Friday, April 21, 2017

In honor of the 28th anniversary of GameBoy's Japanese release, here are a handful of my all-time favorite GB games

A little birdie (OK, so it was this NeoGAF thread) told me this morning that the Nintendo GameBoy launched in Japan 28 years ago today.

If math isn't your forte, that means the Japanese GameBoy was released all the way back on April 21, 1989.

Given my love for Nintendo's first portable game system (see my "Year of the GameBoy" posts for a taste of how I feel about this handheld), I thought I'd publish a post that discusses some of my favorite GameBoy titles in honor of today's milestone.

Astro Rabby--This choice is sure to raise a few eyebrows, as I know folks who think it's a bit of a turd. Still, I really enjoy playing it--flaws (like its hair-pullingly frustrating bonus levels) and all. Some of that enjoyment is derived from the uniqueness of Astro Rabby's gameplay--which puts you in the paws of a robotic rabbit that hops through space via a top-down, auto-scrolling stages in search of "power-up parts"--I have to say, although I also have to say it's simply a lot fun to soar through this 1990 release's levels while its peppy soundtrack plays in the background. For more on why I like this game so much, read my Astro Rabby review. Also, see my "Year of the GameBoy" post about it for photos of its box, cartridge and instruction manual.

Balloon Kid--By now, it should be clear that I not only love this Balloon Fight follow-up (it's actually known as Balloon Fight GB in Japan), but that I've loved it since it was first released in North America 27 years ago. After all, I recently published a post that explained why Balloon Kid helped shape my taste in video games. It's far from perfect, of course--the scrolling is choppy and there are only eight stages to complete--but it's such a nice change of pace from the typical platforming fodder that fills the GameBoy's library that its imperfections are barely worth mentioning. To learn more about this game's pros and cons, check out my Balloon Kid review.

Bitamina Oukoku Monogatari--True story: not only did I not play this Namco-made RPG back when it first hit store shelves in my neck of the woods (as Great Greed), but I wasn't even aware of its existence at that time. Now that I've played through a good chunk of it (you can read some of my thoughts on the experience in these old posts), I'd actually go so far as to call Bitamina Oukoku Monogatari one of my favorite role-playing games from that era. It's beyond antiquated, and the text in the North American version (I can't comment on the text in the Japanese original) is so stilted and simple it's often difficult to decipher what's being said, but its breezy, one-on-one battles are such a blast and its soundtrack is so blissful that these missteps are easy to overlook.

Burning Paper--How this game has flown under the radar for so long--it first hit Japanese store shelves in early 1993--is beyond me. I guess its pedigree (for lack of a better word) could have something to do with it. A company called Pixel developed Burning Paper, while LOZC G. Amusements published it--and neither had even slightly pinged my radar before I first became aware of this game. Regardless, I think it deserves a spot on every write-up ever published about GameBoy games you need to play thanks to its arcade-y, Patchwork Heroes-esque action and its shimmering background music. Also worth noting: Burning Paper's beautiful packaging.

Donkey Kong--I have to imagine a lot of GameBoy owners passed on buying and playing this title back in the day because they assumed it was just a black-and-white port of Nintendo's classic quarter-muncher of the same name. That describes the cart's first few levels, but after that this portable entry in the Donkey Kong series reveals its true colors as a puzzler-platformer of nearly unrivaled quality. Although I'd of course recommend picking up a physical copy of Donkey Kong for GameBoy (due in part to its pretty packaging) as a result, a digital copy (available via the 3DS eShop) will only set you back $3.99 at the moment, so go that route if you're no longer in the market for actual GB carts.

Osawagase! Penguin Boy--Much like Burning Paper, above, this Natsume-developed title features gameplay that appears to have been inspired by Qix. Don't worry if you find that Taito product to be a bore; Osawagase! Penguin Boy (Amazing Penguin outside of Japan) is a far zippier affair. It's also far cuter, thanks to the beret-wearing penguin that serves as its protagonist. In the end, if you're looking for a GameBoy cartridge that'll entertain you whenever you've got a couple of free minutes, or if you're any kind of Pac-Man or Pengo fan (both of are represented here, along with the aforementioned Qix), you'll want to give Osawagase! Penguin Boy a try as soon as you're able.

Painter Momopie--Speaking of Pac-Man, this Sigma Entertainment effort easily could be described as a clone of that world-conquering Namco classic. In fact, I did just that in a recent post about my five favorite Pac-Man clones. Painter Momopie sets itself apart from everybody's favorite dot-chomper, however, by basically inverting its predecessor's gameplay (your goal is to fill each screen--with paint--rather than empty them) and by being set in what looks to be a witch's home or academy. (Do you know Japanese? You'd help me immensely if you checked out the first page of the Painter Momopie instruction manual and then educated me on its backstory.) Curious to learn more about this Japan-only release from 1990? Read my Painter Momopie review. Also, ogle the game's packaging here.

Pitman--This may well be the best game Asmik ever developed or published. Even more impressive: Pitman (Catrap in the West) is one of the best, most interesting titles released for the GameBoy during the system's 14-year reign. If you've never played it, it's an action-puzzler that sports adorable graphics and animation as well as brain-busting gameplay. Bonus: Pitman's box, cartridge and instruction manual are every bit as precious as its in-game visuals.

Shippo de Bun--The good news about Shippo de Bun, which was called Tail 'Gator when it was released in North America: it's yet another top-shelf GameBoy title that is unlike pretty much every other game made for Nintendo's first handheld. The bad news: even loose cartridges go for a pretty penny these days. (Don't even think about buying a complete-in-box copy unless you're a serious collector or you're willing to part with a good amount of money.) So, your best bet, should you want to become acquainted with the single-screen platformer-esque action of Tail 'Gator or Shippo de Bun, is to play it using an emulator. I know that won't be the most appealing option for many of you, but I'd recommend it anyway given the compelling nature of this Natsume GB cart.

Do you have any favorite GameBoy games (Japanese or otherwise)? If so, share your thoughts about them in the comments section of this post.

See also: 'Some of my favorite SNES games in honor of the system's 25th anniversary' and 'Seven ways you can celebrate the 27th anniversary of the PC Engine's release'

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