The Game Boy was incredible. It was a piece of gaming hardware that was essentially sent to the ‘80s from the future. To have video games of the quality they are on the Game Boy, even with its lack of colour, felt like some Tomorrow’s World stuff back when I was a small child. I had a Game Boy. I lived that early era. Everyone wanted a Game Boy. To be rather hyperbolic, it was unbelievable that this was a thing we could buy.
It was a completely different era, though, one where what was accepted as “good” is vastly different to how we judge video games today. Over 30 years have passed since those wonderous days, and it makes me more than a little sad to say that It was a mistake to go back.
Maybe I’m just a grumpy old man, now, but revisiting original Game Boy games a few years back (on original hardware) left me scratching my head, wondering if the passage of time had made all those games I loved become obsolete – relics you might look at in a museum/pages of Retro Gamer and nod knowingly (or even lovingly) at. For as much as my brain memories said “I bloody love this game,” my brain thoughts there and then were saying, “how did I play this back then? It’s... not good.”
Nail-it-to-the-wall classics, such as Super Mario Land and Metroid II, simply don’t feel as good to play today as they did in the early ‘90s. Tetris is still great, to be fair, but I’d rather play one of the more feature-rich, visually spectacular versions. Your mileage with Game Boy games is likely to vary, but I honestly think that the hardware limitations combined with the game design of the era makes many of those early Game Boy games (certainly pre-Game Boy Color) rather a chore to play.
The Game Boy Advance, on the other hand, was one of the greatest consoles of all time – and it still is – despite initially having a screen so bad I almost binned the system off completely. The SP fixed that up, and now you could pick up a GBA SP and find an absolute treasure trove of wonderful games to enjoy.
While playing an OG Game Boy game might give you nostalgia whiplash so fierce it’ll knock your magnifying unit clean off, GBA games hold up brilliantly. More powerful hardware and modern game design combined to make a handheld I could only dream of just a few years earlier. In writing this I picked a bunch of games without too much thought, and it’s top to bottom bangers: The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap, Metroid Fusion, Golden Sun, WarioWare, Mario Kart: Super Circuit, F-Zero: Maximum Velocity, and Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga. Absolutely amazing scenes.
There’s clearly a reason Nintendo decided to put Game Boy games on the standard tier Switch Online membership and GBA games as part of the Expansion Pack tier: GBA games are largely great, with some all-timers, whereas Game Boy games are a miracle of the time that need to be left in the past. By all means fire up your Switch, throw on a few Game Boy ‘classics’ and get that hit of nostalgia we all love, but you’ll have a hard time convincing me those games are still good and worth playing today.