Despite being outgunned by the Atari Lynx and Sega Game Gear in terms of color palette, lighting, screen size, and sheer processing power, the original Game Boy trounced the competition in the category that mattered most to Nintendo: unit sales. The success was driven by good marketing, a relatively long battery life, and the console’s killer app, Tetris, as well as such ubiquitous titles as Super Mario Land, Dr. Mario, Kirby’s Dream Land, and the various Pokémon games.
The Game Boy also benefitted from an assortment of classic arcade ports. Since I grew up in the arcades of the late ’70s and early ’80s, I thought it would be fun to check out some Game Boy versions of early coin-op classics. One game I left off the list is BurgerTime Deluxe, since it adds a word to the title (it’s a great game, by the way). Some of these games were also ported to the Game Boy Color and Game Boy Advance in varying forms, but I’m focusing strictly on the original Game Boy.
Arcade Classic No. 1: Asteroids/Missile Command
This combo cart includes two solid ports that fans of the respective games will find little fault with. Asteroids offers three levels of difficulty and the ability to play using classic or updated graphics, the latter of which feature spinning, textured rocks similar to those found in Blasteroids. Missile Command has two missile silos instead of three, but it offers something new: a variety of recognizable cities to protect, including New York and Cairo, Egypt. In terms of audio, the games do a relatively good job of evoking the original titles, especially the warning signal that begins each level in Missile Command and the deep explosions found in Asteroids. Music, which was absent in the original games, and coin-op-style borders, which appear when the games are played on the Super Game Boy, have been added to enhance the overall experience. Missile Command was also released separately, but without Super Game Boy enhancements.
Arcade Classic No. 2: Centipede/Millipede
Arcade Classic No. 3: Galaga/Galaxian
More shooting action on your Game Boy, this time of the “slide-and-shoot” (an old term used by Electronic Games magazine) variety. With both of these fixed screen shooters, you guide your ship along the bottom of the playfield, firing away at formations of enemies up above. Unlike Space Invaders, the enemies tend to break apart from the pack and dive-bomb your ship. As with Centipede/Millipede, these two games are similar to one another. Galaga is one of the most popular arcade games of all time, and it’s ported very well here (yes, you can double up your ships for added firepower). Galaxian is more of a forgotten classic, but it’s also fun, if less versatile than Galaga. Play on the Super Game Boy for added color and a more arcade-like experience.
Arcade Classic No. 4: Defender/Joust
Once again, two classic arcade games are featured on a single cartridge. Both are decent ports that offer several Game Boy-specific features, including rapid fire in Defender and the thumb-saving (though less-than-graceful) rapid flap in Joust. Also, both games have music (which can be turned off, thankfully), but the noisy, grating firing sounds in Defender mask the tunes much of the time. Only Joust offers an updated mode, which is augmented by scrolling screens and detailed (relatively speaking) backgrounds. When played using the Super Game Boy, the games are semi-colorful and are framed by arcade-like borders.
The first four screens in Donkey Kong are similar to those of the original arcade game, and the game even features animated musical intermissions. However, beginning with screen five, puzzle elements come into play as gamers must gather disappearing keys to unlock doors of hidden rooms and pick up and move sections of road and ladder for use in accessing vital sections of the playfield. At the end of each of the game's ten stages of play (each stage containing ten puzzles), players must throw barrels and trash cans at Donkey Kong and other enemies, while finding clever ways to beat the bosses. Adding to the greatness of the game is that Mario acquires new skills as he progresses, including high jumps, handstands, and rope spins. The first cartridge to be specially designed for the Super Game Boy, Donkey Kong is a graphically sound, brilliantly challenging game that requires careful planning and strategy as well as dexterity for the player to succeed. Kudos to Nintendo for not taking the easy route by simply cranking out a remake of the original.
Lock 'N Chase
Ms. Pac-Man is one of the most popular video games of all time. In fact, you can still find it in bars, restaurants, and of course retro arcades. The Game Boy port features arcade mode and hard mode, the latter of which has faster moving ghosts. The screen scrolls to show the entire maze, but you can switch to full screen mode to show the entire playfield at once. This makes it really small, so using the Super Game Boy or Game Boy Player is recommended for this mode. The ghosts all look the same since the graphics lack color, but they of course do behave differently. Intermissions are included, and you can compete simultaneously with a friend or alternate turns through the magic of the link cable, a cool peripheral that was underappreciated by many Game Boy owners. The game is slower than its coin-op counterpart, but certainly playable.