The Absolute Best Game Boy Platformers of All Time

game boy platformers

The Absolute Best Game Boy Platformers of All Time

Looking for the absolute best Game Boy platformers of all time? Well, you’re in the right place.

1989 was a landmark year for gaming and saw the first viable and worthwhile handheld with the launch of the handheld gaming console from Nintendo, the Game Boy. Nintendo had already enjoyed earlier success with their first home console.

Rugged, dependable, and with a killer library of first- and third-party titles, the venerable Game Boy is home to some great platformers. 

The Game Boy is a direct competitor to the later Sega Game Gear, which also has a great library of games.

If you’re a retro enthusiast or simply looking back on some titles you may have missed, you’re in luck because we’re going to go over seven of the absolute best Game Boy platformers. 

What Are Platformers?

Platformers are perhaps one of the oldest genres of the game out there. They date back to the days of the Atari 2600 with titles like Pitfall. The most famous of these sorts of games made an immediate splash with the 1984 release of Super Mario Brothers on the Nintendo Entertainment System, or NES. 

Platformers are a simple concept to grasp, you control a character that goes from left to right on a stage, with obstacles, platforms, and occasional jumping puzzles to solve.  There are occasional twists on this formula, but the core principles are running and jumping. Controls aren’t too complex, usually consisting of a jump and maybe an attack button. 

Platformers are the genre of choice for many gamers during the 8-bit, 16-bit, and well into the modern era. There are still new titles in the Mario franchise, and other landmark franchises like Sonic the Hedgehog and Donkey Kong Country are still enjoying continued success to this day. 

Platformers and the Game Boy

Being Nintendo’s first real entrance into the handheld market, platformers are plentiful on the Game Boy.  Franchises from Nintendo’s early days make appearances on the console. Many platformers were sequels or portable editions of previous big hits on Nintendo’s home console.

The Game Boy is a great platform for games that are easy to pick up and go.  The minimal controls very much suit the genre, with the Game Boy having a spartan layout of four buttons and a directional pad.  These are identical in layout to the Nintendo Entertainment System.

Platformers excel on the system, and there are plenty to choose from by the time the Game Boy Color arrived in 1998.

#7 Metroid II: Return of Samus

game boy platformers
In Metroid II: Return of Samus, the game is almost entirely underground.

Metroid II: Return of Samus is a sequel to Metroid from the Nintendo Entertainment System.  It features more of the non-linear exploration that made the original game a hit. 

Metroid II was released in North America in November of 1991 and is a highly ambitious title for the Game Boy.  Following intergalactic bounty hunter Samus Aran, Metroid II follows her journey to planet SR-338 and her quest to eliminate the threat of the Metroids on their home planet.

For its time, Metroid II is a pure delight visually, featuring graphics that are on par with the original in my opinion.  Music is likewise a stellar rendition of some of the prominent themes, and the gameplay is tight and responsive.  This remained an exclusive on the Game Boy until the remake of the 3DS in 2017, but I still find this version the better experience. 

Metroid II
  • Space Hunter Samus Aran returns to battle a planet crawling with evil creatures bent on universal domincation in this bigger than ever sequel to the NES classic, Metroid.
  • Take control! Guide Samus through cavernous corridors, ancient ruins and alien traps. On the mysterious planet of the Metroid, you'll find artifacts of a lost civilization that grant amazing powers....
  • A battery back-up allows you to save your progress as you fight to the heart of the planet and search for the merciless Metroid leaders. If you are a cunning explorer, you'll earn the best of several...
  • Enter this exciting Metroid sequel and experience the thrills of Game boy like never before!
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02/27/2024 07:24 pm GMT

#6 Kirby’s Dream Land

game boy platformers
Kirby’s Dream Land is a simple and user-friendly game as an introduction to the series.

is a 1992 release and is a stellar Game Boy Platformer.  As such it holds a special place in my memories and still holds up 30 years down the line. 

This entry marks the debut of Kirby, who has since become a mainstay in the Nintendo franchise stable and is a visual treat.  It is a bit of a surprise such a famous mascot would make its first appearance on the Game Boy. Featuring crisp grayscale graphics, and jaunty music, it is very much a casually friendly experience. 

Many standards for Kirby make their mark here, and it’s still a great game today.

Kirby cannot absorb the powers of his foes in this initial installment, but there are still plenty of power-ups and abilities to make ensure he succeeds in each of the game’s five levels. 

#5 Wario Land:  Super Mario Land 3

game boy platformers
Wario was first introduced in Super Mario Land 2.

After Wario’s introduction in Super Mario Land 2, Nintendo decided to capitalize on the popularity of Mario’s popular new rival and give him his own standalone game.  is an inventive twist on the Mario formula, featuring some fun new transformations, inventive level design, and a delightful soundtrack.

Being a little further along in the Game Boy’s life, Wario Land is a graphical delight. The sprite work is clear, crisp, and evocative of later NES games. 

Wario himself is highly expressive, with his cartoonish features working wonders to respond to gameplay. 

This is an absolute favorite for fans of Game Boy platformers and is overall just a great game.  It’s similar enough to the Mario games to be accessible to fans. There is enough of a departure to provide some great entertainment for someone seeking something a little different. 

#4 Mega Man IV

game boy platformers
Mega Man was based on Astro Boy, one of the most beloved characters in Japanese gaming.

made quite the splash upon his debut on the NES.  This Game Boy platformer is a bit of a remix of the mainline titles. It takes elements and stages from 4 and a bit of 5 on the NES. 

The usual Mega Man gameplay is here. Players will roam levels for power-ups, avoid hazards, and take on the boss at the end of each stage.  There are eight main stages in total. There are four bosses from Mega Man 4 and another four from Mega Man 5. 

Graphics are like the NES titles, with big chunky sprites. The trademark rocking music is still very present, done justice by the Game Boy’s sound chip.  If you’re a fan of the Mega Man franchise, this is the nest of the Game Boy games. It is also just a great Game Boy platformer. 

#3 Gargoyle’s Quest

game boy platformers
Gargoyle’s Quest tells the story of a war between the Ghoul realm and a similar realm from an alternate universe.

This Game Boy platformer is an offshoot of the popular Ghost ‘n Goblins series. follows Firebrand, formerly a villain from his home series.  This tough Capcom platformer is a great addition to any Game Boy library.

This is a dark and moody game, and not just because of the limited four-color palette of the Game Boy.  The gothic vistas and monsters you slay only add to the darkness. Firebrand himself is detailed, but you can tell this was an early Game Boy game. The graphics are not quite to the same standards as the previously mentioned Mega Man IV. 

This is a tough game, so be prepared. With patience and careful play, however, players can have Redbrand grow and become powerful by adding permanent powerups. Some light RPG elements add a sense of progression to the game. 

Gargoyle’s Quest isn’t for the faint of heart but is a great addition to any retro enthusiast’s handheld library. 

#2 Kirby’s Dream Land 2

game boy platformers
Kirby’s Dream Land 2 was a best seller for the Game Boy and sold more than 2 million copies worldwide.

Take all the good from the first game, and expand it and you get this wonderful 1995 Game Boy Platformer.  takes all the great concepts and gameplay from the first game and does it all over again but with a few new additions.

Graphically the game still has the same shine and splendor as the first, with great big chunky sprites.  The music is still stellar and will be stuck in your head for days to come.  What is new is that Kirby has some animal friends to aid in his adventures. These new additions make for much-needed variety in the gameplay. 

Controls are still tight and responsive, and it still reigns among the best Game Boy platformers.

#1 Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins

game boy platformers
In Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins, Mario runs around six worlds (areas of the game).

This 1992 sequel to the original Super Mario Land is a great Game Boy platformer.  Super Mario Land 2 is a faithful entry into the franchise. It is also similar to Super Mario Brothers 3, featuring an overworld and beautifully detailed graphics. 

Super Mario Land 2 has 32 levels to complete. There are also a plethora of power-ups that should be familiar to those who’ve played any entry in the series. It also serves as the introduction to Wario, who is the game’s main villain. 

It is a pure delight to play, and the controls are super responsive.  This is a must-have for any Game Boy platformer fan.  

Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins
  • More than 20 levels
  • Mario gains multiple new abilities by collecting power-ups
  • battery backup saves 3 files
  • or one player only
  • compatible with all Game Boy systems
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02/28/2024 03:12 am GMT

Closing Thoughts

The Game Boy is a trailblazer of a console, being the first viable handheld console to enter the market.  Its legacy still echoes outwards today. Some of these classic titles remain available or were reissued in various formats in the years since their initial release.  As a console, it was designed with compromises for the sake of portability. There is no denying the fantastic games that were given to it by first- and third-party developers alike.

Last update on 2024-01-18 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Frequently Asked Questions

What year did the Nintendo Game Boy launch in North America?

The Game Boy was launched on July 31, 1989, in North America, and it was officially discontinued on March 23, 2003.

What is the best-selling Game Boy game?

The best-selling Game Boy game is the original Pokemon with Red, Green, Blue, and Yellow having 46 million copies sold worldwide.

How many Game Boy consoles were sold?

The Nintendo Game Boy and Game Boy Color sold over 118.69 million units worldwide.

Was the Game Boy the first successful handheld console?

There were handheld consoles before and at the same time as the Game Boy, but the Atari Lynx and Sega Game Gear sold fewer games and consoles.

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