For those of a certain generation, the words “Game Boy” are as synonymous with portable gaming as bread with butter… or Chaz with Dave. Selling in excess of a whopping 118 million units worldwide, the Game Boy and Game Boy Color are among the most successful consoles - handheld or otherwise - of all time. But what were the best selling games? Read on to find out. Spoiler alert: number four will not shock you. Nor will five… or any of the others.
35,000,000 units sold
Nintendo’s decision to licence Alexey Pajitnov’s seminal puzzle game and pack it in with the Game Boy was a masterstroke. Not only did it provide new adopters with something to play straight out of the box, but Tetris is perhaps the most perfect game for portable play; great for the addicted among us to marathon for hours at a time, but also equally good fun for a few minutes on a commute or when those batteries are running on fumes. The fact that there are still Tetris games releasing to this day speaks volumes to this beloved game’s appeal, cementing the Game Boy’s first killer app as one of the most iconic games of all time.
Pokémon Red, Green and Blue
31,380,000 units sold
The debut entries in what would hastily become a worldwide phenomenon, Pokémon Red and Blue (or Red and Green, if you’re a resident of Japan) introduced us to the Kanto region and the original menagerie of monsters to catch, train and battle. The use of the link cable gave aspiring Pokémon trainers the chance to both settle scores in direct competition and cooperate to complete their respective collections, swapping version-exclusive Pokémon and using the trading mechanic to even evolve certain creatures. Even 23 years on, for many fans there will never be a roster of Pokémon more iconic and beloved than the original 151.
Pokémon Gold and Silver
23,100,000 units sold
The sequels to the biggest Game Boy games this side of Tetris would have to pull something pretty special out of the bag to avoid disappointing their fanbase, and Pokémon Gold and Silver certainly didn’t disappoint. The 100 new Pokémon to discover were only the tip of the iceberg. A day/night cycle - which altered which Pokémon the player would discover in real time - was a massive shake-up. The ability to transfer your Pokémon over from Red and Blue meant that the team you’d previously spent hundreds of hours carefully cultivating wasn’t lost forever - and in some cases there was even the added benefit of being able to evolve them into entirely new creatures. Additionally, the realisation that after beating Johto’s Elite Four and becoming a Pokémon Champion you could travel back to Kanto and relive those fond memories from Red and Blue… well, that was the icing on the cake.
Super Mario Land
18,140,000 units sold
It’s shorter than Super Mario Bros. and - when compared to its NES cousin - it’s evident that Nintendo had to make a number of compromises in terms of visuals in order to get it onto a portable device. Nevertheless, Super Mario Land was still a more than adequate approximation of the platformers that were prevalent on home consoles at the time, all while retaining a unique personality and aesthetic that hasn’t been repeated to this day. Since the New Super Mario Bros. series debuted, Nintendo has never been as willing to get weird with its premiere mascot as it was when it released Super Mario Land. It’s got aliens, for God’s sake!
14,640,000 units sold
Pokémon Yellow held few surprises for anyone who’d spent as long playing through Red and Blue as I had, but this remake zeroed in on the growing popularity of the franchise as a whole - specifically the anime - by incorporating elements introduced in the TV show. Pikachu was placed front and centre, following behind the player and reacting accordingly when interacted with, depending on its current condition. Jessie and James of Team Rocket cropped up many times throughout the game to get their arses handed to them, while the circumstances in which the player was introduced to and/or was able to capture certain Pokémon were altered to ape Ash’s adventures on TV. The idea of releasing a third version of the game several years after each generation of Pokémon debuted was something of a tradition that continued for many years, but none since have held as much appeal as Pokémon Yellow.