With its limited game library and non-existent presence outside of Japan, the WonderSwan is a handheld console that very few gamers remember. Most don’t even know it existed, despite the fact that it was a worthy rival to the Nintendo Game Boy back in 1999. It outsold the Neo Geo Pocket Color and could provide better graphics compared to the original Game Boy.
Most impressive though was the WonderSwan’s battery life of 30 hours. With its monochrome screen and efficient 16-bit CPU, this console was designed to be affordable. Even the variant with a colored screen (WonderSwan Color) ran for up to 20 hours on just one AA battery.
So, why did the WonderSwan fail despite being technically impressive? It simply didn’t have the mindshare of Nintendo or Sega. And being limited to only a Japanese market hurt this console in the long run.
Bandai didn’t have the funds to carry on with their hardware division and decided to stop competing against Nintendo. Sony was also proving to be a massive rival back in 1999 when this console first launched. They could never expand into the US market because of Nintendo’s stronghold in that region.
Around the time Bandai launched their WonderSwan Color, Nintendo one-upped them by announcing the Game Boy Advance. Not only did it have a color display, but the GBA also featured next-generation hardware. Thus, the nails in the WonderSwan Color’s coffin had been set before it was even released.
All things considered, the WonderSwan was an impressive design. And had things been slightly different it could have given Nintendo a run for their money. Today, I shall take a look at the top 30 all-time WonderSwan games that you must play.
One Piece Grand Battle Swan Colosseum
One Piece is an extremely popular anime/ manga series, and this is a game based on that universe. This is a fighting game with adventure elements. You can walk around various levels based on canonical locations within the One Piece world.
And often you’ll find treasure chests or barrels containing helpful items. Playable characters include Luffy, Zoro, Nami, Usopp, Sanji, etc. Each character has standard attacks combined with special moves that use energy from a gauge.
If you’re familiar with Namco’s Dig Dug series, you’ll immediately recognize the similarities in gameplay between that and Mr. Driller. Originally, this game was intended to be a part of the mainline Dig Dug series. But eventually, it fractured off into its own franchise.
Much like Dig Dug, your player character is equipped with a drilling machine and burrows his way through the ground. You grab air capsules to protect yourself from suffocating. And there are loose blocks that can fall on you, so dodge those if you don’t want to get crushed.
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Final Fantasy IV
This was a series of firsts for Final Fantasy. The active time battle system introduced by IV was implemented in future Final Fantasy titles. Final Fantasy IV tells the story of Cecil, who’s a dark knight trying to stop an evil sorcerer from taking destroying his planet.
Another unique feature of IV that wasn’t present in prior FF games is the character-specific class system. Your party consists of members who rotate in and out, depending on story progression. And this is also the first FF game to support 5 characters in one party at the same time.
This game’s title is a play on “Gunpei Yokoi”, a man considered by many to be the father of handheld gaming. GunPey is a simple puzzle game played within a 5 x 10 cell grid. Its objective is to connect segments made up of varying shapes, transforming them into a singular line that disappears.
You have a cursor that can flip lines within an individual block. There are various game modes. And one of those is Endless in which new segments keep popping out from the bottom of your screen at increasingly fast speeds.
Suzuki is a scared little kid, being haunted around his own house by a group of 5 weirdos who are known as the Oops Five. They consist of some very colorful characters with rather horrifying appearances. One is a Mickey Mouse caricature that constantly vomits.
Another is a giant nose that uses its own snot as arms. If Suzuki doesn’t beat these monsters in a puzzle game, his own dad will toss the boy into a river by locking him up in a basket. In each level, you have an exit and the goal is to get there while evading the Oops Five.
If you love retro games and are interested in GBA Games as well then you must check out my other list Top 50 All-Time GBA (Gameboy Advance) Games That You Must Play
Kaze no Klonoa: Moonlight Museum
A simple but fun 2D platforming adventure game in which you control Klonoa as he runs and jumps across various game levels filled with both treasure and danger. The game will also give you simple puzzles along your journey to vary things up. Klonoa isn’t as popular as Mario or Sonic, but it did innovate a lot in terms of gameplay.
For starters, you don’t just jump on enemies to defeat them. Instead, there is a special ring on your finger with magical properties that fires a wind bullet at enemies. They get pulled in, allowing you to pick them up and toss them away (you can even use them as a springboard for double-jumping).
In a dystopian future world, there exists a crime syndicate looking to control all remaining industry and manpower. To accomplish these goals, they create bestial androids modeled after birds and animals. Robots with the wings of an eagle and the claws of a lion, fused with armored skin inspired by rhinos.
You control some of these creatures in various tournaments, as spectators cheer you on while pouring cash into the pockets of your overlords. The playgrounds consist of giant junkyards, deserts, demolished factories, etc. If you make it to the end, you survive and whatever parts you collect along the way will be used to repair your robot.
A series that has been around since 1995, Front Mission games have spanned several genres and platforms. The most recent installment set within Front Mission’s universe is Left Alive, a 2019 Square Enix stealth-survival shooter. Front Mission is heavily story-driven with plot points involving international military alliances and mech combat.
The first Front Mission (available for WonderSwan Color) is a tactical RPG in which you plan out battlefield engagements by placing Wanzers around a map. A Wanzer is basically a walking panzer or mech in this game’s world. As you progress through the story, new locations and missions are gradually revealed across the map.
If you love retro games and intrested in Game Boy as well than you must check out my other list Top 50 All-time Game Boy Games That You Must Play
A lot of these obscure Japanese-exclusive games are very hard to pick up and play, often because they rely on lots of Japanese text. However, Koibito-Kun is fairly easy to understand just from in-game cutscenes and level design. You’re a boy who’s been dumped by his girlfriend.
Devasted, you go to a cat temple and become some kind of ninja. Then you use your new powers to ferry a bunch of heart-shaped icons from your location to your girlfriend’s location. This is a rather simple puzzle game, with cool 2D sprites and a catchy soundtrack.
Most games you see on handheld consoles from this era are either JRPGs or action-platformers. But this is one of the few vertically scrolling shooter games on WonderSwan, and it has a pretty interesting development history. Qute (a dev company) was holding a public competition to see who can create the best games on their WonderWitch SDK.
WonderWitch is an SDK for the WonderSwan hardware that allows people to create homebrew software using C++. And Judgement Silversword was the winner of that competition, hence it got an official release for the WonderSwan.
Just from the cover art, you can tell this game is something special. It looks like Conan the Barbarian mixed with Dungeons & Dragons. The original Golden Axe was released in 1989 by Sega for arcade systems. It is a side-scrolling hack ‘n slash game created by the same guy who did Altered Beast.
In Golden Axe, you are playing the role of 3 different people. Each character can cast magic spells or swing a melee weapon. Depending on which warrior you choose, you’ll get access to different types of spells.
A 2D puzzle platformer created in the golden era of console gaming, Lode Runner established many of the basic principles that are still used by platformers today. And it’s also one of the earliest games to include a level editor feature. Which allows endless customization and replayability.
The game is pretty simple- you walk across platforms and climb ladders to collect treasures. All the while, you must outrun a bunch of enemies who are chasing you. You can even dig holes in walls to trap enemies.
Blue Wing Blitz
A primitive tactical RPG game in which you control aircraft as they engage in large-scale dogfights over many scenic locations. The gameplay is turn-based and adheres to grid movement. You can get into randomized encounters with enemy aircraft which will take you from the overhead navigation map into a combat screen.
The aircraft pilot can be guided through menu commands. You can go on the attack, change speed, fly higher or lower, take evasive maneuvers, etc. Each major part of an aircraft has individual HP numbers.
And the success of your mission depends on how little damage you can take while accomplishing each objective. Depending on which aircraft you’re using, fuel and ammo capacity can vary.
Puyo Puyo 2
Back in the 90s, Puyo Puyo was wildly popular within Japanese arcade centers due to its simplistic yet engaging design. Colorful sprites combined with an excellent soundtrack made kids (and adults) play this game for hours on end. It is essentially an evolution of Tetris, using falling Puyo instead of tiles.
And you play against an opponent, trying to fill up their 3rd column with Puyo. As a Puyo is falling, it can be rotated. Horizontal and vertical alignment of same-colored Puyo will clear out the individual pieces.
It’s essentially a miniaturized version of Street Fighter with tiny 2D characters and simplified moves. Characters have separate bars for life points and special moves. You can also pick up power orbs that give you additional combat/ defensive abilities.
Some elemental orbs also exist which can be thrown at your opponents for various effects (freezing, burning, etc.). Every character has multiple special attacks. And the strength of these attacks is shown via bars at the bottom of your screen.
Guilty Gear Petit 2
A sequel to the original Guilty Gear spin-off title featuring Chibi fighters from the titular fighting game franchise. This is a WonderSwan-exclusive fighting game that was only released for the Japanese market. Game mechanics are simplified in comparison to console and arcade versions of Guilty Gear, but characters retain much of their signature moves.
With a total of 12 songs, this is a modified version of the original Beatmania with an interface based on 3rdMIX. It is also one of the only handheld versions to retain original audio quality, unlike the Game Boy version of Beatmania. Beatmania lets you roleplay as a music producer/ DJ.
You have to hit the right notes based on various screen prompts. And the game even lets you scratch records to create your very own tunes.
Makaimura for WonderSwan
You may not realize it from the title, but this is a game set within the Ghosts ‘n Goblins universe. You know, the notoriously difficult action platformer game that puts you into the shoes of a clunky knight.
You’re armed with pathetically weak attacks and spells. While the game constantly bombards you with hordes of flying enemies who spit fireballs at you from the next time zone. Fortunately, Makaimura is a lot more approachable with its difficulty.
It even gives you divergent paths to approach certain levels. To increase immersion, you rotate your WonderSwan by 90° while climbing ropes.
Much like Puyo Puyo, this is a puzzle game featuring a falling-block design inspired by Tetris. In the case of Magical Drop, you’re dealing with colored bubbles falling down from the top of your screen. If these hit the bottom line, you lose.
Bubbles are destroyed by aligning 3 or more of the same color in a single column. By destroying a bunch of bubbles really fast, you have the chance to cause a chain reaction effect. Chain reactions eliminate entire lines of bubbles instantaneously.
Chocobo no Fushigi na Dungeon
Developed by Square, this game’s title is derived from the flightless beasts of burden known as Chocobos. These exist within the Final Fantasy universe and are often used for various side quests or transportation. However, Chocobo’s Dungeon is a spin-off property.
You control a Chocobo, making your way through mysterious dungeons. Avoiding traps and enemies, you must reach the exit while collecting useful items along the way. There are central village hubs where you can buy items and interact with NPCs before entering another dungeon.
Tane wo Maku Tori
A game about helping a raven on his quest to bloom new flowers. This raven once made a friend with another bird, who unfortunately flew away during migratory season. Now alone, the raven flew over a field of flowers shedding tears of sorrow.
These tears watered a flower and helped it grow. Now the raven has decided to befriend these flowers. You navigate a series of puzzles to grow flowers, each stage presenting you with new requirements.
A simple falling block game. You have a 10 x 10 grid with the bottom four rows occupied by blocks, each carrying a unique symbol. There are 3 different types of these blocks- gray circle, white circle, and dark gray circle.
By combining blocks of the same type you create chains. And by clicking on a chain you can destroy it, which will give you points. More points are awarded for longer chains, and you lose if new blocks can’t enter the grid.
Digimon: Anode/ Cathode Tamer: Veedramon Version
One of the few WonderSwan games to get an English release, the Veedramon Version was distributed in Hong Kong and South Korea. It tells the story of two Digimon who fuse to create an evil creature that opens a rift between our world and the Digimon Adventure world. Agumon manages to escape this disaster, taking Taichi’s Digivice with him.
He finds a new kid worthy of using the Digivice. You are that kid, and will now roam the planet in search of wild Digimon to tame. Eventually, you battle against the evil monster and save the planet.
Rhyme Rider Kerorican
A rhythm game about a female astronaut who wears a frog helmet while walking down the road and listening to music. It’s a road covered with all sorts of obstacles, including ditches and thugs. You move in synchronization to the beat, dodging around each obstacle to increase your score.
Ganso Jajamaru Kun
This game is a remake of the classic NES platformer called Ninja Jajamaru-Kun. It uses similar gameplay mechanics and character sprites, with a few additional levels and boss fights. In basic terms, the game is another Mario clone.
You have to rescue a princess who has been kidnapped, making your way through various 2D platforming levels filled with enemies and obstacles. However, there are differences in combat. Such as being able to break weak points in walls and canceling out enemy projectiles with your own shurikens.
SD Gundam Operation U.C.
The U.C. Gundam universe (universal century) is the main timeline within this storied mecha series. It is what you see in the very first Gundam anime (1979). And a lot of characters from that anime are also present in this game.
It’s an action game with elements of side-scrolling shooters. You battle various mobile suits in your RX-78 Gundam. Occasionally, you will fight bosses but most fodder enemies are piloting Zakus.
A simple pool game designed to be a time killer for when you’re bored. However, be warned- this game can be quite addicting. As you try to beat the high scores to advance in each level you will find that the ball physics are actually quite detailed.
Angle, striking force, and target selection play a huge role in deciding whether or not you sink a ball. The game has both 1P and 2P modes, making it one of the earliest competitive pool games for a handheld console.
A rare survival horror game for the WonderSwan, you don’t see a whole lot of those. Most games on handheld consoles like these are cartoonish, with little Chibi characters and light-hearted stories. Not this one.
You start out with a group of orphaned girls, adopted by a wealthy family who lives in a giant mansion. However, one by one several girls from your group turns up dead. You scurry around the mansion trying to escape a monstrous being called the Scissorman.
Released in 2004, Dicing Knight arrived nearly a year after Bandai discontinued the very console it was designed to run on. It is a 2D dungeon crawler with some interesting design choices. There are a total of 5 dungeons in this game, each with its own unique theme and enemy types.
You start at the bottom of each dungeon, looking for floor keys to advance into the next section. And there is a timer called the Food Gauge which upon emptying will force you to leave. Your character is a knight with a sword for offense and a shield for defense (magical potions and special attacks are also available).
I don’t have to explain this game, everybody knows it at this point. Tetris is the original falling-block-style puzzle game, that took the entire world by storm. It’s still played to this day, thanks to the engaging gameplay and numerous iterations on the same basic formula.
Tetris is everywhere- on your web browser, your phone, your PlayStation, your computer, etc. And the WonderSwan version is pretty cool too, with various game modes- Endless, 2 player, 3 minute, etc.
Many handheld consoles were released in the 80s and 90s, thanks to Nintendo’s Game Boy. It showed that people were interested in a truly pocketable gaming experience. You could finally play games on your way to work, or inside a flight.
These days, phones are something we take for granted. But back in 1989, nobody had experienced the versatility or convenience of handhelds. And several competitors rose to the occasion, following in Nintendo’s footsteps.
One of those was Atari, with their Lynx handheld. It had a very unique button layout, with two different sets of controls for both portrait and landscape orientation. When Bandai created their WonderSwan handheld, they used a very similar button layout.
The WonderSwan is Gunpei Yokoi’s final creation before he died in 1997 due to a tragic car accident. Gunpei Yokoi was a visionary, responsible for designing the original Game Boy at Nintendo. Apart from hardware, Gunpei also did game design work.
He helped Miyamoto create Donkey Kong and Mario Bros. Gunpei was even involved in the production of Metroid and Kid Icarus. Safe to say, handheld gaming as we know it today wouldn’t exist without this legendary man.
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