About the Author


I’m Pierre-Luc Gagné, a québécois from Hébertville in Lac-Saint-Jean. I now live in beautiful Gatineau with my wife Annie and our dog Orson. I write Game Boy Essentials as an amateur art historian, simply trying to have fun. This project is developed in the open on Github. Head over to the repo if you want to see how this project functions.

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About This Project

In the summer of 1990, I turned four. The last gift I opened on my birthday, the pièce de résistance if you will, was my Game Boy. From that moment on, I was hooked. I have never stopped playing Game Boy, through its many revisions and its countless games. As I turn 30 and now have the expendable income to collect and play the Game Boy even more than before, I have turned my appreciation into the peak of obsession: cataloguing the essential games released for the system to understand its appeal. I call this project Game Boy Essentials. It is an attempt to discuss the games we should play to fully understand the Game Boy. Good or bad.

There are over a thousand Game Boy & Game Boy Color games. Not all are worth playing. Some aren’t even worth acknowledging. I’m building a list of the games that someone could play to get a complete sense of what the Game Boy is about. Sometimes that means playing Donkey Kong Land because Rare could not be bothered to cater their game to the weird screen of the system, sometimes that means playing the games everyone seemed to have played, sometimes that means playing a dreadful game that sold millions, sometimes that means playing a truly forgotten classic.

I think I’m on to something special here since the Game Boy library is criminally overlooked. Very few talk about it in the proper context. Except for Jeremy Parish, with the excellent Game Boy World, a project within Retronauts (give him a visit at or I hope that with this website I can do the same and escape the tropes of portable consoles discussions. Traditional Game Boy coverage is often guilty of several things:

Think how much every website talks about the legacy of the NES and SNES then put this focus in perspective: the Game Boy line sold more than the NES and SNES … combined. Do you realize how popular the Game Boy was? Until 2010, the Game Boy & Game Boy Color were together the best-selling video game system of all time, when the DS surpassed them (the DS being eventually surpassed itself by the PS2). The Game Boy family in total sold 118.69 million systems (Game Boy & Color) & 501.11 million cartridges. In 1995, Nintendo of America announced that 46% of Game Boy players were female, which was trouncing the percentages of the NES (29%) and SNES (14%). The Game Boy, for a certain time, was the most important gaming console.

I keep all those numbers in mind when I see people writing that the Game Boy was a lot of people’s introduction to video games. This is diminutive to no end. This seems to imply the Game Boy is something you do before moving on to real games on consoles. For so many people, the Game Boy was their introduction, main paragraph and conclusion to video games. People bought the Game Boy in 1990, probably played a lot of Tetris, with statistics telling us they bought around four other games and that was a very enjoyable experience for them. They bought it for themselves to play on the go (Gunpei Yokoi famously had the idea for the Game & Watch when looking at a businessman play with his then-revolutionary pocket calculator on the train), they bought it for children as toys, they bought it because an NES was too expensive, they bought it so they would not always have to hog the TV, they bought it because it looked so damn fun! Nearly half of those people were women, who were clearly not playing other consoles. I want to look at the games that are meaningful for the Game Boy, the games that help us understand why the Game Boy was so much more popular and attracted a different, larger public.

To select a game I look at many things. Quality of the game and originality, of course, but I also look at elements outside of what is burned on the silicon of the cartridge. Things like popularity, critical reception, sale numbers, impact on other games. Anything that makes a game meaningful. Even if it’s bad. It is important to look at games that did not succeed at what they attempted, games that are no fun, graphically atrocious, games with obtuse mechanics, popular games that suck. If we play those games and get a better understanding of the Game Boy, we should play them and talk about them, but if I had decided to talk about all the games, I would have gouged my eyes out by now. Because most titles are simply not worth writing deep, insightful articles about. They’re not essential. The Game Boy and Game Boy Color have around 1237 games (all the lists are somewhat flaky on the exact number), so I still discover new essential games, but most games of the system are better left to history. Finally, the system went through phases, so we can pick the most essential of every phase to get a good sense of what was happening.

I want to extend all my love and respect to Jeremy Parish and his Game Boy Works (née Game Boy World) project. I don’t know how he survives looking at every single Game Boy game in chronological order. I’d want to hide in a cabin in the middle of nowhere by this point if I were him.

Why Include the Game Boy Color on Game Boy Essentials?

If we only look at the hardware, the Game Boy and Game Boy Color are indeed distinct systems. The Game Boy Color features an 8 MHZ processor (twice as fast as the Game Boy), more RAM, and obviously a colour screen. However everything else is exactly the same. The processor is the same family (a custom Zilog 80 derivative), the screen has the same resolution, the system features the same button layouts, and the Color is perfectly backward compatible with all Game Boy titles. The Game Boy Color is Nintendo’s first backward compatible system and I would argue its marketing made the idea of backwards compatibility mainstream to begin with. Previous backward compatible consoles include Sega’s SG-1000 family and the Atari 7800 but the first blockbuster system to bank on backwards compatibility and be recognized for its ability to play a previous system is the Game Boy Color. The similarities between Game Boy and Game Boy Color are not enough to allow us to call them the same system; we still end up with the conclusion that they are indeed two distinct consoles. But when I look at the games, their release dates and Nintendo’s own explanation of what the system was I get convinced we ought to consider these two devices two sides of the same coin.

First, Nintendo did not release any Game Boy Color launch titles. You read that right. The system launched with black cartridges only, games that are ultimately original Game Boy titles. Centipede, Game & Watch Gallery 2, Pocket Bomberman and Tetris DX are all Game Boy games with special Game Boy Color palettes. They are not Game Boy Color games. Since they can run on an original system, they cannot take advantage of the Game Boy Color’s extra RAM or processor speed. They feature colour, of course, but without being able to use all the colours at the same time. They are Game Boy games with limited colour palettes.

Second, we have to look at the release calendar to truly tip the scales. You see, after the release of the Game Boy, third-party developers kept developing Game Boy games with Color palettes. Keep in mind, those games also featured different Super Game Boy palettes. So for those black cartridges, the Game Boy Color was basically a second color palette distinct from the Super Game Boy (there are some very strange exceptions). You have to wait six months until Nintendo released Super Mario Bros. Deluxe to see a true Game Boy Color game from Nintendo. A port of Super Mario Bros. from the NES, it truly looks impossible to do on the Game Boy. Most developers, though, started shipping games only for Game Boy Color­ a year after the initial release of the system. Everybody was basically following Nintendo’s lead. On top of that, big releases like Pokémon Gold & Silver were still Game Boy titles. There are black cartridges released up to three months after the arrival of the Game Boy Advance in 2001.

So you basically have a library of games that slowly transitions from Game Boy cartridges to Super Game Boy enhanced cartridges to Game Boy Color enhanced games to finally a majority of Game Boy Color releases. This slow transition is on purpose, intended to slowly ease people into the idea of a new system progressively. At the same time, you keep taking advantage of the record-breaking installed base of the Game Boy for large scale blockbusters. I mean, the one game that truly sold people on the idea of the Game Boy Color, Pokémon Gold & Silver, was not a Game Boy Color game!

To me, what we have here is a distinct hardware platform that Nintendo did not want to completely differentiate. Nintendo wanted to present the Game Boy Color as a new way to play Game Boy games, first and foremost. The Game Boy is now in colour. Some of those games have better colours and they’re black cartridges, and some of those game have colours that are so good they’re only playable on a Game Boy Color. By slowly releasing games only for Game Boy Color as time went on, Nintendo eased people into accepting that some games were unplayable on the original Game Boy while still in the eye of the average consumer looking like it was one system. That marketing message resonates with me and leads me to consider both console systems one continuous family.

Why Not Include the Game Boy Advance on Game Boy Essentials?

The same two reasons explain the Game Boy Advance’s differences and the Game Boy Color’s similarities: the hardware and the release titles.

The Game Boy Advance is a totally different beast from the Game Boy Color. It’s a 32-bit ARM machine with a wider display and two extra shoulder buttons. The layout of the system is horizontal, in an obvious ploy to differentiate the system from its forebear. Everything about it screams I’m not a Game Boy, I’m much better!

The Game Boy Advance had a massive library of titles on the day of its release. Developers immediately flocked to the Game Boy Advance. The few developers that still released games for Game Boy Color did so in small quantities with the public mostly ignoring them. It was a swift transition. By the end of 2002, the Game Boy Color was done.

To me they’re two different systems and so I can safely ignore the Game Boy Advance on this website. There’s also the painful reality of time. I’m having a hard time envisioning the endgame with only Game Boy and Game Boy Color titles to cover. With my low output, I’d have to write from the grave to properly cover the Game Boy Advance as well.