Graphics Modes in Game Boy Black Cartridges Compared!

Hey everyone, Try from My Life in Gaming here. As you probably know, black Game Boy cartridges (plus a few special-colored carts) are compatible with original Game Boy, but also can take full advantage of the Game Boy Color hardware. These games also generally have some Super Game Boy features. However, just because Game Boy Color is considered the “best” of these systems, I feel like most people (myself included) tend to default to playing these on a system or emulator with Game Boy Color support and never looking at what they are like in their monochromatic or Super Game Boy modes. When I was recording the Game & Watch Gallery games a few months ago for a different video, I was reminded that I’d seen instances in the past where the artwork is completely different between Game Boy and Game Boy Color, and I wondered how often larger than expected differences existed between these modes, featuring graphics that many people never even thought to look at just because they were on the “weaker” system. So I wanted to do a full video on this subject! I barely scratched the surface, but hopefully the examples I’ve got in the video are enough to pique your curiosity to not just play the GBC mode all the time without checking out regular Game Boy or Super Game Boy first!

I think the way that artists drew a lot of backgrounds on original Game Boy is fascinating, taking advantage of the low contrast monochromatic screen to give the world a sense of depth and atmosphere, and these elements don’t necessarily work too well when given a straightforward colorization. Sprites and tiles can only use so many colors on GBC, so oftentimes awkwardly boxed off regions draw attention to these limitations, whereas the monochrome or Super Game Boy presentation is more cohesive – less is more on Game Boy sometimes. Check out this next image from Pocket Bomberman: I think it’s pretty indisputable that the Super Game Boy has the Game Boy Color beat here.

The biggest surprise during my capture for this episode was to discover that Conker’s Pocket Tales is essentially a completely different game between Game Boy and Game Boy Color! How many people have owned this game over the years, only to play it on one of these systems? And the funny thing is, the level design, mechanics, and screen scrolling behavior are so different that the original Game Boy version feels overall more polished to me, but GBC has its perks too. While it’s not a great game, I’m shocked that I’d never seen any discussion about this before, considering it comes from a very famous developer and is notable for maintaining Conker’s family-friendly image before his tone was changed for Conker’s Bad Fur Day.

An early comment on the video from Andersen Peters pointed out that this is similar to a situation in the PC gaming space – such as re-releases defaulting to or only offering VGA modes when the EGA or other lower-depth modes were more commonly used by players, or perhaps even prioritized during development. VGA may be “better” on paper, but what if the art works better in another mode? Even if it’s not “better,” doesn’t it still deserve to be seen and remembered? I think the whole thing is very interesting, so give the video a watch!