Every Debut Game Boy Game on Nintendo Switch Online, Ranked
As of this month, everyone with a Nintendo Switch Online subscription gets access to free classic Game Boy on the Switch, and the roster is phenomenal.
The service debuted with nine iconic Game Boy and Game Boy Color games, which were released in the years between 1989 and 2001—a testament to the system's longevity. The games look and feel better than ever with a big, bright screen and color options (not to mention the handy-dandy rewind feature), but which games are truly worth your time and energy? Keep reading to discover our definitive ranking of every debut Game Boy game on Nintendo Switch Online.
9. Gargoyle's Quest
Gargoyle's Quest is a spin-off of Capcom's notoriously difficult Ghosts 'N Goblins series, and that challenge follows this title along, to its detriment. The game is part platformer, part RPG, a la The Legend of Zelda 2, with the titular gargoyle, Firebrand, traversing through side-scrolling levels using his hover, wall-climb and fireball abilities. These levels are connected by an open world with an overhead perspective, littered with side-scrolling random encounters. The issue is that the platforming and movement just aren't that engaging, with enemy-packed areas that feel punishing and repetitive rather than fun. As you progress, he does unlock better attacks and special abilities that make those parts less tedious, but there are much better games on offer with the service that we'd rather be playing.
(Gargoyle's Quest via Nintendo)
Also read about: We Played—and Ranked—All 21 Games on Nintendo's SNES Classic Edition
8. Game & Watch Gallery 3
The Game & Watch Gallery games are collections of points-based, arcade-style games that are a fun way to spend a little bit of time, but there's not much more to them than that. The game opens with five games (each with both classic and modern, Mario and friends reskinned versions), with five more that are unlockable by getting great scores that unlock stars. There's fun to be had whether you're playing as Yoshi spitting watermelon seeds at enemies, jumping across seagulls to deliver things to Peach as Toad, loading up Mario and Luigi's truck with cakes or platforming as Donkey Kong Jr. to save his dad—but it doesn't last all too long. Our favorite has to be the snappy and Egg game, in which you have Yoshi eat rolling cookies before they fall to the floor, which does have the kind of addictive quality that keeps you coming back again and again to try to top your high score.
(Game & Watch Gallery 3 via Nintendo)
There's no denying that the original Tetris is a classic, and we went into this thinking it was going to rank much higher than it has. After all, it's one of the best puzzle games of all time, with simple gameplay that's kept it relevant even after more than 30 years. The issue is that there are just much better ways to play Tetris these days—and a number of them are on the Switch! A lot of small quality-of-life changes have been made to the game over the years, and while we can forgive the lack of a hold queue and T-spins, it is so slow to play without the hard drop feature, and our brains struggle to tell the L and J shaped pieces apart when they're not color-coded in orange and blue. Plus, at higher levels, the game simply becomes unresponsive, to the point where it feels like it cheats you out of wins. Tetris will always be a great game, but it's come a long way since 1989.
(Tetris via Nintendo)
6. Kirby's Dream Land
Back when we were kids, Kirby's Dream Land felt like an epic, sprawling adventure, and beating it felt like a huge victory. Today, the five-level, half-hour-long game is still a delightful bundle of fun, but it's so much smaller than we remember. The gameplay is wonderfully simple, coming in the days before Kirby even had the ability to absorb enemy powers, so it's all about floating, inhaling objects and spitting them back out to navigate the space and defeat enemies, making for a short but solid adventure. It's also the ultimate beginner's game, so if you're a newbie, it's a great place to start.
(Kirby's Dream Land via Nintendo)
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5. Super Mario Land 2 – 6 Golden Coins
We find it a little odd that the first Super Mario Land isn't available on Nintendo Switch Online, but we couldn't be happier to be able to play Super Mario Land 2 in its place. This game is highly inspired by Super Mario World on the Super Nintendo, with bigger character models, creative levels and an overworld map that allows players to tackle areas in their favored order in quest of the game's titular Golden Coins. Though Mario can feel a little floaty (particularly with the Bunny Ears powerup) and the lag can get really bad with multiple enemies onscreen, it's a strong platformer with great ideas we'd love to see in future Mario games. It can also be beaten in under a couple of hours, though there are some interesting secrets and branching paths to be found along the way.
(Super Mario Land 2 – 6 Golden Coins via Nintendo)
4. Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare
There can't be many PlayStation 2 games that got ported to the Game Boy Color, so we find it pretty wild that Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare exists at all. The game follows a detective who travels to a mysterious island to find his best friend's killer, and players control the slightly rudimentary figure as he investigates a giant spooky mansion and its surroundings, rendered in surprising detail for the system. The game has strong Resident Evil vibes as you seek key items (signified by a shiny glint on the screen) to help you move forward and unravel the mystery, whether those are keys, door knobs or pieces of a shotgun. Combat sequences are triggered like random encounters, with gameplay a lot like the hunting in the old-school Oregon Trail games, and while they can get a little repetitive and annoying, they feel like part of the whole experience. Yes, the game can be a bit blocky and hard to see, which can make navigation a chore, and the combat isn't anything to write home about, but it's so ambitious that it gets points for pulling it off at all. Despite all of its shortcomings, we still found the three hours or so of the game to be a worthwhile experience, and even today, we're marveling at what it achieved technically, even with the hardware limitations.
(Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare via Infogrames)
3. Metroid II – Return of Samus
From here on out, the games get really good. Metroid II – Return of Samus can feel a little odd and slow at first, but once you get a sense of Samus's floaty jump and start figuring out the world of SR388, it quickly opens up to become incredibly fun and rewarding. It's leaps and bounds above the original Metroid game, thanks to much more distinctive areas and enemies, and while we could have definitely used a map, it's really not needed to enjoy the game—especially with satisfying power-ups appearing quickly and frequently. We will say that if we hadn't played its beautiful remake, Metroid: Samus Returns on the Nintendo 3DS, we might have been a bit more lost. Without an instruction manual, there's not a good way to not know that the story was about Samus being tasked with exterminating the Metroids on the planet, and that by hitting certain milestones, the acid pool at the center of the world drains, revealing more of itself. Overall, we found this adventure to be equally moody and dark and action-packed, with some real challenges along the way, and an ending that's somehow even more magical and emotional with blocky 2D pixel sprites than the remake managed with sleek 3D models.
(Metroid II – Return of Samus via Nintendo)
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2. The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening DX
The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening is another game that got a gorgeous remake, and after playing the classic, we can see that the backbone for greatness was always there. Even on much weaker hardware, it's a solid successor to A Link to the Past on the Super Nintendo, with a combination of puzzles, combat and exploration that ticks all of our boxes. We also appreciate that it's a much tighter adventure than the Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons games that came after it, with much less busywork and fetch quests and more time focusing on memorable dungeons. There's one thing that really holds this title back, and it's the fact that you can only equip two items at once (with the sword counting as one of them), so it can feel like you're opening your menu to swap them every 30 seconds. But even that annoyance can't stop us from loving this gem, and making us really want to revisit the newer version.
(The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening DX via Nintendo)
1. Wario Land 3
We'd never gotten to play Wario Land 3 before it dropped on Nintendo Switch Online, but it instantly became one of our all-time favorites. The game follows Wario, who gets sucked into a magical music box and must travel the world to collect five magical music boxes to get back home. To get those music boxes, however, he'll have to do what he does best—collect treasures—and each level has four treasure chests that are unlocked by their own color-coded keys. Most of the time, you'll only be able to access one chest the first time you visit an area, but as you collect more treasures from around the world, you'll gain power-ups that make Wario stronger and more agile, or that change the world to let you into previously inaccessible areas. Wario can also take advantage of enemy attacks and the environment, whether he's catching himself on fire to destroy fire blocks, getting slammed by a hammer robot to turn into a bouncy spring or getting bit by bats and becoming a vampire, to fulfill his greedy nature. Put it all together, and you create one of the oddest but most satisfying puzzle-platformers we've ever played. It took us about 10 hours to get to the credits, and we've played a lot after that in search of every last piece of loot. If there's another Game Boy title that gets a Switch remake anytime soon, we hope it's this one.
(Wario Land 3 via Nintendo)
Looking to play more classics on the Switch? Click HERE to read our review of Metroid Prime Remastered.