The original Nintendo Game Boy may have been one of the hardest consoles to design a survival/ horror game for. Not only were the developers limited by the console’s power, but they were also stuck with only black and white. However, that didn’t prevent several really good games from coming out on the console.
Several games based on NES (Nintendo Entertainment System) titles were made for the Game Boy, but there were also some original games as well. The biggest challenge, though, is that it is hard to convey a sense of horror with such a small screen. Similarly, telling a story is also pretty difficult as constant reading isn’t very fun.
The best survival/ horror games on the Game Boy are lighter takes on the genre that more closely resemble campy 80s movies. However, there are also some really good games that take a darker approach by going off their home console counterparts.
1. Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge
Castlevania II is the second game in the series released on Game Boy, and it is a much better game than the first one. The game’s developers managed to pack in all of the fun of the NES game into a handheld console. It is a typical Castlevania game, which resembles the first NES title, but with some limitations around in-game objects and weapons.
Belmont’s Revenge has a really good mix of platforming and fighting enemies. It also heavily relies on vertical movements, which see you climbing ropes between levels. The game’s story picks up fifteen years after Castlevania: The Adventure, and you play as the same character whose son has been captured by Dracula.
Your main weapon in the game is a whip, but you also have some sub-weapons, such as holy water and axes, like in the NES games. The setting takes place across four castles which are set up as stages that you can play in any order. The graphics are pretty good, but keep in mind the Game Boy’s limitations, as it won’t look nearly as good as one of the NES titles.
2. Dr. Franken
Dr. Franken is a 2D sidescrolling platformer that lets you take control of Frankenstein. The game has a survival aspect, but it is rather light on horror. As Frankenstein, you must search for the body parts of his girlfriend. The game is very loosely based on the Frankenstein movie from the same era. While the movie wasn’t a major success, the video game was.
Dr. Franken was also available on the SNES, which is a better version with full color and detailed graphics. Even though it is not as good as its SNES counterpart, the game is still worth playing. As you make your way through the game, you have to evade various enemies left in the castle after the death of their creator.
After you’ve found all the body parts, you must put Frankenstein’s girlfriend back together. As for the gameplay, you can either kill the ghosts and monsters or evade them to keep moving through the area.
The goal is to reach a question mark found on a map that leads you on a quest from place to place. Overall, Dr. Franken is a nice blend of platforming and exploration with decent graphics for the Game Boy.
Deadeus is probably the scariest game on the Game Boy, and it looks absolutely stunning. It combines a good story with a fairly long storyline. At first glance, it looks like a pretty good Game Boy game, but it is not from the era. Deadeus actually came out in 2019 as a homebrew game and is available freely for anyone to play.
However, this also makes it a bit difficult to play because you will either need to run it on an emulator or transfer the game files to a cartridge to play it on a Game Boy console. Deadeus‘s gameplay is definitely worth the extra effort. The game starts with a backstory that sees a boy waking up after a nightmare in which he learned that monsters will eat everyone in three days.
Obviously, no one believes the kid, except for other kids in town who have had similar dreams. Much of the game revolves around following the kid in those three days as he goes around town.
What makes Deadeus really unique is its story which has eleven unique endings, with no direct choice for which path you take. Another shining part of the game is its psychological aspect, which is really powerful.
4. Alien 3
Alien 3 is an IP game based on the movie of the same name. As a movie tie-in, expectations are pretty low, but Alien 3 is actually a good game that really brought the survival/ horror genre to the handheld console. Unfortunately, this positivity isn’t shared with the other Alien 3 games from the SNES and Genesis.
The gameplay consists of a top-down action shooter. It manages to pack a nice variety of gameplay for a Game Boy title. Alien 3‘s story is pretty short, but you don’t really need a long backstory here since it plays off the movie. In the game, you’re Ellen Ripley as she battles her way through a prison.
Alien 3 for the Game Boy largely went overlooked after its release because of the terrible other versions of the game. In addition, it was also pretty expensive.
But the game really shines with its well-detailed maps that look really good for a black-and-white game. Similarly, the gameplay offers a lot of combat with some sections of puzzle-solving.
5. Kid Dracula
Kid Dracula is a relatively lighthearted take on the Castlevania games. It uses much of the same premise and basic story but with a more laid-back approach. Kid Dracula is a sequel to a Famicom game that was never released in the United States. The backstory is pretty simple, as you help death by stopping monsters from conquering the world.
Kid Dracula starts by providing the backstory, which explains that the main character has forgotten his spells. As you progress through the game, you slowly relearn them and are given a variety of different abilities, which greatly add to the experience. But to start with, you can shoot fireballs. The game is a 2D sidescroller, but it also has some vertical levels, too.
The gameplay consists of a mix of platforming and combat that vary nicely. The enemies also have a good bit of variety and abilities themselves, and some can even come back to life.
Kid Dracula‘s graphics are also really good as they take on a very cartoony feel, which adds a nice amount of goofiness without feeling childish. The biggest downside, however, is that it is popular, and used copies are pretty expensive.
6. Gargoyle’s Quest
Gargoyle’s Quest is one of the best survival/ horror titles available on Game Boy. The gameplay is very unique as it is an early 2D sidescroller that also features RPG elements.
In the game, you’re Firebrand, the gargoyle from the Ghosts ‘N Goblins series. The story is pretty basic, but that isn’t really a bad thing here since you aren’t constantly distracted by textual story elements.
With that said, there is enough dialogue to keep you playing through. The basis is that Firebrand is trying to take over the kingdom. What will make you fall in love with the game are Firebrand’s unique abilities and challenges. Simply put, Gargoyle’s Quest is a difficult game that will require you to pay close attention to your enemies’ movements to learn patterns.
All together, Gargoyle’s Quest isn’t a very long game, but it will probably take you a while to master. Because of the difficulty, it will likely take several hours to play through, and you should expect to die a lot.
However, the game is really great, and one of the best aspects is Firebrand’s ability to scale and hang on walls. Also, the game’s graphics are excellent for the early days of the Game Boy.
7. Bubble Ghost
Bubble Ghost is another goofy take on the survival genre that more closely resembles an arcade game. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as it is quite enjoyable. The premise of the game is that you are a ghost that blows a bubble through varying rooms in a mansion. The objective is to get the bubble out of the mansion without touching any surfaces.
Because it is a bubble, it will pop if it touches a wall, causing you to lose. While it sounds like a pretty basic game, it offers some pretty fun maneuvers. In addition, there are a lot of platforming and puzzle-solving aspects that really make the game much more than just a basic maze.
Unfortunately, there isn’t anything really scary about the game, but that isn’t really a bad thing here. You get to explore the mansion as a range of different creatures and devices try to pop the bubble.
Overall, Bubble Ghost is pretty difficult, but it is as frustrating as so many other Game Boy games. You get three lives, with two restarts, which let you pick up where your bubble popped.