Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The Original GameBoy: Dyl's Greatest Hits

Everyone's got a favorite console from childhood. One that just makes 'em tingle with nostalgia, and mine's the Nintendo Game Boy. Christmas 1990. Never forget. As a self-contained hand held, It was my first console that felt like it was objectively mine,  and that was very appealing in an era when I still shared a bunk-bed, room and occasionally matching outfits (ugh) with my younger brother. Much like our smartphones today, a pocket sized conduit to all the world's information (read: pornography), my Game Boy was my own portal into Nintendo's world of pixelated delights and I could carry it around with me to distract and entertain myself during childhood's more mundane and unbearable church and school.

Nothing too profound here. Just a "greatest hits" discussion of my favorite games on that beloved grey brick with the tiny green screen and the purplish buttons.

Baseball for Game Boy was literally just a Game Boy port of the original 1983 Nintendo Entertainment System version. Like its predecessor, it was also one of the system's launch titles and was used to promote the console. The Game Boy version of Baseball featured different music and that slick Nintendo trick of working Mario into the packaging to subtly suggest that he'd be featured in the game. (Spoiler! he's not.) A weird gripe: To bunt, you tap the B button with just enough force for the player to stick his bat out, and then just hold it out over the plate. I guess the developers  didn't bother to program an actual bunt command for the batter which seems kind of lazy given that they had a whole 'nother button to work with. Whatever. I have a real affection for baseball games that weren't made with any license from the MLBPA and have to use fictional teams (there's 2 here: the bears and the eagles) and players. It's thrilling to play as BILL and charge FRANK on the mound when he beans you in the head. 

Anyway, I'm shitting on this game a lot for how much I said I liked it. It's one of the first games I got and had that lauded "pick up and play" component to it. I didn't need to spend much time figuring it out or have an older cousin beat a boss for me because I already understood baseball. Plus it had really simple visuals. 

If I'm being honest, I really don't think the "barebones" style presented in Baseball really works nowadays. There's just a wealth of better baseball games for all these consoles (Ken Griffey Jr. Presents Major League Baseball being my personal fav and a really solid port of the SNES version). Still, it was one of the first games I got and I played the ever-loving fuck out of it.

Metroid II: The Return of Samus
Metroid II: The Return of Samus is an important, but sadly under-praised title in the Metroid canon. It builds on the claustrophobic cave words established in Metroid for the NES and got us consumers one title closer to the greatest GD game of all time, Super Metroid on the SNES a few years later. Whether intentionally or not, Metroid 2 invoked the same slow-burn feelings of dread and terror established in films like Alien (an aesthetic from which the developers admittedly pillaged) with an extremely limited palette of visuals. This is just another prime example of where a fantastic story will always transcend gazillion dollar sound and graphics...but that's retro gaming 101. 

Some of my personal favorite memories are burning through this game late at night, using only the incandescent glow of that gaudy and ridiculous Game Boy light to see what I was doing. Playing it as an adult invokes many of the same feelings, only now I realize how bonkers it is that this game essentially takes place in one single "room" and never feels restrictive. In terms of the Metroid (or "Metroid-vania") callings cards that have made the series consistently lauded, I recommend those curious to seek a Metroid 2 ROM and have at it. It more than holds up in modernity.

Donkey Kong
I'm not too sure what I actually expected of this game when it dropped. The box art looked cool enough, and I'd already had my brain blown wide open by the quasi-3d trappings of Donkey Kong Country on SNES but...a nostalgia re-boot of the OG classic arcade (Mario vs. Donkey Kong to rescue Pauline) was NOT what I wanted to play at the time.

 Of course, after that first 4 stages of the game, Donkey Kong reveals itself to be a very robust puzzle-platformer, one that wouldn't leave my Game Boy for months afterward. I think what works here is the deceptively simple level design, the controls (Mario can backflips and pick up items a'la Super Mario Bros 2) and its "challenging enough to keep me reaching, but not completely unbeatable" dynamic. With a whole fuckload of levels and puzzles (the commercial boldly proclaimed: "The beast is with 100 levels of PAIN!"), Donkey Kong's replay value is unmatched and if I truly had to choose a Desert island game, this would most likely be it!

Donkey Kong Land 2
Donkey Kong Land 2 is the Game Boy port to what many Donkey Kong fans believe to be the best DK platformer in the series. While I'd recommend those interested in the title to check out the SNES version first, you really can't go wrong with the Game Boy version in a pinch. 

DKL2 holds the distinction of being my first "odd color" Game Boy game cartridge (it was yellow instead of the traditional dark grey) and the soundtrack is fantastic. I genuinely enjoy the title music. The game features 2 playable characters, with each having different strengths and weaknesses (Dixie's helicopter hair spin being the funnest dynamic), and the game boasts plenty of levels taylor made for speed running. I still play "Krazy Koaster" after a crappy day at the office! 

WWF Superstars 2
By the time I got this, I was familiar with most of the garden variety American wrestling games. Though I really liked WWF RAW for SNES, and truthfully played the shit out of any wrestling game I could fine, I don't think the genre (ugh) of wrestling games really came into its own until the advent of Playstation and N64 programming. 

The release of this game marked a strange and transitional time for WWF and the game's inclusion of some of the "new generation" personalities and dropping much of the 80's "old guard" make it a personal favorite for me. I loved playing as the Mountie and the Undertaker, because I was already sick of Hogan by this point. Had the game come out just a few years later it would have been the Bret/Shawn show. Superstars 2 features no finishing moves here and the sprites kinda suck. The games real strong point are its title music and the 8 bit recreations of the theme songs. I love Jakes "trust me" theme (AKA his John Carpenter theme) so much that in college I'd pine for the sounds, I finally made a manual recording of each theme on cassette and used it on many mixtapes for people. 

I could go on for hours on WCW/NWO Revenge or Fire Pro Wrestling, which bolstered and supplemented my interest in this most strange of businesses in the later 90's, but WWF Superstars 2 was my first real brush with it and I played it endlessly.

Pokémon Blue
Pokémon Blue was the last "regular" Game Boy game I had before graduating to the Game Boy Color, my birthday present in 1998. Everyone feels a certain "ownership" of the youth and cultural movements that happened in their day and the first American iteration of Pokémon wasn't any different for me.

I still remember where I was and what I was doing the first time I saw that debut commercial ("in the zone" on saturday morning, with Ken Griffey Jr) Pokémon was just one of those games that everyone played and it's a game of first for me.

  • It's the first game that merited me purchasing a strategy guide to beat it.
  • It's the first fame I effectively played with a game link cable 
  • It's the first game I ever lost a friend over (long story)
  • It's the first game I ever got caught in class playing (Mrs Clark's 6th Grade English class) and that was the point where I decided I needed a Game Boy Color because its smaller frame was harder to see from a distance. 

Pokémon may very well be the game that got me directly on the internet in 1998, plumbing primitive fan secrets over how to get mew and what happens when you catch Misingno.

I'm not sure what made Pokémon speak to me. Maybe it was the simple premise, the fact that it kind of encouraged and enabled hoarding and perfectionism or just that so many other people were into it at the same was hard to avoid. Regardless, it was huge. I'd get into the card game later on and even some of the subsequent games (up to and including Pokémon Gold/Silver) but by then, other adolescent pursuits had taken hold.

Honorable Mention
The OG Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening was a fantastic game for the OG Game Boy that I thoroughly enjoyed, but if I'm being honest played the DX version for Game Boy Color was slightly better because of some of the extra quests and color-based dynamics. Don't worry, those games will get their own post. 


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