Skip to content

The 10 Best Game Boy Color Platformers of All Time

The Game Boy Color was a groundbreaking handheld system that brought vibrant color and improved technical capabilities to Nintendo‘s Game Boy family of devices. Released in 1998 as the long-awaited successor to the monochromatic Game Boy, the Game Boy Color featured a color screen, a faster processor, and twice as much memory as the original Game Boy. This allowed for more ambitious games with improved visuals, larger worlds, and more complex mechanics.

Perhaps no genre benefited more from the Game Boy Color‘s enhanced hardware than the platformer. With their approachable gameplay, colorful graphics, and short but challenging stages, platformers were a perfect fit for gaming on the go. Both Nintendo themselves and talented third-party developers took full advantage of the GBC to create some of the best and most influential handheld platformers of all time.

To quantify the Game Boy Color‘s impact, consider this: According to Nintendo, the Game Boy and Game Boy Color combined to sell over 118 million units worldwide, making it the third best-selling video game system ever. At the time of its release in 1998, the Game Boy Color had virtually no competition from other gaming handhelds. Nintendo utterly dominated the portable market, and platformers were a huge part of why.

So what are the cream of the crop when it comes to Game Boy Color platformers? Which side-scrolling, run-and-jumping adventures stand tall above the rest and define the GBC experience? Here are the 10 best Game Boy Color platformers of all time, with sales data, review scores, and technical tidbits straight from the developers.

10. Rayman (2000)

  • Copies sold: 600,000
  • Metacritic score: 84

Rayman made his debut on the Atari Jaguar and PlayStation in 1995, but Ubisoft‘s limbless wonder really found his footing on the Game Boy Color. Rayman‘s fluid animation and hand-drawn art style translated perfectly to the GBC‘s small screen, with the handheld‘s color palette used to great effect. The game sold over 600,000 copies, an impressive feat for a late-lifecycle GBC release.

GBC Rayman features all-new levels and enemies not found in the console versions, as well as tighter controls and more forgiving difficulty. In an interview with IGN, Rayman creator Michel Ancel spoke about the challenges of adapting the game for Game Boy Color:

"Technically, Rayman GBC was a challenge, as the screen size and resolution of the GBC is far more limiting than developing for a TV-based console. But limitations breed creativity, and the team did an incredible job building levels and challenges that felt right at home on the handheld."

9. Wendy: Every Witch Way (2001)

  • Copies sold: 90,000
  • Metacritic score: 81

Natsume‘s Wendy: Every Witch Way is one of the most ambitious and original platformers on the Game Boy Color. Sadly overlooked during the GBC‘s twilight years, it‘s a technical marvel that pushes the system to its limits. The graphics are bursting with color and detail, with large sprites and environments that scroll in all directions.

You play as Wendy, a young witch who can transform into three different animal forms, each with their own abilities used for combat and platforming. The game world is huge and interconnected, with a Metroidvania-style focus on exploration and backtracking. With only 90,000 copies sold, it‘s something of a hidden gem in the GBC library.

8. Ghosts ‘n Goblins (1999)

  • Copies sold: 1 million
  • Metacritic score: 79

Capcom‘s infamously challenging arcade platformer made a successful leap to the small screen with its excellent Game Boy Color port. The game‘s colorful characters, detailed environments, and brutal difficulty remain intact, with a few handheld-friendly enhancements like a save feature and unlimited continues.

The developers used the GBC‘s limited color palette cleverly to maintain the original‘s spooky atmosphere. In a 1999 interview with Famitsu, the port‘s lead programmer spoke about working within the handheld‘s limits:

"We had to be very economical and thoughtful about how we used color. The GBC only displays 56 colors simultaneously, so we used techniques like dithering to create more robust visuals. The end result is a game that looks and feels authentically Ghosts ‘n Goblins."

7. Kirby Tilt ‘n‘ Tumble (2001)

  • Copies sold: 410,000
  • Metacritic score: 85

Kirby Tilt ‘n‘ Tumble is one of the most unique games in the pink puffball‘s long history. The cartridge features a built-in accelerometer that allows you to control Kirby by physically tilting the Game Boy Color itself. This unconventional approach to platforming enables all sorts of interesting level designs and gameplay mechanics not possible with standard controls.

The game received praise for its tight tilt controls, charming visuals, and creative challenges. While it sold a relatively modest 410,000 copies, Tilt ‘n‘ Tumble was a successful experiment that showed off the GBC‘s versatility as a gaming platform. It has never been re-released and remains exclusive to the Game Boy Color.

6. Shantae (2002)

  • Copies sold: 25,000
  • Metacritic score: 85

Shantae is the ultimate example of a game that was overlooked in its time but now enjoys classic status. Released at the very end of the Game Boy Color‘s lifespan in mid-2002, it sold under 25,000 copies in its initial run – but don‘t let that number fool you. This is a top-tier 2D platformer that rivals contemporary games on much more powerful systems.

Shantae herself is an immensely charming protagonist whose animal transformations enable Metroidvania-esque exploration and combat variety. The graphics are among the most impressive on the GBC, bursting with personality and featuring incredibly fluid animation. Additionally, the soundtrack by Jake Kaufman is one of the catchiest and most sophisticated on the handheld.

While it didn‘t make waves in 2002, strong word of mouth and high quality earned the original Shantae a cult following that eventually blossomed into a full-fledged franchise, with five sequels to date across various platforms. In a 2016 Polygon interview, Shantae creator Matt Bozon reflected on the original game‘s initially poor sales:

"Launching a new IP on the Game Boy Color months before the release of the Game Boy Advance was probably not the best strategy for sales, but the extra time the team had with the hardware allowed us to push it farther than we ever imagined. It was a passion project, a labor of love, and the start of something bigger than we could have predicted."

5. Mega Man Xtreme (2000)

  • Copies sold: 600,000
  • Metacritic score: 79

The Game Boy was no stranger to Mega Man games, but Mega Man Xtreme brought a new level of depth and challenge to handheld platforming action. Released as a companion game to Mega Man X3, Xtreme features four new fortress stages based on levels from Mega Man X and X2 on the SNES. The stages are remixed and enhanced to take advantage of the GBC color palette.

The game‘s intense, white-knuckle platforming action garnered positive reviews and solid sales. A direct sequel, Mega Man Xtreme 2, was released the following year to similar acclaim. Both games remain favorites among Mega Man diehards for their tight level designs and impressive recreations of the 16-bit originals‘ gameplay on the GBC‘s limited hardware.

4. Wario Land 3 (2000)

  • Copies sold: 1.14 million
  • Metacritic score: 91

Wario Land 3 is the pinnacle of handheld platforming starring Mario‘s greedy rival. The Game Boy Color‘s technical enhancements allowed the developers at Nintendo R&D1 to create a huge, intricately connected world full of secrets and side-paths. Beyond the sheer size and scope, Wario Land 3 innovates with its transformative approach to platforming.

Wario cannot be killed by conventional means. Instead, enemies cause him to shapeshift into various forms with their own abilities – zombie, vampire, snowman, etc. This makes the game feel more like a puzzle-platformer than a traditional action game at times, as you often need to manipulate Wario‘s myriad transformations to progress.

With over 1 million copies sold and a stellar 91 Metacritic score, Wario Land 3 was a critical and commercial success that pushed the boundaries of Game Boy Color game design. It was the last of three Wario platformers for the original Game Boy line before the series moved to the Game Boy Advance with Wario Land 4.

3. Donkey Kong Country (2000)

  • Copies sold: 2.19 million
  • Metacritic score: 90

Given the technical limitations of the Game Boy Color compared to the Super NES, it‘s a small miracle that Rare was able to create such a faithful and fun handheld version of Donkey Kong Country. While obviously downscaled from its 16-bit counterpart, DKC on GBC maintains the core barrel-blasting platforming and lush jungle atmosphere that made the original so groundbreaking.

All of the levels are completely new, designed from the ground up for the handheld. Character animations are fluid and expressive despite the lower color count and resolution, with impressive attention to small details. Smartly, Rare focused on fast and fun platforming action over visual gimmickry, and the result is arguably better than the SNES version in terms of pure gameplay.

Donkey Kong Country sold over 2 million copies on the Game Boy Color, a testament to the franchise‘s popularity and the high quality of the port. GameSpot gave the game a 9.6/10 in their 2000 review, writing: "This is 2D platforming at its finest, and a more than worthy addition to the Donkey Kong Country series. The new levels and challenges are every bit as good as the SNES outing."

2. Super Mario Bros. Deluxe (1999)

  • Copies sold: 5.07 million
  • Metacritic score: 93

Nintendo celebrated the 10th anniversary of the original Super Mario Bros. in style with this enhanced Game Boy Color port. Super Mario Bros. DX features the complete NES game, along with the Japanese Super Mario Bros. 2 (known in the West as "The Lost Levels") and a bevy of awesome bonus features:

  • Challenge mode with objectives to complete on each stage
  • Versus mode for 2-player competition via link cable
  • Unlockable sprites and photos from Nintendo Power magazine
  • Ability to play as Luigi in both the main game and Lost Levels
  • Print out level designs using the Game Boy Printer accessory

While the underlying game remains the 2D platforming perfection it‘s always been, the GBC‘s color palette adds a ton of visual pizzazz and the bonus modes extend the replay value considerably. It even outsold the original game, moving over 5 million copies and earning a swath of perfect review scores.

1. The Legend of Zelda: Link‘s Awakening DX (1998)

  • Copies sold: 3.83 million
  • Metacritic score: 93

The Legend of Zelda: Link‘s Awakening was an absolute revelation when it first launched for the original Game Boy in 1993. A complete, console-quality Zelda game in the palm of your hand was an astonishing technical feat. But the Game Boy Color re-release 5 years later, Link‘s Awakening DX, perfected that formula to become arguably the greatest Game Boy game of all time.

The DX version makes the most of the GBC‘s expanded color palette and detail. Koholint Island‘s unique setting and characters came to life like never before with the addition of color. Suddenly, the mysterious world felt even more inviting and immersive as Link explored its beaches, forests, swamps, and dungeons.

Most exciting was the addition of a brand new optional dungeon, the Color Dungeon, that could only be accessed on a Game Boy Color system. This dungeon takes full advantage of the platform‘s capabilities, with puzzles and visual elements that revolve around color-based mechanics impossible on the monochrome Game Boy.

Link‘s Awakening DX earned almost unanimous perfect scores from reviewers upon release. IGN awarded it a 10/10, writing: "This is everything a remake should be, keeping the original‘s unique identity and appeal while making the most of new hardware features. Color adds a new dimension to the world, literally and figuratively." It remains the quintessential Game Boy Color game.

The Game Boy Color wasn‘t just a handheld gaming system – it was a cultural phenomenon that brought video games to the masses in a way no console had before. Its unprecedented portability and accessibility created millions of new gamers and elevated the medium as a whole.

While the Game Boy Color wasn‘t as powerful as home consoles of the time like the Nintendo 64 or PlayStation, in some ways it was the ultimate platform for 2D gaming. Platformers in particular achieved a level of pick-up-and-play perfection on the Game Boy Color that‘s rarely been matched since.

The 10 games highlighted here represent the very best of the best the Game Boy Color had to offer. If you somehow only played these 10 games and nothing else, you‘d still walk away with a complete and satisfying understanding of what made the platform such a revolutionary and beloved part of gaming history.

Of course, the Game Boy Color‘s legacy extends far beyond these 10 titles. Dozens of other excellent platformers, as well as puzzle games, RPGs, and even early 3D titles pushed the hardware in new and exciting ways. The Pokemon series exploded into a worldwide phenomenon via Pokemon Red, Blue, Gold, and Silver on the GBC. Classic franchises like Zelda, Metroid, and Kirby made the transition beautifully to handheld gaming.

Even 20 years after the Game Boy Color‘s initial release, its impact can be plainly seen and felt. The Nintendo DS, 3DS, and Switch all followed the trail blazed by the Game Boy family of systems by emphasizing convenient, accessible portable gaming. Today‘s most popular mobile games owe a huge debt to Nintendo‘s groundbreaking work in proving the viability of gaming on the go.

But no matter how much handheld technology evolves, the best Game Boy Color games remain timeless classics that are just as engaging and rewarding in 2023 as they were at the turn of the millennium. The fact that excellent modern platformers like Celeste, Shovel Knight, and Sonic Mania intentionally mimic the 8-bit aesthetics and design sensibilities of the Game Boy era is a powerful testament to the enduring influence and appeal of the platform‘s greatest games.

The Game Boy Color was a special machine released at a special time, and there‘s never been anything quite like it since. As gaming marches forward into new frontiers of realism, scale, and immersion, it‘s important to appreciate and preserve the simple magic of the Game Boy Color platformer. These are games destined to be studied, enjoyed, and remembered for generations to come.