While all of their home consoles have been successful for the most part, Nintendo’s true pride and joy lies in its handheld line, which has sold like gangbusters since the unveiling of their first conventional handheld, the Game Boy. Though it wasn’t Nintendo’s first foray into handhelds, the Game Boy was their first handheld that utilized swappable cartridges to store game data as opposed to the game data being tied to the handheld. Released in 1989, the Game Boy was an 8-bit black-and-white powerhouse encased in a grey plastic shell that was about the size of a brick. True, it wasn’t exactly the most portable or technologically advanced handheld on the market, but the Game Boy provided players with smaller versions of their NES favorites along with some beloved new additions, including the birth of one of Nintendo’s biggest franchises. As Geek Squad wraps up for this year, let’s take a look at my top 5 games for the Game Boy!
5. Final Fantasy Adventure
Contrary to what the title would believe you to think, “Final Fantasy Adventure” isn’t a “Final Fantasy” game at all. Rather, “Final Fantasy Adventure” is the first game in the spin-off “Mana” series, which also comprises games such as “Secret of Mana” and “Sword of Mana.” “Final Fantasy Adventure” is an action RPG that plays out a lot like a “Zelda” game with some more traditional RPG elements added on, including an amazing story. You begin the game as a prisoner of the Dark Lord, forced to fight monsters as entertainment. After witnessing the death of your best friend, you manage to escape before discovering the Dark Lord’s plot to gain control of the Mana Tree, a magical tree that offers limitless power. The hero’s quest is one filled with death and despair, including a bittersweet ending that you wouldn’t expect from a Game Boy game. “Final Fantasy Adventure’s” English translation is admittedly horrible, but it’s simple enough to follow the story nonetheless, offering a rewarding experience when combined with the game’s solid gameplay.
4. Metroid II: Return of Samus
I’m a sucker for adventure games, and the “Metroid” series is no exception. “Metroid II: Return of Samus” is a slight departure from the first game and the series in general for a couple of reasons, partly due to the limitations of the Game Boy. For one, “Metroid II’s” camera is zoomed in extra close, which is a double-edged sword; the close-up camera angle makes for much more detail, but it also makes the game feel cramped the entire time. Second, the game’s story is unorthodox for the series’ general focus on exploration. After the events of the first game, the Galactic Federation sends Samus to the planet SR388 to exterminate all living metroids, parasitic organisms that the series’ antagonists use to their advantage. Because of this, there is a persistent counter in the bottom right corner that tells you how many metroids are remaining. This assassination mission serves as one of the most pivotal occurrences in the series. “Metroid II” also introduces many items and features that have become staples of the series, such as save capsules and the space jump suit enhancement. The music is simplistic and leaves a bit to be desired, but it fits the isolated atmosphere of the series nonetheless. All in all, “Metroid II: Return of Samus” is a worthwhile change of pace for any fan of the series or adventure game lover in general.
Do I really need to explain this one? It’s “Tetris” – end of story. Though this Russian puzzle powerhouse may not have originated on the handheld, the Game Boy version of “Tetris” was the undisputedly most successful version out there for its portability and the option to go head-to-head with someone else by connecting two Game Boys via a link cable. That’s kind of all there is to it. “Tetris.” Portability Multiplayer. Enough said.
2. The Legend of Zelda:
Link’s first handheld outing also happens to be one of my favorites. “The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening” defies expectations in its depth and length, making it a viable competitor against even some of the console iterations. A side story in the same way that “Majora’s Mask” is one, “Link’s Awakening” tells the story of Link, who, after sailing out in the sea during a particularly violent storm, washes up on the shore of the mysterious Koholint Island. Trying to find a way off the island, Link must explore the island’s dungeons and collect the eight musical instruments that will wake up a mystical creature known as the Wind Fish. It’s a little strange, but the game offers a perfectly reasonable explanation through its seamlessly woven storyline. With eight brilliantly conceived dungeons, a good number of side quests, the classic gameplay that the series is known for, and some of my favorite music from any video game, “The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening” stands tall amongst its brethren as an action-packed, expansive journey that will most likely require you to change your Game Boy’s batteries.
1. Pokémon Red/Blue/Yellow
Another title that needs no explanation, but I’m going to give it anyway. Created by second-party developer Game Freak, the Pokémon series has grown to be one of Nintendo’s strongest franchises and it all started with this trio of games. Back in the day, “Pokémon R/B/Y” lured in gamers of all ages with promises of catching ‘em all and becoming a Pokémon master with its massively addictive gameplay. An RPG in most regards, “Pokémon”’s gameplay revolves around capturing monsters known as Pokémon (short for pocket monsters), training them, and using them to battle against other Pokémon trainers, eventually becoming strong enough to take on each city’s respective Pokémon gym leader and take on the Elite Four in the hopes of becoming the Pokémon master. That, coupled with the task of catching all 151 Pokémon, makes for one huge time sink – and yet every minute of it is oh so good. From the daunting tasks to the majestic music to the – let’s face it – awesome-looking monsters, “Pokémon R/B/Y” oozes with ‘epic’ from start to finish. Though my memories of the game are stuck in the past, “Pokémon’s” legacy will likely live on for many years to come.
And that’s the end of that. Over the past two months, we’ve gone through some of the best of the NES, the Genesis, the SNES, the PlayStation, the N64, the Dreamcast, and the Game Boy, but there’s still so much left to look at.
Be sure to check back next year when Geek Squad explores how Microsoft filled the gap left by Sega, Sony’s rise and fall as the market leader, and Nintendo’s underdog victory with the Wii. Have a great summer, and remember to game on!