For those of us who were playing ‘TV games’ 25 years ago when the Nintendo Game Boy launched, we can’t even utter the words ‘Nintendo’ without hearing the six bleep intro to Super Mario Brothers. Nothing makes us think ‘Where did the time go?’ quite so much as changing technology and now with the clunky console turning a quarter of a century old, we reflect on the brand’s many games and its most glorious guises.
Loosely translated as ‘leave luck to heaven’, Nintendo left nothing to chance, sweeping onto the handheld console scene in Japan on April 21st 1989 with the legendary Game Boy – thoroughly stealing the thunder of other interchangeable cartridge-based systems like the Atari Lynx. Blasting the competition away with an impressive 30 hours game play with just four AA batteries, the Game Boy outdid the Lynx by some 25 hours. It’s a staggering amount of wireless fun that’s unimaginable in today’s constantly connected but consistently low-battery smartphone universe. Rudimentary it may have been but with only four buttons and less than ideal graphics (even for the time) the Game Boy became the blueprint for handheld play. Instantly familiar and intuitive to even the most unversed gamer, it was the Game Boy that made Tetris, described as the ‘falling object game’ wildly popular after Nintendo of America secured its handheld distribution rights.
The Game Boy also introduced us to the Pokemon phenomenon after games designer Satoshi Tajiri combined his penchant for insect collecting with a desire to connect gamers in the competitive trade of small creatures – and get them as hooked as he was. ‘Pokemon Red and Green’ released in 1996, went on to become one of the most sought after games on the Game Boy and the DS handheld consoles, later getting a spin-off in the form of an animated series. A ‘phenomenon’ is the only way to describe the concept that was reproduced in just about any possible way and was central to many a primary school playground ‘battle’.
Other battle series included Faceball 2000 – a first person shooter that was a predecessor to the likes of Doom and more recently Call of Duty, with multi-player functionality that’s now almost standard in this genre (even if this included a tangled mess of wires).
Only getting a colour upgrade with the Game Boy Color in 1998, together the two sold over 118 million units, followed by the Game Boy Advance series in 2001 which sold in excess of 81 million units. Nintendo continues to go strong with the DS series that includes the DS Lite and 3DS but like all gadgets nothing ever seems like a revolution once the groundwork’s been done and the original Game Boy certainly laid great gaming foundations.