When it comes to chatting about some of the best retro handhelds and RetroPie handhelds for retro gaming and the classic games that you can play on them, there is always a lot of talk about the best GameBoy games and the best PSP games, but never about the best WonderSwan Games. Why is that? Well, maybe it’s because Bandai’s portable player and it’s older siblings, the Wonderswan Colour and the SwanCrystal, never made it out of Japan. The WonderSwan enjoyed a short 4-year-reign between 1999-2003 and even managed to snap up 8% of the Japanese handheld market, but lost out to the might of Nintendo and the new GameBoy Advance.
Perhaps this is why the WonderSwan, with its 16-bit central processing unit and long battery life, still remains a desired console by retro gamers all over the world. Just like the SEGA Dreamcast, the WonderSwan feels a little bit like a missed opportunity, a console that might well have performed better in an alternate universe where people walk around with Swan caps on instead of Mario hats. We might even have been plugging in the latest Swan Switch or FeatherBox One if things had gone differently. While conjecture may flap around, the cold hard facts of this awesome console still remain, so let’s check out the best WonderSwan games to have co-existed with us on our planet. Unlike other Retro Dodo games lists, this one is in no particular order – they’re all special to us!
1. Mr Driller
I’m kicking off with a personal favourite and one of the WonderSwan big guns. The original Mr Driller had ports for WonderSwan, GB Colour, PS1 and Dreamcast, and introduced everyone’s favourite champion driller, Susumu Hori. There you go kids; if you like building and want to take things to the next level, then there’s no reason why you can’t go for gold and become a champion driller when you’re older!
Mr Driller sees the player drilling through a humongous amount of blocks, collecting air capsules and trying not to get squished along the way. The number of blocks corresponds to the size of the country (level) in which you choose to play in, and there are different playable characters that you can use throughout the game, all with special abilities that set them apart from one another. It’s a little like Tetris crossed with Dig Dug (Sosumu’s father is actually the guy from Dig Dug, so that kind of makes sense!) and a solid game to enjoy while having a cup of coffee. Leave candy crush in the app store where it belongs and give the first title on our best WonderSwan games list a try!
As puzzle games go, this next title on our list of the best WonderSwan games has to be one of the weirdest, and that goes for both the gameplay and the cover. It’s not very often I pick up a game case and say ‘what the hell!’, (ok, maybe I had that reaction over Nintendogs, but it turned out to be one of the titles that people said we should have put in our best Nintendo 3DS games!), but this one seriously stopped me in my tracks. A bum with wings, devils snare armpit hair, a load of snot, and a slobbery tongue. No, it’s not my auntie Mildred (well…it is), it’s ‘Engachio!’, a puzzle-based game where players must work their way through worlds without colliding with one of the weird monstrosities above.
You control a young boy names Sunzuki, an unsuspecting character who has to move through each stage without getting pooed, snotted, hair-tangled, or slobbered on. Every step that you take, the weird creatures take a step too, making movement pretty difficult unless you have the calculating mind of an army technician. One freaky baddy might mirror your movement, while another might move the opposite way to you every time you skulk across the board. It’s not a game that you can take lightly, but if you’re looking for a brain-tickler to help get those grey cells moving, then this disgustingly brilliant game should be right up your street.
3. One Piece Grand Battle Swan Colosseum
Every console needs a beat-em-up title and One Piece Grand Battle Swan Colosseum has deservedly taken its place amongst the best WonderSwan games of all time. Instead of following a traditional Tekken/Mortal Kombat style approach, this cartoon-inspired gamer took a leaf out of the Super Smash Bros. control rule book, giving players the ability to press a directional button and function button to pull off a series of stellar moves.
Join Monkey D. Luffey and the Straw Hat Pirates as you delve into the rich and colourful realm of the One Piece world. Bandai released this game for the Swan Crystal as one of the console’s ‘swan songs’ (sorry, I can’t help it), and it later went on to see sequels on the GameCube and 3DS. It’s a nice fighting game that will take a lot of willpower to put down. The characters will keep you coming back time and time again, as will the drive to become the ultimate fighter.
4. Kaze no Klonoa: Moonlight Museum
The moon has been split into fragments and stolen by a group of pesky artists that live inside the eerily named Moonlight Museum. After becoming trapped in a piece of artwork, our bunny-eared friend Klonoa and his pal Huepow must traverse through 5 different side-scrolling worlds in order to break free from the artist’s spell and put the moon back in its rightful place.
Klonoa can run, jump, and fight as he and Huepow move through the different ‘visions’ in search of doors to the next worlds. You can pick up enemies above your head to use as weapons or to reach higher places with a double jump, and solving puzzles along the way is essential if you are to ever give those painters a piece of your mind. Kaze no Klonoa is a little like the early Mario games in style and nature, maybe apart from the fact that Klonoa can hover with those massive ears. But if you’ve always enjoyed the red plumber’s outings, then this could well be one of the best WonderSwan games that you need to consider for your collection.
5. Judgement Silversword
Originally a game that was created for a ‘home-brew-development’ competition, Judgement Silversword went on to become one of the most loved and best WonderSwan games on the console. The WonderSwan’s vertical playstyle is perfect for a space-age shooting game, giving you plenty of screen-space to evade lasers and other enemies as you move through the levels.
Judgement Silversword was made solely by a lone developer named M-KAI on the Qute gaming editor. At its time, this game was somewhat of a technological marvel for the WonderSwan; in the same way that the PSP can do things that a console of its size and power just shouldn’t be able to, the SwanCrystal performs like a handheld way ahead of its time when you crank up Judgement Silversword. The graphics and fast-paced, frantic gameplay are more than a good enough reason to grab an old console and the game to boot. It might cost you more than you think, however. Qute made a limited run of around 500 copies after the first batch sold out in a couple of hours; you might have to remortgage your house to buy one, but we reckon it would totally be worth it.
6. Makaimura For WonderSwan
We’re over halfway in our list of the best WonderSwan games, so I thought it might be time to turn the difficulty notch up to eleven. You might know Makaimura as ‘Ghosts ‘n’ Goblins’ if you grew up in the West, but whatever you want to call it, these games are known for being rock-hard and insanely addictive. This is another game that is in high demand on the resale market, which instantly makes it 100% more mysterious and gives me an insatiable craving to buy a copy. You get me, right?
The thing I like the most about this side-scrolling adventure is the ability to turn the WonderSwan console 90 degrees to help when climbing down ropes in vertical shafts. Sure, it’s not essential, but it is mega cool! The music isn’t exactly great (just play on mute) and the gameplay can be a little slow at times (which gives you more time to figure out how the hell you’re going to beat the game), but after playing this title once, you won’t want to give it back. This is hands-down one of the best WonderSwan games for the console and a must-have title in your collection.
7. Flash Koibito-kun
If you’re down on your luck in love, then Flash Koibito-Kun could the game that you have been looking for. After having his heart thrown aside by the woman of his dreams, our character finds himself outside the Ninja School Of Love where he will train in the art of the heart in order to get himself some ninja lovin’. With your weird love-Pokedex thing in hand, you must set out into the world and woo the hearts of the women (or men depending on who you are impersonating) using a series of puzzle-based games.
It’s a little bit like Tetris, except you need to move hearts along a line to try and seduce the women on the other end of the screen. Ok, so it’s nothing like Tetris, but it is a surprisingly addictive game, albeit a little creepy. The Renai Master keeps you on your toes as you hone your skills, making levels more complicated and hotting up the pace as you progress through the game. I would suggest giving it a go just for the sheer strangeness of this title, but despite the weird premise of the game, it really is a good one to have in your WonderSwan arsenal.
8. Front Mission
Both Namco and Squaresoft were third party developers for Bandai’s WonderSwan, and the latter is the brains behind the next title on our list of the best WonderSwan games of all time. You might remember Front Mission from the SNES days (it might have even been one of the best SNES games in your collection), a colourful and well-designed RPG game reminiscent of Final Fantasy with Matrix-style battle-bots. These robot fighters are called ‘wanzers’, which is a word that you have to re-read multiple times when you’re writing an article that is read by both adults and children.
Front Mission uses the English language for settings and selectable options, but the entire game dialogue is in Japanese. Only 5 Front Mission games were ever ported out of Japan, so that’s no real surprise, but I quite like the fact that I’m playing an inherently Japanese game on the ultimate Japanese console. Despite the lost-in-translation language barrier, you don’t need to understand every word to be able to take part in the turn-based role-play, and the wanzers speak a language that everyone understands! Kill or be killed in this fast-paced action game!
9. Buffers Evolution
From one strange yet strangely-addictive robot game to another, Buffers Evolution is the next title in our list of the best WonderSwan games of all time. This game has a lot of similarities to one of the best SEGA Game Gear games of all time, namely the one with the little blue hedgehog who runs like he’s strapped to a rocket. Players must get through levels in the quickest amount of time in this zany game, making it less like an adventure title and more like a weird Formula 1 spin-off.
The robots look super cool, even though the graphics are black and white (that just makes the game even more of a classic!) Each robo-animal has different abilities that you can use to help get to the end of the course in the shortest amount of time. They might not be able to spin like Sonic, but I wouldn’t wanna mess with that lion’s fists or that rhino’s horn in a hurry!
10. Golden Axe
Last but not least is the Gauntlet Dark Legacy style, mindless-button-mashing classic that is Golden Axe. Every console needs a game where you can kick back and switch off while battling an evil snake on a world that travels around on the back of a giant turtle. No, it’s not Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, though the games characters and the evil villains provide just as much excitement.
Control a dwarf, a barbarian, or an Amazonian warrior as you progress through each of the levels, destroying the Death Adders henchmen and rescuing the inhabitants of turtle village as you move ever closer towards the Death Adders castle. Can you block his Golden Axe and end his reign of terror? This is a great little game and one that doesn’t take much thinking about. It’s the perfect pick-up-and-play title and a very worthy name to end our list of the best WonderSwan games on the planet!
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