30 Years of Game Boy

30 Years of Game Boy

Yes you read that right, you elder millennials, the Game Boy is now 30 years old and while that’s hard to believe, the revolutionary handheld has reached its pearl anniversary.  I remember when I got my Game Boy in August of 1990, from a Toys R Us in Staten Island. I remember my dad parking the car while he ran in to the store to purchase the item for me. A few minutes later I had the Game Boy in my hands with Super Mario Land and unequaled Tetris.  Based on the timing, it must have been a birthday gift, but I had the Game Boy with headphones, a magnifying glass and a light that snapped onto the front of the console. The console was an absolute brick and while the green-tinted screen was a bit jarring, I didn’t care I could play Mario in the back seat of the car. I had received my NES two years prior so I was fully invested into Super Mario and all of his wacky adventures. I believe my family was going on a bit of a road trip that day through the boroughs of NYC so having a game for me to play while visiting family or in the back of the car was a good idea. I distinctly remember playing with my cousins that day and getting to rummage through their Game Boy carts to play games like Gargoyle’s Quest, Double Dragon, and Batman. I was far too young to understand how significant it was to be able to play these games on the go, but I was certainly excited to play more and more games.

The Game Boy is possibly the most important device Nintendo has ever created to ensure their progression into the video game industry. The NES was the home console powerhouse at the time and while Nintendo dominated the home, there were very few competitors on the handheld gaming scene. While Atari would release the Lynx later in 1989 and NEC created the Turbo Express, nothing matched up to Game Boy. Even the Sega Game Gear was trampled by the runaway success of the Game Boy. Why? It always comes down to price, durability, and battery life. The Game Boy was released at $89.99 USD, boasted hours of battery life on 4 AA batteries, and could literally survive a bomb explosion.

Equally surprising, is how long the Game Boy remained successful. Though it received a few iterations like Pocket and Color, Game Boy was still selling well into the late 1990s. The Game Boy Color and Pokemon were the perfect combination to give this console an undeniable boost. The PS2 launched in 2000 and kids were still playing Game Boy on the bus! It’s very rare that a console lasts 6 years let alone a decade or more. The Game Boy never went away and continued to dominate the handheld space. Its successors have gone on to sell hundreds of millions of units and the Game Boy philosophy has followed Nintendo into the modern era as the Switch has become the combination of both Nintendo segments to carry that philosophy both in the home and on the go. While I love everything Nintendo and have been a massive fan of their home consoles for generations, their handheld line has been a driving force of innovation and success for 30 years. The Game Boy was immeasurably important to the growth of the Nintendo brand of fun, function, and reliability. 

What made the Game Boy so great, outside of durability, price, and battery life? I’m always apt to say that it was the games. After the massive success of the NES, it was amazing to see Mario, Zelda, and Metroid all make appearances on the Game Boy within the first four years of the conole’s life cycle. Also, the decision to launch the console with the addictive Tetris as a pack-in made the console that much more alluring. Tetris is still generally considered the best game on the Game Boy and it was a launch title! Sometimes you knock it out of the park on the first try, I’m looking at you Breath of the Wild!!  The Game Boy wasn’t something we expected at the time and only looking back in retrospect, do we understand it’s pure significance. It was a new way to play games and was incredibly marketable. The games were good and of the many series borne on the Game Boy, long lasting franchises that have become mainstays like Kirby! Ultimately, accessibility is very important, it gets the console out there and creates the perfect space for developers to make new gaming experiences. The Game Boy was ultimately very limited but it’s limitations allowed for some of the most unique experiences around and with a 10+ year library of games, it had everything for everyone.

As the Game Boy turns 30 I must assess it’s legacy. It’s one of the most important entertainment inventions of the past 30 years and gamers are better off because of it. Without the Game Boy we wouldn’t have witnessed the growth and brilliance of Nintendo on the Handheld stage. GBA, DS, and 3DS all have taken the world by storm and are some of the greatest consoles of all time, handheld or not. The Switch has easily become one of my absolute favorite gaming consoles of all time and represents the full progress and optimization of handheld gaming. Without the Game Boy in 1989, we may not have ever come to experience the beauty of hybrid gaming with Switch. 

I want to celebrate the Game Boy for helping pave the way to making handheld gaming fun, serious, and important. It proved that gaming on the go could be significant and not just unplayable minigames. Nintendo gave the world a legitimate console that just so happened to be portable and all gamers have benefitted from it. Happy 30th Game Boy, you changed the world!


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Mike Staub Dot Com