Game Boy Color Retrospective

Last month, the Top Masteries feature debuted here in RANews. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I had the second most Game Boy Color masteries out of anyone on the site! Filled with a sudden burst of inspiration, my goal became clear: to be crowned the Game Boy Color champion in the next month’s issue. It got me wondering, however, “how have I mastered so many Game Boy Color games without even realizing it? What makes this system so special to me?” To answer these questions, I’ve decided to reflect upon my Game Boy Color masteries and reminisce about my great memories with the system.

Oh no...That’s a lot of hot garbage…

Well, case closed. I have so many Game Boy Color masteries because I actively seek out quick and easy masteries, and the system has no shortage of these. My masteries may not be indicative of the system’s quality, but nevertheless, I still believe there’s something special about the Game Boy Color! Let’s dive deeper and try to figure out why I have such fond memories of this thing.

Obviously, nostalgia plays a big factor. The Game Boy Color was the first handheld console I ever owned. It’s difficult to overstate just how novel the idea of a portable gaming system was to me at the time, especially since I missed out on the entire original Game Boy generation. I took this thing everywhere, to the extent that I recall my parents insisting my hands were glued to it. In fact, I’m pretty sure I have some pictures lying around of me in the background of family gatherings, transfixed in some fantasy world.

I couldn’t find the picture I had in mind, so here’s an artist’s recreation

We also need to consider how big of a deal backwards compatibility was at the time. It’s easy to take such a feature for granted these days, but consider the context of the gaming industry back then. Nintendo’s console offerings up to this point were not backwards compatible, and it’s easy to imagine parents getting upset at their kids always asking for new consoles and neglecting their old games. With how wildly popular the Game Boy was, I imagine not many people missed out on that entire craze like myself; for those of us who did, however, the Game Boy Color held incredible value.

In addition to its library of exclusives, the Game Boy Color was undoubtedly the definitive way to play Game Boy games at the time of its release. The simple feature of applying color palettes to classic Game Boy games went a long way toward making them feel more modern as well. Looking back at the games I owned as a child, I’m surprised to realize how many of them were actually Game Boy games. Maybe I was just a dumb kid, but I genuinely didn’t notice the difference at the time thanks to this feature. Some may argue that the Super Game Boy did this same concept better, but portability was a far bigger draw to me than graphical fidelity. Besides, I didn’t own a SNES!

Of course, these are reasons why the Game Boy Color was good for its time. This was over twenty years ago now, so we need a more compelling argument as to why the system is still worth playing in 2021. That’s right, we’re at the part that every console retrospective ultimately boils down to: let’s talk about GAMES!

You can’t talk about the Game Boy Color without talking about Pokemon. For many, the system was essentially a Pokemon machine. As nostalgic as Gen 1 may be, time has not been kind to it, with plenty of early installment weirdness and a smorgasbord of glitches. I’d argue that the series truly began to hit its stride on the Game Boy Color with Gold, Silver, and Crystal. It’s difficult to overstate just how big of a phenomenon Pokemon was at the time; I could probably count on one hand how many of my classmates back then hadn’t been bit by the Pokemon bug. As fond as these memories are, however, I can’t pretend that HeartGold and SoulSilver don’t exist. Pokemon alone isn’t enough to win over Game Boy Color skeptics in 2021.

There isn’t anything I’m forgetting about, is there?

Ports and remakes also make up a good chunk of the GBC library. Some are improvements over the originals, while others had to make sacrifices to work on the hardware. On one hand, you have things like Link’s Awakening DX - a nice update of the original, and a Zelda game so good that it was remade on Switch. Tetris DX is a pretty good entry in the series, but it really doesn’t do much to improve upon its predecessor. Super Mario Bros. Deluxe is another interesting example; it comes with a plethora of side modes and neat unlockables, but do these additions outweigh the disadvantage of the smaller screen size compared to the NES original? Even Shadowgate had a Game Boy Color version! On the other extreme (or should I say Xtreme, in the case of Mega Man), we have things like Donkey Kong Country which are better left in the past.

Again, not the most compelling argument. It’s time to really get into what makes the Game Boy Color great - let’s talk RPGs! Outside of Pokemon, this thing has an absolute banger lineup of RPGs that people never really seem to discuss. The two Dragon Quest Monsters games for the system are incredible, and shouldn’t be dismissed as mere Pokemon clones. The Pokemon Trading Card Game adapts the card gameplay not into a mere battle simulator, but a full adventure! Even Harry Potter had a couple weirdly great RPGs on this thing. If fishing is more your style, look no further than Legend of the River King and its sequel. More of a sports guy? Mario’s got you covered with golf and tennis RPGs, two of my personal favorites in their respective series. And as long as we’re being this loose with the definition of “RPG”, I might as well take this opportunity to mention the strong Harvest Moon lineup on the system as well.

Yer an RPG, Harry!

Outside of RPGs, there are still plenty of really outstanding games that I’ve conveniently neglected to mention up to this point. Hamtaro: Ham-Hams Unite is one of the cutest games I’ve ever played with a super creative style of gameplay. The Game and Watch Gallery series pulls off the seemingly impossible task of making some of Nintendo’s oldest games feel new again. Wario Land 2 and 3 need no introduction, and are some of the best games in the series. We also got not one, but two new Zelda adventures with the Oracles games. I feel like lots of people overlook these titles, but they’re up there with Link’s Awakening in terms of quality. Shantae is another GBC classic, going from hidden gem to cult classic to eventually spawning an entire series of incredible Metroidvania adventures, all because the first game is just THAT good.

As time passes, more and more reasons to revisit the Game Boy Color keep popping up. There are tons of high quality Pokemon hacks out there, with Crystal Clear and Prism being two of my personal favorites. There’s the homebrew scene as well, with addictive games like Tobu Tobu Girl Deluxe continuing to be made for the system. Long forgotten prototypes have resurfaced in recent years, such as Pokemon Picross. Fan translations continue to be made for titles that were previously only available in Japanese, such as the Detective Conan games and the sequel to the Pokemon Trading Card Game. On top of all this, we can now play all of these games with the added benefit of achievements!

In many ways, the Game Boy Color was a product of its time, there’s no denying that. Several of its most noteworthy games and features were impressive back then, but less so later on in the face of advancing technology. I maintain my position that the Game Boy Color is far more than a mere stopgap between systems, however. There were over 900 games released for this thing, and amidst all the shovelware are some real gems. When people reflect upon the Game Boy Color, games such as Pokemon and Link’s Awakening come to mind, but I’d argue that you need to dig a little deeper to see what the system does best. Many of the greatest Game Boy Color games haven’t had remakes, making them truly exclusive to a system long forgotten. Hopefully I’ve inspired you to check out some games you haven’t heard of or have previously overlooked, or maybe you’ll walk away from this article with a more positive view of the Game Boy Color.

Or, you know, maybe I just like playing bad games.