Nigel has been playing video games ever since he first picked up a Master System controller in his diapers. Nintendo fanboy.
Earlier in 2021, there were rumors swirling about a Game Boy Online service being added to the Nintendo Switch for Online subscribers. This is a service that would allow Nintendo Online Subscribers to stream Game Boy games, similar to the existing NES Online and Super Nintendo Online services. Those rumors disappeared in the wake of leaks about a Nintendo 64 Online Service. As it turned out, the Nintendo 64 Online rumor proved to be legit.
But what if the original rumor was true? What if we were to get access to the back catalog of Nintendo's handheld lineup? It's still fun to look back at Nintendo's handheld catalog and see what games should be made available for such a service. Nintendo tends to view the Game Boy and Game Boy Color as one system in their internal reports, so we'll be assuming that Game Boy Online and Game Boy Color Online will be one service. NES and SNES both started with 20 games, so here are 20 games that should be on the Game Boy Online Service, presented in no particular order.
20. "Super Mario Land"
The Game Boy launched in 1989 with a handful of games, but if they wanted to sell the Game Boy, the system needed two particular games. We'll get to the other game in a bit, but first, the Game Boy needed a Mario game. This was originally set to be a pack-in title for the console, but getting a much bigger license for the pack-in eventually resulted in Super Mario Land being sold separately.
This was the first main entry in the Mario franchise to not involve Shiguru Miyamoto; the game was developed by the Game Boy console's own team (then called Nintendo R&D1), led by Miyamoto's mentors Gunpei Yokoi and Satoru Okada. These two had been innovating toys and electronic devices for decades. They were responsible for Nintendo pushing its way into the gaming industry.
A nice short platformer for the new handheld, Yokoi took Mario out of the Mushroom Kingdom and into Sarasaland, giving the team the freedom to make environmental changes that would help the game to be visible on such a small screen. However, most of the enemies are similar to ones we were familiar with in other games.
19. "Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3"
Now, normally, games in a series are released in order in subsequent updates to the online service, so while the previous Mario Land is a shoe in for the initial line-up, we'll likely not see Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins until the next batch of games drops.
So why discuss Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3 now? Because it's not just the third game in the Mario Land series, it's also the first game in the Wario Land series, with 1998's Wario Land II completely dropping the Mario Land from the title.
This wasn't the only case of this happening as Yoshi's Island—the first game in the Yoshi series—was marketed as a sequel to Super Mario World before growing into its own series.
18. "Harvest Moon GB Color"
I know it's a long shot, since none of the other Harvest Moon games are on the SNES Online service, but this was a classic on the handheld, and it was on the Virtual Console for the 3DS.
While this game may be missing the most popular part of the Harvest Moon series—the dating sim—it does still have the business management aspect of the series, albeit within the limited capabilities of the original Game Boy. This particular version was designed for the Game Boy Color, and with virtually no difference between this version and the Game Boy release, you might as well have the version with color added.
And for fans who are really into the dating simulator aspect, that's where future updates to the service can bring in Harvest Moon GB 2, which brought in a more engaging storyline, and Harvest Moon GB 3, which brought the dating simulator aspects back to the series.
17. "Metroid II: Return of Samus"
It's time for more of Samus as Nintendo once again proves that humanity is the most invasive species in the galaxy. In Metroid II, our beloved bounty hunter is tasked with finding an alien species called "metroids" and eradicating them from existence just because her boss doesn't want bad guys to use them, even if it turns out they may play a larger role in interplanetary ecology, though we can save that for a future "Game Boy Advance Online" article.
This was Samus Aran's first foray into handheld gaming, and it was the original sequel to the original NES classic until the Metroid Prime series came in to fill the gap between the original and this game. With Metroid and Super Metroid already available on the Nintendo Online Service, it makes sense to include this one, especially if fans of the 3DS remake Metroid: Samus Returns want to experience the original.
16. "The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening DX"
Much like Super Mario Land, Link's first handheld adventure was also made without his creator Shiguru Miyamoto, yet it has gone down as one of the most beloved entries in the Legend of Zelda franchise. It's also noted as being one of the first instances of a fan project being published and made canon.
What started out as a side project for programmer Kazuaki Morita as he experimented with the Game Boy development kit, it attracted the attention of other team members at Nintendo who joined him in working on it after work, like a little club. Eventually, it was suggested they publish it, and Nintendo allowed them to publish it and even use Link. The fact that it started as a "just for fun" project allowed the team to sneak in other assets from other franchises, such as Kirby and Mario, including a chain chomp and Kirby himself.
The experiences the team had making this game were then brought into future entries in the series, and the team behind Ocarina of Time have often stated that it would have been a very different game if Link's Awakening had never been made.
The rerelease of this game on the Game Boy Color not only utilizes the enhanced hardware of the Color, but also includes extra dungeons utilizing color based puzzles (though is still capable of working on the original Game Boy device).
15. "Kirby's Dream Land"
With so many other Kirby games already on the existing Nintendo Online services, it's time for the game that started it all to appear. Kirby's Dream Land was the first game in the franchise, and while designed to be simple to play and complex to master, allowing newcomer and experienced gamers something to enjoy, it is very much a more traditional platformer compared to later entries.
Masahiro Sakurai, of HAL Labratories, wanted to make a game that could appeal to people who might be intimidated by those who are new to video games and platformers, and thus he created five nonlinear levels, made up of numerous rooms that could be explored, thus newer players could just make their way to the boss while more experienced players could go off the beaten path and explore all the game had to offer. This idea of a game that offered something for anyone was also incorporated into his other famous series—Super Smash Brothers.
Future entries in the series would introduce Kirby's ability to copy skills, and more features while also continuing to keep to the simplicity that made this original game popular in the first place.
The box art of this game should look pretty familiar to classic game connoisseurs, and that's because Nemesis is really just a port of the arcade and NES classic Gradius. Though they seem simple at times, NES games were considered pretty difficult back in the day. We even have the term "Nintendo Hard" from those times.
No other company embraced challenging games like Konami did, but Gradius was among the hardest in its day. Now imagine playing Gradius with just black and green as your only colors. Now we have a challenge for the hardcore. Thank goodness the Konami Code works in this game.
13. "Donkey Kong"
The 1994 rerelease of the arcade and NES classic looked like it might be holding back on first impression. After all, the whole point of the NES was to "play a mean game of Donkey Kong," and there was no way the Game Boy hardware could do that. But Nintendo still had a surprise up it's sleeve: a full campaign.
The NES original had only four levels, and can still be played on the NES Online package. But on the Game Boy, after defeating Donkey Kong and listening to the victory march, Donkey Kong would actually wake up, kidnap Pauline again, and take Mario on a chase through 97 new stages across 9 worlds, making it a much more expansive game, and also added puzzle elements that would be seen later on in the Mario vs Donkey Kong series. This is also where we see the first elements of Donkey's modern design, wearing his signature red tie, just months before Rare's Donkey Kong Country was released.
Though released long before the Game Boy Color, the game was offered a color pallet for the Super Game Boy, which was the Game Boy Color was also programmed to use, so yes, this game can be given to us on Switch with at least a little bit of color.
12. "Kid Icarus: Of Myths and Monsters"
Every now and then, the NES and SNES Online apps will toss us a Japanese exclusive game that was never released in North America or Europe. These games are largely untranslated. Here we have the opposite: a Nintendo game—developed by the previously mentioned R&D 1—that was not released in Japan. At least not until it was given a Virtual Console release in 2012.
This sequel to Kid Icarus was not thought to be as good as its predecessor, but is considered canon and was noted for having four directional scrolling as compared to the first games either horizontal or vertical scrolling. In 2008, it ranked 18 on Nintendo Power's list of 20 greatest Game Boy games.
Another launch title for the Game Boy, Alleyway was a mildly successful Breakout clone. Despite reviews for the game being mixed to negative, it's still at least well known and does make sense as a starting lineup game for a Game Boy Online service.
Similar to Breakout, you use a paddle to break bricks on the screen in 32 stages (including bonus stages) until all the breaks have been removed. Much like the NES Online Service and SNES Online Service have some less-than-fondly-remembered games—like most of the 'black box' series of games, it still makes sense to include this early in the service for an initial lineup. Not all the first games are going to be home runs, but for a Game Boy Online service, this is important enough to at least include.
10. "Yoshi's Cookie"
To be honest, I'm a bit surprised the NES or SNES versions of this game is not yet on Nintendo's Online Service. Perhaps they were holding out for the Game Boy? This puzzle game featuring Yoshi and Mario baking was a fun little tile matching/slide-puzzle game that 3DS Ambassadors received the NES versions, as did the Wii Virual Console.
While there really isn't much to the game, it is simple and addictive, and you could be forgiven almost for thinking it was made by HAL which is known for it's simplicity in games. The game scored well in reviews upon its release and it's still rather beloved and people were actually disappointed it was when it was pulled from the Wii Virtual Console in 2013. Time to give the people what they want!
9. "Donkey Kong Land"
This sort-of port of the successful Donkey Kong Country does an amazing job of translating the mechanics of its SNES cousin to the Game Boy. Though the game comes across as just Donkey Kong Country on the Game Boy, with some redesigned levels and new villains to fit with the handheld's hardware limitations, Donkey Kong Land's instruction booklet reveals it's a sequel, where Donkey and Diddy had to do the same adventure all over again on a monochrome dot-matrix screen to prove to Kranky Kong people liked the first game because of its fun game play, instead of it's innovative prerendered graphics.
Having spawned two sequels and being awarded as "Best Game Boy Game of 1995" in Electronic Gaming Monthly, I'd say Donkey and Diddy won that bet. The game has a special border and color palette for the Super Game Boy adaptor that could be used in a Game Boy Online service.
8. "Tetris Attack/Puzzle League"
They might have to change the title for this one, so it would require some modding, but Tetris Attack was the second game in the series now called Puzzle League. At the time, Nintendo had the license for Tetris and so released a reskin of the Panel de Pon game from Japan, hoping that they could boost sales through brand association. The reskin featured characters popularized in Yoshi's Island.
While the Japanese SNES version of Panel de Pon did get a release on the SNES Online Service—probably because of licensing issues—I say Nintendo should go for the licensing to bring us Tetris Attack for the Game Boy, and if they can't, then at least just give us a new start screen adapted for the Puzzle League franchise.
If that sounds like too much trouble, then maybe they could give us the Game Boy Color version of Pokémon Puzzle Challenge.
7. "Pokémon Pinball"
Speaking of the Pokémon series, while I don't expect releases of the main series games, this is the perfect opportunity for some of the spinoffs. With HD Rumble, there is no better spinoff than Pokémon Pinball.
It was difficult to decide between this and Pokémon Trading Card Game, but the Switch having built in rumble in both the Joy-Cons and the Pro Controller could be utilized here with the fact Pokémon Pinball had rumble built in.
Of course, many will want the mainline games Red, Blue and Yellow, but it's more likely that those would be given their own release on the eShop—hopefully along with the Game Boy Advance games too.
6. "Wave Race"
For the second time on this list, we have a game that's part of a loved series, developed in-house by Nintendo, and was exclusive to North America for the longest time.
While Wave Race 64 was a smash hit, in part due to its licensing with JetSki™ manufacturer Kawasaki, people often forget that the franchise actually started in 1992 on the Game Boy with this entry.
While the controls may seem hard by todays standards, where we're spoiled with analog everything, for the time and the hardware, Wave Race was praised for its feel of actually operating a machine on water, as well as its 4-player multiplayer function using a special adapter.
So that's 4-player functionality, realistic water physics for the time, two game modes, and sixteen courses all on a standard early Game Boy cartridge. And with the Switch, you absolutely could include the multiplayer function again.
Makes you realize they totally could have made a Mario Kart game for the Game Boy.
5. "Mole Mania"
Muddy Mole is probably one of the least known of Shiguru Miyamoto's characters, but that doesn't stop this puzzle game from being fun.
In this game, Muddy Mole has to dig, push, and throw his way around the garden to rescue his family from Farmer Jinbe. One of the coolest puzzle features is the ability to dig, which changes the screen to show the underground, in order to work around maze-like obstacles.
To be honest, the DS would have been the perfect opportunity for a sequel, if for only using the dual-screen for this feature, but even without one, this game would be a great addition to the Game Boy Online Service.
4. "Dr. Mario"
It's weird how when you get a license to do whatever you want with the best selling game in the world, you get great ideas. Of course, Dr. Mario is in no way legally tied to Tetris, but it's hard to argue that Nintendo wasn't inspired by dollar signs in their eyes after seeing how much money Tetris was making them.
Dr. Mario is legally distinct and has its own unique gameplay, but the idea of dropping tiles to clear other tiles is obvious that this was another Tetris clone. It just also happened to be the best clone out there. While the game isn't exclusive to the Game Boy series, playing the Game Boy version would still be fun.
3. "Kid Dracula"
This parody/spin-off of Castlevania for the Game Boy certainly suited the platform much better than Konami's first attempt, the oft-criticized Castlevania II: Simon's Quest. While the platform wasn't the only problem with the sequel, it's technical performance would likely have at least allowed it to function better on a home console. Meanwhile, this game, a sequel to the original Japan exclusive Kid Dracula on the Famicon system, not just suited the handheld style with it's cartoonish asthetics, but also performed significantly better.
In this alternative world to Castlevania you play as the titular Kid Dracula, ancestor of the main series original Dracula, and your job is to seek out the evil demon Galamoth, gaining new abilities along the way in your quest to defeat him and win over your friends under Galamoth's control. This game helped set the style of gameplay for future games in the series and helped establish the metroidvania genre of games.
2. "Game Boy Gallery"
What kind of Game Boy service would this be without a nod to the Game Boy's predecessor, the Game & Watch series of games? There were of course several entries in the line of handheld LCD screen games, and the European-exclusive Game Boy Gallery was the first of several volumes that would rerelease these classics on contemporary (for the time) software. It was also the only title in the series to not be released on the Virtual Console in one way or another, so it would be the first time we would ever see this collection in North America.
The collection includes Ball, Vermin, Flagman, Manhole, and Cement Factory. Of course, future entries in the Game & Watch Gallery series can be released in future updates to the service, of which there are a total of five entries, with later entries having more features and more games.
Now, I know I said these weren't in any particular order, but could any other game have possibly topped this list? It seems fitting we opened the list with one game the Game Boy needed at launch, and that we close the list with the other.
You see, Mario Land was originally intended to be the pack in title to sell the Game Boy to children. Tetris was chosen instead because they wanted to sell the Game Boy to everyone. Of course, Nintendo had a bit of a leg up on this. Unlicensed copies of Tetris were already hot-sellers in the rest of the world, but Nintendo of America fought long and hard and negotiated with the Soviet Union for the exclusive rights to distribute the world's best selling game on the home console, and as such, had built a good enough reputation with the USSR patent office that negotiations for a handheld version went much more smoothly. So smoothly, in fact, that Nintendo of America had permission to use the Tetris name in any project they wanted, hence the rebranding of certain games to use the name, such as the previously mentioned Tetris Attack.
Much like the original Game Boy, an online service would absolutely have to have Tetris. It's honestly a shame that Tetris wasn't part of the NES Online service, but NES did well on it's own before Tetris was licensed. The Game Boy, on the other hand sold so well in huge part because of Tetris. You cannot think of the Game Boy without thinking about this game.
Plus, it's no hyperbole when I say Tetris is the best selling game franchise of all time, it's no joke. Close to 500 million copies sold, and Nintendo helped them get their foot in the door in the Americas.
Get Nintendo Online Now!
While this article imagines what a Game Boy service for Nintendo Online could look like, you can still enjoy access to numerous Nintendo Entertainment System and Super Nintendo Entertainment System games with a current membership to Nintendo Online.
Not only that, a Nintendo Online subscriptions includes cloud saves and exclusive demos that allow you to play the full version of select games for a full week. If you decide to purchase the game after the trial period, you can transfer your save data to the purchased game! Sign up for a Nintendo Online subscription or gift a friend a subscription by purchasing a code here!
© 2021 Nigel Kirk