Y’know, a lot of times, the classics are nice. There is a very good reason why the first game anyone wants to play on a NES is going to be Super Mario Bros. It’s basically perfect. Same goes for the Game Boy – You’re going to get Tetris, no doubt about it.
The thing is, I’ve played those games to death. They’re excellent, to be sure, but they’re boring as all hell to me now. I just tried to sit down and play Super Mario World again. I couldn’t do it. I may as well have been playing Rise of the Robots.
I’ve started getting into more handheld games since the 25th anniversary of the Game Boy. I’ve become significantly more versed in the libraries of not only the Game Boy, but the Game Boy’s competitors, as well. Here are a few interesting, obscure, even somewhat-underrated games that most people gloss over from a number of handheld consoles:
Now, Bomberman isn’t really an obscure series. Bomberman as a whole is known for its grid-based multiplayer that is scientifically proven to turn your friends into your hated rivals and to ensure that every other word that comes out of your mouth is something that the FCC would disapprove of. Panic Bomber, on the other hand, is a puzzle game, in the style of, say, Wario’s Woods or Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine. Y’know, easy to learn, hard to master, etc… The game itself is most definitely not a “blast”, partly because that would be the obvious thing to say, but also due to the fact that the game doesn’t quite click like it would if it were on, say, the Game Boy or the SNES. The game is, however, definitely worth a look, simply due to the fact that it is the best puzzle game on the Virtual Boy. In addition to that, this is the sole representative in the Panic Bomber series that made it ‘stateside. All the others were exclusive to Japan. If you’re willing to withstand the red-and-black colors of the Virtual Boy, give this one a shot.
I haven’t talked about the Atari Lynx yet. I plan to eventually, but I need to get some more games for it. Luckily, I happen to own this little gem. Simply put, Toki is a run-and-gun platformer in the style of Contra or Mega Man. The main character in Toki is the titular man-turned-ape, who can shoot energy projectiles at any multitude of weird enemies. This is a great example of a game in the Atari Lynx library, as it is, at its core, a port of an arcade game, which was what the Lynx was best at. This particular game is a bit different than the arcade version, though. The game itself has a style that was similar to other Lynx games at the time. What style was that, you may ask? Well, the best thing I can say is that it was strange. The graphics are drawn with a realistic look to them, which stands in a direct contrast with the Game Boy’s often-cartoony aesthetics or the Game Gear’s “Genesis’ kid-brother” sort of vibe. The result is that Lynx games, Toki included, looked very different from what was offered on other consoles. The game itself is very difficult, most of the problems stemming from trial-and-error gameplay and blurry Lynx screen issues. That said, It’s easy to forget that this game came out in the heyday of the Game Boy and not the Game Boy Color. To see something with these visuals in the days of the Game Boy is pretty spectacular. Toki doesn’t cost that much on the aftermarket – none of the Lynx games do. If you actually own an Atari Lynx this should be on your short list of games to get for the console.
Batman, for the Game Boy. This may seem like an odd choice for an underrated gem, but stay with me, here. This particular Batman game, which is somewhat-based on the ’89 movie, is a run & gun platformer in the style of Mega Man or a primitive Contra. You control Batman, and shoot down crooks and destroy blocks that impede your progress through a level. It’s very similar to Super Mario Land in that regard, except this game actually has decent controls. When I say that this game is a “run & gun” platformer, I actually mean it: Batman’s main attack is to shoot a projectile at enemies. That’s really odd, because Batman’s kind of got a thing against guns. In that he’s never used one to take down a foe because he doesn’t need them. Batman himself is enough to scare a criminal without the use of a gun. That’s the point of being a masked vigilante. I don’t know if there’s any justification for this in the game’s manual or something, but it’s just plain odd that this is how it’s done in this game. It’s almost like this game wasn’t originally intended to be based on the Batman license, and they shoehorned it in for another movie cash-in. Despite the odd mechanics, the game itself is quite fun. It’s more fun than it has any right to be, since movie-based games are generally rushed out to meet deadlines and they’re quite poor as a result. In the giant landfill that most movie-licensed games eventually belong to, Batman for the Game Boy is one that deserves to be rescued.
I know what you’re thinking. Mega Man is not obscure in the slightest. Stay with me, here.
Mega Man on the Game Gear was actually published by US Gold, not Capcom (though their name is with the game as the character is a Capcom character of course). Surprisingly, it’s not a port of one of the Game Boy games OR a port of any of the NES Mega Man games. Instead, it takes a mix of Robot Masters from Mega Man 4 and Mega Man 5 and puts them in this new game, along with the traditional Wily tower stages. This game isn’t nearly as good as the Game Boy Mega Man games, as US Gold put in some weird design choices with the gameplay (giving the Robot Masters post-hit invincibility, for instance…). It still feels strange to have a Mega Man game on a Sega console. It’s the same kind of feeling I get when I see something like Sonic Advance or Hotel Mario: that something just feels “wrong”. That said, this game is interesting. Definitely not one that people would expect to see on the Game Gear, and one that a lot of people overlook. If you’ve got a Game Gear that hasn’t got blown capacitors, this game couldn’t hurt to try. Just know that if you’re looking for a perfect handheld Mega Man experience, check out the Game Boy versions (except Mega Man II. That one wasn’t that great).