January 27, 2022
July 24, 2022
From The Legend of Zelda to Pokémon, Donkey Kong, and Tetris, there were plenty of Game Boy Color Games to scratch every handheld gaming itch. We revisit the top Game Boy Color games of all time across all gaming genres.
When it was released in 1989, the Nintendo Game Boy let us take our love for gaming out of the living room and into the world. From schoolyards to airports, the signature sound of portable 8-bit gaming became ubiquitous worldwide.
As great as the original Game Boy games were, one ingredient was missing; color. At the time, traditional arcade and home console systems were already displaying vivid colors that helped further immerse us into our favorite game worlds.
Ranked in our list of gaming consoles that defined the 90s, 1998’s Game Boy Color finally put full-color gaming in the palms of our hands. While seen by many as a transitional console before Nintendo released the 32-bit Game Boy Advance, the Game Boy Color was home to a vast catalog of great games.
But which portable titles stood out as the greatest? Warm up your button-mashing thumbs and dive into our list of the best Game Boy Color games of all time for every gaming taste.
Pokémon and Game Boys go together like Mario and mushrooms, so there was little doubt the next Pokémon game would be a flagship title for Nintendo’s new handheld console. Taking advantage of the new console’s capabilities, Pokémon Gold and Silver officially introduced the second generation of Pokémon. This meant adding 100 new types to the roster, including favorites like Togepi, Wobbuffet, and Suicune (part of the new legendary beast trio).
With 251 Pokémon, Gold and Silver took the series’ enduring challenge to “catch ’em all” to the next level. While the legions of aspiring Pokémon masters would have been happy with just more of the same, the game introduced a considerable number of new features like a Pokémon breeding mechanic, an internal clock that affects world events, and more specialized Poke balls.
You might also remember playing Pokémon Crystal, an enhanced version of Gold and Silver that came out a year later. The most significant new features were the ability to play as a female trainer and the addition of short animations when Pokémon entered a battle.
Backwards compatible? Yes! Pokémon Gold and Silver will run on the original Game Boy in monochrome. However, Pokémon Crystal is incompatible because it uses many GBC-exclusive features.
Crave the satisfaction of running your own farm but don’t want to do any of the physical labor involved? Well, the original farm simulator, Harvest Moon, has you covered. Released on the SNES in 1996, Harvest Moon (known as Farm Story in Japan) was the first video game to let players set up and manage their own little farm. To be successful, you needed to plant, maintain, and harvest crops and ranch livestock before selling your produce in town. While other RPGs had you constantly dealing with random encounters and progressively tougher boss fights, Harvest Moon was a relaxing change of pace.
Like many of the best Game Boy Color games, Harvest Moon GBC is a rerelease of the original handheld title that allowed players to enjoy the game the way it was meant to be played. While not as interactive as the original console game, Harvest Moon GBC provided an enjoyable gameplay loop that helped you scratch that farming itch wherever you were.
Backwards compatible? Yes! Harvest Moon GBC will run on the original Game Boy. Still, since it’s in monochrome, you might need help telling your vegetables apart.
A unique hybrid of fishing game and RPG, the original Legend of The River King was a prize catch for gamers who aren’t afraid of playing quirkier titles. Like any good sequel, Legend of the River King 2 doubles down on the appeal of the original, giving players more than 60 varieties of fresh and saltwater fish to catch. You can even dive into the ocean to collect shellfish or go off to collect plants and insects if you get bored fishing.
But watch out; your relaxing fishing simulator can quickly turn into the deadliest catch. You’ll need to be prepared to fight off any wild animals who get a whiff of your prize. Like most other handheld RPGs of the era, the combat system and overall gameplay are very reminiscent of Pokémon.
Backwards compatible? Yep, Legend of the River King 2 came on a standard GBC hybrid card, making it backwards compatible with the original Game Boy.
Regional rumble: Interestingly, the rumble feature in the original Japanese version of the game is conspicuously absent from the international release. This feature would deliver force feedback during fishing and for events like earthquakes.
Most RPG adventurers will be familiar with the Dragon Quest series, but it was actually titled Dragon Warrior in the US before 2003. The first game in the series, Dragon Warrior Monsters, followed in the monstrous footprints of the Pokémon series in terms of overall gameplay but managed to remain distinct thanks to having an engaging story and an advanced breeding mechanic for its monsters.
The game serves as an origin story for two characters who would later appear in Dragon Quest IV, siblings Terry and Milly. In the dark of night, Milly is kidnapped by the evil Warubou, compelling Terry to enter a monster fighting tournament to save his dear sister.
Unlike Pokémon, you don’t get to choose your first monster but are paired with Slib the slime instead. No offense to Slib (he tries his best), but you’ll want to start capturing and training tougher monsters if you want to save your sis. Thankfully, the game’s signature breeding mechanic allows you to combine two monsters into a stronger one.
Backwards compatible? You betcha! All the Dragon Quest GBC games are backwards compatible with the original Game Boy.
The third game in the Lufia series, Lufia: The Legend Returns, brought the fun, cleverly written JRPG universe to handheld devices for the first time. Taking place 100 years after the first game, Lufia: The Legend Returns sees you take control of Wain, a descendant of the prior game’s protagonist tasked with investigating the trouble emanating from the aptly named Tower of Death.
If you love good old fashioned dungeon crawlers, Lufia: The Legend Returns is definitely one of the best Game Boy Color games you can get your thumbs on. Each randomly generated dungeon promises your party (which can now have up to nine members) plenty of challenging fights, traps, and hidden treasure to keep you glued to the screen for just one more level.
Backwards compatible? No. Lufia: The Legend Returns is a GBC exclusive release, so it won’t run on the original Game Boy.
PlayStation potential: When the game was in development, it was originally going to be released on the original PlayStation with the title Lufia III: Ruins Chaser. It was later rewritten (and graphics downgraded) to release on the Game Boy Color.
Another Game Boy Color game that remedied the monochrome limitations of its original Game Boy release, The Legend Of Zelda: Link’s Awakening DX takes players on a ride through one of Link’s most unique and memorable grass-slashing adventures. Considered the fever dream of Zelda games, the titular princess doesn’t even appear in this title. Instead, Link washes up on a strange island with the goal of waking up a whale-like deity called “the Wind Fish” with a series of eclectic instruments.
The oddities don’t just stop with the game’s premise. You’ll find sections with goombas, piranha plants, chain chomps, and even a goat trying to impersonate Princess Peach (amongst many other easter eggs). But don’t let the strangeness turn you away; this title has all the classic hallmarks of a great Zelda game with tight gameplay, challenging boss encounters, puzzles, dungeons, and an incredible soundtrack.
Backwards compatible? Yes! Keep in mind, however, that the new optional dungeon (which has puzzles based on color) won’t be playable.
Revered as one of the greatest side-scrolling platformers, Donkey Kong Country revitalized the dormant franchise and secured Kong’s place as an iconic Nintendo character. In 2000, DK fans were treated to a Game Boy Color version that brought an impressive recreation of the original banana collect-a-thon to handhelds.
What was most impressive about this remake was how great it looked for a handheld game. While the graphics and sound quality were obviously downgraded from the SNES to the Game Boy Color, everyone praised developer Rareware’s ability to push the handheld’s performance without sacrificing the gameplay.
Backwards compatible? No, because of all the new graphical features the game utilizes, it won’t run on the original Game Boy.
Differences in the details: While Donkey Kong Country looks like a faithful port of the original game, there are numerous minor differences. For example, a new level called Necky Nutmare was added to the Chimp Caverns area. Also, the song “Forest Frenzy” is an entirely new composition from the original game.
No matter what platform you’re playing on, the early Harry Potter games are fondly remembered as some of the few enjoyable movie tie-ins. The first movie’s Game Boy Color adaptation is no exception, letting you play as cinema’s most extraordinary bowl-cut sporting protagonist. You’ll learn spells, make potions, and battle creatures all over Hogwarts.
The game’s RPG combat system is surprisingly deep and rewarding, requiring you to learn which spells are most effective against different enemy types. The levels and environments are also nicely detailed, providing a nice change of scenery for each of your near-death high school encounters.
Backwards compatible? No, unless you can work magic like Dumbledore, you can’t play this title on your monochrome Game Boy.
Are you tired of Mario’s predictable good nature and penchant for falling dead through the bottom of your screen? Well, you’re in luck. In Wario Land 3, Mario’s garlic-chomping counterpart is immortal and eager to line his overalls with as much treasure as possible.
That’s right, in this platformer, enemies can’t kill Wario. Instead, our mustache-twirling antihero briefly suffers the effects of different attacks (like being wrapped in silk or flattened to half his size). These animations aren’t just for laughs, though, since many will allow you to access different areas of the level Wario usually couldn’t.
With unique gameplay mechanics, a wide variety of non-linear levels, and even a fun golf mini-game, Wario Land 3 earns its spot as one of the best Game Boy Color games.
Backwards compatible? Nope! While Wario Land 2 was backwards compatible, Wario Land 3 only runs on the GBC.
If you ever played the original PlayStation game, then you could be forgiven for refusing to believe that Metal Gear Solid could be adapted for handheld gaming. However, Metal Gear Solid GB (Ghost Babel in Japan) surprised everyone with how well it emulated the stealth-action gameplay of the console game on the relatively limited hardware of the Game Boy Color.
Ghost Babel features a non-canon, alternative version of the Metal Gear Solid storyline that takes place over 13 stages that you’re challenged to complete as stealthily as possible. If you really want to test your skills, there’s also a series of advanced virtual reality training missions to complete.
Everything you’d expect from a Metal Gear title is here, from shuffling along walls, taking out enemies with your silenced pistol, or just goofing around in Snake’s trademark cardboard box. If you’re craving a taste of tactical espionage action on the go, this game won’t disappoint.
Backwards compatible? Nope, Snake’s handheld debut is a GBC exclusive.
Cigarette Censorship: Because Game Boy Color games were typically marketed towards a younger audience, a smoke-emitting device called a “Fogger” replaces Snake’s cigarettes throughout the game.
Tetris has enjoyed countless iterations on different systems over the decades, ensuring that the anxiety of failing to match falling blocks perfectly haunts gamers forever. However, the legendary Soviet-engineered puzzle game has always felt like it was made just for the Game Boy. With the original version already lauded as a killer app for Nintendo’s handheld console, 1998’s Tetris DX stepped things up by displaying all your favorite tetromino shapes in full color.
Along with all the colorful new blocks, Tetris DX introduced new features like battery-saved high scores, the ability to pause and resume sessions, and a new mode that allowed you to go head-to-head with a CPU opponent.
Backwards compatible? Yes! You can play Tetris DX on your old Game Boy, but once you’ve played with the wonderfully colorful tetrominoes, it’s hard to go back to black and white.
One of the last games ever released on the Game Boy Color, Toki Tori was criminally underappreciated on its release, primarily due to the public interest in Nintendo’s new handheld console, the Game Boy Advance. However, those who ignored Toki Tori missed out on one of the most creative and satisfying puzzle platformers ever made.
In Toki Tori, you follow the adventures of the titular yellow chicken as he navigates through various stages, rescuing his still-unhatched siblings. In each stage, you’ll have a limited number of creatively-named tools you need to use intelligently to progress, including a Crate Creator, Ghost Trap, and Snail Sucker.
Apart from its satisfying puzzle stages, Toki Tori had some seriously eggcellent graphics and animations backing it up. Many reviewers said it looked just as good as a native GBA release.
Backwards compatible? Nope. Like Donkey Kong Country, this game’s impressive graphics make it impossible to play on older hardware.
Looking for a twist on your Tetris game? Try Tetris Attack! Want more? Well, here’s Tetris Attack – with Pokémon!
Pokémon Puzzle Challenge was originally created to be a Japanese-region counterpart to the Western-centric Pokémon Puzzle League on the N64 but was eventually released in North America. The game offers six gameplay modes to satisfy all block-clearing enthusiasts.
Challenge is the primary story mode where you play as Ethan, the trainer protagonist in Pokémon Gold and Silver, as he tries to become Pokémon Puzzle Champion. Like other Pokémon Puzzle games, there are many unlockable extras, including a Super Hard difficulty mode and special Pokémon.
Backwards compatible? Sorry OG Game Boy puzzle lovers, this Pokémon experience is a GBC exclusive.
Most 90s kids will remember the rivalry between Pokémon and Digimon, but it’s easy to forget there was a third player in the monster-battle arena; Monster Rancher. Although Monster Rancher was ultimately short-lived, it had its share of enjoyable games. One of them was Monster Rancher Explorer for the GBC.
While essentially 1986’s Solomon’s Key with a Monster Rancher paint job, Monster Rancher Explorer was, at the time, the superior version of the classic puzzle game. The GBC game tightens up the platforming elements and adds challenging boss fights that require you to use all of your abilities to overcome.
Backwards compatible? Nope, this one’s another GBC exclusive.
One of the most unique arcade puzzle games ever created, Klax is one of those games you either love or hate with a passion. A variation on the Tetris formula, Klax has you lining up different colored blocks as they flip themselves down a conveyor belt towards you to form different patterns. More complex patterns earn you more points, and there are many clever ways you can utilize the gravity of the falling blocks to get ahead.
While some old-school gamers dislike Klax’s obnoxious sound effects and difficult-to-master gameplay, those who take the time to master it can easily find it to be one of the best Game Boy Color puzzle games ever released.
Backwards compatible? Nope. Klax’s gameplay is based on color, so it won’t work on the old Game Boy.
With so much hype around all the crazy expensive Pokémon cards, it can be easy to forget that there’s an actual competitive game behind the phenomenon. Released in 1998, Pokémon Trading Card Game (TCG) for the Game Boy Color accurately recreated the gameplay of the tabletop card game in a virtual format.
Building your decks around the coin-flipping, random chance of a TCG gives this game a layer of strategic depth you don’t get in a main-series Pokémon game. The battle interface is well-designed, providing some excellent pixel art recreations of the original cards. The game even allows you to enjoy the endorphin rush of opening virtual booster packs to see if you got any rare and powerful cards.
Whether you’re curious about learning the real-world game or just want a great GBC strategy experience, Pokémon TCG has you covered.
Backwards compatible? Yes! Although some cards are only collectible when playing on GBC.
Speedrunning saga: While most players beat the game in around 10 hours, one speedrunner famously completed it in under 4 minutes! This video by DoctorSwellman explains the story behind this insane completion time.
Real-time strategy (RTS) games have always been hamstrung on consoles due to the lack of a mouse and keyboard. With this in mind, the fact that 2000’s Warlocked delivered an enjoyable RTS experience on a Game Boy is nothing short of legendary.
Despite the platform’s limitations, Warlocked successfully implements all of the hallmarks of a great RTS. You can send workers to gather resources, build your base, recruit various units, and attack each mission at your own pace. While the story is a little basic compared to contemporary heavyweights like Warcraft or Command & Conquer, the graphics and sound design make for a surprisingly immersive experience.
Truly one of the top GBC games for any strategy fan.
Backwards compatible? Negatory. If you want to experience the only true RTS on Game Boy, you’ll need the Game Boy Color.
Lost sequel: Despite great reviews, Warlocked didn’t sell enough for the planned sequel “Wizards” to finish development for the GBA. Wizards would have featured four-player multiplayer matches and a new capture-the-flag mode.
Worms is a truly timeless formula where your only goal is to make the lives of other worms miserable with big guns, bombs, and a generous assortment of wacky weapons. With high doses of craziness and humor, Worms makes us nostalgic for a time when video games didn’t take themselves so seriously.
A port of the PC version, Worms Armageddon for the Game Boy Color does an excellent job of translating the invertebrate-massacring mayhem onto a smaller screen. The game has several modes allowing you to battle CPU opponents or play a hot-seat multiplayer match with your buddies.
It’s the same old worms, but on a handheld – what’s not to love?
Backwards compatible? Nope! These Worms only want to play on the GBC!
Releasing only in Japan a month before Advance Wars would launch in North America, it would have been easy to miss this entry in Nintendo’s Wars series (aka Famicom Wars). However, when it comes to great turned-based strategy titles specifically for the Game Boy Color, Game Boy Wars 3 has some of the deepest tactical gameplay you’ll find on the platform.
If you’re unfamiliar with the series, each mission takes place on a hexagonal map with square tiles. Each of your units can only move a certain number of tiles and attack units adjacent to them (unless they’re an indirect fire unit like artillery). Your units can also capture different structures to provide resources and gain bonuses, so outmaneuvering your enemy is just as important as killing their units.
Unlike Game Boy Wars 1 & 2, Game Boy Wars 3 requires you to gather suitable materials to build specific units, so you can’t rely solely on funds. You can also change the battlefield by cutting down forests and building bridges, roads, and airports for your flying units.
Backwards compatible? Nope! While Game Boy Wars 2 was backwards compatible, the new features in this title make it a GBC exclusive.
A mighty legacy: Game Boy Wars would pave the way for Advance Wars on the Game Boy Advance, which would receive universal acclaim for its accessible turn-based strategy gameplay. Advance Wars is now one of Nintendo’s best franchises. A remaster of Advance Wars 1+2 was recently announced for the Nintendo Switch.
A port of the 1995 DOS original, Heroes of Might and Magic throws you into a medieval fantasy world where you’ll use armies of mythical creatures to conquer your opponents. The game’s story is a classic battle royale between your character (Lord Morglin Ironfist) and three other generals as you vie for control of the strange land of Enroth.
It’s not all about head-to-head punch-ups, as many game objectives involve exploration, resource gathering, or finding unique artifacts. There are various heroes and castles for you to experiment with as you find your preferred playstyle.
With the CPU opponents notoriously tricky to beat, Heroes of Might and Magic is one of the best Game Boy Color games for those eager to test their strategic mettle.
Backwards compatible? No. Since this is a direct port of the DOS title (which was in color), it’s a GBC exclusive.
The only absolute certainties in this world are death, taxes, and your favorite franchises being adapted for pinball. As the 90s Pokémon craze got into full swing, it was only a matter of time before the ubiquitous cartoon critters would get their own set of flashing lights and chattering bumpers.
Thankfully, 1999’s GameBoy color spinoff does more than slap Pokémon characters onto a standard pinball game. Pokémon Pinball lets you fill your Pokedex with all 151 original Pokémon, except that you’ll be using a pair of flippers rather than your RPG combat skills to catch ’em all.
Depending on how you play the table, different Pokémon will become available to capture. There’s even an “Evolution Mode” you can activate to, you guessed it, evolve your Pokémon to the next stage.
Backwards compatible? Yes! Although you might find playing pinball in black and white a little underwhelming. Still, the game’s built-in Rumblepack will still give you some delicious finger-trembling feedback whether or not it’s in color.
Mario’s prior golf outing on the original Game Boy was an effective simulation of the sport but didn’t have much else beyond the fairway to get kids interested. Mario Golf for the Game Boy Color would remedy this by adding an entire Pokémon-style JRPG story mode requiring players to defeat a series of golf club masters before challenging the ultimate golf champion. Who’s the champ? Mario, of course.
As you progress, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to practice different mechanics, complete challenges, and earn experience points to level up your golfer’s stats. Like in the actual sport, you’ll have to beat each course in fewer shots than your opponent to win. After becoming the champion at each of the four golf clubs, Princess Peach will invite you to Mario World, where you can finally go head-to-head with the portly plumber himself.
Backwards compatible? Nope! This unique golf RPG is only playable on the GBC.
Cross-platform golfing: With a Transfer Pak, you can link Mario Golf GBC to Mario Golf 64, allowing you to use your RPG golfer on the console game – neat!
Following the successful formula of Mario Golf, 2001’s Mario Tennis also wraps up its sports simulator in a classic JRPG format. Your character, Alex, attends a prestigious tennis academy where you’ll work your way up the ladder to join the school’s traveling team to compete in tournaments.
Strangely, Mario and his entourage make even less of an appearance in this game than in Mario Golf, only appearing as unlockable characters after you beat the main story. While this may be disappointing if you were expecting to practice lobs and volleys with Donkey Kong, the game is engaging enough that you’ll soon forget you’re even playing a Mario game.
Characters aside, the actual tennis gameplay is superb, capturing the intensity of an actual match without overwhelming you with a million button combinations. With an enjoyable story to follow and addictive gameplay, Mario Tennis easily ranks among the best Game Boy Color games.
Backwards compatible? No, just like Mario Golf, this one’s a GBC exclusive.
Wahhh-you serious? Mario Tennis is the only time Waluigi (unlockable via Transfer Pak) appears in any Game Boy Color game.
With the main console release considered one of the best extreme sports games ever made (with one of the greatest soundtracks in gaming history), Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 for the Game Boy Color has a high bar to live up to. Thankfully, this port does a more than adequate job of letting you enjoy all the thrills and spills on a handheld.
The game gives you fourteen different skaters to choose from, including Birdman himself, each with unique stats. You’ve also got a selection of boards you can equip before diving into one of the various skateparks.
Pulling off different tricks is intuitive, and while the 2D perspective might feel limiting, the levels are designed such that you don’t feel boxed in. The only real letdown is that the soundtrack has been synthesized to work on the handheld. Still, you can always blast Guerilla Radio in the background while you play.
Backwards compatible? Nah, dude. Due to the game’s advanced graphics (with some 2.5D environments), it’s only playable on the GBC.
With its trademark over-the-top presentation and accessible gameplay, the original NBA Jam was so good even people who didn’t follow professional basketball would rank it among their favorite games. 1998’s NBA Jam 99 would bring the addictive 2-on-2 play to the Game Boy Color, and while obviously not as robust as the main Nintendo 64 version, brought the court to life with detailed sprites and animations.
The controls are easy to learn, and pulling off one of the various slam dunks feels appropriately satisfying. There are plenty of different game options to choose from, like tag mode (which lets you control two players instead of just one) and juice mode (which turns the game speed up to crazy levels). Players also have the ability to decide how aggressive or defensive they want the CPU to be.
Although a little limited since you can’t play with four people like the original game, NBA Jam 99 does a great job of bringing the series’ signature addictive gameplay to handhelds.
Backwards compatible? Yep, since it’s one of the early GBC releases, it will work on the old Game Boy.
Yes! While Nintendo has never released exact sales numbers for the GameBoy color, we can infer from its combined sales with the original Game Boy (118.69 million units) that the handheld console was a success.
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January 27, 2022
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