We all carry an arsenal of hot takes. Controversial at best, but mostly simply provocative statements that find commonly praised things to be overrated. I have a few of those, too, but I try to hold back on them because they are… well… hot takes. But there are a few that I’m secretly genuinely convinced of, and sometimes I dare to voice them. Take this example: There are no good games for the Game Boy.
Now everyone reading this can come up with five games that should disprove this thesis. Link’s Awakening. Mystic Quest. Pokémon. Kirby’s Dreamland 2. That Donkey Kong game with 100 levels that’s always mentioned everywhere as an insider tip and as “astonishing for a Game Boy game.” Tetris, for crying out loud!
I am not convinced.
But whenever I bounce that thought back and forth in my head, my mind wanders to Wario Land. There are many fans of the series, but they mostly talk about parts 2 and 4. I’m referring to the first game, unnecessarily subtitled Super Mario Land 3. I only really know that one, and I have wonderful memories of it. Wario’s force and momentum as he plows through the levels, fun upgrades and the many secrets that are so hard to reach. Yes, Wario Land is proof: there is exactly one good game for the Game Boy. And the music! The music still rumbles through my ears from time to time. I also remember the sound effects clearly. The game had texture. A bit of magic on that tiny, poorly lit grayscale display.
Consequently, Wario Land made it onto my list of 30 games in 30 years. Since I have decided to write a text for each of these games, it is now time to talk about Wario Land. While thinking about which aspect I could focus on for this game, I kept coming back to the sounds. To help me remember its magnificence, I picked out a complete walkthrough of the game on YouTube and had it playing in the background. I didn’t just want to hear the soundtrack, I wanted the full audio experience. The powerful pounding, the satisfying flying and burning, the massive skull gates that rumbled while opening.
It was dreadful. Appalling. Shrill sounds. constant interruptions of the music. The sound effects were way too noisy, hammering into my ears non-stop. When collecting coins, when ramming, when enemies fell, when doors opened. A screeching, buzzing, squeaking. And that unbearable sound of Wario’s fire-breathing dragon hat. It really hurt. I tore out the headphones. How could this be? How could I carry positive memories of… THAT with me for decades? Nothing about it seemed suitable to create such a nostalgic feeling of warm fuzziness.
With the sound muted, I took a deeper look at the video. And the game certainly had qualities in 1994 that can still be seen today. It was enchanting, the gameplay decent enough. But nontheless, it’s a rudimentary game in every way. A fond childhood memory crumbled before my eyes. I guess it’s just… a Game Boy game. And as we all know, objectively, there just aren’t any good Game Boy games.
My transparent Game Boy went missing along with Wario Land and a handful of other games on a trip to the US in 1996. Two years later, I fell for the hype and bought a Game Boy Color with Pokémon Red. After a few hours, I put the handheld and game aside for good. I skipped the Game Boy Advance completely. I shouldn’t have, according to many voices. But what do the voices know.
This text is part of an ongoing series on 30 games from 30 years.
This post is also available in: German