How to Play a Game Boy Game on a Game Boy

With today’s modern gaming conventions, the original Game Boy can be a mysterious and confusing device for today’s player. That’s why we’ve created this guide to make sure you’re able to get the most out of your Game Boy.

Step 1: Get a Game Boy

Here you can see my modded Game Boy. It’s awesome. Feast on it’s glory.

A Cherry Red Game Boy Color with a large IPS display.
This beaut has a large IPS display installed by Veund 🙂

While this is technically a Game Boy Color (Cherry Model), older DMG and Pocket-style Game Boy’s are suitable. Different colored shells are also acceptable. On the back of the Game Boy, towards the top, you will see an empty void. This cut-out, known as the “cartridge slot”, is where you place your game.

Looking down the top of a Game Boy with no cartridge installed to see the empty cartridge slot.
The “cartridge slot”

Step 2: Get a Physical Game

While you are able to download games on modern consoles, the Game Boy was created before the Internet was available in most homes, leading Nintendo to decide to release games on physical cartridges (colloquially known as “carts”). You’ll need to get one of these. While there are plenty of secondhand markets, we suggest looking at recent homebrew games to support independent Game Boy developers.

Note: The Game Boy is only designed to work with Game Boy Games. You will not be able to use other games with your Game Boy. As you can see below, this PokéROM won’t work.

A mini CD labeled "Mew 151 PokéROM PC/Mac Compatible". It is placed slightly into the slot of a clear purple Game Boy Color. A label on the back of the Game Boy shows an image of a Charizard Pokémon and is labled "Game Boy Color Light".
Using a Mew Game Boy still wouldn’t suffice.
Photo courtesy of Veund

Here we have a signed copy of Deadeus (thanks ~IZMA~!) still sealed in its box. Unfortunately this game won’t work since the box won’t fit in the cartridge slot and opening the box would devalue it significantly.

A boxed copy of a Game Boy game attempted to be placed into the empty cartridge slot, which it won't fit in as the box is bigger than the Game Boy. The art on the box displays what looks like an intestine with the game's title, "Deadeus", overlayed. The publisher's name, "Spacebot", is written on the side of the box.
Sadly, you need to open the box to make this work 🙁

Note other included items with special editions also won’t work. As you can see here, the audio cassette OST included in the deluxe edition of Deadeus also doesn’t fit the cartridge slot.

A sealed audio cassette for the soundtrack to the Game Boy Deadeus attempting to be placed in the empty cartridge slot of a Game Boy.
This cassette doesn’t work in my 8-track player either

Luckily I kept my library of older Game Boy games from when I was younger, so I have an original release copy of Shadowgate Classic. I’m happy they published this one after the public backlash over the reformulated New Shadowgate.

An open cartridge cover for a Game Boy game next to a Game Boy. Inside is a black cart with the label for Shadowgate Classic.
A classic indeed.

Step 3: Put the Game into the Cart Slot

The cart fits nicely in the cartridge slot, provided it is oriented correctly. The label should face out towards you as you look at the back of the Game Boy. The “teeth” at the bottom of the cart (these are officially known as “pins”) are designed to make contact with connectors in the Game Boy’s slot facilitating the transfer of data between the console and the chips contained within the cart. Luckily, the shape of both the cart and the slot are designed to prevent you from inserting the cart in the wrong orientation.

A Game Boy cart placed incorrectly into the Game Boy. The label is facing the wrong way and the cart is angled showing that it will not accept the cart in this orientation.
The wrong orientation. Notice how the label is not visible?
A Game Boy game correctly inserted into a Game Boy.
The correct orientation. The label is visible, and the slot fully accepts the cart so that the top of the cart is flush with the Game Boy.

Step 4: Insert Batteries

Unlike modern handhelds that have fancy embedded rechargeable lithium-ion batteries, this old boy needs removable ones. If you turn on your Game Boy and nothing happens, the first thing to check is if you need fresh batteries (either newly purchased or fully charged if using rechargeables), or if you have any batteries installed at all. Different models of Game Boy will require different types and number of batteries. You can access the battery port by unclasping and opening the cover on the back. If your Game Boy is not modified or re-shelled, chances are it has no battery cover at all, and you can easily see whether batteries are installed. This Game Boy Color requires two AA batteries.

A Game Boy with the battery cover removed. There are no batteries installed.
Can you see the problem?
A Game Boy with 2 AA batteries installed. A hand giving the "thumbs up" gesture is in front.
Problem solved!

Step 5: Turn the Game Boy “On”

Modern consoles have “standby” features and buttons to wake the device, but the Game Boy will need you to physically move a switch into the “On” position. Think of it like a light switch supplying power to a light bulb. Depending on your model of Game Boy, you might find this switch on the top of the Game Boy. On my Game Boy Color, it’s located on the side.

The side of a Game Boy Color. A grey switch is located in the middle. It is currently in the "Off" position.
Push this sliding switch “up” to the “ON” position.

Step 6: Enjoy Your Game

You now have everything in place to enjoy your Game Boy game. Play through and experience the glory that is this handheld 8-bit wonder.

A Game Boy turned on. The title screen for Shadowgate Classic is display. A language selection option is available.

While there’s nothing like playing a Game Boy game on hardware, you’re not out of luck if you don’t own one. Thanks to dedicated individuals in the homebrew and modding scene, you can play Game Boy games on a myriad of devices including the PS3, WiiU and Original XBox. Fortunately, we have the wonderful work of Veund that details how to get this done, check out the many articles he’s contributed to our site here:

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