Rumors swirl about a Game Boy Mini, but what would that actually be?
Back around the time Nintendo announced the Super NES Classic Edition, someone unearthed trademark and patent paperwork that hinted at the likelihood of a Nintendo 64 Classic Edition console for 2018. But Nintendo, ever slippery, hates to be predictable… which is probably why someone else uncovered documentation hinting at a Game Boy Classic Edition a few days ago.
Realistically, we'll probably see both, eventually. Nintendo seems pretty committed to the idea of standalone retro game consoles at this point. The Super NES mini has been fairly easy to acquire at retail, and they're putting the NES mini back into production next year. At some point in the future, I can envision walking into Target and finding an entire shelf of vintage replica Nintendo systems crammed with classic games.
Still, what would a Game Boy mini entail, precisely? As a portable system, it would by definition work a little differently than their existing retro consoles. Monochrome Game Boy graphics don't read well on a 60" television, but if the Game Boy mini were simply a handheld system, why not just play 3DS Virtual Console?
As America's foremost expert on Game Boy — er, well, as America's only person foolish enough to produce comprehensive retrospectives on unloved obscurities like Card Game and Wheel of Fortune, anyway — I've spent a lot of time thinking about how a Game Boy mini might work. My thoughts go something like this:
Ideally, I'd like to see a self-contained Game Boy replica, complete with a built-in screen. I wouldn't take the "mini" part too far, but a compact edition of the original grey brick Game Boy model (reduced in size about… 25%, say) would hit a nice delta between usable screen size and portability. The screen would ideally be a high-quality, high-density color LCD screen with a pixel resolution that scales up evenly from Game Boy's 160x144 screen. The display options should include an "authentic" monochrome mode with simulated ghosting and blur effects, like M2 provided with Game Gear Virtual Console on 3DS, but it should also include Super Game Boy and Game Boy Color palettes. Maybe even screen modes to simulate Game Boy Pocket and Game Boy Light, too.
My real dream would be for Game Boy mini to take a page from Switch and work as a portable device… but then also to hook up to a small HDMI-capable dock for television-based play. The hardware on future minis seems likely to use the same tech as the existing mini-consoles, which means the Game Boy mini would have the power to present TV-based play via Super Game Boy emulation. That means borders, animations, and cool bonus features on SGB-enhanced games like Pokémon Yellow and Space Invaders.
This could also kill two birds with one stone. The original Game Boy is iconic, but how do you create a "mini" version of a small system that's thicker than a 3DS with the clamshell closed? Turn the back half of the Game Boy mini into the charging and HDMI cradle, so the portable unit is only half the width of the overall unit. It's slim, compact, and neatly replicates both the portable and Super Game Boy functions of the original platform.
Realistically, Nintendo could very likely bring a device like this in at a price similar to that of the Super NES classic. LCD screens are cheap now, and Nintendo's Virtual Console pricing for classic Game Boy games usually comes in at $2.99 per title — so if they stuck a few dozen games on the system, the value proposition the previous minis have offered versus Virtual Console pricing would leave enough wiggle room to accommodate a screen and a dock.
So let's say the Game Boy Classic Edition makes use of this best-case, pie-in-the-sky format. What about the games? Assume we'll see about as many games as on the NES Classic Edition (30). Based on the lineups of the previous mini systems, we can expect Nintendo to load it down heavily with first-party titles from familiar franchises. Third-party titles will presumably come from the small subset of developers who continue to support Virtual Console: Konami, Capcom, Namco, and Jaleco, with a special guest appearance by a Square Enix and subsidiary Taito. Based on those trends, we can come up with a pretty likely roster of titles for a Game Boy compilation.
A guess at Nintendo's likely Game Boy mini lineup:
- Bionic Commando: A great port of the NES classic that barely suffers from the down-conversion and adds new content.
- Castlevania: The Adventure: A sluggish, mediocre take on Castlevania, but this is the one Konami elected to put on Virtual Console, so it's probably the one we're stuck with.
- Contra: The Alien Wars: A better conversion of Contra III than you'd think!
- Dig Dug: The subterranean arcade classic to help round out the obligatory "Namco arcade hits" selection.
- Donkey Kong: One of the finest Game Boy titles ever. It's the arcade original, plus like 100 other stages.
- Donkey Kong Land: A patchy conversion of the landmark Super NES game. It ain't pretty, but it has cachet.
- Double Dragon: Largely based on the NES game, and incredibly unfair in places, but decent and recognizable.
- Dr. Mario: Nintendo's first attempt at cloning Tetris. The music's good, at least.
- Final Fantasy Adventure: The predecessor to Secret of Mana, this seems like a given. (Check out our Mana episode for more.)
- F1 Race: A solid HAL-developed racer, the tricky part of this one might be the original game's pack-in adapter to allow four-player racing. Nintendo didn't bother to give the Super NES mini support for three players in Secret of Mana, so…
- Game Boy Gallery: A compilation of Game & Watch titles, including some remakes.
- Gargoyle's Quest: An RPG-leaning spinoff of Ghosts ’N Goblins.
- Golf: A decidedly solid adaptation of NES Golf.
- Kirby's Dream Land 2: The first portable game where Kirby could use his suction powers to absorb enemy skills.
- Kirby's Pinball Land: A shockingly good pinball game.
- The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening: A game every bit as good as its console siblings, inspired by Twin Peaks and unafraid to shake up Zelda orthodoxy. (Check out our Link's Awakening episode for more.)
- Mario's Picross: An addictive image-based math puzzle game.
- Mega Man in Dr. Wily's Revenge: A combination of Mega Man and Mega Man 2 for NES, but nowhere near as good as either.
- Mole Mania: A wonderful and frequently overlooked puzzler designed by Shigeru Miyamoto.
- Nemesis: A Gradius by any other name still includes Options and a power-up cycle. Pretty decent. (Check out our Gradius episode for more.)
- Nintendo World Cup: Secretly a part of the Kunio-kun series, and a fun, rambunctious take on the sport.
- Pac-Man: Sorry, no escaping this one. It's fine. We're all fine here. How are you?
- Pokémon Red Version: The irony is you can't see the color difference on monochrome Game Boy!
- Pokémon Blue Version: Yeah, they'll probably burn a game slot giving us a duplicate version of Pokémon Gen 1.
- Qix: The space-dominating puzzler, co-developed by Nintendo and containing weird Mario cameos. Seems like a must.
- Street Fighter II: A slow and clumsy adaptation of the fighting classic, but it's Street Fighter, so.
- Super Mario Land: Despite the tiny graphics, this oddball take on Mario is really good.
- Super Mario Land 2: Six Golden Coins: A masterpiece, even if it barely feels like a Mario game at times.
- Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3: The point at which Nintendo R&D1 was like, "Eh, let's do our own thing with Mario Land," and bless ’em for it.
- Yoshi: An insipid puzzler, but it has Yoshi, and Yoshi sells. (Check out our Yoshi games episode for more.)
OK, those are the games I suspect are most likely to show up on a Game Boy mini, given Nintendo's choices for Game Boy Virtual Console on 3DS and the partnerships they carried forward with the NES and Super NES minis. But personally, I'd only want to see about a third of those games. If I had my druthers, my picks would be pretty different:
Game Boy Mini 30-game (well, roughly 30) dream lineup:
- Adventures of Lolo: HAL's Soukoban-inspired puzzler, brimming with personality… and also hard as heck.
- Avenging Spirit: A rare cartridge, a clever adventure that involves ghosts and possession.
- Bionic Commando: One of the greats.
- Bubble Bobble: A perfect excuse for linked play, even if it's not quite up to the standards of the NES version. (Check out our Bubble Bobble episode for more.)
- Castlevania II: Belmont's Revenge: The superior 8-bit portable Castlevania game, it's as excellent as the other two are underwhelming.
- Donkey Kong: A must.
- Final Fantasy Adventure: A bit shaky, but if Square Enix won't give us the Mana collection for Switch, this'll have to do.
- Final Fantasy Legend 2: The second entry in the SaGa series is strange and demanding, but there's a great RPG in here for those willing to learn its rules.
- Fortified Zone: Like Ikari Warriors, but good!
- Game & Watch Gallery 2: If we're going to get a black and white Game & Watch compilation, I'd go with this one.
- Harvest Moon GB: Can't afford a Switch and Stardew Valley? Here's the second-best option for farming on the go.
- Heiankyo Alien: One of the most influential games ever, and I won't hear otherwise.
- Kid Dracula: This Castlevania spinoff plays like Mega Man, and it's great!
- Kirby's Dream Land 2: The Kirby to play on the go.
- Kirby's Pinball Land: HAL has a real aptitude for pinball games, and this might be their best.
- Konami GB Collection 1: It's a cheat! This Japan and Europe exclusive includes four games, so this will also give us Contra, Castlevania: The Adventure, and Nemesis for the price of one.
- The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening: Nintendo might want to save this one for the Game Boy Color mini, but I say: Why not both?
- Lock ’N Chase: A clever and quite inventive update of an old coin-op Pac-Man clone.
- Lunar Chase: Known as X in Japan, this vector shooter was a technical marvel and also the direct precursor to Star Fox. According to Dylan Cuthbert, the U.S. version had undergone quality assurance testing when it was canned. Let's keep the trend of unearthing Cuthbert's lost games for these mini-systems alive.
- Mega Man V: The best (and rarest) Mega Man title for original Game Boy, this would be the one to include.
- Mercenary Force: Somewhere between a shoot-em-up and a strategy game, this classic defies description… but it's great.
- Mole Mania: A great puzzler that definitely deserves to be included here.
- Ninja Gaiden Shadow: Even if it's not really a Ninja Gaiden game, it's close enough to count. (Check out our Ninja Gaiden episode for more.)
- Nintendo World Cup: Game Boy sports titles haven't held up well, but this one's still a good time.
- Pokémon Yellow Version: If we're going to have a single monochrome Pokémon game, it might as well be the one where Pikachu follows you around everywhere.
- Qix: Still a good time.
- Radar Mission: This lightweight naval strategy game was basically the template for Steel Diver. You know, the 3DS game you didn't play? Yeah, that one.
- Space Invaders: If the mini does include Super Game Boy support, this is absolutely essential. See the video above if you don't believe me.
- Super Mario Land 2: Six Golden Coins: I love the original Mario Land, but it can stand aside to make room for lesser-know games. The sequel, however, deserves canonization.
- The Sword of Hope: A little-known but quite excellent combination of RPG and MacVenture-inspired adventure game.
- Tetris: This has to be on the Game Boy mini. The rights are a mess, and Nintendo probably won't accede to The Tetris Company's licensing demands, but the mini-console wouldn't be complete without it.
- Trip World: The Super NES mini brought some games to Europe that never appeared there on the original hardware; why not do the reverse with Game Boy? This slight but utterly stunning rare gem never came to the U.S. Let's rectify that.
- Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3: A great little game. Let's save the sequel for the Game Boy Color mini. (Check out our Wario Land episode for more.)
The potential wrinkle
It's possible Nintendo might choose to combine Game Boy and Game Boy Color on a single device. Let's hope they don't. I had a hard time paring my list down to 30 games. The original monochrome Game Boy library has plenty of gems and deserves to stand on its own. Let's hope Nintendo allows the Color model to do its own thing in its own time.