The past week had a certain phone that’s crashed websites, customer service phone lines, and long queues to own one. It’s incredible how much one device can appeal to so many.
Alongside this, its also 125 years since Nintendo first appeared as a company, and so this month instead of a game, its the Game Boy.
In the mid-90’s for kids wanting to play games on the go, there was only one handheld that did this so well.
Nintendo’s Game Boy was released back in 1989, being the successor to the ‘Game and Watch’, a collection of handhelds that one game on each that was released from 1980 to 1991. With the Game Boy, you could swap and play games on the go with cartridges, and have an experience of a NES in your hands wherever you may be. As long as you had light nearby.
In Christmas of 1995, a grandparent would usually think socks or a jumper would be the kind of present to make your Christmas, but this was different.
I was treated to a Game Boy, along with the obligatory ‘Tetris’ and ‘Super Mario Land 2’. I was made up. It took 4 AA batteries, but it would last for days on end thanks to its monochrome display, and because of the battery save in games like ‘Mario Land 2’, I was always able to pick up from where I last left off.
When it came to the birthday and Christmas of 1996, I was treated to three more games of ‘Kirbys Dreamland’, ’Links Awakening’, and ‘Warioland’.
The layout was a simple directional pad, with ‘A’, ‘B’, ‘Start’ & ‘Select. Four simple action buttons and you could instantly pick up and play any game that you had.
With its 2.5 inch monochrome screen, there was no colour, but the crisp screen made up for it at the time, while the speaker brought out a great quality of 8 bit music, and proudly boomed it out at a great volume. The Legend of Zelda theme came out well when ‘Links Awakening’ was being played thanks to this.
When it came to 2 Player, or trading your Pokèmon with someone else, this is where the ‘Link Cable’ came into play.
This was the only method of ‘2 Player’ being enabled, before ‘Bluetooth’ and ‘AdHoc’ became the normality for this.
Once two Game Boys with the same game were connected, you could play against one another in Tetris, or you could trade Pokèmon that wouldn’t be available on your version. It added longevity to the games you had previous, and playing as another character in ‘Popeye 2’ or seeing a Pokèmon be taken away to the new owner was a surreal but great experience.
But with every game, came the box art and the hand drawn instruction manuals. Mainly designed by the late Greg Martin, these would have colourful artwork of the stages and items you’d yet to explore and obtain, and would even encourage you to find every item and secret ability. I still have every box and manual with each game I owned for the GameBoy, and it seems that they’re becoming valuable commodities, the boxed Pokèmon games especially it seems.
Each of these games would be in the form of a cartridge that would slot into the back of the system. Once the switch is flicked to ‘ON’ at the top, the ‘Nintendo’ logo would fly down slowly as if from a Star Wars title, and ring out a Mario coin sound when it stopped. Iconic and memorable to this day, as much as the ‘Sega’ screen on the Sonic games and the ‘Playstation’ logo intro screen.
This was the first Nintendo system I ever owned, and I remember always having to find any kind of light to see the screen properly, as a backlight was non-existent at the time, for fear of draining the battery.
I used to bring it around with me all of the time, whether that was visiting family away from Lincoln, or to a ‘show and tell’ at primary school.
I remember being constantly in awe that I wouldn’t have to leave it on to resume progress for a game as I did with Sonic 2 on the Mega Drive once, or to stay in one place in order to play a game. I could be anywhere, as long as I had a torch to see the game at least.
Throughout owning the Mega Drive, and then the Playstation, the Game Boy was a constant companion of mine, never having to be reduced to boredom when I may be in a car or having trouble falling asleep.
Around four years after owning this, the ‘Game Boy Color’ was skyrocketing in popularity and the exclusive games that were being released for it.
In 1998, this was promoted heavily, and looking back, reminds me of todays companies advertising a new feature on their phones that was long known as the norm on other devices. With this, it was colour! Full colour screen. And not just a colour screen, but different coloured Game Boys to choose from.
This was also when Pokèmon exploded, and a ‘Color’ compatible version, Yellow, was released. This also introduced me to the whole ‘RPG’ genre, where I’d try my efforts with ‘Final Fantasy VIII’ because of Pokèmon. It was a massive craze in those few years, and does deserve its own time to be talked of soon.
The GameBoy was unique, in the fact that it took a whole six years before it saw a redesign, and another two before a colour screen was brought out.
People didn’t mind, mostly because of how well the battery was. A competitor from Sega called the ‘Game Gear’ was a portable ‘Master System’, an 8 bit console that preceded the Mega Drive, but lasted approximately 4 hours before new batteries were needed. If it didn’t match up the Game Boy’s lifespan, it wasn’t a handheld worth owning.
Overall, the Game Boy is a fixed moment in time of when a handheld system was acceptable to be seen in public, and worked exceptionally well.
Nowadays it’s a common occurrence to see someone pull out a mobile device and check their Twitter or Instagram, or quickly play a Grand Theft Auto game on the bus, a feat which still amazes me today every time I see it. Bearing in mind I was only playing Vice City on a console 12 years ago.
In 20 years, we’ve gone from a device that does one thing, to one that does many things very well. 125 years after Nintendo first appeared selling trading cards, its interesting to see what the next 125 years will shape Nintendo to be seen as.