Every videogame console has them: Under-appreciated, neglected games that otherwise would have fallen into the dark abyss of obscurity were it not for a small group of dedicated (and sometimes borderline-fanatical) fans. With this firmly in mind, I've teamed up with Racketboy to bring you a concise list of overlooked titles for the Game Boy and Game Boy Color. Read below for a few synopses from the article, which you can find in its entirety at Racketboy.com
In addition to being a solid platformer, this commonly overlooked title is possibly the only game on the Game Boy that is a straight-up parody of another series. Kid Dracula is a spin-off of the Castlevania series that was originally released for the Famicom in Japan, then ported to the Game Boy in 1993. Instead of taking on the usual heroic role of a Belmont clan member, the protagonist is a lovable, pint-sized version of the Vampire Lord himself who is tasked with combating his rival, the demon Garamoth. It sounds like just another day in the life of the near-infinitely powerful Lord of Darkness. Unfortunately for you, our young scatterbrained Master of Evil has forgotten all of his magic spells and must re-learn them throughout the course of his adventure.
Kid Dracula is a pretty standard platformer, through and through. The player traverses through 8 levels of baddies, obstacles and bosses, gaining new powers along the way such as homing missiles, shield, gravity reversal and summoning bats. The powers are fun to use and the game makes sure to put you in situations where your full repertoire will come in handy. Kid Dracula’s true charm, however lies in its light-hearted parody of the Castlevania series’ traditionally dark setting – Standard baddies from Castlevania re-appear as adorable cartoon versions of themselves. The Grandpa Ghost Boss at the end of Stage 1 falls asleep during the fight. You might even recognize the game’s main antagonist, Garamoth as a boss in the later-released Castlevania: Symphony of Night. The music also pays tribute to the Castlevania games: Listen closely to the song in the first stage – It’s ‘Bloodlines’, the Stage 1 music from Castlevania III, re-written in an upbeat major key. The whole game reeks of silliness, and it works incredibly well, making Kid Dracula one of the most entertaining parody/spin-off games you’ll likely ever play on a handheld system.
As a spin-off, Kid Dracula easily surpasses novelty status and proves to be a truly satisfying romp. If you’re a fan of the Castlevania series, you owe it to yourself to try out this Hidden Gem. The cartridge is also relatively rare, so don’t you dare hesitate picking this baby up if you happen to see lying it lying around at your local flea market/thrift store.
Don’t be fooled by its light-hearted appearance — The story behind Jaleco’s Avenging Spirit is actually pretty grisly: A young man who was gunned down by a gang of mysterious assailants has returned to the realm of the living to defeat the evil crime syndicate that killed him and captured his girlfriend. Luckily for our protagonist, being a ghost has its advantages — He can now possess the bodies of his enemies, each of whom have different abilities that will help him take down the syndicate’s evil bosses. Among those you can possess are gun-wielding gangsters, martial arts masters and fire-breathing… uh, kangaroos? Or maybe they’re suppose to be dinosaurs? Whatever.
Anyway, when the character you’ve possessed kicks the bucket, you’ll turn back into a ghost. When in ghost form, your energy bar will begin to drain. You’ll need to possess someone else quickly, otherwise your spirit will pass into the afterlife unavenged. Considering the heavy subject matter, the cutesy graphics in this game are a pretty hilarious (and slightly disturbing) aesthetic choice. Especially the continue screen, which shows the adorable ghost staring at you with sad puppy eyes, silently imploring you to help him rain vengeance and death upon his enemies. Avenging Spirit is a solid platformer with strategic elements and some interesting mechanics that were pretty ahead of their time. Highly recommended.
Blaster Master Boy / Jr. / Bomber King 2
This pint-sized spin-off of Blaster Master is peculiar in that the gameplay is more reminiscent of Hudson Soft’s Bomberman series than the original 1988 NES classic. Jason, our protagonist from the first game has returned, but this time it seems he’s ditched his beloved car, SOPHIA III. Luckily, Jason has compensated for his lack of wheels by keeping his blaster, a handful of powerups and an infinite stockpile of bombs at his side. Blaster Master Boy (known as Blaster Master Jr. in Europe) eschews the platforming elements of the original game in lieu of a top-down run-and-gun dynamic similar to the dungeon sequences from the original NES title. The similarities to Bomberman become pretty obvious after a few minutes of playing, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
As it turns out, Blaster Master Boy was originally supposed to be released as Bomber King: Scenario 2, the sequel to a Japanese Famicom title released in the US as Robo Warrior. To avoid any disputes with Hudson, Sunsoft re-branded the game as a Blaster Master title. Okay, so it’s not really Blaster Master at all, but let’s be frank — At the end of the day, blowing stuff up is just plain fun. The music is pretty fantastic as well. As long as you’re not bothered by the diminished variety of gameplay, this Hidden Gem is definitely worth a spot in your Game Boy collection.
Blaster Master: Enemy Below
Now this is more like it. While Blaster Master Boy/Jr. isn’t really a Blaster Master game at all, Blaster Master: Enemy Below for the Game Boy Color is a welcome return to the classic gameplay you’d expect from a title of this series. The game starts right where the original left off: After an unexpectedly brief holiday, Jason and his trusty tank SOPHIA III are called back into action when a science experiment gone wrong unleashes a new Plutonium Boss upon the world. This new Boss, cowardly as he is, once again establishes dominion over Earth’s cavernous underworld in preparation for his attack on humanity.
The game’s graphics, controls and gameplay are all nearly identical to its predecessor. Gamers familiar enough with the original might even feel as if they’re playing the exact same game. Still, with new dungeons, new weapons, crisp graphics and a new password save system, Enemy Below offers just enough variety to warrant a playthrough for any fan of the series. Despite it’s lack of innovation, it’s without a doubt the most authentic classic Blaster Master experience you can have on a portable console.
A fantastic port of the PC Engine shoot-em-up of the same name, Magical Chase is a light-hearted Japan-only shooter released by Quest in 1991. It’s part of an odd sub-genre that fans have affectionately dubbed ‘cute-em-up,’ a game where starships and laser cannons are replaced by more cuddly and charming elements (In this case, adolescent broom-riding witches).
Instead of the usual unforgiving, one-hit-kill mechanics, you have a life bar which slowly depletes as you take enemy fire, very similar to in games like Castle Shikigami. You can also buy health and weapon upgrades periodically during missions, making getting hit and losing lives much less punishing than in other games.
True to its pleasant and approachable visage, Magical Chase eschews the insane difficulty levels common in most shmups and focuses instead on simply being an enjoyable pocket title with good controls and lovable characters. And since I’m absolutely horrendous at most shmups, that’s something that I can easily get behind.
This peculiar shooter boasts a style of gameplay that’s as much akin to Space Invaders as it is to Tetris. Instead of warding off aliens with laser blasts, your goal here is to shoot at the tetrimino-like objects falling from the top of the screen, eliminating blocks by filling them in to form complete rectangular shapes. It sounds simple enough, but the game can get pretty intense as L-shaped blocks nestled within each other begin to drop faster and faster, forcing you to quickly find the ‘order’ in which the blocks must be filled.
If you’re especially daring, you can fill the screen and create larger rectangles for more points. But if at any point an incomplete rectangle hits the bottom, it’s Game Over for you and your odd-looking spacecraft. The game allows you to choose from 6 different ’ships,’ but the choice seems to be purely aesthetic. There’s also a two player mode possible with the Game Boy’s link cable. Definitely check this one out if you’re a fan of arcade games like Arkanoid or fast-paced puzzlers like Tetris.
No, it’s not Beetlejuice’s cousin or the name of a weird German fetish club. But it is a pretty solid Japanese shooter for Game Boy. Vattle Giuce never saw the light of day outside of Japan, but it has a couple of features that make it noteworthy within the Game Boy’s sizable library.
The gameplay is classic top-down shooter, similar to games like 1942, except your craft is also allowed to switch between two different altitudes. This allows you to avoid enemy fire and hit ground targets that yield valuable power-ups, but also puts you in danger of crashing into the low structures existing in the background.
The game also sports some impressive parallax layer scrolling and detailed (albeit repetitive) backgrounds. Conversely, the game’s enemies are highly predictable and quite frankly, really boring to look at. Each new stage seems to be populated by slightly varying cookie cutter replacements of all the enemies from the last stage. I don’t know why, but it seems like whoever was in charge of the enemy graphics was just really uninspired.
If you’re looking for a pocket-sized Darius for Game Boy, you’re not going to get much better than Sagaia. This should come as no surprise being as how it’s actually a port of Darius II, the magnificent Taito shooter originally released for Sega Genesis in the early 90’s. This game has everything you want in a portable shooter: Frantic enemy patterns, highly detailed sprites, a kickin’ soundtrack and even that iconic ‘PEW PEW’ sound effect for maximum retro pleasure.
And don’t forget that totally rad cyber-nautical theme. Everything about the game is just extremely satisfying, both visually and gameplay-wise. Highly recommended if you dig on any of those old Taito games. Don’t pass up a chance to snatch this cartridge should you happen upon it.
The Game Boy version of this arcade classic is not something to be overlooked. Originally released on the Atari ST back in 1987, Bubble Ghost is a simple and addictive game that gives players control of a gleeful ghost whose sole charge is to guide a bubble through a danger-filled haunted house. It’s a delicate mission, but fortunately for you, your phantasmal friend has a great deal of control over his bubble and can blow it around in 8 different directions. As basic as this sounds, the game is actually very challenging, and it will require a great deal of patience and planning in order to circumvent the malignant ghouls, fans, candles and all manner of pointy objects found within the halls of the haunted house.
If you’re the easily-addicted type, a casual afternoon with Bubble Ghost will almost certainly lead to full-on obsession. It’s got all the traits of a classic arcade game — challenging and rewarding in all the right ways. It’s also got an upbeat and extremely catchy soundtrack, composed by the now-famous Hitoshi Sakimoto (Final Fantasy Tactics, Ogre Battle, Radiant Silvergun). Bubble Ghost is a game that suits the Game Boy platform perfectly, catering to both competitive speedrunners and casual time-killers.
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