Happy Anniversary to the original Nintendo Game Boy, that beloved brick-like portable game system that made puke green a favorite color amongst those of us privileged enough to have lived in the late 1980s and early 1990s. 1UP's Retro Gaming Blog is celebrating in style by reviewing why Nintendo's "good enough" policy in terms of hardware horsepower has led to the company's continued success.
These feats are all the more remarkable when you stop to consider that Game Boy was tragically behind the technology curve before it even launched, to say nothing of how it fared a decade later. By the time Game Boy reached stores, Epyx had been shopping around its "Handy" system for several years -- a powerful, full-color system with a gorgeous screen and impressive hardware capabilities. Eventually, Handy saw the light of day under the guise of Atari's Lynx, and it was promptly relegated to a distant second place behind the insanely popular Game Boy -- a system with a puny processor based on Intel's 8080 chip (impressive in the mid-'70s, less so at the threshold of the '90s) and a blurry passive-matrix screen capable of four hideous shades of green-tinted grey.
The secret of Game Boy's success was that it demonstrated Nintendo's uncanny grasp of "good enough." In fact, the philosophy creator Gumpei Yokoi employed in designing the system has been the key to all of Nintendo's greatest successes. Epyx (like most hardware makers) simply aimed to give Handy raw power and impressive specs, offering a portable machine with the muscle to rival a home system. But it seems they never stopped to consider the overall experience, the need to balance horsepower with the practical limitations of handheld gaming. When Lynx launched, it was twice the price of Game Boy and incurred a secondary cost consideration as well: it guzzled large, expensive C-cell batteries in a matter of hours. (Correction: it used AAs, but it burned through six of them in a couple of hours.) The fact is, Lynx was probably doomed to runner-up status from the start. Even before either system launched, Electronic Gaming Monthlycalled the race for Game Boy way back in the magazine's second issue: "With a rumored retail tag of around $160 bucks for the system and thirty dollar games, the Epyx unit appears to have priced itself out of existance [sic] in the face of Nintendo's competing Game Boy machine."
My Game Boy was a holiday gift from my parents back in 1989. I was given the system itself with the pack-in Tetris game pak, the then-awesome Super Mario Land, and the external battery pak. After opening the box and powering up the system, I proceeded to lay in bed and play my two games under the light of my little headboard reading lamp. Why bed? Just because I could, of course. As the years went by I acquired other games, of course, and it wasn't uncommon to find my sitting on the family couch, playing a game and watching TV at the same time. The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening, Kwirk, Donkey Kong Land, Super Mario Land 2: Six Golden Coins, Mega Man in Dr. Wily's Revenge, Kirby's Dream Land, Ren & Stimpy: Space Cadet Adventures, Super Mario Land 3: Wario Land, Donkey Kong, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Earthworm Jim, Home Alone, and plenty of other great and not-so-great games became a part of my collection. My father built a custom carrying case out of a bulletproof briefcase to carry the system, games, accessories, instruction manuals, and Player's Guides. When on vacation, the Game Boy was a piece of luggage unto itself.
The march of time eventually brought things to an end, however, as I resisted upgrading to the Game Boy Color for cost reasons. The last original Game Boy game to enter my collection was Mega Man V back in late 1994. I still have my collection (and the briefcase), but the Game Boy itself has seen better days. After all these years, it's the only Nintendo hardware that has ever failed me, as the little dot matrix screen has columns of dead pixels on it, making games basically unplayable on it. Oh well. Game Boy and I had a good run: thousands of hours of fun, thousands of miles traveled, and thousands of memories made. Oh, and four bizarre comic books.
Strangely enough, it would be exactly ten years before I acquired another portable Nintendo system: the Nintendo DS.