The Game Boy was a benchmark moment for Nintendo, as the Japanese company proved it was possible to deliver quality gaming in a handheld package. As the 1990s were drawing to a close, it was time for an update and Nintendo delivered what would become a trademark feature in its handheld department: an iterative but well-received boost with its current hardware. The Game Boy Color made its debut in 1998 in Japan, and brought with it a fancier screen, a staggering number of colors for the time, and a punchy sound from its speaker.
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This handheld also allowed for a more colorful selection of games, each one using the LCD screen to its maximum potential to deliver vibrant images and gameplay. While Nintendo hadn’t kept the news of the Game Boy Advance a secret, the Game Boy Color was more than just a transitional device until the next generation of handheld gaming arrived. It was mobile Mayfly with a short lifespan on the market, but one that still saw some of Nintendo’s best games released on it. We’ve rounded up the 10 best Game Boy Color games in alphabetical order.
The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening DX
The original Link’s Awakening was a curious departure from the structures established in previous Legend of Zelda games. No Hyrule to explore, no Triforce relic to collect or even the titular Zelda herself, the Game Boy title was still a critically acclaimed experience when it was released in 1993. Fast forward to 1998, and looking to promote the Game Boy Color, Nintendo released the DX version of the game.
Not to be confused with the iconic WWE alliance of Triple H and Shawn Michaels, the DX edition of Link’s Awakening enhanced the game with fully colorized graphics, unique enemies, a unique dungeon, and color-based puzzles. There was even a photography element present, allowing for a dozen snaps to be taken and printed out using the Game Boy Printer. The end result was a treat, as one of the best Zelda games was now even better, and over a decade later, this version was re-released on the Nintendo 3DS for its virtual console.
2019 would see a full remake of the legendary title for the Nintendo Switch, which riffed on the original with a gorgeous retro-modern art style.
The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons
Zelda mania was still running wild in the early 2000s, and hot off the release of the genre-defining Ocarina of Time and its underrated follow-up Majora’s Mask, came this quirky adventure on the Game Boy Color. Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons took an unusual approach to the Zelda formula, with each one focusing on a specific theme and gameplay ideas. Oracle of Seasons was Zelda with the action dialed up to 11, while Oracle of Ages focused more on the trademark puzzles of the franchise.
Either game was brilliant in action and animated with quirky pixel perfection on the Game Boy Color, but owning both would reveal some real magic under the Nintendo hood. Using a password system, both games could communicate with each other and help create a more complete experience. Finish the one game, and you’d get a password which could be used on the partner title to drastically change the journey and replace the Veran and Onox boss fight with a classic showdown against Ganon.
There hasn’t been another Zelda adventure like the Oracle games, but this pair of colorful siblings gave the Game Boy Color a terrific send-off just as the Game Boy Advance was preparing to hit the market.
Golf on the go, and you didn’t even need to pay membership fees or risk your access being revoked if you weren’t properly dressed, Mario Golf is one of those titles that perfectly showed off what the Game Boy Color was capable of with its eye-catching colors, pick-up-and-play mentality, and tons of extras loaded into the cart memory. Whether you were teeing off for a hole-in-one or measuring for a precise putt, Mario Golf was easily the best handheld golf game at the time. It was even better with the N64 connectivity that could give more established franchises a run for their money back then.
Serving up some more Mario-themed sports action on the Game Boy Color, Mario Tennis was notable for how sparingly it used its cast of Mushroom kingdom citizens. While Mario and friends would appear in Exhibition mode and as the final challengers in this tennis showdown, the focus was more on growing your rookie sensation and investing ability points in their growth. The idea worked splendidly, and if you were attached to your tennis hero, you could even transfer them over to the N64 version of Mario Tennis for a more three-dimensional debut on the court.
Metal Gear Solid
Metal Gear Solid on PlayStation was one of the defining games of its time for good reason. Metal Gear Solid on the Game Boy Color though? This port was a surprisingly faithful handheld version of what made the 1998 game so successful, only stripped down to its classic roots so that it could work on the Game Boy Color. A perfect example of how a spin-off can and should strive to provide the same level of entertainment as the original title.
The Game Boy Color version of Metal Gear Solid succeeded at providing a quality handheld spin-off experience, throwing an alternate timeline Snake back into action against an Outer Heaven separatist group, each operative having their own specialty and a ludicrous codename that only this series could get away with. Not just a fun game to practice stealth and espionage tactics inside of, this version of Metal Gear Solid had an impressive story and plenty of bonus VR mission content to experiment with once the end credits had rolled. All that, on a single cartridge.
Pokemon Gold / Silver/ Crystal
Since Pokemon Gold and Silver are our picks for the best Pokemon game, it’s no surprise they’ve found their way onto this list. The sophomore effort from developer Game Freak amplified the catch ’em all nature of Pokemon Red and Blue on the Game Boy while adding dozens of new pocket monsters to a world that was simply popping with vibrant color. The Johto region was a joy to explore, the new Pokemon were an eclectic mix of imaginative new designs, and once the Elite Four had been beaten, the scope of Pokemon Gold and Silver expanded massively with a return to the Kanto region of the previous generation.
Pokemon Gold and Silver was unmatched value for the money that delivered more than just a mere iterative sequel, greatly building on its mechanics and delivering a title that was more ambitious than ever before. The first generation of Pokemon games established a foundational template for all the games that would follow in its footsteps, but Pokemon’s second-generation established a high benchmark for what future sequels could aspire to be like.
Pokemon Crystal upped the ante, providing the perfect combination of Gold and Silver highlights with revolutionary animations for each pocket monster and a story more focused on the legendary hound Suicune. No matter which version you got though, this was the definitive Pokemon game of the Game Boy era. The games were later remade for Nintendo DS as Pokemon HeartGold and SoulSilver.
Pokemon Trading Card Game
In an age before Pokemon cards became a viable currency or an opulent sign of wealth that adorned the necks of YouTubers, Pokemon fever saw its collectible card game spin-off reach the Game Boy Color. The core idea of the TCG was there, as players could battle each other with the original 151 Pokemon, but it was all wrapped up in an adventure that rivaled the original Game Boy games and even outclassed them in certain departments.
Developer HudsonSoft was given the job of adapting the TCG into a sprawling RPG, and the studio delivered one of the best games on the Game Boy Color with a streamlined and accessible approach to the tabletop gaming phenomenon. Battling club leaders, collecting cards, and basking in the crisp visuals made for a memorable experience–as well as a thoroughly engrossing one that was hard to put down. If there was a battery shortage in 2000, you can probably blame Pokemon Trading Card Game for its addictive one-more-turn gameplay.
Super Mario Bros. Deluxe
Porting the original Super Mario Bros. games over to the Game Boy Color and calling it a day while the nostalgia-fueled cash rolled in could have easily been done, but Nintendo took a different path with Super Mario Bros. Deluxe. More than a decade old by the time it was released on its handheld console, Nintendo filled this version of its bestselling game with tons of new content that made the entire game feel like a brand-new experience to play.
Familiar territory with a a bunch of new twists, this vibrant return of Nintendo’s favorite plumbers felt like a deluxe reminder of the duo’s timeless adventures from the NES days.
Tetris is as close as you can get to perfection, thanks to its timeless design, easy to learn mechanics, and the challenge of mastering it at its highest levels. The Game Boy’s stroke of genius when it first launched was to include a copy of Tetris, and for the Game Boy Color, an enhanced version of Tetris was inevitable. Tetris DX was its name, and inside of its cart was a number of improvements to the stack ’em and clear ’em block-busting action of the original game.
Two new gameplay modes had been added, a profile feature for save-games was present, and the game looked fantastic bright colors that made each tetromino pop. Familiar but improved, Tetris DX was another Game Boy classic in this incarnation.
Wario Land 3
Powering up your character through exploration was an old idea by the time that Wario Land III came along, but Nintendo’s unkillable bruiser found a way to make these classic concepts with a fresh new energy. Fantastically animated and packed with quirky music, each level in this game was a uniquely fun time within the game, each one building on its various elements to unlock more hidden secrets when revisited in this cult classic sequel.