Game Boy Color
Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension

How do you follow up on one of the most successful consumer products of all time? Well, if you're Nintendo, you add a splash of colour. The Game Boy was a critical and commercial smash hit when it arrived in 1989, and its longevity surprised many; after all, the monochrome handheld had seen off the likes of the Game Gear, Lynx and PC Engine GT to remain top of the pile for almost a decade.

However, by the time the millennium drew to a close, it was clear that an upgrade was required, and that came in the form of the Game Boy Color. Released in 1998, it retained compatibility with all original Game Boy software – a masterstroke that meant parents could bankroll the purchase without worrying that their children would suddenly lose interest in their current game library.

The colour TFT display allowed developers to make their titles a little more eye-catching, and features such as an IR port for exchanging data made the console feel very futuristic. Of course, the secret to success was something Nintendo had been aware of in 1989, but its rivals had ignored: battery life. The Game Boy Color ran off just two AA batteries, which would last for around 10 hours. The drawback? No backlight (it would have reduced stamina) meant that you had to find exactly the right light source to play.

What are the best Game Boy Color games?

Our list of the best Game Boy Color games includes the likes of Zelda, Mario, Kirby, Metal Gear Solid and – of course – Pokémon. However, we've not presented these titles in any particular order or rank; instead, these are a selection of games that every Game Boy Color fan should sample.

Super Mario Bros. Deluxe (GBC)

At the time, Super Mario Bros. Deluxe felt like something a bit special. This handheld port offered not only a great version of the original game, but also packed in The Lost Levels, plus bespoke red coin collecting challenges and mini-games to enjoy which almost made up for the reduced view of the Mushroom Kingdom on the Game Boy Color's diminutive screen. For some reason, one thing that sticks in our memories is the Calendar. The ability to look into the dim and distant future — or look back and see the exact day of the week we were born — felt like witchcraft back in those pre-millennium days.

Or it did to us. Perhaps we'd melted our brain a bit by playing too much Super Mario Bros. in the back of the car.

The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening DX (GBC)

Link's Awakening is a game of contrasts: sadness and joy, bleakness and whimsy, dream and reality, confusion and comfort. Its success lies in its ability to balance these contradictory elements with tight, compelling gameplay and a timeless presentation. The extra dungeon and other features of this DX version don't add up a huge amount over the original monochromatic release, but it's still a mighty fine game enhanced by the upgraded console's colour palette.

Grezzo's Switch remake might have prettified Koholint Island, but the joyous, quirky characters, melancholy, and beauty of Link's first portable adventure were there right from the very beginning. If you own a Game Boy Color or have any other way to access it — like, say, a Nintendo Switch — this game is essential.

Pokémon Trading Card Game (GBC)

The Pokémon Trading Card Game successfully shows newcomers the ropes while providing the initiated with a slick, faithful adaption of the tabletop experience. It’s all the fun with none of the clutter, and the ability to save multiple decks allows for both experimentation and control over your play style. The main story would benefit from having some more unpredictable AI opponents, but overall we're very pleased this is now more widely available via Nintendo Switch Online and we’re definitely ready for a new sequel. You've done New Pokémon Snap, Nintendo — let's be having this, too!

Pokémon Puzzle Challenge (GBC)

Pokémon Puzzle Challenge is a deceptively meaty experience from Intelligent Systems, with plenty of content to keep you occupied for hours at a time, or you can simply dip into it every so often for a few minutes if that’s what you prefer. The Pokémon theme was hardly a necessity, but it gives the Challenge mode a bit more substance, and probably drew in a lot of people that might have otherwise overlooked this brilliant little puzzler.

Metal Gear Solid (GBC)

Shifting the perspective from Solid's 3D back to the series' 1987 roots, it's incredible just how faithful this 8-bit portable Metal Gear Solid is to both the 2D games of the MSX/NES and the later polygonal PlayStation entries in terms of gameplay, tone and aesthetic. Lengthy, challenging and rewarding, MGS GBC is far and away one of the best carts you can buy for your Game Boy Color.

Pokémon Gold And Silver (GBC)

Pokémon Gold and Silver have always been a highlight in the Pokémon series and even now, decades since they were originally released, they remain a truly brilliant experience. Perhaps its indicative of the series' slow-and-steady iterative approach, but these games feel just as good as they did all those years ago.

They're fantastic games that evoke warm, fuzzy memories for anybody who played them all those years ago. Updating the original with a gorgeous splash of colour on GBC, adding 100 new Pocket Monsters, and throwing in the entire Kanto region for good measure (thanks, Satoru Iwata), even people who adore the entire series have been known to argue that Pokémon peaked at Gen II.

Dragon Warrior III (GBC)

A fine handheld entry in this seminal line of JRPGs, Dragon Warrior III is based on the Super Famicom remake of the original Famicom Dragon Quest III and it's one of the most ambitious RPGs available on the Game Boy Color, filling out a (then) massive 32 Mb ROM cart. This version boasts a wide range of improvements when compared to the original, including a new character class (thief), mini-games, medals, dungeons and a brand-new introduction sequence. It's little wonder, then, that Dragon Warrior III is considered to be one of the finest examples of the genre on Nintendo's handheld system.

The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons (GBC)

If you're looking for a straightforward Zelda adventure, this battle-heavy quest is about as straightforward as it gets. Oracle of Seasons put combat centre stage, but adds in enough originality to keep it from feeling monotonous. Developed by Capcom subsidiary Flagship and helmed by Hidemaro Fujibayashi, director of several later games including Breath of the Wild and Tears of the Kingdom, Seasons was most notable for allowing you to use the Rod of Seasons (shocker!) to shift the world's climate and solve a variety of puzzles, from freezing lakes to growing Deku Flowers. It was a smart weather-switching system that would later be revisited in various other Zelda entries.

There is much incentive to play the Oracle games together, and if you do, we'd recommend tackling this one second. Doing so adds in interesting plot twists that enhance the relatively barebones storytelling and enables crucial weapon upgrades that help against the challenging end boss. It may not be as engrossing as Ages, but Seasons still offers up an old-school adventure that will feel fondly familiar to long-time franchise fans.

Shantae (GBC)

Available to play on Switch these days, with original Shantae is a game brimming with character and challenge. It's undeniably old-school in its approach, and modern players might tire of its outdated design, but it still has some impressive ideas up its sleeve and platforming fans will get a kick out of it. The Half-Genie Hero's subsequent adventures improved on the formula, but the GBC original isn't without its own charms.

R-Type DX (GBC)

Another remarkable GBC port, Bit Studios squeezed both Game Boy ports of R-Type and R-Type II onto one cart with added colour and created a remarkable piece of software — one of the best shmups available on any portable, let alone an underpowered 8-bit console. Not much else to say, really. It's a real winner and no fan of the series should be without it.

The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages (GBC)

Oracle of Ages manages to feel both new and familiar at the same time. Link wields the Harp of Ages, which you could use to travel through time. Now, he may have already done some time-travelling with his ocarina, but in Oracle of Season's companion piece it becomes the central aspect of gameplay, primarily used to solve puzzles, by moving a stone in the past to redirect the flow of water in the future, for example, or planting seeds that will grow into trees and vines. This makes for a puzzle-heavy adventure, one that's enhanced by nuanced, colourful characters, interesting items, and a plot much unlike those previously seen in the franchise.

While many beloved Zelda tropes remain, the game still takes plenty of chances, many of which really pay off. It may have been built on Link's Awakening's engine, but Ages feels like its own game.

Dragon Warrior Monsters 2: Tara's Adventure & Cobi's Journey (GBC)

With over 300 monsters to capture, Dragon Warrior Monsters 2 is a beast (sorry) of a game, and really builds on the good work seen in the original. Taking a leaf out of Pokémon's book, the game is available in two versions: Cobi's Journey and Tara's Adventure. While both titles are essentially identical in terms of story, they possess unique monsters and keys which are only present in that particular version. If you want the full experience then you'll need both games. The vast array of monsters on offer really does make this a fantastic RPG experience. Square Enix would remaster Dragon Warrior Monsters 2 for the Nintendo 3DS with Dragon Quest Monsters 2: Iru and Luca's Marvelous Mysterious Key, which included both versions rather than splitting them into two releases.