Not surprisingly, the Game Boy had a strong early showing on 3DS Virtual Console. Unlike other emulated systems, Game Boy is only on 3DS — not on Wii or Wii U. So if you want to play those games, here's your destination... though as you'll discover, many Game Boy releases for VC have ended up being rendered obsolete by the presence of their superior NES counterparts.
A lot of game devs through the years tried to convert NES games to Game Boy, usually with poor results. This one, however, turned out wonderfully... and since it's based on one of the best NES games ever, that makes it a must-have.
Not that Game Boy was particularly hurting for puzzle games, but Catrap was a rare treat despite the system's puzzle saturation; it featured a rewind feature that made it a lot more playable than most puzzlers, without undermining the difficulty of the puzzles.
Nintendo built its empire on Donkey Kong, so why did it take five years for them to release that masterpiece on Game Boy? Because they were building new mechanics and 100+ new levels. An amazing adaptation — play it!
Capcom's Game Boy debut feels a bit pokey, and maybe a little short, and possibly unreasonably difficult at the start. Stick with it, though. This is a great little early action RPG that raised the bar for Game Boy releases and launched a brilliant trilogy.
Kirby's Dream Land 2
Kirby's first outing was great, but this sequel took cues from Kirby's Adventure on NES and absolutely raised the stakes for Game Boy platformers.
Kirby's Pinball Land
It's a HAL-developed Pinball game, this time with a Kirby theme. But really, I had you at "HAL-developed Pinball game."
Sure, Picross games are a dime a dozen on 3DS, but the concept is always fun. Why not have a look back at where it all began?
Mega Man IV
Capcom (and co-developers like Minakuchi Engineering) took a few entries to find footing for Mega Man on Game Boy, but with this one they finally got it right.
Mega Man V
The brilliant conclusion to the Mega Man Game Boy pentalogy took the brave little robot on a journey across the solar system to battle a host of robots he had never encountered before.
Pax Softnica/Nintendo, 1997
Somehow, this inventive little puzzle-action adventure, directed by Mario and Zelda creator Shigeru Miyamoto, has been practically forgotten by time. Let's put an end to that injustice, together.
Pokémon Blue and Red Versions
Game Freak/Nintendo, 1998
These releases come at something of a premium price, but no doubt a generation of kids who cut their teeth on these monster-collecting RPGs would pay even more to revisit the original 151 on 3DS.
Minakuchi Engineering/Nintendo, 1990
A tricky and addictive arcade classics that's not quite a puzzler, not quite an action game, but definitely has Mario in a sombrero.
Revenge of the ’Gator
HAL's first portable pinball game was one of the first great releases for Game Boy. A simple, single-table take on the arcade standard, ’Gator has strong design and excellent ball physics working in its favor and remains fun even now.
Super Mario Land 2: Golden Coins
Honestly, this game feels less like a sequel to Super Mario Land and more like a prototype for the Wario Land series... and that's awesome.
Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3
Of all the Super Mario Bros. clones to hit 8-bit consoles, Adventure Island was one of the most shameless... but also one of the most playable. This portable rendition turned out pretty well.
A Mega Man-like platform shooter that somehow has become insanely rare and expensive. Buy it here for three bucks and be smarter than the eBay suckers.
Pax Softnica/Nintendo, 1991
Based on NES classic Balloon Fight, this great action game plays like an expanded version of the Balloon Trip mode.
Data East, 1991
It's a venerable arcade classic, but Data East always went the extra mile when turning those old releases into Game Boy versions. That love and care shows through here.
Yeah, you know this one. It wants to be Tetris, but it's not as good... but Tetris has been delisted from Virtual Console, so this is better than nothing.
A challenging, top-down shooter in the Commando/Ikari Warriors vein, but better — its dual protagonists and non-linear missions make for a deeper, more satisfying action game.
Game & Watch Gallery
A fancied-up conversion of several of the standalone LCD handhelds that paved the way for Game Boy, featuring both faithful recreations and deluxe remakes.
Kid Icarus: Of Myths and Monsters
The forgotten sequel to Kid Icarus, Of Myths and Monsters doesn't takes as many liberties with its source material as Metroid II did.
Kirby's Dream Land
The origin of Kirby. As a prototype of sorts, it lacks a lot of the features present in the later games (like ability copy, the biggest feature of all), but despite that limitation it's still a solid and entertaining platformer in its own right.
Kirby's Block Ball
Basically, this is Breakout or Arkanoid. And it makes for a vasty better take on the format than Nintendo's Alleyway, that's for sure.
Kirby's Star Stacker
A match-three puzzler that feels kind of like the lost midpoint between Columns and Yoshi. Not as good as Columns, better than Yoshi. And that's about it.
Lock ’N Chase
Data East, 1990
Another Data East arcade conversion, this time of an ancient Pac-Man clone. This adaptation takes huge liberties with the original, and all for the better — it's a great new take on an oldie.
A ninja-themed platformer, this fast-paced side-scroller was the only entry in Jaleco's long-running Ninja Jajamaru-kun series to reach the U.S. It's decent, but not life-changing.
Mega Man III
While better than its two Game Boy predecessors, Mega Man III still feels like a half-hearted recycling of content that was better on NES. OK, but not essential.
Metroid II: Return of Samus
Like the original Metroid, Samus' second outing hasn't aged terribly well — but despite some clunky design, it's full of interesting ideas and plays a key part in Metroid series canon, so it's definitely one for fans to check out.
Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon
While this action-adventure isn't a patch on its Super NES predecessor, it still manages to be pretty fun... and it sure beats other top-down ninja-action Game Boy games (ahem, Ninja Boy).
Data East, 1990
I don't know how much appeal video game snooker actually has, but this game is worth it just so you can make jokes about playing pocket pool.
Super Mario Land
Zut alors! A Mario game not in the "essentials" category? Yeah, well, this is a fun and playable game, but compared to subsequent portable Mario platformers it comes off a bit on the simplistic and primitive side.
The Sword of Hope II
Part RPG, part graphical adventure, and insanely rare in its original cartridge format, this quirky classic is worth playing for more than mere novelty.
Data East, 1993
Save Your Cash
One of the first-ever games for Game Boy, and man does it show. An incredibly primitive take on Breakout; skip it and play Kirby Tilt ’N Tumble instead.
Likewise Baseball, which is a fairly awful rendition of the NES game by the same name. It was passable in 1989; not so much in 2016.
Castlevania: The Adventure
The fact that only this crummy first portable Castlevania is available on Virtual Console while its brilliant sequel remains missing in action... that's downright criminal.
Donkey Kong Land
A Game Boy adaptation of Donkey Kong Country for Super NES, it's a pretty neat trick! But, uh, you can buy the actual DKC on Virtual Console for 3DS now, so why slum it?
Donkey Kong Land 2
Donkey Kong Land III
This is more or less the same game as the NES version also on Virtual Console, so there's really no reason not to buy that one unless you're trying to save a couple of bucks.
A solid adaptation of the sport, like all of Nintendo's Golf releases, but when you can buy NES Open Tournament Golf on the same system for just a few dollars more, why settle for second best?
Mega Man in Dr. Wily's Revenge
Mega Man! Who doesn't love Mega Man? Apparently Capcom, who decided they didn't want to compromise the series' iconic visuals in converting it from NES to Game Boy... so they compromise its gameplay instead.
Mega Man II
Like its predecessor, this consists of scaled-down, warmed-over content from NES. This also has the distinction of being long-time Mega Man producer Keiji Inafune's least favorite entry in the series. So maybe avoid?
As with a lot of Game Boy releases for 3DS, a superior NES or Super NES version of the same game is available on Virtual Console as well. And while I love me some Game Boy, it's kind of hard to recommend a cramped, monochrome version of a game over a larger, more colorful edition.
Quarth contains an interesting idea for a game — Tetris meets shoot-em-up — but what Konami came up with feels awfully lackluster.
Nintendo's sub warfare game was neat back in the day, but this was the basis for Steel Diver... which you can download and play for free on 3DS.