Happy 20th Birthday, Game Boy!

By  |  Friday, April 3, 2009 at 1:02 pm

gameboyThis month marks 20 years since the Game Boy’s release in Japan. Though the handheld’s actual birthday is April 21, and the US release followed in August, now seems as good a time for reflection as any.

After all, the US launch of Nintendo’s DSi handheld on Sunday will mark the true demise of the Game Boy moniker; by eliminating “Slot B” from the new device, Game Boy Advance games will no longer be playable. How’s that for an arbitrary factoid?

Anyway, the Game Boy family — if you include the Pocket, Light and Color editions — is currently the second-best-selling video game device of all time, trailing only the Playstation 2. Further, 1UP’s Jeremy Parish points out that the Game Boy brand was Nintendo’s “backbone” during trying times; the Nintendo 64 and Gamecube may have failed commercially, but handhelds always kept the company afloat.

Parish writes that the Game Boy subscribed to Nintendo’s “good enough” policy. Better technologies were available back in 1989, but somehow the handheld with the pea green screen took off, even as more technically impressive competitors, such as Sega’s Game Gear and Atari’s Lynx, languished. When Nintendo strays from that policy, Parish argues, the company fails.

I think that idea is not as true as it used to be. For the Game Boy family, slight modifications through the years — a slimmer figure, a little color, a boost in graphics — were good enough to keep the handheld in demand. Meanwhile, the Virtual Boy tanked, and experiments with connecting to Nintendo’s bigger consoles never took off.

By comparison, Nintendo’s current success is due to a change in philosophy, Now, we’re looking at “different enough,” with two products that were initially questioned for breaking the mold. Dual Screens? Motion Control? The industry doubted those ideas until they started steamrolling the competition. The focus is now on calculated risk, which I guess you could say is “good enough” for Nintendo.



9 Comments For This Post

  1. Marc Says:

    This was such a great console. The big downside was that it didn’t ship with a power cord, so you would go through AA batteries very quickly.

    Best games? I remmeber Teenage Mutant Ninga Turtles Fool Of the Foot Clan, also a helicopter game but I can’t recall what it was called.

    Tetris was boring since it was the game that came with it, the game you played all day Christmas because you had nothing else.

    I remember the “Super GameBoy” and playing Gameboy games on my SNES.
    They were the days 🙂

  2. soryu Says:

    Wow! 20! Now I feel old. I still play video games, I’ve got PS3 now. When I was in grade school video games were our culture. I had a notebook full of passwords and we would swap games and cheats at school. There wasn’t an “internet” yet, so everything was word of mouth or from overpriced gamer mags. I still remember that DING when you turned Gameboy on.

  3. Jared Newman Says:

    Indeed. I should’ve added some reminiscing to that article.

    Fall of the Foot Clan was great, but my all-time favorite is Metroid II. And yeah, Tetris got a little old after a while, but it’s Tetris! I had some real stinkers for the Game Boy, too, like Qix, the worst game ever made.

  4. Sheri Says:

    I played Tetris for hours on my son’s Game Boy. I knew I was playing too much when I dreamed Tetris, or the shapes ran through my head throughout the day. I’m not alone in experiencing this “Tetris effect.”

    Happy Birthday, Game Boy!

  5. NanoGeek Says:

    I still have my old GameBoy Color. It’s Lime Green too!

  6. Jared Newman Says:

    Sheri – The infamous Tetris Nightmares? Don’t get me started.

  7. platomaker Says:

    though gameboy advance games have been playable on the DS, the original gameboy games have been long retired along with the gameboy sp. As far as I concerned the image of the original gameboy and gameboy color games died with the DS phat, this DSi will hopefully revitalize it.

  8. Marc Says:

    I remember my dad made me a power adapter, and it was loose. So I’d be 1hour into a game, and move a bit too far – and wham, no power! Game was lost.
    Did anyone ever play any two-player games? I remember playing Tetris two-player for all of 5 minutes. Seems like the port was underused.

  9. Platomaker Says:

    two player gameboy games? Tetris, Quarth (Absolute favorite), Pokemon, and… there was a four player F1 or Fzero game.

    Really was too much of a hassle though.

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  1. Happy 20th Birthday, Game Boy! | Technologizer | Games Review Says:

    […] gameboy This month marks 20 years since the Game Boy ’s release in Japan. Though the handheld’s actual birthday is April 21, and the US release followed in August, now seems as good a time for reflection as any. Read the original here: Happy 20th Birthday, Game Boy! | Technologizer […]