Sometimes one is capable of dealing with life’s shenanigans. Other times life starts punching below the belt. This is my excuse for failure to comment on the last couple of Top 3 Tuesday videos put out by MichaelBtheGameGenie. Enough is enough: it is time to write! This week, MichaelB proposed “Top 3 Game Boy Games That Had A Standalone Entry in a Classic Series”, a topic which I massively shortened for the title of this post. What this all comes down to is my 3 favorite games on the Game Boy that aren’t ports of existing titles but stand-alone games in their own right. This disqualifies titles like Mortal Kombat II, because it’s just a scaled-down version of the arcade game, and Alleyway because that’s its own IP, but allows games like Kid Icarus: Of Mazes and Monsters and Wizards & Warriors X, which are their own installments from a pre-existing franchise. Time to dig out the ol’ brick and see what’s worth playing and fits the criteria. I have a few ideas, starting with…
3) Final Fantasy Legend II
I know that technically none of the Final Fantasy titles on the Game Boy are legit entries in the Final Fantasy series (the Legend games are actually offshoots of the SaGa franchise, while Final Fantasy Adventure is the first in the Seiken Densetsu series, and thus the prequel to Secret of Mana on the SNES), but I don’t care. Here in the west they were marketed as Final Fantasy titles, and that’s why I bought them. While all four GB Final Fantasy carts have something to recommend them for RPG fans, the second game is absolutely my favorite and nails everything. The story starts off a little ho-hum: the main character’s father has gone missing so you and three of your friends set out to find him. What follows from this, however, is a many-chaptered journey through a whole variety of worlds where your party engages in a fight to collect MAGI, a powerful substance left over from the creation of the world. A new group of gods has risen up to claim their places in history, and they’re not above using MAGI to get their way. Turns out your father was part of a resistance force fighting against these new gods to keep the MAGI out of their hands, because anyone who manages to collect all of them could literally reshape the world to his whim, or destroy it just because.
Beyond the story though, Final Fantasy Legend II has a great choice of characters, excellent graphics for the small screen, and a soundtrack that ranks among the most beautiful ever to grace the Game Boy’s little speaker. It improves on its predecessor in every way. Final Fantasy Legend II is a credit to a series it isn’t even a part of — that’s badass.
Game Boy version of Battletoads, which is a sequel to the NES version and not a simple adaptation, is one of the nastiest pieces of software to ever take over the small screen. Let’s not mince words: the word ‘Battletoads’ in a game’s title tells you in no uncertain terms you’re going to suffer an epic beat-down until you switch off the console in frustration. It brings with it levels of pain and suffering to rival the slow digestion you’d experience in the stomach of a Sarlaac. No one, no one, likes Battletoads. Only…well…I kind of do.
Battletoads on Game Boy is hard, but unlike the NES game, it’s actually fair. I don’t mean the game doesn’t take every opportunity to wreck your life (because holy shit, does it ever), but it’s not quite so gleeful about it. I gave up on ever completing the NES Battletoads without cheating. I never gave up trying to finish the Game Boy Battletoads though, and holy crap, the day I managed to outrun that dang-blasted brain boulder and reached level six, I felt like I’d arm-wrestled Thor to a draw. A few months later, when I reached Robo-Manus and bashed his head in with a giant hammer, I felt like I’d made Odin himself tap out. In my opinion, this is the best Battletoads of ’em all with plenty of changes to the scenery and new level designs (can you say ‘jetpack’?) that will keep a player busy for weeks just trying to pass the second stage. It’s tough but still far more forgiving than its 8-bit brother, and even though it lacks multi-player support even via link cable, I can’t find too many faults with it.
1) Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening
Yes, I know MichaelB has this one on his list. I don’t care. Link’s Awakening is, bar none, my favorite Zelda game. Period. End of story. This game took everything awesome about A Link to the Past, shrank it down, and made something even more amazing out of it. When a portable monochrome title can upend a 16-bit masterpiece, you know there’s something special going on.
For years I’ve touted Super Metroid as the pinnacle of fantastic game design and as close as we’ve ever come to gaming perfection, but damn if Link’s Awakening doesn’t come close to taking the crown. Link’s Awakening not only does everything right, it does so with a level of panache that leaves other action/adventure hybrids struggling to understand where they went wrong. From its dual-button item interface, allowing Link to combine items as a way to overcome obstacles and solve puzzles to the gorgeous soundtrack of Marin singing her Song of the Wind Fish; from the variety of evil bosses to the compliment of NPCs who, at times, seem too self-aware; from the incredible dungeon design to the game’s long-running fetch quest to obtain an extremely powerful item, Link’s Awakening has enough main game, side-quests, puzzles, riddles, and hidden secrets to keep devoted players plugging away at it for hours. The game is so badass it lets Nintendo get away with the obnoxious, “…then he woke up and it was all a dream!” ending, something with which even mainstream fiction and films struggle. But perhaps the best thing about Link’s Awakening is the ending you get for beating the game without dying. It changes exactly one thing in a ‘blink-and-you-miss-it’ addition to the ending credits, but when I saw it, I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face for the rest of the day. Nintendo’s Zelda franchise has spawned plenty of classic hits, but none of them have ever bested Link’s Awakening.