The fifth annual Game Boy Jam just wrapped up last weekend after receiving over four hundreds of entries. The rules were simple: all assets had to be created during the jam, the screen resolution had to match the original Game Boy, and each game could only include up to four colors. You can currently find all of them hosted on Itch.io.
Scrolling through the page is like getting hit in the head with a brick of nostalgia. FuncoLand and Babbages don’t exist anymore, but something about the GBJam’s muted colors and explosive pixels reminded me of when I used to walk into a video game store and instantly want everything while simultaneously having no idea what any of it was.
Take Ygor Speranza’s game, Soulstice. A co-op puzzle platformer where two people work together to reach the end, the game uses two side-by-side windows featuring dueling color palettes. The game is inspired by Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis’ short story, “The Academies of Siam.” In it you play as a magical couple searching for a unique ritual that will let them “become one and achieve Deity status.”
“They can only move to the next stage if they reach certain portals together, and, in order to get to them, they need to go there side by side, helping each other out along the way. That’s what lovers do,” explained Ygor. “This complementary and dual nature shows up visually, each player seeing the world in a different way: one sees it as day, the other as night; one has a blue and yellow palette, the other green and red.”
Sean Noonan’s Global Defense Corps is another entry that focuses on the Game Boy’s unique visual restrictions. A top-down shooter where you protect a city from an unknown alien threat, the game’s grey scale gives it the feel of a 1950s monster movie.
“I have the same fond Game Boy memories as many others,” said Noonan, “from sharing tips on how to get past the looping forest in Link’s Awakening (spoiler: use the powder), to trading my Hitmonchan with my friend’s Hitmonlee in order to fill out my Pokedex in Pokemon, and Tetris...so much Tetris.”
It was thanks to the 2013 GBJam that Noonan’s first game, Jack B. Nimble, was created. “Removing colour from the equation, particularly from mechanics can mean developers can come up with interesting solutions to provide feedback to the player,” said Noonan. “For example, even something as simple as “blue key, blue door” or “red means enemy” needs to be thought about. Just like most restrictive jams, they steer a greater focus on mechanics.”
One Strike (above) was created by dmbarbosa1 after watching Akira Kurosawa Seventh Samurai. One the other hand, Dante Douglas’ LAST/BEST is about nuclear war and takes place in a bunker. His game came to life less from the vibrant, minimalist pixel animations than its unique electronic sound.
“I love the sense of ambiance I was able to get with audio,” said Douglas. “It’s a bit of a break from the ‘gameboy’ aesthetic, admittedly (I did not use ‘chiptune’ or soundalike audio) but I think it worked. I took a lot of influence from DEFCON, especially the kind of ‘quiet horror’ of the soundscape in that game.”
Azuria_sky, who worked on two games, one with saint11 called My Name Is Legion and another with Risu Ika called A.M.O.C., also took a more direct approach with her music . “I have an odd emotional bond with the Game Boy, particularly with the uniqueness of the soundchip,” she told me. “It was very easy to tap into and source that bond with the intent of the GBJam. I love taking the vocal imprint of the gameboy and creating something new for it to sing, complete with new stories.”
Part of the beauty of the Game Boy was precisely how small a lot of the games were, intently exploring one particular idea or mechanic. Often times they were repetitive, even zen-like, in a way not to dissimilar from today’s mobile games.
There are a number of entries you should check out, including Super Spacetime Traverse, Trappy Climb, and T.R.I.S., among others. Voting on the entries closes at the end of today. RetroShark, the organizer behind the event, recently launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for future GBJams.