Something weird happened last night in that brilliant Nintendo Direct. Nintendo announced what felt like the best launch line-up ever, but it was actually a bunch of old games, coming onto a system which, somehow, is approaching its twilight.
This was the arrival of Game Boy and Game Boy Advance games onto the Switch. What a line-up! Some true classics! Some odd choices! Some weird omissions! Everything, in other words, that one expects from Nintendo.
More than anything, though, a bunch of us were just deeply excited to play these games again – to get reacquainted with these friends from years, and handhelds, past. So here are some of the games we’re really excited to play again. What about you?
Game Boy and Game Boy Advance games are headed to Nintendo Switch Online.
Mario and Luigi: Superstar Saga
On my first outing, I played this game at Christmas – in the lead up to Christmas and over the break, in the days when I still used to go back to my mum’s house each year. So it’s absolutely entangled with Christmas – the purples and pinks and golds of the colour scheme blending with lights and holly and all that jazz.
So it’s hard to separate the wonderful memories of playing it for the first time with the game itself, which is a typically ingenious spin on the RPG with a lovely twist – you control Mario and Luigi at the same time, taking them around the world as a duo and alternating between them in battles.
Here’s the thing, though: what’s special about Superstar Saga is that it basically feels like weird Mario and Luigi fan-fic. We get to see a lot more of the characters’ lives, and their relationship, and we get all sorts of bizarro scenarios that feel like sequences from a Mario and Luigi sitcom that was recorded but never broadcast. Up until Luigi’s Mansion, I guess, the brothers were sort of stand-ins for the player, specific but never too specific. Luigi’s Mansion made Luigi a glorious coward, and then Superstar Saga came along and gave us a proper prolonged insight into what it’s like to be a Mario brother on the road. What a game. I can’t wait to see if it’s everything I remember it being
Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins
This was exciting! Not because it’s the best Super Mario Land game – I still think that’s the first, which is such a deeply odd re-imagining, almost of the first Super Mario Bros. But because I had this game and loved it and then when I went back to it a few years ago the battery had died and all my saves had gone.
That simple! So this is why it’s going to be great to play it again – Super Mario Land 2, but I can actually save my progress.
Globe-trotting, world-saving role-playing games have always been ten-a-penny, but there was something truly special about Golden Sun. Was it the engrossing story, or the sequel which flipped things on its head? Perhaps the battle systems, with lavish elemental effects that looked dazzling on the Game Boy Advance screen? Or maybe it was the block puzzles? No, it definitely was not the block puzzles.
Still, the story of Isaac and his gang of friends banding together to traverse the world is one for the ages. It is a proper old school party-based RPG with a story and ambition that belies its humble GBA cartridge. Years later, I’m still hoping for a proper continuation from Camelot, rather than endless Mario sports games. Perhaps its upcoming re-release via Nintendo Switch Online could mark a new dawn?
Zelda Minish Cap
As a huge Zelda fan, I’m ashamed to say I missed out on playing Capcom’s handheld efforts: both the Oracle games, and Minish Cap. At long last I can rectify my mistake.
I’ve heard only good things about Minish Cap: its items, its Wind Waker style graphics, and the little Picori people. But there’s just something so charming about playing a big adventure on a little handheld and Minish Cap leans into that further with the ability to shrink down and explore at a new level. It’s Zelda meets Honey I Shrunk The Kids and a fun spin on the inevitable twist each game in the series has.
And with the addition of these Game Boy games, the majority of the Zelda series is playable on the Switch. That’s enough to tide me over until Tears of the Kingdom at least.
Pokémon Trading Card Game
Forgive me for being predictable, but the Trading Card Game is a bit of a gem. The Pokémon series, for all the intensive brand safety efforts of the world’s largest entertainment franchise, has always had a bit of an unnerving weirdness to it. These days it manifests more as upbeat kookiness – wacky gym leader outfits, rival gangs with odd motivation, and some kind of non-sequitur mechanic based on food – but once upon a time the weirdness was more… off. To someone coming from just the main series PRGs, the Trading Card Game plays like it’s set in some kind of non-space, an un-real, abstract world of trainers who battle you with pieces of paper, gym leaders who won’t take you on unless you gather more cards, NPCs who look a lot like the NPCs from the main series but crucially, not exactly. Somehow they seem more hostile. They frown more. And Imakuni – sorry, Imakuni? – a card based on a real man who I can personally attest to seeming like a perfectly lovely guy, is the most unnerving of the lot. A man trapped behind glass, dressed like a nightmarish mime.
Perhaps it’s all tinged with this kind of epistemic weirdness because I last played this when it first came out, age seven-ish – just the kind of age where memories are both very vivid and very imprecise. But something about the Trading Card Game feels especially potent. Play this one to feel like you’re Red, trapped in half-sleep, and caught between deciding to power through the dream or tap out and wake up.
I appreciate this is a weird choice, as Tetris has never gone away, and it’s also evolved in meaningful ways that make the Game Boy version feel slightly odd now. But whenever Game Boy Tetris is knocking around – when it’s rereleased on the 3DS or when I simply find my OG cartridge at home – I always lose hours to it.
This isn’t just because it’s one of the greatest games of all time, though I appreciate that helps. And it’s not even because I particularly like the block liveries for the Game Boy version. I think it’s fundamentally because those blocks falling on that green screen takes me back, very powerfully, to the early days of consoles. I feel like I fall through the screen somewhat, into the other side, the mysterious Gibsonian cyberspace. Tetris on Game Boy feels very old now, but it also retains that wild, giddying rush of the new that it had back when the Game Boy was doing the rounds in our school home room. And isn’t that the Game Boy too? Born old, somehow – all that withered tech – but also delivering a Walkmanisation of games that felt like it had come from a billion years in the future?
Oh yes, good music too.
Mario Kart: Super Circuit
Such an easy one, this. I think this game has the best jump in a Mario Kart. If I remember correctly you jump, and then there’s a real sense of bite as the wheels connect with the ground – you feel it through your fingers, through your whole hand, somehow. Cannot wait to go back.
The more time that passes, the clearer it becomes that WarioWare is sort of an autobiography of Nintendo in game form. All of the classics are here, sure, but you also get the thinking behind them, the things that Nintendo values.
All of which makes it sound a bit serious. But this is one of those autobiographies that revels in chaos and happy accident. It’s joy and vividness captured in five-second bursts. And it was all designed on Post-it notes.