Puzzle games and the Game Boy go hand in hand. With its small screen and – how to put this best – unique display – the Nintendo handheld was a perfect platform for puzzle-based shenanigans. It was home to dozens of fun yet devious puzzlers throughout its lifetime, most of which feature in the Bitmap Books title, Game Boy: The Box Art Collection, available now.
So join us as we pick our eight favourite baffling brainteasers for the legendary Nintendo Game Boy.
Tomato Kwirk and his girl, Tammy, are out on the town when they decide to explore the dark labyrinth below their city. As you do. Naturally, Tammy gets lost, so Kwirk has to rescue her, exploring the maze and solving puzzles so they can return to the world above. The objective of each screen is to get from one end to the other. In front of Kwirk sit turnstiles, blocks and holes – the little chap manipulates all these in a specific order so that he can progress. This block-pushing game is one of the more challenging puzzlers for the Game Boy, taxing the player’s brain even from its earliest levels – but in a fun and entertaining way.
Reportedly devised by Alexey Pajitnov as early as 1984, this worldwide phenomenon, responsible for kick-starting the whole puzzle genre and instigating a wealth of clones, found its ideal home on the Nintendo Game Boy. In case you’re one of the three people unfamiliar with Tetris, various geometric shapes fall randomly from above. These have to fit together tightly to form a row, which disappears, eliminating that line from the playing field. Tetris's core is its inherent satisfaction at piecing together the shapes – its depth and remarkable longevity have ensured it a revered status as one of the most popular videogames of all time. And while it didn’t start on the Game Boy, Tetris undoubtedly cemented its reputation on the Nintendo handheld.
Dr. Mario (1990)
This phenomenally successful spin-off from the Super Mario series reportedly sold over two million copies on the Game Boy alone. Obviously, the Mario branding helped in this respect, but don’t let that obfuscate the fact that Dr. Mario is a top-tier Game Boy puzzler. The premise is simple: Dr. Mario chucks medicine into the bottle-shaped playing field, and it's your job to match the pills up with the comic-like viruses. Eliminate all the viruses and it’s on to the next level, but clog up the bottle with too much useless medicine, and it's game over. Like all the greatest puzzle games, Dr. Mario takes an uncomplicated concept, adding just enough whistles and bells to ensure that enjoyment is never too far away.
Boulder Dash (1990)
First published in 1984 for the Atari 8-bit computer, Boulder Dash (and its star, Rockford) quickly became a legend of the early home computer scene. And there’s a good reason for that: Boulder Dash’s gameplay is marvellous, compelling and highly addictive. Rockford is a treasure hunter, plundering various caves for precious jewels, with falling rocks a constant hazard for this rapid digger. It would be understandable to think you’ve mastered Boulder Dash by the third or fourth level. Not a chance – this is one of the most deviously plotted videogames of all time, and it finally found its rock-strewn haven on the Nintendo Game Boy in 1990.
Originally released as an arcade game by Taito in 1981, Qix was designed and developed by the husband and wife team of Randy and Sandy Pfeiffer. The eponymous Qix is a line-based creature bouncing inside the playing field. The player controls a diamond, patrolling the outer rim and poised to draw into the field, blocking off areas once a shape’s drawn. Sparks also travel along the lines; if the player collides with one of these, they lose a life. As with Boulder Dash, Qix is nicely suited to the Game Boy and soon increases its challenge with multiple Qixs and sparks. There’s a tactical aspect, too: the diamond can draw fast or slow, the latter yielding more points but substantially riskier.
Quarth is another arcade conversion based on the 1989 Konami coin-op, also known as Block Hole. It’s genre mash-up time as Quarth blends the slowly-descending block mechanic with a fast-paced shoot-‘em-up. The player’s craft fires blocks up the screen, which ‘complete’ the falling shapes into squares or rectangles. As the game progresses, the blocks drop faster; fortunately, there are also power-ups that speed up the player's craft, among other useful upgrades. Quaint, quick and quirky, Quarth is another little puzzle gem for the Game Boy.
Mario & Yoshi (1991)
Known as simply Yoshi outside of PAL regions, this is another falling block game, albeit one with a twist. The player controls Mario, sitting at the bottom of the screen, hands aloft and ready to swap the blocks in each hand around. Yoshi’s eggshells and monsters drop from above and soon begin to stack up. Mario’s task is to manipulate the stacks, so the eggs and monsters match vertically, thus eliminating them from the playing area. While its concept is far from original, Mario & Yoshi introduces enough new ideas to stand out and is an addictive puzzler, despite its occasional over-reliance on luck.
Mole Mania (1996)
The Game Boy was still going strong by the mid-Nineties, as was its favoured genre of puzzle games. Mole Mania’s central gameplay element comes from its star, Muddy Mole, who can dive into the ground at the press of a button. Once there, an alternate route across each level reveals itself, although Muddy Mole must be careful not to obstruct the screen with too many holes. The objective? A farmer named Jinbe has kidnapped Muddy’s family, and if this antagonist appears similar to a certain Italian plumber, you won’t be surprised to learn that this is one of the lesser-known games by Mario’s creator, Shigeru Miyamoto.
You can read about all of these games and many more Nintendo Game Boy puzzle games in Bitmap Books’ Game Boy: The Box Art Collection.