50 Shades of Grayscale: Let's Play 50 Game Boy Games!

When I was a child, I used to pour through a guidebook of several Game Boy titles, full of mostly correct information and tips for beating these titles. I, of course, owned maybe three of the titles that had guides written for them, but for some reason I drank in as much as I could. Over time, as I grew up, I thought it’d be a fun project to tackle every game in the book. The tome boasted a volume of hundreds of games, but the extensive guides were only listed for about 25.

But then I figured “why not go bigger?” With a dumb title in mind, I amassed a list of 50 Game Boy titles to play to completion. From all time classics, to some that should remain forgotten, the stage was set for a thorough, albeit incomplete, examination of what the Game Boy had to offer.

July 31, 2019 marked the 30th anniversary of the North American release of the Game Boy. As a sucker for anniversaries, I launched a series of streams to work through this list on that day. All footage was recorded live as a challenge run of sorts, but the idea was born with Let’s Play in mind. So now I have touched up the footage with bonus information and a bit more concise footage. It’s a little bit of a blind run, a little bit of an educational LP. Do these mesh well? Probably not! Hopefully it’s enjoyable all the same.

Recordings are still in progress and you can catch them here every Wednesday at 6:30pm pacific time.

SOME GROUND RULES:

  • no spoilers for longer form games. yeah this sounds kind of dumb for a 31 year old system but some of these runs are genuinely blind!
  • no discussing games that haven’t shown up yet
  • be cool. don’t be a weirdo.

Now let’s introduce the crew! Because I like dumb group names we are known as The Full Nasty.


Action Shakespeare (she/her)

The leader of this expedition, Action Shakespeare likes to tow the line between smooth and informative to rough and overenthusiastic. She can barely control this. The Game Boy was her first Nintendo console ever and she has very fond memories of playing Revenge of the Gator.


Public Opinion (he/him)

Public Opinion is the informational rock supporting the crew. He likes dragons, pro wrestling, and providing helpful facts straight from the manuals themselves. He also made these great lil sprites! His old favorite Game Boy title is Donkey Kong.


Beedrops (they/them)

Dragged onto this crazy adventure after being tricked into playing Kingdom Hearts for so long, Bee provides fresh insight and moral support during the arduous challenges of the episodes to come. They did not own a Game Boy, but in the Game Boy Color era they enjoyed Kirby’s Tilt n Tumble.


Wordse/AlmightyWords (he/him)

Words is a slime. He is also the freshest set of eyes on this entire experience having never interacted with much of any old consoles, let alone the Game Boy. As such he doesn’t have a favorite Game Boy title, but his favorite game boy is Hideki Naganuma.

Without further ado, let’s kick it off with our first entry.

Super Mario Land

The first Mario on the Game Boy gets the first spot in our lineup. Join us through an adventure through Sarasaland to rescue Daisy from the evil clutches of Tatanga! Ya know…Mario stuff!

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TABLE OF CONTENTS














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Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins


Double the Mario! Double the fun! In almost every way it could be I feel like this entry made sure it was twice as much as the previous, including things to actually talk about regarding it. As much as I think I prefer Super Mario Land 1 over its sequel, I will say it cannot compare in terms of how much is actually logged and recorded with regards to Super Mario Land 2’s history was recorded. Not that I’m complaining, but it made me pick and choose what info I kept in the video. Jokes on me, though, because I can just type about it here!

The main thing I didn’t get to in my introduction was the story of the early build of Super Mario Land 2. As I mentioned, the dev team was a little bitter about continuing to work on secondary Mario games and that fueled them to really make something unique to the Mario series. Supposedly, an early build of the game was made that was so different, that Nintendo staff were concerned it wouldn’t feel like Mario at all. R&D1 dialed it back a bit from there and produced what we know today, and nothing of this early material really exists outside of a few beta screenshots from old magazines. It’s probably unlikely that this old build is even around, much less that it will surface, but…stranger things have happened right?

As one last note, the version of the ending theme I used for the intro video was recreated from a pretty incredible sight read by one Tom Brier. Give it a listen sometime!

bonus snake

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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Fall of the Foot Clan

This one’s kinda short and sweet compared to what we have so far, but it’s the important introduction of Beedrops to the crew! While I have always had a general knowledge and fondness for those turtles, Words actually came out of the woodwork as the premier expert on reptilian ninjustsu, which is a nice change of pace from the rest of the series. I would (generously) call this episode a learning experience, particularly in sound mixing, but it’s best not to dwell on these sorts of things. There’s 46 47 of these dang things to go!

I took the images I used throughout from scans of the original manual for the game. Honestly it’s incredibly charming and every single page is written in such a specific voice.

Anyways there really isn’t much more to say, but I did also get some footage from this neat documentary of Michiru Yamane made in 2010. Worth the watch for a brief bit of history and some funky camera decisions from some Konami intern.

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The Smurfs

The Smurfs seems to be a vacuum of knowledge as far as history goes. Perhaps it’s somewhat futile to try and dig into a game that was more or less an afterthought to its developers, but such things only make me want to pursue it more. Alas, this video leans far less into the historical aspects and more into the challenge run style. I could have trimmed a lot more from this, truth be told, but the madness this game inspired right out of the gate truly needed to be preserved for future generations. Or something. The original recording was twice as long, so I showed a little bit of restraint here.

The one interesting thing we latched onto was the game’s composer, Alberto Gonzales, who really did go hard as hell on the soundtrack. Alberto will be featured in at least one more 50 Shades entry in the future, so look forward to more of his sick jams!


Snake count: 2

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Balloon Kid

Game number five! We’re a tenth of the way there. I decided every fifth game in the list would always be guaranteed to be a mainline Nintendo game (with maybe one or two exceptions), so we’d always have a bit of a rock to come upon after long bouts of licensed game hell. Balloon Kid caught my eye immediately as I was initially compiling the list. A sequel to Balloon Fight but as a charming character platformer! Who knew! Not a lot of people, probably. I’m happy to be able to show it off. It did occupy a somewhat torturous position regarding information, though. As a Nintendo game it had a bit of trivia tied to it on legacy alone, but if there are extended bits of information I certainly couldn’t find them! Not even, like, a magazine ad. Let alone a strategy guide. As such we were left with only little bits of info, including only half of the enemies and one boss being listed in the manual!

Balloon Kid’s legacy is not very far reaching either, tragically. It does seem to strangely survive through a WarioWare character, though, and I’d be super supportive of a reboot based around her.

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what a delightful game! I never knew this one existed. really hard near the end, but still nowhere near Gargamel levels of nonsense.

this series is especially cool to me since I didn’t get to play much of any Nintendo stuff until Pokemon came out, so you’re going to show off a lot of games that I never got to play.

how far ahead are the streams now, compared to these recordings?

As of this writing we’re currently almost done with game 25 on the list! I, uh, kind of procrastinated on the editing side of things…

Editing is time-consuming, so I get it. Good that these are coming through though, looking forward to catching up!

Sneaky Snakes


We’re back with an obscure title from Rare, and probably the first proper chapter of bullshit that our lineup can throw at us. It’s Sneaky Snakes! There isn’t a whole lot to say on the game itself, and frankly it amazes me that there were even people out there who looked upon its prequel with fondness. It’s a tedious experience at best and the best thing I can even say about it is its musical taste. Somewhat importantly, this is also the introduction/discovery of our new mortal enemies, the defunct UK publication Advanced Computer Entertainment, hereto known as ACE. ACE’s nightmarish review system and smarmy 90s attitude really seal the deal of making them the perfect companion to this shitty shitty game. They deserve each other. Feel free to read it for yourself.

This also marks the beginning of the first themed block of 50 Shades of Grayscale. With the possible exception of the multiples of 5, each stack of games has a running theme throughout it. Sneaky Snakes marks the beginning of the reptile block, so please look forward and guess at what possible titles may arrive!


Snake count: 5

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Baby T-Rex

Congratulations, team! We made it to the final screen flicker episode! The reptile block continues with the shadow of Sneaky Snakes looming over us, as we tackle the somewhat strange title of Baby T-Rex. It’s a strange case of an actually wholesome motive behind a simple sprite swap, which gives it plenty of bonus points as is in my book. So much so that I am genuinely envious of this collection despite the game itself not being all that memorable.

I’d kill for a copy of the unreleased Edd the Duck, though. Here’s the full resolution version of the article previewing it, with enough smarm to make ACE blush!


Snake count: 6

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Tail 'Gator

Tail Gator! A new age of good video has arrived, and brought with it a new era of audio futzing. It’s not too bad but it’s certainly one of those hindsight things that drives me up the wall. This game is honestly lovely, if not a little long in the tooth (haw). It kind of drove us immediately insane once again, but that might have just been runoff from Sneaky Snakes still poisoning our brains. I wish there was more to say on it! Natsume is pretty prolific but the documentation on smaller games like this just does not exist in many cases, and that can be a little disheartening. Digging up these games can provide so many fun insights into design from back in the day and when you hit a dead end it’s just a bummer.


PublicOpinion put the challenge out to see just what people would artistically interpret this thing as, though. I encourage everyone to try it out! I know I will.


Snake count: 7

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Thank you for this beautiful moment. (Sound effects bit, late in the second half)

gotta pay tribute to the very tangible human skull

Myself and a couple of pals are answering the artistic challenge of interpreting our little ghost girl sprite!

My entry:

Beedrops:

A third secret friend also took a crack at it!

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Godzilla


It’s time to close out the reptile block with the biggest and baddest reptile I know! Godzilla, I feel, is one of the quintessential licensed Game Boy game experiences: a well known figure supplied in a surprising medium. While, contextually, it makes a fair amount of sense to have a Godzilla game look like this, I have to imagine the surprise many children felt as they booted this one up for the first time. I certainly was floored the first time I discovered it. Godzilla has a lot of elements many other games we’ve disliked so far feature, but in a package we can actually enjoy. I’m not entirely sure why, but something about the game just has a little more polish and care for the player built in? Hell, there’s even love in the code of the game! What I’m saying is Godzilla is about love.

Also this magazine ad owns.

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I didn’t expect this to be a puzzle platformer, but it gave us adorable Kaiju sprites so who could possibly complain?

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Kirby’s Dream Land

Here we are! The big one-oh! Kirby’s Dream Land is a wonderful title and it feels like I have so much to say about it and truly nothing at all simultaneously. This is one of those titles I played to death on my Game Boy Pocket, though it would be several years until I learned about Kirby’s now iconic copy ability. To me, he was perfect only as a hungry boy and only n64 titles like smash and Kirby 64 could tell me otherwise. Even after all the success of this franchise, though, I still can’t help but admire its simple roots. Kirby is most certainly a key part of my love for this monochrome system that goes on even to this day.

A lil bit of extra history that I couldn’t fit in the video: Kirby’s original ability was going to be kicking and headbutting enemies like a soccer ball. To go along with the philosophy of making the game accessible to anyone, Sakurai came up with Kirby’s ability to float endlessly and not be conquered by pits. The idea of Kirby sucking a bunch of air to do so, naturally lead to changing from headbutts to sucking in enemies as well.

Development for the game was on a Twin Famicom system that had no implementation of a physical keyboard. All code had to be entered manually using a track ball and an on screen keyboard. While cumbersome to work with, the kit allowed the game’s data processing load to be easily streamlined, leading to smooth animations.

Finally, while I didn’t complete it within the original video itself, as luck would have it I did happen to recently stream all of Kirby’s Dream Land on hard mode! Just me on commentary for this one and there’s a lot of me crying, but it’s all there!

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A sweet potato turned into a mint leaf? Maxim Tomato turned into a bag of magic food!? OK whatever, manual! I get the feeling the English writers either didn’t fully agree with the Japanese manual, or straight up couldn’t translate some of it and just guessed.

I’ve been curious for a while what the rest of Extra Mode is like, always bounced off it when playing it myself. Might as well give that a watch too!

Showcase #1

Hey everybody! Now that we hit the ten entry mark, it’s time for our first official interlude! My main philosophy for this series is to play 50 games with concrete starts and ends, but the Game Boy has so many other things to offer! A wide variety of genres and styles were featured on the hand held system, taking advantage of its portability to provide bite sized experiences suitable for playing on the go. Sure, they’re not very deep, but they are still important! Many of the games in this particular video hold a small place in my heart. Some were gifts, some were closely tied to friends, and others were just good-ass games. All of which shaped the nostalgia I hold to this day, even if some of the games are objectively…lacking.

This particular block features both arcade ports and puzzle games featured on the Game Boy, including the grand daddy of them all: Tetris. There’s a LOT to say about Tetris, and admittedly it could have occupied its own segment in itself, but the long and short of it was that the people getting Nintendo the rights to this game knew exactly what they had on their hands. Several legal disputes of dubious moral standing across multiple countries were enacted to make sure the game was bundled with the Game Boy. Instead of Super freakin Mario! Tetris was the biggest of deals.

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