Handheld gaming has been around since the late '70s, but it wasn't until Nintendo developed and launched the Game Boy in 1989 that it became a global phenomenon. While companies like Mattel and Milton Bradley produced cheaper devices with singular games on them, the Game Boy had a massive library of original games to choose from.
Nintendo Switch Online is a subscription-based service that allows you to access online play, cloud saves, and access to a wide selection of classic games. A handful of Game Boy and Game Boy Color games were added to the service in early 2023, but some are much more fun to play than others.
9 Game & Watch Gallery 3
Nintendo had been in the handheld market long before the Game Boy came out with its fairly popular line of Game & Watch machines. The first one launched in 1980, and as the name implies, it featured a simple yet fun game and a clock as its main features.
Over 60 Game & Watch devices were created within a decade. After the Game Boy became a success, Nintendo began compiling some of them together with remastered graphics, new playable characters, and more. You can play the classic or modern versions of these games, but many of them might not hold your attention for longer than a few minutes.
8 Kirby's Dream Land
Kirby is one of the few major Nintendo mascots that first appeared on Game Boy before makings it's way to home consoles. While it's nice seeing the adorable hero's origins, Kirby's Dream Land feels more like a blueprint for what the series would eventually become than something worth playing through.
Kirby's Dream Land is the first game designed and directed by Masahiro Sakurai, who wanted to create a more relaxing platformer that casual gamers could enjoy. It's fun to jump around as Kirby, but his infamous copy abilities wouldn't appear until Kirby's Adventure for the NES, so the only way to attack is by sucking in enemies and spitting them back out. Dream Land has plenty of the core concepts of a Kirby game, but nearly every sequel is more fun than the original.
7 Alone In The Dark: The New Nightmare
Aside from platformers and JRPGs, the Game Boy and Game Boy Color also had a surprising amount of survival-horror games in its library. Alone in the Dark helped shape the genre when the first game was released on PC in 1992, so it was a welcome surprise when a Game Boy Color port of Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare launched in 2001.
Heavily inspired by Resident Evil, The New Nightmare features two playable protagonists that must fight monsters and solve puzzles to escape the deadly Shadow Island. While the Game Boy Color version doesn't have the FMV cutscenes from the console versions, it's still a haunting adventure unlike anything else available on Nintendo Switch Online.
6 Metroid 2: Return Of Samus
After making her debut on the NES, Samus Aran's next adventure could be played anywhere after Nintendo decided to develop the sequel to Metroid for the Game Boy. Metroid 2: Return of Samus begins shortly after the first game's events and sends Samus to SR388 – the home planet of the Metroid species – to investigate the disappearance of several research teams.
Metroid 2 is often considered the black sheep in the family, especially its original iteration. It was later remade for the 3DS as Metroid: Samus Returns, but the original is still one of the best Game Boy games available. Few titles offer the same tense atmosphere and action as Metroid 2, and its non-linear design makes exploration feel unlike anything else on the console.
5 Gargoyle's Quest
Gargoyle's Quest is one of the few third-party titles in Nintendo Switch Online's Game Boy catalog and is likely one of the lesser-known titles on the service. Heavily inspired by The Legend of Zelda 2: Link's Adventure, this Ghosts 'n Goblins spin-off stars Firebrand as he attempts to save the Ghoul Realm from peril.
For a Game Boy game, Gargoyle's Quest is incredibly ambitious and is still a blast to play today. The exploration is fun, there is a surprising amount of action throughout, and the feeling of going from a lowly minion to an unstoppable force of nature as you unlock new abilities keeps the adventure interesting until the end. Sometimes, it feels good to be a bad guy.
4 Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins
The original Super Mario Land launched alongside the Game Boy in 1989, and while it's still a great game, its sequel is much better in nearly every way imaginable. Its graphics were stunning at the time, and the massive levels allowed you to have as much freedom to explore as Super Mario World for the SNES.
Super Mario Land 2 introduced Wario to the series as an antagonist after he casts a spell on Mario's private island and brainwashes the citizens to think he is their leader. It's refreshing to see Mario face a non-Koopa enemy, and the unique ability to turn into Bunny Mario helps make Super Mario Land 2 one of the best 2D Mario games.
3 Wario Land 3
After making his first appearance in Super Mario Land 2, Wario inevitably became the star of a line of games on the Game Boy known as Wario Land. Only Wario Land 3 is available on Nintendo Switch Online, but it's an excellent representation of the series and perfectly highlights Wario's unique abilities.
If you like platformers but feel like Super Mario Bros. titles are too repetitive, Wario Land 3 instantly subverts expectations and makes you re-think how to approach these kinds of games. The bulky anti-hero prefers to charge into enemies instead of jumping on them, and similar to Metroid, you'll need to re-visit previous stages to explore new paths and progress the story after unlocking certain abilities.
2 The Legend Of Zelda: Link's Awakening DX
The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening received a fantastic remake on the Nintendo Switch in 2019, but now you can experience the best version of the original game through Nintendo Switch Online. Link's Awakening first launched on the Game Boy in 1993, but a re-release on the Game Boy Color added a new dungeon, color graphics, and somehow made a nearly-perfect game even better.
Link's Awakening has always been one of the stranger entries in the long-running series. It doesn't take place in Hyrule, a cavalcade of Nintendo characters like Kirby and Chain-Chomp appears throughout, and the ending is surprising and emotional. If you like Zelda games such as Link to the Past or The Minish Cap, Link's Awakening DX contains an adventure you won't forget anytime soon.
It's not often that a non-Nintendo game sells more copies on its hardware than Mario, Zelda, and Donkey Kong, but the first portable version of Tetris became a sensation shortly after it launched on the Game Boy. This simple puzzle game has aged marvelously and is just as fun to play today as it was over thirty years ago.
Whether you're playing Tetris for the first time or the hundredth, it's hard not to feel euphoric when the opening theme begins to play. It's the perfect game to play before bed, during breaks from work, or whenever you have a few minutes to kill. There may not be massive worlds to explore or bosses to defeat, but few things feel as good as conquering your own high score and feeling yourself becoming a better Tetris player between every round.
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