Thursday, February 23, 2012

5 Excellent Game Boy Games from My Youth

Pretty much everyone knows I've been a Pokémon addict master since I was 13, but did you know that I was passionate about a number of other games before Pokémon? Like most kids in the late 80s/early 90s, I really, really wanted to play Nintendo. Most of my friends had either an NES or SNES (or both), and my siblings and I wanted one, too. For a variety of reasons (cost/distracting from schoolwork/we only had one television), my parents refused to get one for us.

I'm pretty sure I whined about this almost daily, and the eventual compromise was to get my sister and I each a Game Boy and one game for Christmas. I was so happy. Finally, I could play video games of my own. Not only that, but it was a one-player system, meaning I would never have to wait for one of my jerk friends to finally relinquish the controller so I could have a freaking round at Mario.* Just about every childhood memory I have revolves around playing that Game Boy: Saturday afternoons, visits to relatives, summers spent helping my dad at his shop, or my mom at the school library were all accompanied by that big, grey brick. I'm pretty sure I even snuck it into church a few times.

*The majority of my experiences with video games up until that point had been at friend's houses, where I was usually resigned to maybe 5 minutes of play time for every three hours of watching them play. When I did get to play, of course I would die quickly because I had no experience with the game, meaning my turn would be over and I'd have to wait another three hours.

For our first games, my sister picked Jurassic Park, which is just...just terrible. (Check out this playthrough video. It is 6 minutes of literally nothing happening. I've been distrustful of film tie-up games ever since.) I wanted to go for something cuter, of course, so I picked...

Yoshi's Cookie for Game Boy
Yoshi's Cookie

That's right, Yoshi's mother-fucking Cookie. I love Yoshi, and I love cookies, so it was an easy choice. The object of the game is to line up cookies in a Tetris-like environment and try to clear the board. Lines of cookies creep in from the top and side, letting you use these new cookies to create rows and columns of the same cookie. Sounds simple, but it got crazy-hard. There are a zillion levels and the final ones pack on cookies ridiculously fast. I actually managed to beat every single level, which unlocks a series of secret levels that are impossibly difficult. And that was how I learned at a young age that hard work and perseverance are basically pointless.

Yoshi's Cookie for Game Boy

It's still really fun, though. The music might be my favorite part, but there's really something addicting and awesome about the game play, and the cookies are weirdly adorable. I credit the hours I spent playing Yoshi's Cookie as the start of my love of puzzle games.

I think that for at least several months, Yoshi's Cookie was the only game I owned. I recall not really caring so much. I was really, really into that game. The next two games I got would solidify my love of cute, puffy creatures, starting with...

Kirby's Pinball Land for Game Boy
Kirby's Pinball Land

I think I (somehow) convinced my mom to buy this for me on impulse. It was a game that both my sister and I liked, and we would take turns playing it. Thing is...it's hard. Like, really hard. Also, at 7 or 8 years old, I was not super familiar with the intricacies of pinball, and my approach to playing the game was to jam both flipper buttons at once, repeatedly.

Kirby's Pinball Land for Game Boy

I'm better at pinball now (thanks in no small part I'm sure to the ridiculous amount of time I spent playing Pokémon Pinball), but it's still a pretty tough game. There are three different tables, and each one has three screens. The object is to get to the top screen and fulfill the requirements to get to the boss (the tables are named after the bosses: Wispy, Poppy, and Kracko. Kracko is my favorite.) You can access each table's (extremely fun) bonus round from the middle screen, and the bottom screen is basically crap purgatory. I think if you can beat all three tables you can go up against King DeDeDe. I say "I think" because I never got that far. :,( But speaking of Kirby...

Kirby's Dream Land for Game Boy
Kirby's Dream Land

My next game was Kirby's Dream Land. Oh man is this game fun. This was my first opportunity to hone my side-scrolling, enemy-swallowing-and-then-regurgitating skills. In my mind, everything about this game is perfect. The graphics, the music, the sound effects, the characters, Kirby's little victory dances, everything.

Kirby's Dream Land for Game Boy

The enemies and even the bosses are ridiculously cute, and there's enough of a challenge to keep it interesting. Kracko is still my favorite!

Eventually my brother started playing my sister's Game Boy more often as she seemed to outgrow it, thus starting a decade-long battle in which we would steal, hide, and erase each other's saved games. As the Game Boy changed hands, so evolved our game collection. I believe I can credit these next two games to my brother, and, let's be honest, they are by far the best ones.

Donkey Kong for Game Boy
Donkey Kong

A lot of times when I talk about how much I love this game, people assume I mean the Donkey Kong Land/Country franchise. Let me be perfectly clear: no. I don't want to play as Donkey Kong. Donkey Kong is not my friend. Donkey Kong is an evil bastard who kidnaps my girlfriend Pauline and throws fucking barrels at me.

Donkey Kong for Game Boy

Anyway, this game is utterly brilliant. It starts out with the original four stages of the Donkey Kong arcade game. Once you beat those, Donkey Kong makes you chase him through various terrains, each more treacherous than the last, for a total of 101 levels. You're thinking that the same ladder-climbing, barrel-dodging formula might get dull after 101 levels? Well, you're probably wrong, but after those original 4 levels, the game play gets way more complex and interesting (although you do still have to deal with shit being thrown at you from time to time.)

Donkey Kong for Game Boy

Each stage is a puzzle, in which you must grab the key and make it to the locked door, sometimes using a variety of customizable roads and ladders, activating switches, climbing up ropes, all while avoiding enemies and other dangers. Oh, and did I mention you can do handstand jumps and back flips? YEAAAAAAAAAH.

I played Donkey Kong like crazy, but some of the levels were ridiculously complex and difficult. I'm not sure I ever managed to beat it, but man I had fun trying. You know, I think the only game on this list in which I did experience a satisfactory ending is...

Wario Land for Game Boy
Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3

I still consider this one of the greatest games of all time. You play as the lovably evil and paunchy Wario, and your only goal is to get a fuckton of money and treasure so you can buy an awesome castle to make Mario jealous. Oh and did I mention your enemies are the Brown Sugar Pirates, and all the stages are food-themed? And you get to wear hats, and one of the hats makes you fly?

Wario Land for Game Boy

I really can't say anything bad about this game. It's super fun, the music is really charming, and the control is stellar. What's even cooler is, it's jam-packed with secret hidden levels and other mysterious treats, giving it a ton of replay value. And replay it I did.

Unfortunately, I never felt the same way about any of the Wario Land sequels. They just didn't pack the same punch as the original. One of my biggest video game-related hopes is to see the original Wario Land rereleased in color with enhanced graphics, but keeping all the original game play, levels, and music. I can dream, right?

Wario Land Perfect Game
Don't stop believin', Wario.

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