By James Daly
The Nintendo Game Boy is the most iconic handheld gaming console. Famously strong enough to survive a bombing, the only thing more fortified is the legacy it left behind after it was discontinued in 2003. To my generation, the Game Boy represented where all video games began with its compact screen, minimalist command keys, and wealth of iconic titles.
Nintendo made their first big contribution to Video Gaming in 1983 when they released the Famicom in Japan, before releasing it to the rest of the world as the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1984. The NES brought the joy of arcade gaming into the home thanks to its user-friendly nature, and a string of memorable video gaming franchises that cemented the console’s iconic status.
Though Nintendo had released handheld games in the past with Gunpei Yokoi’s Game & Watch series, the Game Boy was part of a generation of consoles that changed video games for the better. The Game Boy defined Nintendo’s business model when it outclassed its technologically superior rivals to become the most successful handheld console of its time through iconic mascots, and games that focused on replayability. This success continued, and now the Game Boy along with the Game Boy Color has sold over 118.69 million units worldwide.
As for the games, The Game Boy catered for a variety of tastes, ranging from Super Mario Land to Alleyway. The latter was essentially a copy of Breakout, but Super Mario Land was a stunning game that cleverly differed enough from the Mario games on the NES that it proved to be a console seller. The core strength of Game Boy games was that they offered the optimum level of immersion with the convenience of portability. Gamers could play state-of-the-art sports simulation games on public transport, in waiting rooms, or any other place that separated them from their home console. Bear in mind that this was a world before smartphones and laptops were ubiquitous.
As the Game Boy was joined by the Game Boy Color, gaming changed forever again with the release of the first Pokemon games. The potential for unique gaming experiences had never been so big before, and yet ironically this series debuted on a handheld device! Pokemon took immersion to a magical level, and combined that with a new kind of replayability. Most importantly, Pokemon was the first video game titan to be exclusively handheld, which meant that Nintendo had yet another console seller on their hands. Though Pokemon games would feature on other consoles later, none of them were made in the same vain, thus assuring the importance of the Game Boy.
In short, the Nintendo Game Boy redefined video gaming by being the perfect digital companion. Having a durable console with battery life long enough to play anywhere at anytime opened up possibilities for game developers, and this resulted in a superb back catalogue of handheld video games. The Nintendo Game Boy is what really started the tradition of big games on a tiny screen, and this is why we have the Nintendo 3DS/2DS, and arguably the PlayStation Vita today.
Happy 25th Anniversary, Game Boy! We wouldn’t be here without you.