Metroid II: Return of Samus
One of the greatest Game Boy games, heck one of the greatest games period to ever be made is Metroid II: Return of Samus.
The sequel to the cult classic NES title of the same name was smooshed into the tiny handheld screen and released for everyone to see in various shades of green back in 1991. Thankfully, Game Boy Color colorization saves my eyeballs whilst playing one of my favorite childhood games.
But does Metroid 2 still stand up to this day?
As we all know by now, Nintendo “reimagined” this game a few years ago with a totally overhauled “Samus Returns” remake on the 3DS. That game came about after numerous fan projects applied Super Metroid graphics to the Game Boy classic – but it should be noted the 3DS remake is NOTHING like the original. (There are so many reasons I can’t even list them here. So take my word for it!)
Metroid 2 builds upon the exploration and upgrade aspects of its predecessor. This time, Samus is alerted to a Metroid presence on a remote planet.
Unlike the space station style exploration of the original, Metroid 2 has a few subtle differences. First, there’s no true bosses in the game until the final confrontation with the Queen Metroid. Instead, you must clear the planet of evolving Metroids, a variety of which include the puny Alpha type up to the far deadlier Omega Metroids.
Areas of the game are once again obstructed. You cannot continue unless you eliminate a certain number of Metroids (which causes flooded areas to drain as the queen rampages at losing her babies) or until you find certain power-ups, of which several new ones are introduced for the first time.
Some of the debuting items include the plasma beam, space jump, spider ball, and screw attack.
Quite honestly, I’m not sure how I played any Metroid game without several of those items!
Metroid 2, however, lacks an internal map or inventory system. This becomes relevant as backtracking and trick walls come into play throughout the game, extending the campaign somewhat unnecessarily. (If you decide to play this, look up a guide!)
Samus can only carry a single beam at a time still, which by the game’s conclusion is another necessary evil: finding the ice beam again to defeat the Metroids. (Luckily a second drop of this crucial weapon isn’t too far away from the final portions of the game.)
Samus’ space ship is also front and center in this game, and has been a hallmark ever since.
The biggest changes or omissions, besides the bosses, are a lack of air-lock doors and elevators, which are seen in almost every other game in the Metroid series. However, unless this is pointed out to you, you wouldn’t even notice it as the game plays much like the first.
With the noted updates, Metroid 2 stands out as a sequel that’s often thought of as better than the original, even with the lack of audiovisual limitations on a handheld console. (It also stayed much closer to the source material than other Nintendo franchises, such as Mario 2 and Zelda 2!)
If you’re a Metroidvania connoisseur, you owe yourself a treat by playing this game. Even 30 years later it holds up as a timeless classic – but be sure to turn on the colorization if its available to you!
I’m struggling to disparage Alleyway. As one of the first four games ever made for Nintendo’s Game Boy, I can see the concept: a game which can be played in short bursts, as to not kill battery life and be easily accessible to all ages.
The problem is, it’s a straight-up Breakout clone, which that game saw better follow-ups it inspired. (Such as Arkanoid.)
Initially released without Mario, the plumber would be slapped on the box in what can only be called out as a cheap marketing tactic.
Regardless, this game serves its purpose and can be fun. The problem I had is that it gets repetitive, and I can only imagine how much worse this was when played on the original green monochrome handheld with cramped controls.
If you’ve never played Alleyway, you’re not missing much. The only innovations here versus others is some of the scrolling stages and Mario-themed bonus rounds.
If that doesn’t sound too exciting to you, this is a game that can be passed on playing in your quest of all things retro.
Play Action Football
I can’t believe I spent as much time with this title as I did as a kid. I suppose that’s the price you paid for limited technology on the go in the early 90’s…
Play Action Football is the portable little brother of NES Play Action Football, but lacks, and not sure how I say this kindly, pretty much any of the features or charm that made the Nintendo version a classic.
The first omission is obvious: unlike on the NES, there are no real football players in the Game Boy version. Like it’s bigger brother, it lacks the NFL license and the eight teams to choose from are loosely based on real franchises at the time. Yet, with no player union license, there isn’t even a reference to fake names let alone jersey numbers or any stats whatsoever.
I lauded the NES version for fitting a true 11-on-11 football simulation on the screen. However, the severely underpowered Game Boy could only get us 9-on-9 with a view much like Sega’s NFL Sports Talk Football’s (horrible) blimp view. Even with only nine per side and the dots on screen barely representing players, the game moves at a snail’s pace with the occasional framerate stutter.
Again, how did I play this as a kid?
Well you start with choosing if you’re playing against the computer or a friend, or with a friend on the same team against the CPU (all possible via the game link cable). There’s a “playoff mode” which gives you some semblance of each game meaning something but not a full season – and also continuing via a password input system that wasn’t all too uncommon at the time.
The next screen has you choose between four levels of computer difficulty. Don’t worry, the easiest (Level 1) will suffice the hell you are about to witness attempting to play “football”.
Pick your team and your off to kickoff, which makes the tiny overhead view even smaller (if you can imagine that!)
On offense and defense you have a total of eight plays which include obvious special teams situations with a field goal or punt option. Like the NES version, I think that you blitz on defense if you choose the offense’s play correctly. (i.e. your play choice of “up arrow” is the same as the opponent.)
Playing the game beyond this point presents a challenge. While the NES somehow made things work with only a B and A button (often using select or a combo of keys in coordination to play calling, etc.) the Game Boy version makes it tough to simply switch players and you’ll often find yourself diving on defense, taking your player out of the play and losing key yards.
On offense, pass plays develop in super slow motion as you control the quarterback, then switch to the receiver who must be on the exact spot necessary to make the “catch” from a thrown football that sounds like a dive bomb.
Nothing that represents football.
Be prepared for lots of 3-and-outs, the same repetitive soundtrack loop (like 5-6s loop) and some static hiss as your “crowd noise” effect. Oh, and a very monotone referee whistle.
Unlike most of the football games I’ve reviewed, this is a true pass for even diehard retro gamers and/or football fans.
After previously reviewing John Madden football games for 1993 (Sega Genesis) and 1994 (Super Nintendo) I felt it was appropriate to continue going through the series by visiting Madden ’95… on the Game Boy?
While it may seem like an odd choice, 1995’s edition of Madden marked the series’ first entry into the handheld console market. Sega’s Game Gear received a version as well, but owning a Game Boy was where it was at in the mid 90’s – and this is one game that was a must own by those standards.
For being audio and visually crude due to the limitations of the Game Boy itself, Madden ’95 is incredibly deep, even when comparing it to the previous versions I’ve reviewed. For starters, it has a full 11-on-11 format, apparently something that was an original sticking point for legendary coach John Madden to add his name to the earliest versions.
To point out the biggest glaring omission of this game, however, is that it lacks an NFL license of any kind. The 16-bit big brothers both had the real NFL teams, with Sega’s having the NFLPA license with player names for the first time of any Madden game – though you wouldn’t know it unless you were using the substitution menus (i.e. a gain of seven yards by #22, for example, rather than saying who “22” is.)
That’s why the Game Boy version doesn’t feel too out of place. EA still used the city names, albeit with fake logos. On the monochrome screen you aren’t getting home stadiums, custom end zones or any sort of differentiation between you and the computer-controlled opponent other than one team is wearing a lighter or darker uniform. Players are still denoted by number here, but if you followed your team, you know who is who just like the fancier versions.
The team selection screen is something to behold when it comes to options. Madden ’95 includes all-time teams for all of the 28 NFL counterparts as well as legendary teams, such as “Pittsburgh ’75” or “Pittsburgh ‘78”, with a least one of not two options for each franchise.
You can also adjust the game type and duration. To quickly play, exhibition is the obvious choice. You can start a new season, but to continue, as expected back then, a password system was used. (There are also Champions and All-Time playoff modes to play with the added teams too.)
As the game starts it looks like a pared down version of Madden as you’d know it. Obviously, the Game Boy only has two buttons, so a lot of the special moves or even passing to more than two eligible receivers makes the game feel somewhat crippled, yet, it plays rather smoothly and at a decent pace (unlike Play Action Football which plodded along). Due to the lack of screen size, the traditional passing windows are eschewed as well, something that was also borrowed by the Genesis and SNES counterparts of ’95.
The playbooks are mostly all there, with the option to flip plays and set audibles. Only two substitution modes are available on offense, for your quarterback or running back (“HB” or “halfback” for those in the know).
The depth of stats tracked is quite remarkable for a pint-sized game, some penalties (such as delay of game) are still enforced, and within the season mode you can even check in on scores of other games (as they were scheduled based on the 1994 NFL calendar).
EA even tried to placate us with the audio. While the football sounds like a dive bomber (especially on longer kicks) some audio blurbs such as “first down” and “touchdown” are included. Crowd noise sounds like a broken speaker hissing, but it is what it is for that time and technology.
The only thing that could’ve been left out are some cheesy cutscenes which felt more appropriate with Tecmo Bowl than Madden.
For handheld football action, this is about the best you could get at its time. I’m quite surprised how groundbreaking this title is considering the lack of details in Madden ’93 for the Genesis. I’m not at all advocating that anyone actually chooses to play ’95 over a 16-bit title, but if you have a bit of nostalgia in your bones and want to see the progression of this series, ’95 for Game Boy definitely deserves recognition… unless you choose to play it on the Super Nintendo’s Super Game Boy, which totally kills the colors and defeats the purpose of owning a 16-bit machine!
Sometimes on this site I end up reviewing the same game on multiple consoles. However, as is the case with Tetris, the main concept is so widely unchanged that these extra reviews are unnecessary.
Therefore, which Tetris is the proper introduction for most people? Would it be a computer version? Arcade? The NES version, er, versions, where Atari and Nintendo battled over which cartridge had the correct rights to be played on that console?
Actually, the small screen is where most people my age likely got their block-fitting fix first: on the Game Boy, which was one of the best-selling games of all-time. That’s because Nintendo had reservations about squishing Mario onto the small monochrome screen and instead opted for a pack-in title with the handheld console which could be played in short spells.
This decision proved to be genius, as not only was Tetris an addictive puzzle game which inspired copycats and an entire genre, but it also proved that the monochrome screen and battery life weren’t major limitations of enjoying “gaming on the go”.
But that wasn’t the only thing which made Tetris special on the Game Boy. A Game Link Cable enabled two players, each with their own Game Boy and copy of the game, to play head-to-head.
I have many memories in school of linking to other friends during recess or dead periods during mandated testing – as many as 15 of us had the console and game, enabling tournaments and bragging rights aside from conquering the frantic and fantastic single player version.
I know I haven’t really explained what Tetris is, but to be honest, if you haven’t picked it up and tried it, you should. Basically, you fit falling blocks together, without leaving gaps or spaces, to clear “lines”. As you clear more lines, you move up a level, which increases the speed at which the game moves.
As is typical of smaller “Game Paks” of this era, defeating the game leaves you with a great feeling of accomplishment, but not because of the small congratulations screen you get!
Regardless, players flocked to Tetris like our grandparents play crossword puzzles. It’s a timeless concept which always presents a challenge.
I feel as though the Game Boy version truly owes a debt of gratitude to it’s present day popularity. That doesn’t mean you must run to play this specific version, as minimal tweaks to the main formula offer the same game play with upgraded sound, controls, and graphics (see Tetris 99 for the Nintendo Switch, for example).
However, I feel my site would’ve been incomplete having not reviewed the Game Boy edition of Tetris. I’m sure for those of you who grew up with it, the memories are everlasting.
Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins
Super Mario Land 2 returned to its roots following a bizarre entry on the Game Boy platform which had an Egyptian theme mixed with UFOs… this iteration also filled your screen and looked more like a “Mario” title as opposed to the very basic and tiny graphics found in the original Super Mario Land.
Yet, SML2 carried over some ideas from its predecessor on the handheld rather than its big brothers on the NES. Coins didn’t accumulate for extra lives, rather, hearts were found in the recurring question block containers which now filled massive portions of your screen.
Goombas and Koopa Troopers returned as common enemies, with one main boss making his debut which would spawn a set of other games in his name: Wario.
SML2 also incorporated an overworld map and was a larger game in general than the first in the series, with 32 levels total. The super mushroom, fire flower and starman all make an appearance as well for power-ups, but the oddity in this case is Mario’s outfits don’t really change due to the monochrome colors of the Game Boy: with the fire flower, he instead has a feather in his cap.
Of course, the thing most people will remember about this game is Rabbit Mario… predictably achieved by eating a carrot! Mario then has ears on his cap which allow him to jump higher and slowly float by using his “ears”.
The series also features a midway point “save” when reaching a bell, another step in the right direction of being more like other classic Mario games.
The plot isn’t your usual Mario fare either. While our protagonist was away in the strange Sarasaland of Mario Land 1, Wario puts an evil spell on Mario’s private island, Mario Land. The inhabitants do a 180 and think Mario is the villain and Wario is their leader… and thus, the collection of the six Golden Coins begins to unlock your way into Mario’s castle and face his nemesis.
When it comes to retro games, this one ages decently. I find Mario Land 1 to be a bit jerky with controls, and the side-scrolling vehicles to be outside the norm of Mario games. This one is more grounded, though Wario at first just felt like a cheap imitation slapped on the box to give the game a villain, he too has carved out a niche over time – it’s rather peculiar that the sequel to this game features him as an anti-hero of sorts rather than return to the same formula too.
For the most part, if you can get past the usual Game Boy monochrome graphics of sadness, the actual title holds up to this day as one most Mario fans should play. I enjoyed it much more than the original due to having a kinship with Super Mario Bros. 3 rather than Super Mario Bros. 1.
You don’t have to squint to see what you’re doing either (a huge plus), and the controls are much tighter than the original – even if there’s some occasional screen flicker (something, again, you should be able to work around if you’re used to these handheld games).
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: Radical Rescue
With my recent luck in finding good to decent TMNT games, I continued my quest to play through all of the titles based on the series: which led me to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: Radical Rescue for Game Boy.
Let me tell you, I really struggled with how to review this game.
Rather than the beat’em up style I’ve become accustomed with in all of the other TMNT games released for this console, as well as the arcade, NES, SNES, and Sega Genesis, Konami went another direction and created a Metroidvania game.
That sounds really cool, right? I love the Turtles and I love Metroidvania games.
But somewhere along the line this game falls way short of the mark by reverting back to the stupidity that we found in the original TMNT 1 on NES. That is, horrible controls, bad collision detection, an endless slew of respawning enemies, near-impossible jumps, and deliberate traps that make me believe no one has ever beaten this game cleanly. (That is, without cheats.)
Much like the original NES game, retracing any steps within a board respawn enemies. That’s not so terrible when you go to the next screen within a level, but once you beat a “cleverly” placed enemy set as a trap, only to nudge the control a hair to the left/right and have it reappear, it becomes frustrating.
Otherwise the premise of the game is simple: you start as Michealangelo and have to save your other three turtle brothers before moving on to save Splinter and April. As you save a new turtle, each has a special ability to help you access other areas on the map you otherwise can’t get to.
All is well until you trek through much of the world map (which is just about useless) to find a dead end or realize that a key you need is all the way back where you came from: complete with respawning death traps.
Should you make it past the 4-5 bosses and rescue everyone save April, you are then taken through a horrible end of the game corridor of doom with shifting platforms, spikes, and enemies which are unavoidable.
Get past that and then you have to reface all of the previous bosses in succession before taking on the main boss, Shredder… who, after being defeated, respawns back to full health for a second round.
And if you get past all of that?
You have to make it through yet another death corridor before you can unlock the door April is held prisoner behind.
All of this leads me to believe I would’ve smashed this Game Boy cartridge to bits as a kid. Luckily, cheats and save states (highly necessary even with cheats enabled) allowed me to see just how stinky of a game this is. Unless you have a morbid curiosity for completion like I do, I’d avoid this game.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: Back from the Sewers
The 1990’s were full of TMNT shovel ware. The Game Boy was the basic dumpster where these titles reside, aimed toward kids on the go with hardware that forced many games to be oversimplified graphically to fit on the small screen.
That’s a harsh representation of this game, which actually builds upon the original Fall of the Foot Clan by upgrading the graphics to an acceptable TV cartoon style.
The only problem is, your turtle has been made bigger on the screen which creates the usual collision detection issues seen in other games: in other words, you can die… a lot.
Of the three TMNT Game Boy titles, this one best represents Konami’s arcade theme used throughout other TMNT titles as well as Marvel Comics and The Simpsons based games. The ability to hang from certain ceiling structures, and move around on the level rather than side-scrolling as seen in the first game, are featured too.
Each turtle has their usual strengths/weaknesses based on range and speed of attack. If you die, the turtle is “captured” and you have the ability to get them back throughout the game. Otherwise you’re basically stuck with four lives and lots of cheap hits/areas as you’d expect that make the short game last a bit longer.
Your list of who’s who as it pertains to TMNT enemies are here: Foot Clan ninjas, mousers, etc. and the bosses are a good mix from the source cartoon show material including Bebop and Rocksteady, Baxter Stockman, General Traag, Granitor (The Stone Warrior), Krang, Shredder and Super Shredder.
I didn’t mind this game that much but could see where it would take a lot of practice to get to the end with your health/life intact. That’s more or less the status quo of 80’s and early 90’s games where cheap gameplay gimmicks are inserted to make the game more difficult: speaking of, there are difficulty settings to make the cheapness even more unfair!
Overall this game hasn’t aged too well and is only a must-play for completionists like myself. Otherwise it’s a fairly boring and uneventful entry into the series.
The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening DX
With a newly reimagined remake for the Nintendo Switch recently released, I thought it would be fun to take a look at the first “reimagining” of a classic Legend of Zelda game: Link’s Awakening.
Originally released in 1993 for the Nintendo Game Boy, Link’s Awakening was the first handheld game in the series and an odd one at that as it didn’t take place in Hyrule, nor did it feature Princess Zelda.
In fact, the game makes a number of references to other Nintendo franchises, notably Super Mario Bros. in a dream-state Koholint Island. This adds to the uniqueness of this title, which originally began as a port of the critically acclaimed Link To The Past on the Super Nintendo.
Having been an owner of the original Game Boy cartridge who put countless hours into defeating this title multiple times, I never latched onto the “DX” remake of the game which came out in 1998. However, playing this game in modern times, the monochrome Game Boy colors are harsh on the eyes and the preferable color palette, as well as a few other additions, make the DX version of this game a more than worthy playthrough.
In fact, the DX version has an additional dungeon added that was not in the original game, which plays off of the Game Boy Color’s ability to, um, show colors. (The dungeon used color tiles as part of the puzzle solving scheme with a reward of a red or blue tunic.)
Link’s Awakening DX also makes numerous references to a long-forgotten Game Boy Printer add-on, of which it’s pretty much the only title that ever made much use of it!
Overall you cannot go wrong with this game. It’s one of the all-time classics which, until it’s Switch remake, has been locked in the Nintendo vault, only to be seen on old hardware with small screens. Alas, if you have the means to play the DX version, it’s more than worth its salt as a full-fledged Zelda title, one that you’ll likely want to compare to the newer version, if only for nostalgia’s sake.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Fall of the Foot Clan
One of the first games I ever owned for the original Game Boy, this TMNT version was light years ahead of the first NES game and way more faithful as a beat’em up in vein to arcade game.
Or was it?
Yes and no: that’s because of crude Game Boy graphics and being an early title. The turtles on the screen, as well as the enemies, were often too large in some cases, yet the difficulty of the game was easy enough where this didn’t hinder your progress.
There was also an ability to go back and rescue any turtles that were “captured”, that is, losing a life and having to choose one of the other four should you fail to defeat a board.
The game itself is short: there are only five bosses, but at least all of them are culled from the cartoon series unlike the original NES game. In fact, you actually get to fight Foot Clan soldiers as well, a big missing piece in that turd I hate on the NES too!
The game can be rather repetitive and while its short, there’s a small challenge involved if you happen to die and need to start over from scratch – which is about the only “difficulty” you may find playing this.
In all, you could skip this for one of the much more polished sequels that I’ll review soon.