In 2021, the most common handheld gaming device is the one that billions of people have with them at all times: the mobile phone. But if we go back just 20 years, there was one king of handheld gaming—the iconic Nintendo GameBoy.
It was a remarkable device, and the main reason why we didn’t get bored on long car rides. The hours fell away as we played through our library of cartridges, only limited by how long the batteries lasted.
Nowadays, the edge is gone from those long trips. Between mobile phones, Nintendo Switches, Steam Decks, and cloud gaming, we can play video games anywhere whenever we want.
We miss the days of the Nintendo GameBoy. That’s why we’re revisiting the best Nintendo GameBoy games of all time and ranking them in order of our favorites!
It arrived in 1984 and remains one of the most-played video games ever. That alone should give us all indication of just how many people love this iconic video game.
Back in the 1990s, being able to play a video game on a handheld device was an incredible experience—and then Tetris came along and cranked everything up several notches.
People flocked to buy Tetris, knowing that it was a great way to kill massive amounts of time without really having to think. It provided a way to zone out and get into the flow, providing pure fun for hours on end. Truly one of the best games on the original GameBoy!
6. Kirby’s Dream Land 2
Before games like The Last of Us, where deep narratives bonded players to their characters, the name of gaming was fun, fun, fun. Which is precisely what Kirby’s Dream Land 2 was all about.
The plot follows Kirby as he heads out to defeat Dark Matter for stealing the seven Rainbow Bridges to Dream Land and possessing King Dedede. Which, of course, he does.
Kirby was able to gain all kinds of skills as you played through the game, which is an aspect of the game that a lot of people liked. The simple story and feel of the game was something all games should aspire to even now—namely, pure enjoyment.
5. Super Mario Land
A Mario game… that was portable! This was something Nintendo fans had been waiting for. They could finally link up with their favorite plumber anywhere they wanted to, right in the palm of their hand.
Though the game was short, it still had the heart of a Mario game with its challenges and sense of enjoyment. It marked the first time players saw Princess Daisy, and once they had completed the game, players had the option to play through it again at a harder level.
Like all Mario games, it felt like the developers knew what the pure essence of fun was, which endeared it to gamers who wanted to sit in the back seat of a car and ignore the world around them.
4. Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3
Though billed as Super Mario Land 3, Wario Land is very much Wario’s game. It was thrilling and had everything one expected from such an adventure, including appearances by Mario himself.
The plot revolved around Wario’s desire to have a castle better than Mario’s, so he retrieved the gold statue of Princess Peach from the pirates and sold it to get the castle he wanted.
The game’s ending—depending on what the player had collected from the levels—was a lot of fun, as each gamer would have played the game differently and therefore received a different prize.
3. The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening
A game so good that it garnered a re-release and a remake, Link’s Awakening continued the Zelda franchise on the GameBoy and became one of the best portable games of all time in the process.
Following Link and his escape from Koholint Island, players had hours of fun guiding him through the tough puzzles, dungeons, and challenges required to complete the game.
As with the majority of The Legend of Zelda games, it met with critical acclaim and was re-released in color in 1998 for the GameBoy Color, as well as remade in 2019 for the Nintendo Switch.
2. Donkey Kong
Mario’s fight against Donkey Kong began in arcades in 1981. When 1994 rolled around, Nintendo released the game on the GameBoy.
Once again, Mario had to go through the levels and make Donkey Kong fall from the construction site—this time, however, DK gets up, takes Pauline, and heads into the city.
The chase to get Pauline back is one of retro handheld gaming’s best, and the new levels presented in the game were a fun way to continue the story from the 1981 original.
The scale and sense of originality from this GameBoy game were brilliant, as gamers continually fought Donkey Kong throughout the game… and got rewarded with an ending that was sizeably epic.
1. Pokemon Red & Blue
The first Pokemon games for the original Nintendo GameBoy have a special place in gaming history. They were semi-linear open-world epics, allowing the gamer to become the ultimate Pokemon master and defeat their friends in multiplayer combat.
Pokemon was the first experience for many players of a game that offered freedom. You could name your character, choose which Pokemon you started the game with, which Pokemon you came to capture, and which ones you ultimately raised.
Pokemon Red and Pokemon Blue launched one of the biggest gaming franchises of all time. And while the series has evolved quite a bit through Gold.Silver, Ruby/Sapphire, Diamond/Pearl, and beyond, we still fondly remember the original for its ambition and vision.