As my time on this Earth goes on and my age starts climbing closer to 40, I tend to find myself looking back at the games I played as a kid with a lot of fondness. Sure, you could put this down to a case of mid-life crisis since I’m also going back to school for the first time in over 10 years and also my obsession with comic books; but there is much more to it than that.
More to the point, I love looking back at the days when I first got really into gaming and the games I loved to play back then, as you might have seen my “Ode to the Playstation” article I posted here a few years ago. But that wasn’t when I first got into gaming. My first time getting into gaming was with a grey brick known as the Nintendo GameBoy.
Unlike many other kids at the time, I never had a gaming console. So while other kids were playing with things like the Master System, Genesis, NES or even the SNES, I was at home playing with a more vast collection of toys like Transformers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Bravestarr. I was using my imagination instead of running a plumber through worlds to save a princess that was always in another castle, or speeding through robots that contained trapped animals as a blue hedgehog with red shoes. Nope, I was happy playing good vs evil with nothing more than a few dozen action figures and my imagination.
As many things tended to do with my family back in those days, my mother and her (now former) gambling addiction resulted in a good birthday for me one year (not sure which, but it was early in the GameBoy life cycle) as she won big and had enough spare money to get me a GameBoy and one extra game; that extra game being Super Mario Land.
There was nothing more exciting to me than being able to sit down in my room and play Tetris, Super Mario Land, and many other games that would come about into my collection. As I had other friends who had GameBoy’s as well, it would be great when we would sit around in a group talking smack while enjoying laying against each other in Tetris, Street Fighter, F1 Racing and other games that would use the link cable. We would also loan each other games, swap them around without caring about the value or anything.
Back then, getting games was something to behold for me. Since I didn’t really get much in terms of pocket money (Only $5 a week or the choice of trading it in for a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic), saving up for new games was a long and annoying process. I’d spend time looking through Toys R Us and Game Traders where I could see the new games in their boxes and then work out how long it would take for me to save up for them. The process would usually take about 3 months per game as we paid about $60 Australian per game, and at $5 a week, that was a long time to save. So by the time I would have enough for a new game, the game would usually be sold out with no more coming to the store.
So what could I do? Well, luckily my mother would always allow me to go to the Blockbuster Video on the way up to our usual camping site and get 6 games on loan from there for the low price of $20. Now the selection wasn’t huge by any means, about 30 or so games, and it never really got updated all that often since the SNES was the bigger thing at the time and people would get those over the GameBoy games. So I got to work my way through a lot of the games, sometimes hiring the same games weekend after weekend just so I could get that little bit further than I did the weekend before.
Through the Blockbuster Video store, I got to see a lot of games I couldn’t afford. Things like Burger Time, Bugs Bunny’s Crazy Castle, Amazing Spider-Man, NES World Cup, WWF Superstars, and many more. Eventually, I would find other shops and would still hire games from time to time and buy more as time when on. Hell, once I got my Playstation, I would still spend time playing my GameBoy games when I would be out of the house or traveling just because they were fun.
By the time I finally decided to trade in my GameBoy for a Nintendo DS (Yes, I held onto it for that long) I had spent so many hours on the old grey brick that it was pretty much on its last legs. The GameBoy library had long since stopped production and people no longer cared about it. I bid farewell to all my games one last time, going through about 6 sets of 4 AA batteries along the way, wiped the save files from things like Donkey Kong Land, Pokemon Red & Silver, saved the Princess one more time; placed them all back in their semi-clear cases and handed them over for trade in… Never to be seen again.
Since then, thanks to emulation, I still spend some time with those same games. Playing them on a 60 inch HDTV might be a bit of overkill, but it’s enough to bring a smile to my face. But still, nothing will ever replace the feeling of that gaming on the go that I had as a kid, and that makes me sad.
So just so things do not end on a downer, I’m going to celebrate my old gaming friend by giving you my personal Top 10 games for the GameBoy. Now each of these games I played as a kid, either through buying them or borrowing them from a friend or loaning them from Blockbuster Video. This isn’t stuff I discovered years later through emulation or anything, but a true recreation of what I enjoyed as a child.
10. TETRISYou know I had to start things off with the game that everyone had on the GameBoy if you bought the console retail (Since every retail in box console came with the damn game till the GamyBoy Pocket): Tetris. This Russian made block dropping puzzle game is one of the most iconic video games in the world. It was one of the first to have high scores, speed runs and everything. Without this simple yet addictive puzzle game coming with the original run of the console, it might not have taken off as well as it did.
The copy that we had at my house would spend lots of time traveling between the 3 GameBoy systems we had in the house at the time (mine, my mother's and my step-father's), with each of us trying to to the other high scores and levels. By the time I traded it in, the top third of the label was so sun damaged and warn out that it was white.
9. NINTENDO WORLD CUPI'm not really one for Soccer games, though for some reason I'm very good at them. I once came second in an in-office promotional night for Konami's Pro Evolution Soccer game back when Konami actually liked working with gamers. That aside, this was one of those games that once I hired it once, I was hooked. I have no idea why I liked it. Maybe it was the simple way that the game played or how the Japanese team had a weird backward overhead kick that would score a goal no matter what from halfway across the field. Whatever it was, it was enough for me to get my mother to spend more money on the game than it was worth.
8. Solar StrikerMy first time in bullet hell shooter before the term was a thing was with this game. Having to memorize the patterns of the enemies came down in and when they would fire, but also the patterns from the boss ships on each level. This was one hard game for me at the time, hell, the game would kick the ass of everyone who played it. Until recently I don't remember a time where I had seen past the first level boss. It was that hard. So if anything got me to "get gud" at video games, it was playing things like this as a kid.
7. STREET FIGHTER IIOk, so many people know that I'm a huge fan of Street Fighter, having played everything from Fighting Street in the Arcade to Street Fighter V on modern consoles. I also first got my hands on a console version of the game at home on the GameBoy... And man was it a huge disappointment. With only 9 of the 12 characters available on this version it was just ugly. Sure, the characters retained their trademarked looks, but the game was slow and delayed and just all around terrible for something that is known as a competitive fighting game. However it was the only version I could get my hands on until the age of downloading roms, so you bet your ass I played the shit out of the game; getting better and better at it till I could finish it on the highest difficultly level with no losses.
6. POKEMON: SILVER VERSIONOk, so while I started on Pokemon Red like so many others, it wasn't till the second rendition of the Pokemon series that things really got interesting. Not only was this the game that introduced running and breeding to the series, but also contained the whole of the original game inside the same game! It was amazing to learn that once I finished the Johto region, I could go back to the Kanto region where you arrive at the beginning of Pokemon Red/Blue and worked your way back through the region set after the events of the first game and challenge not only the Elite Four from those games, but the Champion: Red/Blue. It was crazy going through all those areas and basically getting 2 games in one. I was the best experience you could have asked for on the GameBoy.
5. POKEMON TRADING CARD GAMEVideo Games, Comic Books and Card Games: These are the three vices that I afford myself in life. While many other people my age were playing Magic The Gathering with all their tap for mana and complex mechanics, I was playing a more "childish" game with Pokemon: The Trading Card Game. I had the cards that I would trade and battle with, and then this came out. Now the first thing you'll notice is that the cartridge for this game is black, not the standard grey that was done with the GameBoy at that time. The reason for this is that Pokemon Trading Card Game wasn't made for the GameBoy, but the new GameBoy Color, a console that allowed a limited color pallet to be done with the handheld console for the first time. Sure, there were colorized GameBoy games through things like the SNES GameBoy adaptor, but at this time the whole GameBoy itself was heading into a more color based space. Luckily for a few of the early games like this one, it would also work on the original GameBoy. So I would spend hours playing this game as a way to keep me from spending $5 per packet for random cards. I would craft decks in the game that would take ages to get and build in real life, but they were great. This is an amazing title and if you have time to find it to play through whatever means, give it a go. Also there is a translated version of the second game which was only out in Japan.
4. WARIO LAND: SUPER MARIO LAND 3It's weird that the end of the Super Mario Land series comes with the beginning of the Wario Land series. Hell, this was the game that launched the character of Wario into the spotlight and began him as the main rival of Mario (Even though the character debuted as the rival to Mario in Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins). Taking the large and cartoon styling that was done in the previous game and putting a different spin on the story created something that has never been done again in gaming: What if you played as the villain of the story? Well that is what you get to do here. You play as Wario as he steals treasures back from a group of pirates and builds a bigger fortune so he can overshadow Mario. As you work through each area on the maps, each with their own themes, you get to use hats to get to different and sometimes hidden areas to find these treasures, leading to the final battle against the Captain of the pirates and a Genie of the lamp.
This game was one I discovered late in the GameBoy life cycle and one I rebought on the Nintendo 3DS so I could experience it all over again. Hell, it's one of the few games that I'll openly admit I cheat in. I use the same easy cheat on the pause screen that'll allow you to edit the coins, hearts, time and also which hat you use at the time to do what needs to be done. I just wish I wasn't stupid enough to sell my Nintendo 3DS, losing all those games I got on the console, just like the GameBoy many years earlier.