The numbers don't lie
When the Game Boy Color launched in 1998, it featured a brand-new ability that distinguished it from older models. The system had an infrared port at the very top, allowing it to send and receive signals. With infrared, the Game Boy Color could now wirelessly transmit data. The handheld is over 24 years old now, and still to this day one very simple question about it remains surprisingly hard to answer. How many games actually supported the infrared port? In asking ourselves this, we delve into one of the greater mysteries of the Game Boy, one that has baffled and bedeviled scholars for ages.
The answer will almost certainly depend on who you ask or what source you look up. An average internet user would likely stumble across the first google search result, pointing them to the Nintendo Wiki on Fandom.com, which lists 17 different entries. A more sophisticated researcher turning to YouTube videos on the subject, such as one from Stuff We Play, would conclude that there were around 28 compatible titles. The dedicated uber-sleuth, however, might have found more obscure lists, such as one from Moby Games with its compilation of 37 games.
If you had asked me 5 years ago, I would have probably said around 30. If you had asked me 2 years ago, I would have probably said around 50. If you had asked me 6 months ago, or even 3 months ago, I would have had different answers both times! Over the years, I've been trying to cultivate a thorough and exhaustive list of GBC games that had IR functionality. To date, Dan Docs contains the most comprehensive catalog of these games. After all this time, it's still likely missing some here and there. Nevertheless, I believe it's currently the most authoritative reference out there.
Returning to the question, just how many GBC games took advantage of the infrared port? The answer: quite a lot, really. This may come as a surprise to readers. Many gamers probably only remember using the GBC's infrared port in very, very limited situations. The most common usages were likely Pokemon Gold/Silver/Crystal's Mystery Gift, Card Pop/Trades in Pokemon Trading Card Game, exchanging scores in Super Mario Deluxe, and swapping portraits in Donkey Kong Country. For Game Boy and retro enthusiasts, the GBC's infrared port simply isn't memorable enough, especially in comparison to stuff like the Link Cable, the Game Boy Printer, or Rumble Cartridges. Based on past experiences, one could easily assume that not very many GBC games used infrared. Well, I'm here to inform everyone that their childhoods were mathematically wrong.
Exhibit A: All these games!
I can imagine a number of readers are skeptical of my claims. After all, for those of us around when the GBC was a contemporary console, it certainly didn't feel like there were a ton of infrared compatible games. We were lucky enough to own 1, 2, maybe even 3 or 4 games at most that used infrared. Even in my own larger-than-normal collection, I only possess 9 games that had infrared features. Anecdotally, it seems that there can't possibly be that many then. The list of GBC infrared games has to be rather small, right? If it were bigger, we would all be talking more about the infrared port today. It wouldn't be relatively forgotten. We wouldn't think that it was underutilized. Take a moment to ask yourself this: how many GBC games do you think used the infrared port? What would you say?
Now, if you went ahead answered this question, here's how I would respond. 30 or under is far too low, unfortunately. 40 is better, but still too small. 50 is somewhat decent, but not quite there. 60 is a good guess, not bad. 70 is a sign of serious research. 80 is super close, good job! Of course, all these numbers don't represent the true scale of infrared support on the GBC. In truth, the GBC had at least 90 unique games that were programmed to use infrared. That's a much, much larger number than almost anything you'll find online about the subject, and almost certainly no one remembers there being so many. Extraordinary words require extraordinary proof. So, without further ado, a list:
The Adventures of the Smurfs
Animal Breeder 3
Animal Breeder 4
Austin Powers: Oh Behave!
Austin Powers: Welcome to My Underground Lair!
Bakuten Shoot Beyblade
Beyblade: Fighting Tournament
Boku no Camp-jou
Bomberman B-Daman Bakugaiden V: Final Mega Tune
Bomberman Max: Blue Champion
Bomberman Max: Red Challenger
Carl Lewis Alhletics 2000
Data Navi Pro Yakyuu
Data Navi Pro Yakyuu 2
Doki Doki Densetsu: Mahoujin Guru Guru
Donkey Kong Country
Dr. Rin Ni Kiitemite!
Flipper & Lopaka
Game Boy Wars 3
Gran Duel: Shinki Dungeon no Hihou
Gyouten Ningen Batseelor: Dakutoru Gai no Yabo
Hamster Paradise 3 (Churi)
Hamster Paradise 4
Hamtaro: Ham-Hams Unite!
Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Hunter x Hunter: Hunter no Keifu
Hype: The Time Quest
Inspector Gadget: Operation Madkactus
Jisedai Begoma Battle Beyblade
Kakurenbo Battle Monster Tactics
Konchuu Hakase 2
Lego Island 2
Lode Runner: Dom Dom no Yabou
Looney Tunes Collector: Alert!
Looney Tunes: Marvin Strikes Back!
Love Hina Pocket
Mary-Kate and Ashley Pocket Planner
Mickey's Racing Adventure
Mickey's Speedway USA
NHL Blades of Steel
NHL Blades of Steel 2000
Playmobil Interactive: Laura
Pocket Family GB 2
Pokemon Trading Card Game
Pokemon Card GB2: Here Comes Team GR!
Return of the Ninja
Rugrats: Totally Angelica
The Road to El Dorado
Sakura Taisen GB
Shin Megami Tensei Devil Children White
Soukoban Densetsu: Hikari to Yami no Yuni
Spirou: The Robot Invasion
Super Black Bass: Real Fight
Super Doll Licca-chan: Kisekae Daisakusen
Super GALS! Juran
Super Mario Bros. DX
Super Mimel GB: Mimel Bear no Happy Town
Suzuki Alstare Extreme Racing
Tottoko Hamtaro: Tomodachi Daisakusen Dechu
Tsuri Sensei 2
Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Monsters II: Dark Duel Stories
Zok Zok Heroes
Brief descriptions of most of the infrared features can be found here as well. I've personally verified this information, looking into game manuals, translating the text on the backs of boxes, and testing the games directly through emulation and debugging. A few notable titles are absent here that are present in other lists online. Aladdin and Animorphs are missing, for example. In Aladdin's case, I couldn't find any option to access the so-called "Ubi Key" content that was found in other UbiSoft titles. Likewise, Animorphs had no mention whatsoever about Ubi Key, and its manual said nothing about infrared communication. It's probably the case that UbiSoft initially meant to bring Ubi Key unlockables to both games, but for some reason they dropped them prior to release.
'Twas but a myth...
I had a very specific purpose in writing this short little piece, and that was to dispel a rather persistent myth surrounding the GBC, namely that only a handful of games really used the infrared port. This notion is frankly false. In fact, it's quite the opposite, really. Consider for a moment that around 530 unique titles (i.e. regional variants are considered the same title) were licensed and released for the GBC worldwide. With the above list, we can see that a staggering 16.98% of the GBC library made use of the system's infrared capabilities. Imagine picking 6 random GBC games from a list of all available titles; on average, we could expect at least 1 of them to use infrared in some form. Contrary to popular belief, a wide range of developers adopted infrared.
The raw numbers look even better in comparison to other more well-known products for the GBC. For example, only 23 games used some kind of real-time clock, and only 23 Rumble Cartridges were made. In light of that, the GBC's infrared port was the 3rd most utilized bit of specialty hardware on the Game Boy, only falling behind the Link Cable (hundreds of supported titles, easily) and the Printer (around 110+ known supported titles). For something that's often relegated to a mere footnote, the GBC's infrared port was exploited frequently.
If so many games really did have infrared support, why then do we have this myth that there were basically so few compatible games? One primary cause for this misunderstanding lies with region exclusivity. Many of the titles listed above were only sold in Japan or Europe. North American audiences missed out on a lot of games, thereby reinforcing the perception that no one was using infrared. In line with this idea, the number of games that were released in North America that did use infrared weren't always the most popular or highest-selling (e.g. Mary-Kate and Ashley Pocket Planner). Additionally, back in the day it was hard enough to find another friend with the same game to do regular Link Cable multiplayer. This issue also applied to infrared games, except there were fewer of these games overall. In the end, it meant most gamers were unlikely to ever touch infrared features, except for titles that were selling millions of units, like Pokemon.
A deeper and more profound problem also helps keep this myth alive. The available data is simply lackluster. The most common resources out there just don't have anything close to a full or complete list of infrared games. Collectively, the wiki, YouTube video, and webpage I linked to at the beginning barely contain half of the known titles. While Dan Docs has been around for years, it doesn't register quite well on search engines like Google or Bing. Without better information, it's hard to become educated on this decidely esoteric topic. It's also a self-feeding loop. No one knows the real number of infrared GBC games, so every time someone writes about it online, the number is severely undercounted, which reinforces this "knowledge" when others repeat it. The misunderstanding, in effect, goes viral. In the past, I was guilty of this as much as anyone else. Previous documentation that I had wrote stated that infrared on the GBC "was never popular outside of a few games and accessories", which really isn't true.
For American or western gamers at least, all of these factors distort how widespread infrared support was on the GBC. As a video game historian and preservationist, I believe we should have a clear and accurate view of the past. In this case, it means abandoning preconceived ideas about the GBC that some of us may have been holding onto for years. The sheer numbers are telling enough on their own: the GBC library had a notable number of games with infrared support. It wasn't some feature that Nintendo added to the Game Boy and was promptly ignored, as developers took it seriously to some extent. It's certainly debatable whether the infrared options in some games actually added any real value. I'll be honest, most of the sticker/portrait trading found in many games was just lame. Wireless multiplayer was extremely limited via infrared as well (mostly for technical reasons). What can't be disputed, however, is that more than just handful of infrared games existed.
Hopefully this brief article can shed some light on a matter that doesn't get much attention. Although more informal than some of the other material on this website, I still want it to be informative. As it stands, people grossly underestimate how many GBC infrared games were made. It's a cycle I see playing over and over again countless times online, and its a line of thought that's become quite pervasive. The best way to fight against that is with data, information, statistics, and, you know, evidence. It'll probably be a long time before this myth gets corrected, but someone's gotta start somewhere.