For kids growing up in the late 90’s, the Game Boy may be a more ubiquitous gaming device than the Nintendo 64 or first PlayStation. Portable and powerful, the Game Boy would go from playing primitive ports of Mario games to powerhouse RPGs like Pokemon to new entries in the Mega Man franchise as it moved on to the Game Boy Advance. Up until the hand off to the Nintendo DS in 2006, the Game Boy wasn’t just a portable supplement to console gaming, it was a glorious home for games in its own right. Its limitations and mobility proved to be a platform for thrilling stories, challenging gameplay, and accessible titles that brought players of all ages together no matter what their skill set.
But if you were a fan of the Game Boy, what are your options now? The 3DS does have an impressive slate of mobile libraries that carry on the tradition, but game developers inspired by the Game Boy’s legacy haven’t remained idle, crafting accessible experiences on other platforms that may be worth a look.
From designer TJ Thomas and Alpha Six Productions, Joylancer is possibly one of the biggest love letters to the Game Boy you’ll find out there. Reminiscent of games like Kirby’s Dream Land or the Metal Slug ports, Joylancer’s high-speed rocket-powered lanceplay (yes that’s a thing) even sounds like the tiny 16-bit tunes that would have popped out of your game back in the day. It’s a vibrant, fast-paced game with beautiful backgrounds and filled with the crazy anything-goes energy that was meant to appeal to kids, but still stands strong for older players to this day.
But if you were like me, and sometimes had to hand the Game Boy off to your little brother for some of the tougher puzzles, then you may remember spending more time with Pokemon, Dragon Warrior Monsters, or the Golden Sun series on the Game Boy Advance, where patience, planning, and courage were more powerful tools against the forces of darkness than fast fingers.
Enter Amber Throne. Recently released on Steam, Amber Throne was built to capture the mood and style of older RPGs, but using hand-painted art in place of the low-fi pixels more common to the era. Here, you play as a young girl named Arra who awakens from her coffin with only a message from her father in her mind—”Destroy the Amber Throne.” Here, you’ll cross a vast desert world, build a party of five warriors, and even sails the skies in a flying airship on your quest to reach a flying castle, and fulfill your father’s last wish. Pick this one up if you have memories of being whisked away to far off lands while fighting for every scrap of streetlight in the back of your parent’s car.
The Game Boy Advance wasn’t just home to RPGs and platformers, it brought the turn-based strategy game to a new popularity as well. Some strategy games told epic tales of war and loss like Fire Emblem, but others were screwball takes on war and chaos that played down the violence and played up the army-based puzzles. Chroma Squad is one of those tactical RPGs, putting you in the role of—a group of stuntment making a Super Sentai/Power Rangers-inspired series in their own TV studio.
No, seriously–that’s the premise. You control a TV studio, hiring actors, equipping them with the best props, and carrying out missions in the form of episodes of an in-universe TV series where victory means playing out the battle you’re filming in the episode. Your weapons and armor aren’t high-tech fancy space gear, they’re cardboard cutouts and buckets for heads meant to mimic the beloved aesthetics of the rubber suited Sentai shows localized for America. One of the coolest parts about this drive to capture the sense of a Power Rangers studio is that Chroma Squad isn’t as deep or tough as some of its strategy ancestors, meaning if you’ve been out of the genre for a little while, you can ease back in by rebuilding the antics of your favorite Sentai-inspired crew. (Mine’s probably Lightspeed Rescue.)
If you’re looking for a REAL nostalgia trip through the Game Boy era, look no further than Evoland and its upcoming successor Evoland 2. Coming from a group of developers who built their first version from the Ludum Dare Game Jam, Evoland puts you in the shoes of an RPG hero who literally progresses from an 8bit era of RPGs, through the evolving graphics of the Game Boy era right up to the 3D animation that took over on the Nintendo 3DS.
This is another game especially welcome to players who might have stepped away from RPGs for a while and has come back to discover they’ve updated themselves a bit. Starting literally at the ground floor of RPGs, and moving up through innovations in gameplay as well as graphics, Evoland and hopefully Evoland 2 can help reacquaint you with a genre with humor and grace and give you the groundwork to tackle newer RPGs built on the backs of these older games.
Feature Image Credit: Evoland Facebook