The History of The Game Boy

Since its release in 1989 (1990 in Europe), the Nintendo Game Boy is still a staple in pop culture and was a revolutionary step for video gaming. Captivating audiences young and old, this small compact device completely changed the way we game.

Contrary to popular belief, the Game Boy was not the first Nintendo handheld. In 1980, the Game & Watch entered a limited market of other handheld gaming devices, but set Nintendo down the right path. It’s games were simple and subtle, perfectly matched with its limited computing power, and although it sold extremely well for a portable device, it was quickly overshadowed by the international success of the NES. But it’s creator, Gunpei Yokoi, knew his portable gaming device could be even greater.

Teaming up with his old partner from titles like Kid Icarus and Metroid, Yokoi and Satoru Okada set out to create a great handheld device that was fun and affordable enough to be enjoyed by the masses. To scale down prices, the team decided to focus on what Nintendo did best. It downsized the quality of the screen to a monochrome LCD with only four shades, but justified it by reassuring themselves of one important Nintendo affirmation; if the game is fun, people will want to play it. And the decision they made paid off.

They knew they needed great games to make the system successful and started with a character everyone already knew and loved: Mario. Scaled down from the original, Super Mario Land took people to new places with the same mechanics and play style from the original games. But the Game Boy needed something to appeal to gamers that weren’t already Nintendo fans. Cue Henk Rogers who was selling a little block stacking game called Tetris. He convinced Nintendo that the simplicity and addictive nature of Tetris was the perfect game to appeal to the masses and he was right. Tetris came bundled with the console and they were set to release.

In Japan, the Game Boy launched on April 31, 1989 and within two weeks sold all 300,000 units in its initial stock. In America, after Nintendo had struggled to make the NES popular, the Game Boy sold 40,000 units on launch day, marking it a huge success. Although other handheld devices with better graphics and capabilities quickly came into the market, there was no competition against the Game Boy’s superior battery life and much more reasonable cost.

All that was left to do was continue to supply the console with an impressive library of games, and that’s what Nintendo did. Nintendo stayed on top for nearly a decade, with titles like Metroid II, Kirby’s Dream Land, and The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening. Slowing down in the mid-90’s with consoles like the Game Boy Pocket and Game Boy Light, Nintendo needed something to bring their console back to life and they got exactly that with Pokemon, a game that revolutionized competitive and cooperative handheld gaming. With Pokemon, Nintendo was back on top.

The success of the original Game Boy led to many other handheld consoles in the family, like the Game Boy Color, Game Boy Advance, and Game Boy Advance SP, eventually spawning a whole new era of handheld gaming with the Nintendo DS. Game Boy’s careful consideration of its audience and imaginative and refreshing library of games put it on top of the world and secured it a spot at the forefront of gaming history, changing handheld gaming as we know it.

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