Tuesday, April 21, 2009

My Game Boy History

Today marks the 20th anniversary of the release of the original Game Boy, the machine that defined handheld gaming. The Game Boy was actually the very first video game system I ever owned. I got it for my sixth birthday, and it was a huge surprise. Up to that point, video games were something I'd never be able to have. My parents had simply refused to buy me a NES or Game Boy before that point, so naturally I was surprised (and very, very happy) to get a Game Boy, and I treasured it for years. Since then, I've always had a special place in my heart for handheld gaming. I've decided I'd like to take a look back at the Game Boy games that left the biggest impression on me. So here they are, in no particular order:

Super Mario Land

Super Mario Land was the first game I ever rented, and, if memory serves, the first game I ever finished. It was one of those games that was good in its own right, but really left the impression that handheld gaming was destined to be like console gaming, only not quite as good. (That stigma would stay with handheld consoles until the Nintendo DS.) Looking back, I have no idea how I managed to finish this game on an original Game Boy. The screen was blurry and the sprites were tiny. It's amazing that I could tell what was going on at all.


What Game Boy retrospective would be complete without a mention of Tetris? Tetris was the Game Boy's original pack-in game. It's also the game that showed just how much better puzzle games are when you can play them on the go. They're perfect to pick up and play in small doses. Of course, Tetris is the definitive falling block puzzle game, and the Game Boy version is, in turn, the definitive version of Tetris. This is the game that got my mom into gaming! Today, she still loves to break out the old Game Boy Pocket I gave her and her copy of Tetris.

Amazing Penguin

What? Yes, I know. Amazing Penguin isn't exactly the first game that comes to mind when you remember the Game Boy. It doesn't even have a Wikipedia article. It was never really well known, but it left an impression with me because it was the first Game Boy game I played that I couldn't find a bigger version of on another console. Amazing Penguin didn't really do anything that required the use of a handheld or anything, but it was an original game. The point of the game was to destroy black and white dots strewn about a maze. When you destroy all of the dots surrounding an area, that area would fill in with a pattern or part of a larger picture. The game just oozed charm, which is part of what makes it so memorable to me. I'd love to see a modern day Amazing Penguin on the DS, but it will probably never happen.

Game Boy Camera

Now here's something that could only work on a handheld. The Game Boy Camera was more of a toy than a game. It was a digital camera that plugged into the Game Boy's cartridge slot and could store up to 30 black and white pictures. The pictures could be edited with stamps and brushes (a feature that lives on in the modern DSi) and printed off as stickers using the Game Boy Printer. It was the coolest toy I had ever owned. There were a ton of other nifty features, too, such as slideshows and the ability to place "hot spots", areas that you could "click" with an on-screen cursor to make various things happen. You could create your own point-and-click adventure with that feature. You could even take pictures of your face to use in a small collection of minigames. I love to take mine out now and then and look at my grainy 10-year-old pictures of friends and family members.

Wario Land II

What a fantastic game this was. It was a puzzle platformer where you could never die. The game was chock full of secret treasures and coins to find by bashing through walls and sniffing out hidden doors. There was one main path through the game, but once you finished it, you gained access to a map of every level you had completed so far with a ton of newly-revealed branching paths. It was amazing to get to  the end of the game, only to find that you were only about half done. The game was truly epic, which is something that's difficult to accomplish on a tiny little handheld. This is the game that brought Wario into his own.

Darkwing Duck

Capcom did some pretty great things with the Disney license during the NES/Game Boy generation. Darkwing Duck made his way to both the NES and Game Boy, and it was pretty much the same game. Capcom managed to take the NES version and shrink it down to about as perfect a Game Boy port as you could really hope for. It was a really good game in its own right, but the main reason this one stands out for me is that it was the only game I managed to keep when my Game Boy and games were stolen when I was 8. I woke up on my birthday and this was my gift from my parents. I went to get my Game Boy to play it, only to realize that it was missing. I had brought it to school and it had apparently been stolen there without me even noticing. Worst. Birthday. Ever. I did eventually get a replacement, though, and I immediately popped this game in and played it to completion. So satisfying.

Kirby's Dream Land 2

Kirby's Adventure is the game that invented the modern Kirby. It was the game that introduced Kirby's copy ability, which would end up being his defining characteristic. Kirby's Dream Land 2 was the game that brought Kirby back to his handheld roots, bringing his copy ability with him. More importantly, though, it introduced Kirby's animal pals, which in turn means it introduced a degree of versatility to Kirby's copied abilities. Every animal had its own unique take on every ability. Kirby could shoot sparks with the Spark ability, but if he did so while riding his pal Kine, he ended up with a fish that could shoot exploding light bulbs. And come on, what's cooler than a fish that can shoot exploding light bulbs? This concept was refined in Kirby 64, which introduced the ability to combine abilities, but the charm of Kirby's Dream Land 2 was never really recaptured.

Donkey Kong

There has never really been an arcade-style platformer with quite as much depth as Donkey Kong for Game Boy. It starts off as a basic remake of the original arcade Donkey Kong, but after the original four stages, the world opens up and a whole new slew of obstacles and enemies are introduced. The most interesting new feature, though, is the inclusion of a variety of new moves for Mario, most of which involve different ways to jump. Mario really lives up to the title of Jump Man in this remake. These moves can be used to find interesting ways through the levels, bringing lots of depth to what starts off as a Donkey Kong remake. Like Wario Land II, Donkey Kong is another game that's deceptive in its scope.


It's Pokemon. As in, the game that started one of the biggest video game franchises in gaming history. I won't go into the whole history of Pokemon, but I will say this. Pokemon wouldn't have been nearly as effective if it hadn't been a Game Boy game. Each game is like a Pokemon trainer kit. Each cartridge is meant to be a set of tools for catching and raising Pokemon to play against other Pokemon belonging to other trainers who have their own copies of the game. It's important that the game be A) easy to personalize, and B) easy to interact with another person's save file and copy of the game. What better way to accomplish these goals than by making Pokemon a Game Boy game?

The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening

Here we go. This is the game that got me into what would turn out to be my absolute favourite series of games of all time. One thing that Link's Awakening does well is king of the opposite of what games like Wario Land II and Donkey Kong do. Where those games seemed small but were actually huge, Link's Awakening feels like it takes place in a giant, epic world, but is actually very small. The variety of places crammed into such a small world map help to make Link's Awakening feel incredibly epic. It does one thing that most other Zelda's don't do, and I really wish they would. It allows you to un-equip your sword and replace it with another item. It's great to have a boomerang in one hand and a fire rod in the other. Oh, and did I mention there's a zombie rooster? Yeah, it's just that cool.

Well, there you go. Those are the Game Boy games that had the biggest effect on me. They may not all be the most important Game Boy games ever made, but they're all great and they all fill me with a feeling of nostalgia. I really need to break out my Game Boy Color and give a few of these another play through....

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