The Handheld Device That Changed It All

posted by on 2nd August 2014, at 1:58am | Discuss Article

While browsing Reddit today (July 31), I came across this little history gem. It just so happens that today, 25 years ago, the Game Boy became available for purchase in North America. Yes, that big grey brick with purple buttons and tiny screen we were so affectionate of in the 1990s. Some of you may say “So what? Hardly anyone plays a Game Boy anymore. How is this relevant to modern gaming?” A fair question. In response, I would argue that anyone who plays on a smart phone, tablet, or other handheld device now benefits from the advent of the Game Boy all those years ago.

The Game Boy is arguably the most successful handheld gaming device in the history of gaming, selling over 118 million units, including Game Boy Color and other variants. It competed with the Sega Game Gear, Atari Lynx, and NEC TurboExpress during the early 90s. Remember all three of those? I’m sure you are lucky to remember just one of them. Although the original Game Boy was big, bulky, and limited to 8-bit graphics and sound, it led to success of Nintendo in future handheld lines such as the Game Boy Advance, DS, and now possibly the Wii U. The beauty behind the Game Boy was its size, simplicity, innovation, and game selection.

To begin with, the size of the Game Boy was unlike anything before in gaming console design. Up until that point, consoles ranged in size from a large book to a VCR player (had to go with the dated references on this one). Although console size didn’t matter at home, it wouldn’t be practical for a handheld gaming device. Nintendo saw the potential behind “gaming on the go” and found a way to fit all the necessary console components of CPU, RAM, Sound, screen, etc. into a relatively small package gamers could take anywhere.

The simplicity behind the Game Boy helped increase popularity as well. The only things a person needed to play a Game Boy were batteries and a game cartridge. That’s it. No wires, no TV, no controller. People, especially gamers, always love simplicity and the Game Boy delivered. The Game Boy took away the hassle of traditional console setup and game loading speeds and replaced it with a simple gaming device with instant gaming gratification. Although it lacked in graphics and color, the Game Boy’s simplicity made it very popular.

Innovation was probably the single biggest factor responsible for the Game Boy’s success. Because of the desired size, Nintendo had to find a way to put a computer, screen, controller, and game into a device that was easy to use and durable. The CPU was an 8-bit processor. Try comparing that with system specifications for most handheld games and you’ll get a laugh. Ditto for the 8 kilobytes of RAM. The screen was 160×144 pixels, small even by today’s standards, but easily viewable. The controller was built into the device, with a control pad on the left side, A and B buttons on the right close to each other, and the Start and Select buttons in the middle at the bottom. The Game Boy configuration was much more compact than a traditional controller, but did not adversely affect game play. Game cartridges were small and, like console predecessors, easy to slide in and fit securely.

The game selection for the Game Boy started off small, but grew rapidly and with wild success. The launch games in North America were Super Mario Land, Alleyway, Baseball, Tetris, and Tennis. Of these, Super Mario Land and Tetris were arguably the most popular out of this list. Tetris sold the most out of all games for the Game Boy at over 30 million units. The second most sold game were Pokémon Red and Blue which combined sold over 23 million units. Game Boy games were fun and simple with endless replay value. Even playing those games today, people both young and old still find them enjoyable and entertaining.

Although it’s been 25 years since the Game Boy was released, it will always hold a special place in gaming history, lore, and legend. For those of us who were so fortunate to have grown up in the 90s, we will fondly remember how much joy this little grey brick brought to us. Truly, there is nothing quite like the Game Boy anymore days. Sure we have smart phones and tablets, but they pale in comparison to what the Game Boy accomplished in a time of limited technology. In fact, I’m sure most of us can say that we have owned and played a Game Boy longer than we have owned or used a smart phone. That will change with time, of course, but as the title of my article suggests, we should never forget what an impact the Game Boy has made on gaming as we know it.

Oh, and kudos if you guessed which device I was talking about just from the title. 😛