I have extensively covered different ways to play Game Boy games on a proper television, from the Super Game Boy, it’s Japan-exclusive second version, and the Gamecube’s Game Boy Player. They’ve all got their pros and cons, but when it comes to playing original Game Boy games on a television, I gravitate towards using the Super Game Boy.
This is because I love the added functionality that the Super Game Boy brings to these old games, from predefined borders, recoloured visuals and more. These are features that are completely missing from the Game Boy Player, and I find it makes these original Game Boy games that little bit more unique.
If you’ve seen my multi-part series on the Super Game Boy, you’ll know that Nintendo’s Super Nintendo peripheral was not supported anywhere near as much as it should have been. Few developers bothered to do anything more interesting than a few fancy borders here and there. But, there are a couple of developers to tried to do something different, and I wanted to highlight four of those games in their own video. In my opinion, these are games that utilise the Super Game Boy the best. Let me know in the comments which ones you have played!
First, I just want to start with some honourable mentions. There is a whole heap of one on one fighter ports on the Game Boy, and most of them have the standard level of support in the form of predefined borders. However, these fighters also allow two players to fight each other on the same console and use Super Nintendo pads to do so. You’ve got Capcom’s ambitious port of Street Fighter II, which I previously reviewed, plus there’s Rare’s Killer Instinct as well. Meanwhile, SNK brawlers like King of Fighters and World Heroes, and Takara’s Battle Arena Toshinden also allow two players on the same Super Game Boy. Sure, you could play some of these games superior Super Nintendo ports, but if you have these Game Boy cartridges anyway, it’s a nice bonus.
But they pale in comparison to these proper Super Game Boy enhanced releases:
There are some vintage games out there, where it’s an inevitability that they’ll end up being ported to every single system out there that’s able to run video games, and Space Invaders is the granddaddy of them all. So many versions exist, but the one that intrigues me the most is the Game Boy edition. Well, the second one, anyway – As the Game Boy received a port in 1990 and another in 1994.
Looking at it, you wouldn’t think much. It’s an incredibly basic port of a basic arcade game. It’s utterly primitive and doesn’t really justify a release so near to the end of the system’s lifespan.
But, as you might have guessed, I’m mentioning this version in this particular video, because it has support for the Super Game Boy, including a unique feature that no other Game Boy game has. Not even Nintendo went this far with their own Super Game Boy support, which is a shame because it will blow your mind.
Booting up this particular edition of Space Invaders on a standard Game Boy will give you the basic version of the arcade classic I mentioned earlier. However, chuck it into a Super Game Boy, and you’ll be given the option to play Super Game Boy Mode, or Arcade Mode.
Super Game Boy mode is a slightly improved version of the Game Boy port, albeit with some more colourful options to better mimic the original arcade’s various alternate cabinets. You can play the game in black and white, a black and white mode that adds coloured horizontal bars to mimic the cellophane strips added to later cabinets to give the illusion of colour, and finally a full-colour version. Each mode plays the exact same, so it’s all down to aesthetic preference.
However, that other mode on the startup screen – The Arcade one? Yeah, that one’s kind of a big deal. That’s because selecting this one warns you that Arcade Space Invaders will invade your Super NES. But don’t worry, that’s not a bad thing, because, after this load screen, a new game will launch.
Yes, it’s more Space Invaders, and while the idea of more Space Invaders doesn’t seem particularly impressive, the fact that this Super Nintendo game is running from a tiny Game Boy cartridge is something to be celebrated, and sadly it’s a feat that was never repeated. This Super Nintendo version features the same cabinet modes as the Super Game Boy mode and adds an upright cabinet mode with a pretty space background. And….that’s pretty much it.
Interestingly enough, Taito also released an almost identical version of this mode as a standalone Super Nintendo cartridge, which is mostly the same as the Super Game Boy version, only with an added Versus mode.
In any case, this overachieving Game Boy cartridge is a worthy addition to this list.
Donkey Kong ‘94
Onto another revival of an arcade classic, in the form of Mario’s debut game, Donkey Kong. No, I’m not talking about Donkey Kong Country, or it’s Game Boy cousin, Donkey Kong Land (which had pretty minor Super Game Boy support), I am in fact talking about Donkey Kong, or Donkey Kong ‘94 as it’s unofficially known.
It’s incorrectly viewed as a port of the original Donkey Kong, complete with all of the game’s levels (including the Cement Factory that was missing from the NES port). However, once those classic levels are finished, its revealed that the game isn’t over, and what follows is almost 100 brand new levels that are more puzzle-based in nature. It’s a brilliant game in its own right, and also serves as the beginning of the Mario Vs Donkey Kong series.
This game also hails the debut of some of Mario’s most useful moves, as he gains the ability to perform moves we’d see in later console Mario titles like Super Mario 64, like the backflip jump.
But you’re here for the Super Game Boy features, aren’t you? After all, this is the first game released as a Super Game Boy enhanced title, so you’d expect Nintendo to really push the boat about. Well, that’s not quite the case, but it does set the standard for what can be done.
First, you’ve got the static pre-defined border, and this one, detailing the classic Donkey Kong arcade cabinet, is one of my favourites, and for better or worse, it does reiterate the false impression that this is a straight Donkey Kong port.
Then, you’ve got the in-game colourisation. During gameplay, it mostly uses a rather standard approach, separating sprites, backgrounds and HUD assets by colourising them in a way that doesn’t clash. It’s subtle, entirely serviceable, and works.
However, the static world map screens take colourisation further. The Game Boy utilises four different shades of, and for the most part, the Super Game Boy just has the power to change the colour of these four shades. However, for static screens, it does have the power to apply different multiple palettes of four shades, in localised areas of the screen. The result is something that looks like it’s being displayed on a Game Boy Color. A couple of other games use localised palettes, but this is the most visually impressive of the lot.
Finally, Donkey Kong 94 also utilises improved sound effects. The Super Game Boy could use a library of sound effects that would be played through the Super Nintendo’s superior sample-based sound chip, and some games could also add their own. The most obvious use in this game is the cries of “Help!” by Pauline when completing each level, but other sound effects are played throughout the game.
But in terms of audio, it was possible to do far more impressive things than just play 16-bit sound effects, and the next game on this list did it best…
Konami’s Animaniacs, the video game adaptation of the popular Warner Bros. cartoon, could have been a low-effort, cash grab licensed release that would have likely made money on the name alone. But, the development duties were passed to Factor 5, developers of classics like the Turrican series, some of the best Star Wars titles ever made, as well as assisting over developers in the Nintendo 64-era with their revolutionary sound compression technology. They knew how to squeeze the best performance out of any piece of hardware, and they did some pretty impressive Game Boy games, including an ambitious port of Contra III.
But, with Animaniacs, they really outdid themselves. At its core, you’re looking at a competent 8-bit port of the SEGA Mega Drive’s Animaniacs game, a decent platformer with fun puzzle mechanics relating to the abilities wielded by the Warner Brothers and the Warner sister, Dot.
But once you add the Super Game Boy to the mix, things get interesting. Of course, it has the standard predefined border and basic colourisation options. However, this Game Boy release has the distinct honour of being one of just a few games that has two soundtracks. One that is utilised when the game is played on a standard Game Boy, and a higher-quality soundtrack when played on a Super Game Boy, which utilises the Super Nintendo’s sound chip.
Few games ever did this – Not even Nintendo released a game with this feature. But this game does, and it’s a pretty good soundtrack. But the weird thing is, this upgraded set of tracks are ported over from the original Mega Drive release, using the Super Nintendo’s set of instruments. It’s very clever and certainly makes this platform puzzler stand out from other similar games.
We finish up with a game that’s not quite as impressive but does have a pretty cool and welcome feature. Wario Blast is a Western localised version of Bomberman GB, only with Mario’s doppelganger, Wario taking centre stage (after all, the full title of this game is Wario Blast: Featuring Bomberman).
This is a pretty simplified version of Bomberman that is basically the standard multiplayer Bomberman mode but with CPU-controlled bots. You can choose to play as either Bomberman or Wario, which is ultimately an aesthetic choice, and overall this game is all about being the last one standing when the smoke clears.
But, being a Bomberman title at heart, you’d expect some sort of multiplayer mode, and it would make sense for you to be able to use the Game Boy’s Link cable to connect to other Game Boys and have the standard and much-loved multiplayer battles that the series is known for. Alas, that is not the case – The standard game has no such multiplayer functionality. It’s a solo adventure, through and through.
Unless you have a Super Game Boy, that is. Apart from the cool crowd of Bomberman spectators in the predefined border, plus a few enhanced bomb sound effects, the interesting enhancements come in the form of a proper multiplayer mode. Much like the fighting games in this list’s honourable mentions, you can play with another player on the Super Game Boy.
But that is not all, because if you have a multitap adapter, you can have up to four player matches in Wario Blast on your Super Nintendo and Super Game Boy. Truly the way that any Bomberman game was intended to be played.
There’s one slight observation that I’d like to make though. The Super Nintendo multitap was compatible with quite a few releases, but it was made famous for its use with one particular series of games – Yes, that would be the Bomberman games, and there were at least five of those on the Super Nintendo. So, if you owned a Super Nintendo multitap, surely the law of averages would dictate that you likely had one of the Super Bomberman games. So with that said, why would you want to play the inferior Wario Blast, instead of one of those Super Nintendo Bomberman releases?
That’s ultimately the problem with the Super Game Boy. Few Game Boy games had worthwhile enhancements, and out of those that did – Not all of them were worth playing on a Super Game Boy? All that potential mostly squandered, which is a shame, because I still think it’s one of the most interesting peripherals in video games.
And that closes the book on the best Super Game Boy games. While the peripheral was a missed opportunity for the most part, at least some developers made the effort to do cool things with the hardware. I’ll be back very soon, but until then – Let me know what your favourite Super Game Boy games are.
Take care and happy gaming.