Since its release, the Nintendo Game Boy has become an unforgettable classic handheld, but there’s a lot about it you may have never known.
Who doesn’t remember the Nintendo Game Boy? While the younger generation has moved to Nintendo handhelds such as the DS line, us older gamers still reminisce about this classic device. With its black and green reflective LCD screen, it wasn’t much for the eyes, but it allowed us to break away from cables and couches and bring our gaming on the go.
The console was initially released in Japan on April 21, 1989, later in North America on July 31, 1989, and finally made it to the European market September 28, 1990. And contrary to popular belief, it was NOT Nintendo’s first handheld creation.
The Game & Watch series predates the Game Boy, but both lines were created by Satoru Okada and Nintendo Research & Development 1. This team, led by Gunpei Yokoi at the time, is credited with designing the system, as well as several popular games for the Nintendo Entertainment System.
The original model, sometimes referred to as the grey brick, had an eight-way directional pad, two action buttons (A and B), Start and Select buttons, and used small game cartridges. This simple format made it easy for owners of the original NES to get used to the controls. The system could be bought as a standalone console, or packaged with the game Tetris.
Tetris was the first game compatible with the Game Link Cable, a pack-in accessory that allowed two Game Boys to link together for multiplayer modes. It’s become synonymous with the Game Boy, and is a big part of why the system became so popular. The pair has been selected as #4 on GameSpy‘s “25 Smartest Moments in Gaming”.
Personally, I was addicted to this game, as it was one of the very few I had. In my youth, I wasn’t aware it could be played as a multiplayer with a cable. I also never had the cable, so maybe that’s why.
The original system was an off-white, but on March 20, 1995, Nintendo released several Game Boy models with colored cases, advertising them in the “Play It Loud!” campaign. This line had colors such as Deep Black, Gorgeous Green, Radiant Red, and Vibrant Yellow. There was also a Traditional White version exclusively released in Japan, and a Cool Blue variant released exclusively in the UK and the Nordics. The US had its own exclusive variant as well, the High Tech Transparent, which was clear, see-through plastic. There were also Special Edition variants, some of which are rare finds today.
In 1996, Nintendo released the Game Boy Pocket, which was a smaller, lighter unit that required fewer batteries. The original Game Boy required 4 AA batteries, while the Game Boy Pocket required only two AAA batteries. This version also had a true black-and-white display instead of the classic monochromatic green screen. It came in a range of 9 basic colors, had 8 limited edition variants, and 11 special edition variants.
One model from the series has become one of the rarest versions of the handheld; the Famitsu Skeleton Game Boy Light. This limited edition was offered through a popular Japanese gaming magazine, Weekly Famitsu, who distributed 5,000 via mail order or special event sales. It was transparent, had white buttons, and glow in the dark properties. One of these, in box, can be found on Ebay for an asking price of $680.
The successor to the Pocket and Light versions was the Game Boy color, released on October 21, 1998 in Japan, and in November of the same year in international markets.
Also known as the GBC, this handheld console was slightly larger than its predecessors, but was exactly the same internally. The only difference was that it had a color display rather than monochromatic green or black-and-white screen. Sadly, it retained the major Game Boy flaw of having no backlight. This issue wasn’t addressed until the release of the Game Boy Advance SP.
This version came in a differing set of basic colors than its predecessors, had a few limited edition colors, as well as a long list of special edition variants, but by far the most sought after were the special Pokémon versions.
The Pokémon franchise began as a pair of video games for the original Game Boy. They were developed by Game Freak and published by Nintendo. By the way, it is the second best-selling video game franchise, behind only Nintendo’s Mario franchise, and is one of the highest-grossing media franchises of all time.
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Besides the game link cable, which enabled multiplayer modes, the Game Boy also had an ongoing list of accessories.
One of the most recognizable accessories for the system is the Game Boy Camera. It was released as Pocket Camera in Japan on September 17, 1998, and is compatible with all of the Game Boy platforms (with the exception of Game Boy Micro). The camera took black & white digital images using the 4-color palette of the system, and allowed the user to alter the picture with various funny add-ins. You could say the Game Boy Camera was the originator of the “selfie”.
This camera interfaced with the Game Boy Printer, which utilized thermal paper to print any saved images. Both the camera and the printer were marketed toward children by Nintendo as light-hearted entertainment devices. N64 Magazine (which has since been superseded by NGamer) even dedicated a monthly section to the device in its hay day. However, production of the Game Boy Camera and Printer ceased in 2002 and 2003, respectively.
I vividly remember how badly I wanted this combo as a kid, but I never got them. I even remember the commercial.
Another iconic accessory for the Game Boy line was the coveted Joyplus Handy Boy. This thing had it all. It was an official “all in one accessory”, including two amplified external speakers positioned on each side of the screen. It had a square magnifying lens that held a simple light, which was desperately needed. The parts folded together for travel, which was a very cool touch. Additionally, a thumb joystick could be clipped onto the Game Boy directional pad, with or without the speakers and magnifier.
One of the more bizarre accessories for the line was the Game Boy Pocket Sonar. It was a peripheral for the system made by Bandai that used sonar to locate fish up to 20 meters (65 feet) underwater. Made for the sport of fishing, it also contained a fishing mini-game. It was only released in Japan in 1998, and holds the record for being the first sonar-enabled gaming accessory ever.
The last accessory I will mention is one that I actually had and used quite regularly, the Super Game Boy.
The Super Game Boy was more of an accessory for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (known as the Super Famicom in Japan), and allowed Game Boy cartridges to be played on the SNES console on a regular television. Released in June 1994, the Super Game Boy was compatible with the original monochrome Game Boy cartridges, Game Boy Camera, and the black Game Boy Color cartridges. It even turned monochromatic or black-and-white games into color games on your T.V., which was pretty neat.
As a big fan or retro gaming, Nintendo’s Game Boy has been one of my favorite devices since childhood. Currently having a few models myself, I still play them on long trips, or while sitting on the can at home, and look forward to collecting some of the accessories I coveted as a kid.
If you love this classic handheld too, leave your memories in the comment section below!
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