The Game Boy might be over 30 years old, but it remains one of the most beloved retro systems. Despite its age, there’s been a steady increase in indie releases, thanks in part to GB Studio — a drop-and-drag tool for making games and an influx of new retro-focused handhelds. But 2023 has been a particularly strong year for the console. An upcoming Game Boy Color title, Dragonyhm, looks set both to raise the bar for the current wave of titles and round off a stellar year for fans of Nintendo’s iconic handheld.

We can thank the pandemic for Dragonyhm. Chris Beach was working in real estate when the COVID lockdowns put a tight squeeze on his day job. He used the time to realize a long-held desire to create an RPG for the Game Boy. The result was Dragonborne, which Beach released himself under his newly-minted Spacebot Interactive publishing imprint. The company would go on to handle the first run of Deadeus and begin production of Dragonborne DX for the Game Boy Color. But thanks to some new features in the latest version of GB Studio, the project soon took on a life of its own.

“It started off as just a color version of the original Dragonborne. I thought it'd be a quick job, colorize it and re-release it. But with all the new features of GB studio, we went down a rabbit hole, and we've ended up overhauling pretty much everything in the game,” Beach told Engadget. The result is Dragonyhm, a larger RPG with new graphics, reimagined sound, improved mechanics and more levels to explore. “We've got plans for five [games] at the moment, and they'll be released over multiple consoles, not just not just the Game Boy.”

Two side by side screenshots showing the similarities between Dragonyhm and Dragonborne.
Spacebot Interactive

In the time-honored retro RPG tradition, Dragonyhm begins in our hero Kris’ home. His mother wakes him with worrying news that his father Kurtis, the kingdom’s best dragon-slayer, is missing. Worse, there are rumors that monsters in the dungeons have begun to stir. How long before they awaken and wreak havoc on our hero’s once peaceful lands? No prizes for guessing whose quest it is to find and save Kurtis and in turn, the entire kingdom.

The first moments of the game do overlap heavily with Dragonborne, but it’s not long before the two start diverging. In the original version, there’s a simple puzzle very early on to acquire an object. In Dragonyhm, the same task is much more dynamic and with more interesting mechanics.

Playing the game on an Analogue Pocket, with its impressive Game Boy Color screen mode, Dragonyhm could easily pass for an official title from back in the day. The graphics capture the spirit of RPGs of the era and the dialog and challenges feel authentic. The game also feels satisfyingly big. Developing for vintage systems is hard and the projects are usually one person’s labor of love, which can result in shorter games or superficial gameplay.

Dragonyhm Game Boy Color game playing on an Analogue Pocket handhedl console.
Photo by James Trew / Engadget

With Spacebot Interactive, Beach wants to keep the bar high and release games that would have been worthy of saving up an allowance for, and that means longer playing times with more sophisticated stories and mechanics. “I think Link's Awakening was about 15 hours on a standard playthrough. And [Dragonyhm] will probably be on par with that, maybe a bit longer” Beach said. There will also be a secondary mechanic that will extend replay potential once the main story has been completed.

If my early playthroughs are anything to go by, the game offers the right amount of guidance and nudging at the beginning, but it’s also not long before you find yourself battling it out in your first real mission. As with most RPGs worth their salt, you’ll need to start grinding as soon as you can to level up in order to be strong enough to take on bigger and badder enemies and unlock new areas of the game. Though, for these early stages at least, you’re doing so alone and not as a party.

The title screen and a game play image from the new Game Boy game Kudzu.
Mega Cat games

Dragonyhm isn’t the only sizable retro game in 2023. Earlier this year, Mega Cat studios raised almost $50,000 on Kickstarter to bring the adventure game Kudzu to life. Development is now complete, with boxed versions set to ship in January. Kudzu is another RPG-flavored game, with a similar quest to find your missing mentor, Zoen. This time though it’s set in a very different world, one where a raging “world eating” plant — the eponymous Kudzu — is the main enemy.

Kudzu takes the classic Game Boy RPG and spices it up with humor and cozy-catastrophe charm. Along your journey you’ll meet an interesting cast of characters including a cat that wants a pen pal and the in-game currency is mushrooms. Kudzu also uses a wide variety of challenges to move the story along. One minute you’ll need to use logic and memory to navigate mazes that change with levers, the next you might be collecting goats. And then there’s the mysterious Kudzu “jelly” — use it wisely and you might just fine Zoen before it’s too late.

If you prefer platformers and adventure games, then Far After — announced over summer — might be more your speed. This game blends a lot of classic retro themes — magic, quests, turn-based battles and platforming — making it an obvious crowd pleaser. Far After is published by Bitmapsoft which is no stranger to the retro world with numerous Game Boy titles on its roster.

The current wave of new interest in making Game Boy games is running in parallel with another, related trend: an abundance of retro gaming handhelds. These emulation devices start from around $50 and offer modern conveniences like a full-color, backlit display. Not to mention plenty of game storage, Wi-Fi and relatively long battery life. Then of course, there’s the Analogue Pocket, a higher-end handheld that’s basically the answer to the question “what would a Game Boy look like if it were designed and released today.”

Two game play screenshots from Game Boy title Far After

These retro-friendly handhelds make it incredibly easy to get started with emulating almost any console from more than 15 years ago. You might even argue that, while many developers are simply making games for their favorite system, once you have something like the Pocket or Ayn Odin, the platform the game was actually made for is less important. These could easily be mobile games or modern retro titles like Celeste, just someone chose to make them with a certain tool that delivers a certain aesthetic and desirable limitations.

Of course, there’s also Nintendo’s eShop and Virtual Console which provides a legitimate route for games like Dragonyhm to be played on official hardware for those that get a kick out of that. Beach confirmed they are aiming to release the game on Switch this way next year. With more and more ways to play these games, it’s a great time to be a Game Boy fan.

“I think it's a really good time, I would go as far as calling it a golden age, because there's so many developers developing homebrew Game Boy games now, and some of the quality is unbelievable. It’s really pushing the boundaries and producing stuff that's on par with licensed games” Beach said.

Dragonyhm is slated for release next year in partnership with Incube8 Games.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

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