I’d like to start discussing great Game Boy games because they’re a passion of mine. I really love the original Nintendo DMG-model handheld – both original and modded with a backlight (which makes a world of difference). I also playing the games for it on a TV – through emulators or FPGA solutions (like the jail-broken AnalogueNt Mini). There’s also playing it on a SNES through a Super Game Boy. Many regular Game Boy cartridges even had special color palettes and borders to use with it build right into the cart.
The first installment of these Game Boy library articles will be about various shooters (or shmups) on the Game Boy. If you need to know more about this genre, I have written a primer you can check out here.
There aren’t a whole lot of great shmups (I mean there are for a casual player/collector, but it’s actually a small percent of the game library), so I’m pretty much going to list out all the ones I know about here. I’m obviously focusing more on the shooting aspect to games instead of platforming. So while – yes – Mega Man is technically a run-and-gun (a type of shmup), it’s not covered here (it would certainly be if we were covering platformers).
(I’m not counting Super Mario World as a Shmup – although the underwater and air levels certainly qualify it. Same with other games that cross genres.)
Aerostar (Vic Tokai) – Vertical Shooter
Aerostar covers various landscapes with three levels of difficulty. This is my kind of shmup because it gives you enough time to react to things coming at you. I like the novelty of the backgrounds (vs just the typical space landscape).
Altered space is an isometric shooter game and I definitely give it credit for the novelty. However, it suffers more than most from this setup – especially with the low-fidelity of the handheld.
I think this is a beautiful, albeit short, game. The music is also pretty amazing (I really love the Game Boy for the amazing 8-bit music and this is no slouch). I actually don’t mind the game length and like my Game Boy games to be short – as I believe handhelds in general lend themselves to short sessions.
Burai Fighter Deluxe (Taxan) – Horizontal Shmup
This horizontal shmup has three difficulties. The ‘Deluxe’ is sort of a joke since this is a scaled-down port of the NES game. Burai Fighter has a sort of bio-mechanical theme (as you can tell right from the box art). The title is interesting since the word ‘Burai‘ is Hindu for ‘Evil‘. This game was surely somewhat inspired by the Alien movies (with H.R. Giger inspiring a lot of bio-mechanical monstrosities in those films) – as you similarly play an astronaut character fighting extraterrestrials. It’s worth noting that there’s a better GBC port of this called Space Marauder if you’d rather play this in color and without slow-down.
Choplifter is an game where you must rescue and deliver hostages while shooting down (or upon) enemies before they take you down. It’s a score-based game with a great risk/reward aspect. It reminds me a lot of Defender, but with a more military-aspect (instead of the spaceship version).
This is the handheld version of the classic run and gun. This comes up on the best Game Boy games of all time lists. It came out late in the handheld’s lifespan (being the port of Contra III on the SNES). This is Konami back in their heyday and it’s a great game.
This is a tank shooter where the player in on a quest. This sort of reminds me of Master Blaster in that the levels change player-perspective throughout the game. I give the game credit for stretching the boundaries of the handheld and I think it’s fairly successful. It’s competent, but not great.
Desert/Jungle/Urban Strike (Various) – Isometric Shmup
The ‘strike’ games have always been a guilty pleasure of mine. This is an isometric shmup series where you must take down troops from below while carrying out missions. I think the series got a lot better in the 16-bit era and on handhelds like the GBA that were more capable. However, the Game Boy titles are still interesting and worth checking out.
Galaga/Galaxian (TOSE/Nintendo) – Vertical Shmup
This is the Game Boy port of the classic arcade games. Both titles are competent ports of their arcade counterparts. This cart also has additional functionality in the Super Game Boy. The Game Boy Color port of Galaga didn’t score a good rating, so this might be the title to get for classic gamers.
Ultra is Konami back when Nintendo only allowed so many titles per publisher per year. Both these are great ports of the classic Gradius shmups. They look great and they have tight controls. I’ve never been the biggest fan of the Gradius level-up system, but it is what it is. My usual level-up strategy is to go after speed-up first, then get option (all the way at the end), then fill out with missile power-ups.
This title is put out by Ocean and that’s sort of a seal of quality (well it usually means a game won’t be awful at least). From what I gather this is a movie-based game. The still cut-scenes from the game are pretty cool to look at, but this isn’t an amazing game. Worth a play for a few bucks, however.
This is a passable 2D shmup where you pilot a ship that’s out of gas (so it runs on petroleum instead of energy?) after a date (but I guess you end up having enough to putter around looking for more). You have to find gas tanks throughout the level in the correct order to return home.
The Parodius series is like Konami’s Gradius in that it’s a beloved franchise full of quality games. The name implies that this is a parody shooter and it’s full of cutesy scenery and wacky happenings. In fact you can pick the Vic Viper from the Gradius series if you like. The game boy port is pretty solid and I do recommend it.
This is a fairly mediocre Japan-only fantasy-shmup. It’s got an interesting theme so might be worth a quick-play, but it’s just completely outclassed by other Game Boy shmups.
Quarth (Konami) – Puzzle/Shmup
Quarth is a really cool puzzle/shmup (a pretty rare genre and this is a must-own for the Game Boy) and plays like a hybrid of Tetris and a vertical shmup. Instead of bullets, you shoot blocks with which to fill in shapes and have them disappear. As the level speeds up, this is quite challenging and enjoyable. I consider this a must-own game if you’re collecting for the handheld.
This is a classic shmup by Irem (who usually does a great job with arcade games in general). This game is highly regarded (up there with Gradius). It’s actually pretty ambitious as a port and the background art looks pretty great. The game does suffer a little slow-down. This is one of those shmups that I play but only casually but always enjoy. I think this really shows how great the Game Boy is and, even though hardware-limited, this is true to the R-Type name.
This is not really a fantastic game, but it’s certainly worth taking a look at – being a sci-fi mech game, but with action-platformer roots and a heavy run-and-gun element. Sounds great, right? It would be except that it doesn’t really succeed at any one aspect. Still.. it’s got that Game Boy charm and I do love the visuals (in all their 8-bit, black-and-white glory).
Well.. here’s where I want to leave off in this week’s installment. Next time, I’ll go over the rest of the Game Boy shmups that I know of. Please let me know if you’ve played any of the above or if you just discovered some game I mentioned and what you think of it.