Nintendo’s gaming might has waxed and waned over its 31 years in the gaming industry — but there’s one category of gaming that it can say, with absolute confidence, that it has owned completely and utterly, and that’s the handheld gaming market.
That dominance would be born under the glare of an olive-green sunrise, with the arrival of the Game Boy on the 21st April, 1989 in Japan. It was, for many gamers, the dream personified — gaming was now possible anywhere. Admittedly, this was if you liked stomping on Goombas or piecing together falling blocks of various geometries, but it was a start.
Marvel at the launch advertisement for the Game Boy. A time when young boys from across the world were hitchhiking — alone — with their favourite handheld game console. The time is 1989, and we hope you’ve enjoyed this time-warp. Returning to your regularly scheduled article.
The Game Boy is the quintessential example of Nintendo’s now ingrained strategy of employing low-tech hardware. It had the now nostalgic 2-bit screen of the aforementioned black and green hue, a custom CPU, 160×144 resolution and 8kb of RAM and video RAM. It was a brick. But in spite of its limitations, it became on of the best-selling consoles ever made, falling behind the PlayStation and one of its own predecessors, the Nintendo DS, with around 118 million units sold. Part of this was the novelty of gaming-on-the-go, but a large factor in its success were the games. In North America, for example, the handheld was bundled with the respectable Tetris, a serious factor in its initial launch craze.
From the break-off of the Super Mario series into Super Mario Land — now distinct from Super Mario World — to the sequel to Metroid, Nintendo ensured their library of portable titles remained strong throughout its life. My own personal history with the Game Boy is chequered at best and littered with poor choices: not a single Mario, Kirby or Pokemón did I pick up, but somehow thought Killer Instinct would be a good idea, in contrast to my richer cousin’s own Game Boy library, which displayed fine taste as befitted her class (I’m kidding, Sandy.).
Nintendo would go on to manufacture several handheld consoles, the most recent the Nintendo 3DS (where users can access the various Game Boy titles of old for a reasonable price should nostalgia overtake them), but few have had the same impact as the Game Boy. Whether it’s the iconic start-up sound or serious debate as to what is the correct “colour” of the Game Boy screen, the Game Boy has had a lasting impact on gamers, especially those now in their late 20s and early 30s. It continues to draw support to this day – for example, Furrtek Software Engineering recently made available Airaki! for pre-order, a puzzle-RPG for the Game Boy. Similarly, Twitch.tv blew up recently with a series of videos entitled Twitch Play Pokemón — a group play experience which started with the award-winning Pokemón Red which established the juggernaut that is Pokemón.
The Game Boy’s legacy not only inspires gamers of today, but remains a pivotal turning point in Nintendo’s business strategy going forward. Much of Nintendo’s current approach to modern console design and marketing has vestiges of Game Boy’s own, perhaps to its detriment. Regardless, one cannot underestimate the impact of the Game Boy and now is the opportunity to look back. What are your fondest Game Boy memories? Think we’re overstating its importance or relevance by today’s standards? Let us know in the comments.