HISTORY OF GAMEBOY AND GAMEBOY COLOR
In the history article on the NES I talked about Nintendo’s history as a company and its early consoles. The Game and Watch was the first handheld Nintendo made but it wasn’t what I would deem a “console”. What I mean by that is it did not have a library of swappable games that it could house. It contained a singular game and that was it. The first handheld “console” was the Microvision, which was created by Smith Engineering and Milton-Bradley in 1979. The Game Boy was Nintendo’s first handheld “console” and was unarguably the most successful of the first generation of handheld video games.
The Game Boy released in 1989, at the price of $99.99 ($182.45 today adjusted for inflation). The developers focused on keeping a low price point and ease of portability over having a huge screen or using color. These choices were scrutinized by most reviewers and competing companies at the time, but proved to be a wise choice by Nintendo as the Game Boy continued to beat out all competition (Sega Game Gear, Atair Lynx, Microvision and TurboExpress) in both sales and popularity. In fact the Game Boy completely sold out its 300,000 units in its first two weeks in Japan and sold 40,000 units its first day in the U.S. A big factor of its success in many people’s minds, mine especially, is that the layout of the Game Boy’s controls are the exact same as the NES’s controls which by 1989 was king of the console market. People saw the Game Boy in ads and in stores and saw they could now on-the-go get the same home gaming experience they had grown to love over the last couple years with their NES.
Another key to the Game Boy’s success was its games. Tetris proved to be perfect for portable gaming as it was a game that relies on speed, skills and sound over impressive graphics. Super Mario Land was another key launch title that was a new, slightly different take on Super Mario Bros. which was easily the most popular console game in the world at that time. The biggest game for the Game Boy however was undoubtedly Pokemon. Pokemon was built from the ground up to be a handheld game. Its addictive gameplay and turn-based JRPG-lite style proved to be the perfect blend of game for handheld gamers. Pokemania swept the entire globe, culminating in countless shows, cards, toys and collector’s items.
The last and often overlooked key to the Game Boy’s success was the ability to play with your friends through use of a link cable. Whether it was dueling on Tetris or trading and battling your Pokemon, the link cable added an extra layer of fun to the system. It was especially great for siblings and school friends. The link cable was perfect for Pokemon because its two different versions, Red and Blue, required you to trade with other people if you wanted to collect all 150 Pokemon. So at school kids would discuss Pokemon, plan trades and battles, all the while spreading the word of Pokemon through their school like wildfire.
Slightly improved versions of the Game Boy came out over the next decade including the smaller and lighter Game Boy Pocket in 1996 and the Game Boy Light in 1998 which was basically the Pocket but with an improved backlight. Late in 1998 Nintendo released the Game Boy Color, a pretty big step-up over the original. It was brighter, smaller and lighter than the Game Boy but also added color to the games. Along with these new features it also still played games for the original Game Boy so there was no worry of having to buy a ton of games for it at the start, it already had a great back catalog. This was one of the earliest examples of “backwards compatibility” in gaming. At this time frame the SNES had launched and in turn provided another new wave of great Nintendo games that could be ported over to the handheld market and could now retain all their colored glory while doing so.
PERSONAL HISTORY WITH THE GAME BOY / COLOR
The Game Boy and Game Boy Color are probably more responsible for my lifelong gaming addiction than any console I’ve ever owned. I definitely logged more hours on my GBC over my early years than I did my NES, Genesis or SNES combined. One large reason for this was because I was on the road a lot. I’ve mentioned in the past that Levi and I lived way out in the woods of central Kentucky. Because we lived so far away from our school we were the first kids on the bus and the last ones off, each way was 90 minutes so that’s 3 hours of bus riding every friggin school day. I spent this time doing my homework and then playing my Game Boy, usually Pokemon Red. I also had long trips once a month when Levi and I made the trek up to Indianapolis to visit our dad for the weekend, which was a round trip of 8 hours. We would stock up on AA’s, pack up Tetris, Pokemon, Super Street Fighter II and our link cable and battle it out during the long car ride.
My love for the Game Boy carried over into the amazing Game Boy Advance and Nintendo DS. I think I honestly prefer handheld gaming over home gaming if I really break it down. The convience of being able to play on the go, at school, at work, wherever, that factor cannot be praised enough. Especially with how gorgeous our handheld games look these days. My Vita can compete visually with almost any current gen game on the market, its mind-blowing honestly (too bad its library is so bare). Another reason being most of my favorite gaming genres translate very well to handhelds, sometimes better. Turn based strategy, side-scrolling platformers, RPGs and Puzzle games are so enjoyable and I often actually find them better on handhelds than console/PC.
COLLECTING FOR THE GAME BOY / COLOR
I kept my Game Boy and Game Boy Color of my youth and surprisingly they still look and perform amazing for how many hours I’ve put into them. I also kept my games. So when it came time to collect for the Game Boy I didn’t have a whole lot of searching to do. There were about a dozen of great Game Boy games that I had missed out on so I hunted those down. I also hunted down a complete-in-box copy of Pokemon Red, which is in better shape than any other Game Boy game I’ve seen in person. Its one of the gems of my collection. For it I had to resort to eBay. Much like with the NES and SNES, Nintendo used cardboard boxes to house Game Boy games. These boxes do not hold up well with time. If you’re a complete-in-box collector, you’re gonna spend a lot of time and money getting ahold of Game Boy games. If you’re like me and you collect loose cartridges in great condition then you’re in for a lot of fun. Game Boy games aren’t too difficult or expensive to come by at yard sales, thrift stores and retro game stores. I’d say the average prices of most of its popular games are in the $10-15 region. Sometimes it is a bit hard to find copies that don’t have labels that are either worn or been wrote on with a Sharpie, but with a bit of patience and luck you will find what you want.