For those of us who grew up plugging clunky, gray cartridges into a giant, bulky brick, the #GameBoy was a wonderful (and at the time—advanced!) way for us to lose ourselves in stories of wonder, or scratch our heads at ridiculous puzzles.
Sure, its pixelated, 4-color graphical style left much to the imagination, and sure, its music sounded more like our computer trying to connect to America Online than magnificent symphonies, but it still played video games! Video games you could take with you!
I used to spend hours upon hours in the backseat of our minivan plugging away at those fat, pink buttons. Tetris, Home Alone, Hyper Lode Runner, Bugs Bunny Crazy Castle... those were some of my favorite games! In fact, the nostalgia resides so deep within me (and within many others, it seems), that despite the advanced HD graphics and three-dimensional polygons available in today's games, those old Game Boy graphics will never grow old.
Thus, the GBJam was born! A way for independent game developers to prove their prowess and creativity by creating games according to Game Boy specifications (limited to four-colors, 160px x 144px resolution). This year's jam alone received four hundred entries... that's a lot of Game Boy games!
But one strange thing I've noticed is just how... unsettling those retro graphics can feel at times. In fact, if anything, they can turn a normal puzzle game into a successful horror game! I've gone through this year's batch and picked out some of the creepiest (and even the most disturbing) games of the bunch to see how they fare in 4-color horror.
5 Indie Games That Use the Game Boy's Color Palette With Superb, Unsettling Effectiveness
EXIT is a first-person puzzle game developed by nukeSpoon that has you navigating through rooms and up staircases armed with nothing but your trusty flashlight as you attempt to solve puzzles, find keys, and open exit door upon exit door in your attempt to escape.
The game's premise itself is not particularly scary—it's just a puzzle game, after all—but the unsettling music, the sound of your own breathing, and the never-ending darkness just beyond the reach of your flashlight have you constantly wondering if someone else is there... watching you... waiting to jump out after you open the next door. The Game Boy graphics only add to the surreal, skin-crawling ambience—when it's dark, it's really dark!
2. Ultimate Evil
I had a few issues with the controls when I started up Ultimate Evil by VirtuaWave. I accidentally did something weird with my inventory, then somehow lost my gun and ended up just wandering around weaponless... though somehow, this made it all the more harrowing (and quickly led to my death).
With gameplay and ambience similar to that of Resident Evil: Survivor, this game certainly tries to be scary, and its lonely hallways and stark rooms (amplified by the Game Boy graphics) only heighten the effect. The music, too, by well-known free music composer Kevin Macleod, is a nice touch. Definitely give this one a try, though it may take you a few times to get used to the controls.
3. How Many Babies Does it Take to Paint a Wall?
This one is decidedly more disturbing than scary... How Many Babies Does It Take to Paint a Wall? by the appropriately named mygameisabadjoke answers the exact question its title poses. The entire point of the game is to toss beige-colored baby blobs at a brick wall and fully coat its surface with their blood. Twisted enough for you?
The big splotch of red against all that gray-green is pretty striking, to say the least. I wasn't able to paint the entire wall in my play-through as I was having aiming issues and finally got frustrated, but perhaps you'll have more luck...
4. Slash Mr. M
Another of the more... disturbing entries, this game enigmatically titled Slash Mr. M by Lemth gives you the opportunity to do just what you've always wanted to do! Brutally butcher... Mario?! Yes, the "Mr. M" in the title is, in fact, referring to the greatest 'M' in the gaming world, Mario himself! And in this bizarre game of reflexes, you have to time your cursor just so in order to give everyone's favorite plumber a disemboweling horizontal or vertical slash.
Besides the fact that the entire premise of the game—slashing someone open as many times as you can—is disturbing enough, having to do so to such an iconic character turns it up a notch on the scale of unsettling things I never thought I'd do. Not to mention the stark contrast of the bright red blood on that white background...
Creator obriencole states this isn't actually a game, and it's true—all you can do in Forest is walk around and look at the scenery—but there's something so lonely, so eerie, and so haunting about the visuals that I couldn't resist adding it to the list. The pixelated shading is really quite brilliant. It proves just how much Game Boy-style graphics can accomplish with only four colors. Just look at those trees! They're barely more than a few gray pixels on top of a black background, but they somehow come together to paint a beautifully rendered image.
I have no idea what the strange red lights are supposed to be, which only adds to the unsettling mystery of the whole scene. Now if only we could have an entire game using graphics like these!
But that's not all!
If you enjoyed this little preview, you'll wanna head over to the GBJam page and check out all the other available games! Especially considering their developers whipped them out in a ten-day-period, it's really quite impressive, and seeing all the different ways Game Boy limitations can be stretched and manipulated is utterly delightful.
For more Game Boy nostalgia here on Now Loading:
- You Can Turn Your Smartphone Into A Gameboy Now!
- The Most Valuable Game Boy Cartridges for Die Hard Collectors.
- 10 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About The Nintendo Game Boy