I never had a Nintendo Entertainment System as a kid, despite being the prime age for the console when it was released in the 1980s. The first Nintendo device I had was a Game Boy that I got for Christmas in 1989. The portable device changed the way I – and probably a lot of other kids – thought about video games.
With the release of the Game Boy – which debuted in Japan on April 21, 1989 and in the U.S. in July – we no longer were tied to the television in the living room to play Nintendo games. Now we could play them wherever we went – as long as we had a healthy stash of AA batteries just in case.
The Game Boy wasn’t the most advanced system. The original model featured a dull green “dot matrix screen” and didn’t show off any colors, but Nintendo made sure that it didn’t matter. The gameplay was the important thing, and with the addictive TETRIS as a launch title, and bundled with early releases of the system, kids and adults alike couldn’t put their Game Boys down.
Over the next couple of years, other video game companies would try and compete with the Game Boy for the portable market. Atari released the Lynx in the U.S. in September 1989; Sega released the Game Gear in Japan in October 1990; and NEC released the TurboExpress, a portable version of their TurboGraphix 16, in late 1990. Despite offering color graphics and better resolution to the Game Boy, none of these portable systems could break Nintendo’s grip on the market. And the Game Boy would would remain the standard bearer for portable video games – with multiple versions being released – until it was knocked off by the Nintendo DS when it was released in 2004.
Even more important, those early, boxy and huge Game Boys were sturdy. I still have the one I got in December 1989 and, almost 30 years later, the damned thing still works. It guzzles battery life, sure, but nothing on that system seems to have degraded at all. Though the carrying case where I’ve kept the system and all the games I have seems to have almost disintegrated…
If not for the success of the Game Boy, Nintendo may be a completely different company today. Other console developers have taken over as the leader in home gaming – Sony and Microsoft have dominated the hardcore gamer market for a while now – but no one has taken Nintendo’s grip on the portable market. And the company even turned its latest console iteration – the SWITCH (which I got for Christmas this past year!) – into a device gamers could take with them on the go!
(I’ll be taking mine with me when I go on vacation next week!)
What are your favorite Game Boy games and memories? Let us know in the comments.