Listen, folks, the Game Boy and Game Boy Color were separate platforms
The GBC had tons of great games to set it apart from its predecessor, and this potential Classic Edition lineup proves it.
I wasn't the only one to post a dream list of games Nintendo could include on a Game Boy Classic Edition mini-system after rumors of plans for that very thing began to trickle out last week. However, I wish to put forth the claim that our officially published Retronauts list was the best. Yes, I overlooked Metroid II and Balloon Kid (despite having recently played both), but I'm going to pretend those were a deliberate oversight, as you'll see below.
No, what the Retronauts dream list did that very few other freewheeling list-writers bothered to do was respect the integrity of the original Game Boy. The vast majority of wish lists have lumped together Game Boy and Game Boy Color into a single pile. (A few particularly horrific compilations even shoved Game Boy Advance in there.) Please, internet, do not do that. Piling Game Boy and Game Boy Color into a single heap is wrong-headed on many levels; sure, they're both called "Game Boy," but if that's the basis of your logic, you might as well consider NES and Super NES the same system.
The internals of GB and GBC were quite different. Yes, GBC offered backward compatibility with GB, but DS supported Game Boy Advance games, and 3DS plays DS games. And Wii didn't just play GameCube software, it even had GameCube controller ports. Does that make any those systems one and the same? Of course not. You'd be laughed out of the chatroom for suggesting they were. Why not extend that same respect to Game Boy?
Most importantly — especially for the purposes of putting together lists of essential software reissues — both platforms had dozens upon dozens of great games worthy of canonization on a Classic Edition system. Shove two or three different Game Boy family libraries together into a single device and you're giving short shrift to many of those dozens upon dozens of games. And it's not as though Game Boy is exactly drowning in respect to begin with; in fact, I'd say no other platform in history has sold so well yet has a library that remains so poorly explored. (I'm doing what I can to help, but I am only one man.)
So no. Let's allow Game Boy and Game Boy Color to live their own lives. And in case you don't think GBC deserves a chance to shine on its own, here's a prospective Classic Edition game list to prove otherwise. I couldn't even pare it down to 30 titles; there's just too much good stuff here.
Konami | Roguelike RPG
A portable adaptation of the PlayStation cult RPG, Azure Dreams combines pat-raising simulation (which were all the rage during the GBC era) with the randomization of the roguelike genre (which definitely were not all the rage). Now that the latter genre is better understood, I feel this game has a better chance to find an appreciative audience.
Balloon Fight GB
Pax Softnica/Nintendo | Platformer
Nintendo released a color conversion of Balloon Kid exclusive for download kiosk carts in Japan. This game (1) is great and (2) requires no reading skills to play, meaning there's no reason for Nintendo not to include it on a GBC mini in all regions.
Bionic Commando: Elite Forces
NST | Platformer
While not as essentially perfect as the original Bionic Commando, this has the benefit of being an actual sequel rather than a remake. It includes slick animation, multiple playable characters, and some cutaway sniping sequences for variety.
Blaster Master: Enemy Below
SunSoft | Platformer
Not simply a port of the NES Blaster Master, Enemy Below plays more like a remix, rearranging stages and adding new material.
Bomberman Max: Red Challenger/Blue Champion
Konami | Multiplayer Chaos
Yeah, it's one of those dual-release games that were all the rage on Game Boy Color (thanks, Pokémon). But regardless of which version were to show up on the GBC mini, this is easily the best way to give the little system's multiplayer feature set a brisk workout: 100 stages of manic top-down maze-bombing action.
Taito | Puzzler
We haven't seen a new Bust-A-Move game in a while, but that's OK; the old ones are just as addictive as ever. Bubbles descend from the top of the screen, and you fire back one bubble at a time to make the encroaching wall vanish before it crushes your tiny dinosaurs.
Donkey Kong GB: Dinky Kong & Dixie Kong
Rare/Nintendo | Platformer
This is actually Donkey Kong Land III; Rare and Nintendo put together a GBC conversion of the game that only shipped in Japan. Like Balloon Fight GB, there's no real language barrier here, so that means there's no reason for Nintendo not to give all regions the fancied-up edition.
Dragon Warrior III
Chun Soft/TOSE/Square Enix | RPG
Square Enix is incredibly jealous with Dragon Quest games, so they'd probably never OK the inclusion of this landmark RPG on the GBC mini. But we can dream, right? This adaptation brings the NES game into portable form while incorporating many of the improvements that were added to the mix for its Japan-only 16-bit remake.
Game & Watch Gallery 3
Nintendo | Compilation
Another collection of primitive LCD handheld games, complete with contemporary-style remakes. Gallery 3 was the only one created exclusively for GBC and deserves a place here.
Harvest Moon 3 GB
Hudson/Konami | Simulation RPG
Be a tiny farmer, manage a tiny farm, marry a tiny wife, have tiny farm-babies, all on a tiny video game system.
Kirby Tilt & Tumble
HAL/Nintendo | Pinball, I guess?
The inclusion of this game would force Nintendo to include a gyro sensor in the platform, which would increase the cost of the mini. It would be the ultimate show of love for Kirby's weird and wonderful spinoffs.
Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages
Flagship/Capcom/Nintendo | Action RPG
Alphabetically the first of Flagship and Capcom's twin collaborative Zelda projects, Oracle of Ages plays like Link's Awakening informed by the design philosophy and quest structure introduced to the series with Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask. Dense and packed with time-travel puzzles.
Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons
Flagship/Capcom/Nintendo | Action RPG
Yeah, two Zelda games on one system (which is why I say skip Link's Awakening DX and simply put the original on the O.G. Game Boy mini). This was part of a set with Oracle of Ages — completing one after the other allowed you to use a password that unlocked a final battle with Ganon — but it's a totally different take on the series. It began life as a remake of the original Zelda for NES, and as such feels brisker and breezier. And great.
Lufia: The Legend Returns
Neverland/Taito | RPG
The two Super NES Lufia games were among the first titles for the platform to rocket upward in aftermarket price, but this Game Boy Color sequel remains unloved and mired in obscurity. But it's pretty good, with the same turn-based combat and puzzle-centric dungeon designs.
SNK | Puzzler
The debate over which late ’90 Neo Geo puzzler franchise is better (Magical Drop or Bust-A-Move/Puzzle Bobble) may never go away. By including both on the GBC mini, Nintendo can let you, the game-loving nerds of the world, draw their own conclusions.
Camelot/Nintendo | Sports RPG
Nintendo and Golf have a long history together, going back all the way to the early Famicom days. This handheld entry may well be the best of the bunch, combining the sport with Mario concepts and role-playing underpinnings. It could have been a disaster, but in fact, it rocked.
Camelot/Nintendo | Sports RPG
From the same people who created Mario Golf came a similarly interesting adaptation of tennis. You'll "love" it!
…sorry, I'll see myself out.
Mega Man Xtreme 2
Capcom | Platformer
Mega Man conversions to Game Boy were mostly pretty rough, so you wouldn't think the far more complex Mega Man X series would downscale well. This one manages to pull it off, though, adding a "soul" system that changes the overall texture of the game and elevates it beyond "compromised adaptation of some Super NES games."
Metal Gear Solid
Konami | Tactical Stealth Action
Possibly the Game Boy Color's finest moment, this alternate-reality version of Metal Gear Solid features the same supporting cast in what appears to be a timeline where Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake never happened. Featuring the full suite of play mechanics seen in the PlayStation masterpiece, a complex plot, and an entirely new set of bosses and environments, this side story (or is it just Raiden's VR sim?) needs to be played to be believed.
Metroid II: Return of Samus DX
Nintendo | Metroidvania
Nintendo teased the idea of a full-color remake of Metroid II for a while, but eventually that vanished from the release lists. I like the idea of each Classic Edition system shipping with a newly unearthed "lost" game. Maybe this could be the GBC's.
Namco | Puzzler
We recently published an entire podcast about how great Mr. Driller is. Think Puyo Puyo meets Dig Dug. Much as with Bust-A-Move 4, there are better versions of this game in the wild… but the fundamental concept is strong (and simple) enough that even this modest rendition is loads of fun.
Pokémon Crystal Version
Game Freak/Nintendo | RPG
I suppose Nintendo would probably want to jam all possible second-gen Pokémon games into the GBC mini for maximum trade opportunities, but I like the idea of including Crystal since it was (1) the only Pokémon created exclusively for GBC (Gold and Silver were simply forward-compatible monochrome games) and (2) it's basically the "ultimate" rendition of Gen 2. Plus, limiting the system to a single core Pokémon means more room for the likes of…
Jupiter/Nintendo | Pinball
…a great pinball game based around Pokémon mechanics. Inspired by Kirby's Pinball Land, no doubt, and just as well regarded.
Pokémon Trading Card Game
Hudson/Nintendo | Card RPG
And let's not forget the video game adaptation of the card game adaptation of the video game franchise. Another fine workout for whatever form the GBC mini's Link Cable simulation takes!
Resident Evil Gaiden
Capcom | Adventure
Admittedly, Resident Evil Gaiden isn't a great game, but it's a pretty interesting interpretation of the PlayStation classic, and there's something charmingly subversive about seeing Resident Evil on a kid-friendly Nintendo mini-system.
Revelations: The Demon Slayer
Atlus | RPG
Strange to think this was the first real Shin Megami Tensei game we ever saw on a Nintendo console in the U.S. (Jack Bros. wasn't exactly "true" SMT.) The visuals feel a bit cramped, and the medieval vibe to the game world seems out of character for the modern-flavored SMT franchise, but this is still very much a MegaTen RPG through and through.
Infinite Ventures/Nintendo | Adventure
A GBC conversion of the NES port of the Macintosh game seems like maybe one too many filters through which to view a game, but this ruthless trickster of a graphical adventure still has a certain charm as it murders you with cheap surprises again and again.
WayForward/Capcom | Metroidvania
This late-release Monster World-inspired platformer eventually kicked off a steady franchise. It's also crazy expensive. The original Shantae plays a little rough these days (mainly due to its poorly balanced enemies), but in terms of design and animation it really does feel like a perfect capstone to nearly 20 years of 8-bit Nintendo games.
Kid/Agetec | Shooter
Don't let the name fool you: This is a color conversion of Burai Fighter Deluxe, the handheld rendition of Burai Fighter for NES. The screen dimensions can be a little crowded in places, but this really is a fantastic little shooter and deserves a place in the sun.
Street Fighter Alpha
Crawfish/Capcom | Fighting
A much stronger portable adaptation of a Street Fighter game than Street Fighter II for original Game Boy. The devs at Crawfish would go on to do even more impressive things on Game Boy Advance, but this is very likely the finest fighting game on GBC… provided you're OK with single player only.
Super Mario Bros. Deluxe
Nintendo | Platformer
A compilation cart of both Super Mario Bros. and its Japanese sequel, Lost Levels, which incorporates all kinds of new features: Save slots, red coin hunting, and even a great multiplayer mode. If not for the cropped screen dimensions, this would probably be the single best version of Super Mario Bros. ever… and even so, it's still pretty great. An essential.
Two Tribes/Capcom | Puzzler
Another crazy late release published by Capcom, this charming puzzle platformer feels like a tribute to the early days of the Game Boy line, when it was puzzlers as far as the eye could see. The genre largely vanished on GBC in favor of Pokémon clones and bad licensed games, which made this beautifully crafted throwback a welcome sight.
Wario Land II DX
Nintendo | Platformer
Originally released for original Game Boy, this fourth entry in the Mario Land series quickly reappeared in a color-enhanced version. That's the one we recommend for reissue! But regardless of color support, Wario Land II is pretty amazing — a complete rethinking of the workings and mechanics of platform games, wherein death is impossible; Wario can only be inconvenienced. And sometimes, those apparent setbacks are the key to success…
Wario Land 3
Nintendo | Platformer
An even more sprawling and iconoclastic take on the Mario franchise, Nintendo created Wario Land 3 specifically for Game Boy Color, which means it takes better advantage of the hardware in service of creating complex stages packed with secrets, surprises, and mechanical puzzles.
WayForward/Infogrames | Sports
Finally, let's get some sports on here, eh? Despite the terrible, dated name, this multi-event sports action compilation is full of the loving craftsmanship WayForward invests into the most unlikely contract projects. It looks great and plays well, and it's not tied to some sort of league or players union license, which makes it a perfect choice for the GBC mini.