As a gamer in 2021, it can be easy to poke fun at Nintendo’s paid online service.
The “big N” seems to be eons behind its competition regarding its online infrastructure. Most titles are nearly unplayable when venturing into online multiplayer, with disconnections and stuttering frame rates being commonplace. However, there’s one saving grace to the Switch’s online offering — a hidden gem amongst a crowded landscape of gaming services — Nintendo Switch Online’s retro games collection.
As of right now, over 100 classic games are fully playable as a part of Nintendo’s online service. The Switch manufacturer has collected the best of its NES and SNES catalogue, allowing gamers of all ages to experience watershed moments in gaming history. Whether it be taking on Ganon in The Legend of Zelda or jumping upon Yoshi for the first time in Super Mario World, it is all there with special features like custom save states and a handy rewind button. It’s an effort that honours the classics while offering little quality of life improvements that console players will enjoy.
Games have continued to join the already stacked lineup of titles on the service with almost monthly updates, but it has been nearly two years since a new console debuted on Nintendo Online. What seemed to be a yearly rollout for the new consoles on the service has ground to a halt.
While fans have been clamouring for systems like the Nintendo 64 and GameCube to come to Switch, there has been silence from Nintendo’s camp on the matter. However, that does not mean they are doing nothing with their new take on classic emulation.
According to known Nintendo insider NateDrake, Game Boy and Game Boy Color titles could be making their way onto Nintendo Switch Online sometime later this month. This news would make sense as September marks the three-year anniversary of the service, making it the perfect time to drop news such as this.
So, here are the 15 titles from Nintendo’s groundbreaking portable that need to be on Nintendo Switch Online:
The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages/Seasons
Despite being two different takes on the same game, both The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons and Ages need to be on Nintendo Switch Online. These classic Zelda adventures were released in May 2001 to critical acclaim. While some would say Link’s Awakening would be the Zelda title to drop on this list, Seasons/Ages took what the prior title did and refined it.
This Game Boy Color classic pushed the console to limits, showcasing a unique colourful adventure, stellar music, and a choice between a combat-oriented experience in Seasons and a puzzle-focused one in Ages. This set of titles are some of the best that the Game Boy/Game Boy Color has to offer and would be so much fun to re-experience on modern hardware.
Super Mario Land
Next on this list of must-have Game Boy titles is Super Mario Land. This game proved that Nintendo’s signature series of platformers could transition from home console to portable. While that seems like not much of a novel concept now, you have to remember the Game Boy was a first of its kind machine when it launched back in 1989. The industry did not know how things would play when they made that jump to on-the-go gaming, and launch title Super Mario Land broke new ground on that front.
This was a full Mario adventure like the ones that had graced the NES but in the palm of your hand. Yes, the sequel, Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins, may be the better game, but you can’t leave the first off a list like this simply because of the impact it had on gaming at large.
Donkey Kong Land
Similar to Super Mario Land before it, Donkey Kong Land took the winning Donkey Kong Country formula and let gamers put it in their pocket. Released in June 1995, this title was proof that the DKC series on Super Nintendo was more than just superb music and eye-catching graphics. At its core, it was platforming perfection.
Developed in-house by Rare, Donkey Kong Land features 34 brand-new Donkey Kong Country-style levels with all the fixings of the home console games. And even though these graphics pale in comparison to DK’s Super Nintendo counterpart, they are still some of the best that the Game Boy has to offer.
Metroid II: Return of Samus
Metroid II: Return of Samus was one of many sequels to NES classics that came exclusively to Game Boy. While Nintendo made sure to follow up games like Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda on their home console, other series got their second installments on their pocket-sized machine. Metroid II picks up right where Metroid left off with famed bounty hunter Samus sent to a far-off planet to track down and destroy the alien Metroid species, a story that would be continued upon later on in the Metroid franchise. This was an all-out space-faring journey in the palm of your hand.
In recent years, the Metroidvania formula of slowly collecting new abilities and weapons to better traverse a somewhat open environment has blown up, so it would only make sense to bring one of the genre’s forefathers back from the past for modern gamers to play. Though not the best game in the Metroid series, it pushed the story forward while providing a whole lot of fun on Nintendo’s first handheld.
Mario Golf (GBC)
Mario Golf for the Game Boy Color was one of the best, most fully-featured sports games on the system. Fan favourite Mario sports title features like an emphasis on story and RPG elements started in 1999. Yes, there are better installments in the Mario Golf franchise, but this may be the most influential.
The graphics are simple and there are only actually three Mario characters in the game. Still, the act of swinging the club in this game feels surprisingly good for being on a rudimentary system like the Game Boy Color. And being on the GBC, this game really pops. It was/is a showcase title for the system with a palette that accentuates the saturated greens and blues that the Game Boy Color would become known for.
Super R.C Pro-Am
Something that might surprise a few people is that the Game Boy was home to more than a few amazing racing titles — a prime example of this being Super R.C. Pro-Am. This isometric racer sees gamers maneuvering a small remote control car through a wide variety of courses. And though the racing is a blast, what put Super R.C. Pro-Am on the map was its graphics.
This port of the Rareware NES title features a very early example of 3D graphics on a portable system. You pair that up with the ability to link up to three other Game Boy consoles to race against your friends, and you can see how this could be an easy addition to the list of classic Nintendo titles getting an online multiplayer update.
Kid Icarus: Of Myths and Monsters
As with Metroid II, Kid Icarus: Of Myths and Monsters is yet another example of a sequel to an NES classic being released on the Game Boy. Of Myths and Monsters takes the original Kid Icarus gameplay and tones down the notorious difficulty for a much more accessible outing.
Released in 1991, OMaM would serve as the last time gamers would see protagonist Pit until Super Smash Bros. Brawl in 2008. Now, years later, Pit has emerged from the shadows, getting his own 3DS sequel to his retro titles, and becoming a mainstay Smash Bros. character. So what better time could there be than to bring back Pit’s first portable adventure?
Wario Land 2
While Super Mario Land may have been the first platformer on the Game Boy, many would say Wario Land 2 is the best. The Wario Land sequel differentiated itself from the mainline Mario games by focusing on more puzzle-oriented elements. In doing this, Wario Land forged a new path, one that Nintendo would keep coming back to for nearly a decade after the game’s 1999 release.
Something else to note with Wario Land 2 is its main character himself. Sure, Wario had been around before the Wario Land games, but this series put him on the map. In fact, Wario was actually a character that debuted on the Game Boy in Super Mario Land 2. His lineage is intimately tied to Nintendo’s first portable, so it wouldn’t truly be a console celebration without everyone’s favourite overall-clad Mario villain.
Paperboy has become synonymous with the original Game Boy. Yes, it was an arcade and Atari tile before its 1990 release on the console, but there were few who owned Nintendo’s brown brick who did not have Paperboy in their cartridge collection. The premise was simple: the player took control of a paperboy, throwing out papers to subscribers’ homes, defacing the houses/yards of those who were not subscribed, and dodging all sorts of obstacles in the process.
There was something about the transition of arcade titles to portable gaming that just worked. That ‘one more quarter’ mentality paired perfectly with the quick bursts of playing one would find on a portable console. A great many modern titles owe a lot to games like Paperboy, because now it didn’t matter where you were, the hits of the arcade were in your pocket.
Donkey Kong (GB)
In a similar vein to Paperboy, Donkey Kong (commonly referred to as Donkey Kong 94) on the Game Boy finally allowed gamers to take the arcade on the go. However, Donkey Kong was so much more than just a port of a classic — this was a full sequel to Nintendo’s arcade anchor.
Considered by many to be one of the best of the Game Boy’s extensive catalogue, DK94 boasted 101 brand new levels for players to tackle, spawned several sequels specifically for the Game Boy, and inspired the Mario vs Donkey Kong series on Game Boy Advance and DS. Donkey Kong 94 is easily one of the best of the best when it comes to gaming on Nintendo’s first portable console.
Final Fantasy Adventure
If you had to credit one game for making portable RPGs like Dragon Quest XI and Pokemon Sword/Shield possible, Final Fantasy Adventure would be it. Released as Mythic Quest in other parts of the world, FFA took the Final Fantasy formula, flipped it on its head a bit, and proved that massive RPGs could work on a portable system.
Other than Final Fantasy Adventure getting rid of the turn-based combat found in most Final Fantasy titles, it had all the other mainstays of NES RPGs of the time. It’s an important game that served as the jumping-off point for a great many including Square Enix’s own Secret of Mana series.
Kirby’s Dream Land
Of course, we had to include Kirby’s Dream Land on this list. While not an essential platformer, this 1992 title was the debut of Nintendo’s little pink hero. Yes, Kirby’s first game was on the original Game Boy. In the decades since first venturing into Dream Land, Kirby has become one of gaming’s biggest names, and one that has thrived on portable systems.
Even though Dream Land is not the best game, or the most difficult, it’s one that anyone with interest in video game history must experience. If anything, these Nintendo Switch Online titles serve as a celebration of one of the biggest, most important companies in video game history. Because of this, it would be a shame for the introduction of one of gaming’s most popular characters not to be included on this list.
When putting together collections of classic games to drop on Nintendo Online, the Big N has always included a select few puzzle titles, and on the Game Boy Mario’s Picross is one of those. For those who know the Picross formula, not much has changed here; however, Mario’s Picross offers unprecedented value in a Picross game. Bursting at the seams with over 250 different puzzles, this 1995 title can keep gamers satisfied for hours as they try to figure out the next brain-teasing challenge.
So if Nintendo were to pair up these puzzles with the present-day ability for online leaderboards on the Nintendo Switch, it could provide even more replay value to an already incredibly replayable experience. If Nintendo is going to include a handful of puzzle games in their Nintendo Switch Online Game Boy offering, Mario’s Picross has to be one of them.
Throughout this list, the intrinsic ties of certain games to Nintendo’s first portable console have been brought up. However, there is arguably no game more closely tied to the original Game Boy than Tetris. The block-stacking puzzler was initially bundled with the Game Boy and has become synonymous with the console.
It’s not hyperbole to say there is probably no game that has been played by more people than Tetris in its many forms over the years. Selling more than 35 million copies, Tetris is the best-selling game on the console and is essential on a list such as this. This is where the tetromino phenomenon started. Though there have been many changes and iterations made to the Tetris recipe since its Game Boy release, this is the purest and some would say the best version of the experience.
And last but most certainly not least, if you don’t think Tetris is that number one most essential Game Boy game, you would say it’s Pokémon Red/Blue. These were the games that started it all, taking over schoolyards, and launching one of the biggest entertainment brands in the world.
These RPGs sold nearly 32 million copies, becoming more than just a hot new video game franchise. Their success served as a springboard into sequels, trading cards, anime, and merchandising galore. Few video games have crossed generational and cultural boundaries as Pokémon has, and it’s all because those first games were so good. The sequels Gold/Silver are probably better and would be welcome additions to Nintendo Switch Online down the road, but Red/Blue have to be there day one, in all their monster-collecting glory.
And that’s it — while there are probably many more Game Boy and Game Boy Color titles that could see the light of day on Nintendo Switch Online, these are the titles that absolutely have to be there when the collection drops.
The Game Boy line of consoles’ impact on gaming cannot be understated. The Nintendo Switch would not be a thing if it were not for Nintendo taking that first step into the world of portable. While there still has been no official announcement of the GB and GBC coming to Switch, it only seems like a matter of time. Then gamers can get on wishing for what’s comes after that, be it Game Boy Advance, Nintendo 64, or the Nintendo GameCube.
Image credit: Nintendo, Wikipedia