Nintendo have never played by anyone else's rules but their own. In an industry that's seemingly obsessed with power and statistics and framerate and pixel density and other hilariously finicky snippets of metadata these days, it's easy to forget that Nintendo's two greatest successes were built off of underwhelming tech used in innovative fashion.
The original Game Boy was the brainchild of Nintendo's much-lauded Research and Development 1 team -- a team spearheaded by a true industry legend in Gunpei Yokoi. Yokoi had already struck gold with Nintendo's Game & Watch series of handheld LCD games, but change was needed, and in the wake of other pioneering devices such as the Milton Bradley Microvision that released way back in 1979, it seemed that interchangeable cartridges were the way to go. The Game Boy might not have been the first "programmable electronic game system", as the Microvision had been branded, but it did more to popularise the portable sector than anything before or since.
The key to that strategy? Well, as the Wii would replicate years later, Yokoi's design philosophy for the Game Boy was simple: "Lateral Thinking with Withered Technology" -- or using easily produced, readily available, pleasingly cheap components in interesting ways. While rivals such as the Atari Lynx and Sega Game Gear went for an expensive, but impressively-specced approach, the Game Boy co-opted a Z80-based CPU, and presented a display that struggled with more than one shade of grey let alone fifty or, god forbid, actual colours. It didn't matter.
In 1989, twenty-five years ago, a legend was born and we thought we'd share a memory or two of our time with Nintendo's grey pocket brick and invite you to do the same. Happy Birthday Game Boy!
I've been a Man Utd supporter since I got a Ryan Giggs Soccer Skills video for my fourth birthday (it's the one that had Bobby Charlton reeling off pearls of wisdom whilst feeding the Welsh Wizard a seemingly endless supply of balls) and I remember being obsessed with the red Man Utd Game Boy. Every month I'd see it advertised in the club magazine, and I saved up for months and months, doing little odd jobs here and there to try and increase my pocket money. My parents had tried to instil the value of saving money for practical things, but I would not be swayed. I needed this.
When the day finally came, I eagerly sent off my mail order form (with a little help from my Mum) and waited. Two weeks. TWO WEEKS! But it was worth it. I'd done a little research, I'd pored over the Official Nintendo Magazine and scoured the Gameplay pages in everything I could find. I remember beig incredibly confused. I remember buying Tennis. That one might have been a mistake, but I got hours out of it. Then I bought Tetris, and my friends and I would hotswap the Game Boy to try and beat each other's scores. But even though Tetris was the game that made the Game Boy a household name, it wasn't my favourite. It rocks, but it wasn't the game that solidified my love for the platform. But then I borrowed Link's Awakening from a friend one day and everything changed.
The N64 was the first home console I ever actually owned, so the Game Boy was my primary source of gaming goodness, aside from regular trips over to my best mate Alex's house to throw down on some cracking Mega Drive action. But it was a platform that got support from everywhere, with Nintendo's in-house teams firing on all cylinders, and third parties making some utterly cracking (and not so cracking) games for the system. Crucially, the Game Boy pitched titles to an increasingly wide and varied demographic. There was no distinction between it being a "hardcore" piece of kit or anything else -- it was simply for everyone, a policy that the DS would build upon in phenomenal fashion.
But my defining Game Boy memory, aside from first laying eyes upon the Wind Fish, is an easy one: it's when my Wartortle finally, finally evolved into a Blastoise. I remember being over at a friend's house -- him with Red, me with Blue -- and he'd been lording his Charizard over me for days. But that day little Sheldon became a cannon-toting leviathan, and we got out the Link Cable, and we carefully set up a battle, and I kicked his ass. Then I sorted him out with an Alakazam and he got me a Gengar.
So yeah, that moment. Or when I eventually beat Oddjob in James Bond 007. Or that school trip where we spent the entire time trying to speedrun Metroid II. Or defeating Odin on the 48th attempt in Final Fantasy Legend II. There are too many to count.
Possibly my favourite thing about the Game Boy, though, was its absolute willingness to give you every last drop of battery juice. You needed four of them (two for the GB Pocket), but you'd be able to play for days. And even when the power faltered, the little brick would soldier on, with the onscreen display just getting fainter and fainter, determined to give you as much gaming as you could take, squinting at a steadily fading screen. But it would take hours to eventually run out, never leaving you stranded, never failing to deliver -- a hardy companion, and quite possibly the best console ever made.
Second Opinion: Jonathan Lester
Is the Game Boy the best console of all time? Probably. Nintendo's big grey brick introduced us to the best and most enduring games ever made on the most comfortable handheld in existence, a system with dozens of hours of battery life and a legacy that will last a lifetime. From Pokemon to Micro Machines, Mario to Blues Brothers, it was my constant companion back in the day and it never once let me down. Hail to the king.
It's still surprisingly viable today. My thorough road testing revealed that the Game Boy's sturdy chassis, monumental battery life and evergreen game library are still worth digging it out for, even if the bezel glue will probably melt at temperatures exceeding 1ºC.
But it was more than than just a console. The Game Boy was a bona fide pop culture icon and fashion symbol, yet more importantly than that, it's a shared part of our gaming history - something we can all relate to. Wanting one. Coveting one. Saving up and finally owning one, or cheekily borrowing a friend's or sibling's when they're not looking. Regardless of how old we were, our taste in games, our gender or ability, the Game Boy brought us all together, whether just by the shared experience or by a link cable Pokemon battle that turned long road trips into the best bit of the holiday.
Happy Birthday, old mate. Sorry I cheated on you with the younger, hotter, backlit GBA SP.
What about you guys and girls? Tell us about your favourite Game Boy Memories in the box below.