Light's buster upgrade look like garbage.
computercat - Good job at porting MMX to an 8-bit system, what MMX 3 should of been.
Crono Maniac - The first Mega Man Xtreme was a buggy, forgettable mess, but the second is a huge improvement. Honestly, it's better than most of the actual X games. It was the first game in the series to allow switching between X and Zero on the fly, and it has a parts system that actually makes sense, which is something even the Zero series never figured out. Aside from a few clumsily assembled fortress levels (and the obligatory terrible translation), this is basically a perfect package.
Zeloz - I don't suppose many realize how much faster and powerful the Game Boy Color is compared to previous models. Beyond the addition of color, the system's hardware runs at nearly three times the speed, allowing for impressive-looking games such as Shantae and Magical Chase GB to be possible. While not exactly looking as good as either of those two titles, Xtreme 2 seems to have taken advantage of the doubly faster processor in providing an X game that has more in common with the PSX entries than it's immediate predecessor. Heck, it even had the pants-on-head-silly story and equally botched translation. Part upgrades to augment your skills make an appearance here, you can play as Zero just like in the PSX games, and the X3 bosses actually have respectable stages now. Sure, Neon Tiger's holed up in Sting Chameleon's stage now and Volt Catfish somehow inherited Toxic Seahorse's abode, but it's all for the better. Also, being able to switch between characters in Xtreme mode is pretty cool, too.
#14 - Donkey Kong
Chosen by: FreezingInferno, Miller, Pauncho Smith, Mash, Irish
FreezingInferno - Another game from my Game Boy childhood that I fell in love with. What at first seems to be a port of the 1981 arcade original turns into a crazy action puzzle game with like 100 levels. Get a key and take it to a keyhole. Simple, right? Good lord no. Not with all the things waiting to kill you. And all the environmental puzzles you're going to have to solve. Make no mistake, this thing gets tricky. Perfect timing and planning are required to win. Thank god they shower you with extra lives. You WILL hit 99 lives as you play. It's all but guaranteed. It's fantastic.
Miller - Great, great game, though I think it gets a bit repetitive to crack the top ten.
Pauncho Smith - Grandmothers sure are wonderful folks, aren't they? Always willing to bend over backwards to see a smile emerge on their grandchild's face. And I knew exactly what I was doing on the day that my maternal Granny was set to take the long Greyhound trip from Daytona Beach back to The Bronx. It had been a while since I had a new Game Boy title to futz around with, so within minutes of arriving the Volusia Mall, I made a B line to Kay Bee Toys, spotted a copy of Donkey Kong, and said "THAT ONE". Man, my Abuelita is great; I wonder if she'd be interested in that braised rabbit recipe I came up with. I heard she used to roast quite a bit of bunny back in Puerto Rico.
As for the game itself, the first four levels are pretty much copy and pasted from the arcade classic itself. After the arcade stages are done however, the big ape runs off to the city with Pauline in tow, and this is where the game really begins. You chase DK across a ton of different locales, ranging from cities, forests and jungles, to scorching deserts, frozen tundras, and even an airplane in flight. Each of these areas comes complete with their own set of enemies, hazards and obstacles that will challenge both your platforming skills and you puzzle-solving acumen. Take heart, as this isn't quite the Donkey Kong of old; you have some new tricks to fall back on, like handstands, double and triple jumps, and even a lovely looking back-flip that would put most gymnasts to shame. You can also spin and launch yourself from wires, bash down bricks with the super hammer, and can fall marginally farther than in the old Donkey Kong without fear of death.
What I love most about this game is how Nintendo took an idea as old and as iconic as the original Donkey Kong, and breathed new life into it (they didn't even have Stanley the Bugman around to cock things up a second time). It's a familiar set-up, but with brand new settings and gameplay tweaks. Based on what I've read and watched, the more recent "Mario v.s. DK" releases for the GBA and DS are a continuation of this style of puzzle-platformer. It's pretty nice to know that this game had a bit of a legacy of its own.
Mash - What's this? A puzzle platformer game? Where Mario can now move like an acrobat for some reason? Yeah, weird as it seemed at first this game proved really fun and addictive. Come to think of it, the whole fat acrobat thing kind of foreshadowed the moveset in Mario 64.
Irish - Wow, these game boy exclusives were just incredible weren't they? In this game we have the arcade classic as a warm up, before the game turns into an addictive platform puzzler with never before or since seen agility from Mario to navigate the world.
#13 - Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3
Chosen by: FreezingInferno, Pauncho Smith, Master of AFTER, Zeloz, Irish
FreezingInferno - Wario is all over this thing, isn't he? This was the first game featuring him as the star, and boy howdy was it expansive. 40 levels, all sorts of hidden treasures to find, and multiple endings. GET ALL THE MONEY, GREED IS GOOD! It's a finely crafted action platformer, and it kept me going until the wee hours of the morning trying to get all the money. God, this game is great. The other Wario Land games were fine, but this was my jam.
Pauncho Smith - I remember reading this Nintendo Power article about it and the concept of giving a final boss the leading role in his own game seemed pretty out there at the time. It also struck me as being a good deal more open-ended than the lion's share of handheld platformers of that era. I finally had the chance to play this fairly recently, and it holds up for the most part. Didn't much care for some of the spotty hit-detection (especially during boss fights) and some sections where I felt I had to grind for coins. If nothing else, this was a pretty good launching pad for Nintendo's irreverent anti-hero.
Master of AFTER - During the brief period between his debut and subsequent transformation into a gassy joke character, Wario was quite possibly the most badass playable character Nintendo has ever created. If you need proof, look no further than Wario Land. Instead of setting off to valiantly rescue a kidnapped princess or free a kingdom in peril, Wario's journey had him blazing a trail across an island inhabited by pirates so he could jack as much of their shit as possible. Gone were the power-ups that transformed you into the likenesses of adorable animals; in their place were items that gave you the powers of bulls and dragons (and friggin' jets). Even the game's soundtrack scrapped the jaunty tunes the Mario games were known for and opted for a grungier, grittier sound that would have been right at home blaring out of a jukebox in an 8-bit biker bar. In every way you could imagine, Wario was the Alice Cooper to the Mario Bros' Beach Boys.
In terms of the gameplay, this one was pure platforming bliss. Tight controls, challenging obstacles, and incredible level design combined to make this one of the most enjoyable side-scrollers released on the Game Boy.
Even more impressive was the insane amount of replayability this sucker had to offer. Multiple branching paths and a metric ton of secrets ensured this game was a completionist's dream - or nightmare, depending on your level of dedication. In the days before the internet, only the most hardcore players stood a chance of locating every piece of loot and scoring the best ending. And yes, I was one of those players. Twice. Feed the greed, bitches!
Zeloz - While I played and loved the heck out of Super Mario Land, I expected it's sequel to be a thousand times better than it. When I found out it was only a hundred times better, and set with a nonexistant difficulty curve until Wario's Castle, I couldn't help but feel a little disappointed. Having played this particular game before Land 2 may have also figured in to things, because this game is everything I wanted the sequel to Land 1 to be. Sure, it may not have the open-endedness of it's immediate predecessor, but it's got a good bit of bite in the difficulty, as well as a cache of secrets and treasures to keep things interesting. Plus, you play as Wario now, leading to an entirely new, more brutal moveset than his goody-two-shoes counterpart. Throw in a secondary goal of getting ALL THE TREASURES and ALL THE MONIES, you got yourself a bit of raging Wario revenge that is most sweet.
Irish - An absolute gem of a game. Super Mario Land II introduced Wario, but this is the game that really thrust him into the limelight. It was a great platformer with genuinely great power ups and a well designed world map. Basically everything you want in a Mario game, without the Mario.
#12 - Tetris
Chosen by: FreezingInferno, Crono Maniac, heavymetalmage, Rhete, Zeloz, Remnant, Irish
FreezingInferno - I feel kind of dirty not putting this at #1. I mean, it's fucking Tetris! The importance of this game can't be understated! It MADE the Game Boy! It sold millions! It might be the most played video game in video game history, when you count the hundreds of adaptations of the basic core. My Game Boy did not come with Tetris. Thanks to cousins, I played it and thought it was kind of fun... but I missed out. It still belongs on the list because IT'S FUCKING TETRIS. I may love Dr. Mario more but no Game Boy list can be complete without Tetris on it somewhere. Now everyone go watch the documentary about the game and its legal battles.
Crono Maniac - This is my favorite version of Tetris, if only for its lovely iteration of the iconic theme. As for Tetris itself, I've dabbled in many of its imitators over the years, and while many of them are quite brilliantly put together (Tetris Attack comes to mind), none of them work quite as well for me. It really is a perfect video game, and one of the best ever made.
heavymetalmage - I looooooove Tetris. Awesome music combined with mind-numbingly-simplistic gameplay equals the perfect game to be addicted to.
Rhete - The king of the falling block puzzles and the game that put the Game Boy on the map, by being a game ANYONE can get into and play. Hell, my mom has her own Game Boy just for Tetris. To this day it still sits on the coffee table getting played once in a while. Tetris is just a goddamn addicting, fun, and timeless game. The best game of all time? Quite possibly.
Zeloz - If there was ever a game that could be called "timeless," it'd be this game. The game pretty much invented the falling-block puzzler, popularized the idea of gaming for "casual" audiences, and proved that the Game Boy was the definitive portable gaming experience despite it's technical antiquity. There are actually a lot Tetris games (not counting non-Tetris games like Tetris Flash and Tetris Attack) for the Game Boy family, and I'm somewhat inclined to believe that DX is actually objectively better. But this one makes the list simply because it's sheer addictiveness and cross-generational appeal made the Game Boy the most successful line of handheld gaming systems ever. Heck, we'd probably be making "Top XX Atari Lynx List" if not for this game, and that is one alternate reality I'd not like to think about.
No, but seriously. Would you like to live in a world where Ninja Gaiden III has a legitimate chance of making into the top 3 of any quality-based list? I certainly wouldn't.
Remnant - It's the portable version of the quintessential puzzle video game. I honestly can't think of anything clever to add to that.
Irish - What? So I'm including Tetris on the list. So? Tetris and the game boy were made for each other. Some of my best childhood memories were spend on my designated position on the family couch, family cat nestled in my lap while playing this game on the game boy.
#11 - Final Fantasy Adventure (US)|
Seiken Densetsu: Final Fantasy Gaiden (JP)
Chosen by: Miller, Crono Maniac, Zeloz, Remnant, Mash, Irish
Miller - One of the tightest gaming experiences ever. More balanced than Secret of Mana yet enough bugs to make the game hard. What always struck me as a kid was how good the story was. Looking back at it now, it's very generic and bland, but still captivating. They don't make 'em like this any more.
Crono Maniac - Superficially this game is just a cross between Zelda and Final Fantasy, but in reality it's so much more. The most significant innovation is the structure: Final Fantasy Adventure flows continuously from one location to the next, using narrative beats as transitions instead of Stage Markers or Magic Stones. It's a propulsive, exciting story filled with actual characters and genuinely dramatic events, and while it's silly and poorly translated for the most part, the attention to basic storytelling shines through. And when you reach the tense and exciting final boss gauntlet, there's a sense that you're reaching the end of a journey. That's a meaningful sensation to get from a game.
Zeloz - This was my first exposure to a game that made a genuine effort to tell a story, and though it's nothing impressive by today's standards, I was plenty engaged. The game introduced me to such concepts as permanent and often sorrowful character death, lengthy cutscenes, rudimentary puzzle-solving, and weapons that did more than just kill enemies. I didn't much care that the entire thing was badly translated (until the infamous "Palm trees and 8" part left me stumped until I could call my cousin about the matter). It was all understandable enough for me to sympathize with the player character's plight. Good god, poor guy had it bad, fighting through dungeon after dungeon for his lady friend and the forces of good, only for something terrible or sad to happen not long afterwards. Heck, near the end of the game, he even acknowledges his terrible luck at everything and goes into a moping, angsty fit that his old guy pal has to slap him out of.
I haven't even gotten much to the game play elements or the beautiful Kenji Ito soundtrack that manages to invoke emotion ranging from melancholy to fear to daring heroism, but I could probably write a NaNoWriMo-sized novel with all of the gushing feels I have for this game. It is truly a Final Fantasy side-story with a sense of ongoing adventure, a quest of mystic proportions, the legendary beginning of the "Holy Sword/Mana" series that continued with two great games for the SNES. It's not a perfect game by any means, but it is my favorite Game Boy game.
Remnant - An excellent little spin-off game that I still hold as having a stronger plot than its antecessor. As highly as I regard Secret of Mana, the plot and the world-traveling gets a little broken up and episodic in the latter half: go to this isolated area, deal with this little sub-plot, now you never need to visit that area again. It's only been a couple of years since I've played it, and to this day I'm still not quite sure how the main villain, the empire, the Mana Fortress, the Mana Beast, and the hero's mother/father all fit together in a cohesive narrative. On the other hand, I remember this game's story and characters vividly, though I haven't played it in over 10 years.
This was my first foray into RPGs as a kid, and I can't think of a better introduction to the genre for a long-time Zelda fan looking for something a little deeper. It had great music too.
Mash - The original entry in the Mana series, with kicking rad music and possibly the best story of the bunch. If you're a fan of those games, surely you've played this one...right? The original version is far better than the remade one, but then that's usually the case for Squarenix remakes...
Irish - AKA Secret of Mana the Prequel. It's a fun game that feels like Zelda and Final Fantasy got a little too crazy one night, and this game was born. It has the exploration of Zelda, and the various weapons and storytelling of Final Fantasy. What else is there to say, its old school gaming goodness in four colors in the palm of your hand. Back in 1990, this was a novelty.