Why Game Boy and Game Boy Advance Games on Nintendo Switch Are Genius

And why did they take so long?

  • Nintendo has the best back catalog in gaming.
  • Game Boy games are perfect for the handheld Switch and still as great as ever. 
  • Nintendo really got these ports right.
A Nintendo Switch and a Game Boy laying against a black background.

Lander Denys / Unsplash

Nintendo's Switch can now it can play games from the Game Boy, aka the overall best-selling console ever. 

The Switch just became the third-best-selling console of all time, and deserves its place in history. It's an amazing handheld that is also a great TV console, and what it lacks in pure graphics-slinging power, it much more than makes up for with its incredibly-designed games, like Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. But the latest addition of Game Boy games on Switch is utter genius, the perfect marriage of retro-stalgia and playability. 

"The reason many Game Boy titles still feel fresh on the Nintendo Switch is the similarities between the consoles are much closer than the N64. With the Game Boy being a handheld-only console, developers had both limited screen space and control buttons available to them and designed games to fit within these limitations," Samuel Franklin, founder of Games Finder, told Lifewire via email. 

Game Boy Games on Switch

Nintendo has always been more about the gameplay than about graphics power, and this has turned out to be a good choice over and over again. For example, Super Mario World for the Super Nintendo still looks amazing today because its colorful pixel art hasn't dated. And its gameplay is still up there with any modern platform game—probably actually better than most. 

Combine this with Nintendo's incredibly rich back catalog, littered with Zeldas and Marios, Kirbys and Metroids, and you have the perfect combo for the Switch. 

A Nintendo Switch sitting on small table with a headset and controller and the box for the 'Super Mario Deluxe' game.

Alphacolor / Unsplash

"Games like Tetris are classic examples of games that are easy to pick up and play, and their simple but addictive gameplay has remained popular for decades. Additionally, the Switch's portable nature makes it a great platform for playing classic handheld games, much like the Game Boy and Game Boy Advance," technology writer and retro-gaming fan Shahnawaz Sadique told Lifewire via email. 

The new Game Boy and Game Boy Advance sections are a part of the Nintendo Switch Online (NSO) subscription, a $20-per-year subscription that already gives you SNES and NES games and can be expanded to a $50-per-year option that includes N64 and Sega Genesis games, as well as add-on courses for Mario Kart 8 Deluxe

And before you rush off to check, yes, this new pack contains the original Tetris. And guess what? It's just as addictive as ever. I loaded it up to test it on launch day, and an hour later, I still couldn't put the thing down. If you already subscribe to NSO, you've probably already downloaded this and watched the hours slip away. If not, it's reason enough to plunk down a quick $20. 

So, why didn't Nintendo do this years ago?

Zelda Games on Switch, and More

Game Boy games on Switch seem like the most obvious porting choice. The modest requirements of the games, the tiny download sizes, and the fact that they are designed to work on a handheld makes them perfect. 

So why did it take some long? Perhaps, unlike some of its ported titles, Nintendo wanted to make sure it really got this one right. After all, the Game Boy might be its biggest cultural achievement. 

The Switch's portable nature makes it a great platform for playing classic handheld games, much like the Game Boy and Game Boy Advance.

“It's worth noting that Nintendo has been careful in its approach to bringing classic games to the Switch. The company has been working to ensure that these games run smoothly on the platform and that the controls are well-optimized, which has helped to preserve the quality of the original experiences,” says Sadique.

And it might just be that it’s not easy to do.

"Like most things that take time in the gaming industry, it often comes down to the hardware and software behind the screen that rarely allows for a plug-n-play transfer mechanism. We've seen similar cycles like this before with Xbox backward compatibility that took a significant amount of time to become a reality, and was a slow drip feed for an entire console generation before we landed at the near 100% backward compatibility we enjoy today,” says Franklin. 

In the end, the why and how don’t really matter. The important thing is that Nintendo’s game-design genius transcends hardware generations, and playing these games today is every bit as fun as it was back when they launched. Including one of the best games ever made: The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening.

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