The Nintendo Game Boy was the handheld that ignited the fuse for all to follow in the pursuit of capturing the portable gaming market. Many have tried, many have failed...But it is the market Nintendo have continued their stronghold. It wasn't the most technically advanced, nor at times was it even the cheapest option. Yet the console remained popular until its demise, with very few adjustments and revisions prior to the GBA release. The one we all had and loved to death: the original Nintendo Game Boy!
A spiritual successor to the primitive (not in the negative way you crazy) LCD Game&Watch handheld games, the Game Boy was created by the ever talented Gunpei Yokoi. Essentially a miniature NES with monochrome graphics in a wonderful 4-shades of green initially, it literally took the world by storm. Despite what would now be seen as a lacklustre launch selection, Game Boy units flew off the shelves. It quickly rose to the status of a pop culture icon and has in fact since been entered into the National Toy Hall of Fame in 2009 to mark its 20th Anniversary.
Originally available in the standard grey with purple buttons, the control layout (4-Way D-Pad, Select/Start, B/A buttons) mirrored that of the NES controls and probably helped raise a generation of dyslexic children. Oh, well. It was awesome nonetheless! It hit stores in 1989 for Japan then North America, but didn't gain a wide-European release until late in 1990. Not that it particularly mattered what region you bought your Game Boy however, due in part to the major bonus of it being a region-free console! Win!
If you're one of those crazy hacker types abound in the early 90's, or at least in movies and ish; you may be asking: Wat R inside? Or something. Well, here goes! The Game Boy features a custom Sharp LR35902 8-Bit CPU with integrated sound generation, expandable 8kb S-RAM and 8kb internal video RAM. With only a 2-bit colour palette and a 160x144 display, the Game Boy does however average a near 60fps dependant on the cartridge. Sound wise, while the console features just the one speaker, stereo sound is available through the headphone jack.
Now I may as well get this out of the way right now. There was a little puzzle game ported to the Game Boy as a launch title/pack-in game. You may have heard of it. It was kind of a big deal. Maybe a cultural phenomenon, even. Yes, we speak of Tetris. The game that spawned a medically recommended stress relief method and captured a fresh new audience of gamers in the process, young and old. Including the pack-in version, it sold over 30million units. Think about it. That's pretty darn impressive!
The Game Boy had other games, too. In fact, it had a lot of them. I mean...A LOT. We're talking over 800 pre-GBC alone worldwide. Both ridiculous and awesome. Ridiculously awesome, if you will. Was there a good few turds in with the golden nuggets? Of course, but that's to be expected. For those lovers of pirated and unlicensed games the Game Boy is a console for you, for sure. Besides Tetris; Super Mario Land, Alleyway and Tennis are other representative launch titles that have remained popular to this very day. Super Mario Land in fact fights for second place in my personal top 3 Mario titles reverting to a revamped play-style that is reminiscent of the original Super Mario Bros.
The other biggie that can't be ignored even if attempted would be a small franchise called Pokemon. Wait, did I say small? I meant gigantic. Yeah, that'll be it! Pokemon Red and Blue hit the Game Boy in the 90's, got backed by playing cards and an animated series and it alllll snowballed from there. But the original game should never be forgotten, for it is in fact to this day a great little game, Poke-fan or not. Jointly Red and Blue sold a whopping 23million units worldwide and made Nintendo a buttload of moolah in the process with what could've been simply deemed a fad but still endures til this day. Yet another impressive feat. I see what you're doing, Game Boy.
You can find a list of the complete GB set elsewhere, as it is far too exhaustive to simply list here. Seriously it's huge. But here's some recommendations for the gamers out there: Zelda: Link's Awakening (the best Zelda game ever), Metroid II: Return of Samus, Wario Land: SML3, Donkey Kong Land, Dr. Mario and...yeah. If its a Nintendo IP on Game Boy? Rule of thumb = decent to very good to downright amazing.
As mentioned, there were redesigns. The Game Boy Play It Loud! series featured consoles of different colours. This was my first (a red Game Boy)! Later they slimmed it down and sharpened the screen with the release of the Game Boy Pocket. It didn't get a backlit screen outside of Japan's Game Boy Light, however. Though the biggest redesign was the Game Boy Colour which was the last of the traditional 8-Bit line and cut off point for this intro. Personally I prefer the 4-shades of green, but its all individual tastes.
The Game Boy also spawned some (especially at the time) very cool peripherals. Best of all were the Game Boy Camera and Printer, allowing the user to make their own lofi early digi-photography and then even print it off and stick it all about the place. Truly a genius move on behalf of Nintendo as this was for many kids an entry into having their own camera, no matter how inferior the end result may be. It did allow those creative enough to push some brilliant art out, however. And its art that Game Boy is a massive contributor for in general. If you're reading this and think I'm just going a bit mad, let me explain...
With the rising popularity of chiptune music, stock Game Boy's have become a thing of beauty for the bedroom producer with access to the LSDJ ROM which essentially turns the system into a one-of-a-kind electro-instrument. The nostalgic bleeps of the Game Boy resonate with so many it is no wonder this has happened, it was really only a matter of time. The Game Boy has in recent years become the uncrowned king of bitpop.
The Game Boy name became so synonymous with Nintendo with time that it wasn't until the Nintendo DS that the brand was retired. Even then, backwards compatibility with the Game Boy Advance was kept, in a similar fashion to the GBA being able to play GB/C titles. The Game Boy branding is also synonymous with the cross-compatibility from Nintendo, in that the likes of the Super Boy (to play Game Boy games on Super Nintendo) and its successors on the N64 and GameCube continued through to allow the small-small-screen fun to be enjoyed on a larger communal scale.
Whether or not you're a Nintendo guy or gal (over 40% of the Game Boy's market share were female) is pretty much irrelevant. As chances are you either owned one, knew someone who did or both. The commercial success alone warrants the Game Boy a place in the collection of all gamers, retro or modern. We all love the Game Boy and so should you. Nintendo's crowning achievement of the handheld gaming boom.