Introduced in 1989 as a big, neutral-grey brick of a B&W portable game machine, the Nintendo Game Boy may have been considered instantly obsolete by some. It was powered by a Z80 chip, something which had fallen out of use with personal computer manufacturers halfway through that decade. Its display was monochrome and LCD, and in an age when late 80s arcade games had spoiled players with stereo sound, the only way to get stereo out of the Game Boy was with its headphones.
But the “killer app” of the Nintendo Game Boy was its portability. But hadn’t this been tried before, with the Milton-Bradley Microvision around 1982? Sure it had. But the Microvision didn’t come packed with what was, at the time, the most popular game in the world: Tetris.
Nintendo and a few other manufacturers released a whole slew of Game Boy titles, and it seemed uncertain what genre of gaming would be the machine’s strength: puzzle games, like Tetris? Decent classic arcade adaptations such as Qix and Super Mario Bros.?
This confusion was intensified by the Super Game Boy, a module fitting into the Super NES cartridge slot, allowing the machine to play Game Boy games encoded with minimal color schemes.
It was 1997 before the next true compelling application of the Game Boy was discovered: a little Japanese creation which every child in America now knows as PokÃ¨mon.
The Game Boy Color was introduced in 1999, sprucing up the same basic machine with a non-backlit color LCD display, and with the arrival of the Game Boy Advance – a much more powerful but, very wisely on Nintendo’s part so as not to alienate a dozen years worth of loyal customers, backward-compatible color handheld – it seems as though this platform is joining the hallowed and rarified ranks of game consoles that can survive a decade. The Game Boy shares this distinction only with Atari 2600.
With the 2004 release of the Nintendo DS handheld system, however, Nintendo moved away from the Game Boy legacy. The DS included a secondary cartridge slot that allows it to play Game Boy Advance games, but this time backward compatibility only went so far – the ability to play the original monochrome Game Boy games or Game Boy Color titles was left behind. Software was produced for both systems for a while, but Nintendo eventually shifted all of its efforts to the DS system. It’s possible now, having reached the end of the Game Boy line, to look back and see the system for what it was – a trendsetting game machine which became nothing short of a cultural icon unto itself, and a machine that set a new benchmark for the longevity of a single family of hardware (at least 16 years). The Game Boy also boasted one of the most widely varied game libraries of any platform, ranging from the 80s arcade simplicity of its launch titles to the deeply immersive quest games of the Game Boy Advance’s heyday, with stops at nearly every gaming trend that has emerged along the way. It truly was the sole survivor of the classic 80s video game systems, coming to rest at a time when gamers were only beginning to wax nostalgic about its very first games.
- Dig Dug
- Elevator Action
- Hyper Lode Runner
- Lock ‘N’ Chase
- Namco Arcade Classics 3: Galaga / Galaxian
- Space Battleship Yamato
- Super Mario Land
- Atari Anniversary Advance
- Centipede / Breakout / Warlords
- Gauntlet / Rampart
- Godzilla: Domination
- Mario Kart Super Circuit
- Millipede / Super Breakout / Lunar Lander
- Pac-Man Collection
- Pac-Man Vs.
- Dragon’s Lair
- Galaga: Destination Earth
- Marble Madness
- Qix Adventure
- Ultima III: Exodus
A note about screen shots in this section: At long last, the Game Boy section of Phosphor Dot Fossils has real live screen shots to accompany its game reviews. Games hailing from the monochrome Game Boy era have, for authenticity’s sake, been reduced to greyscale images and then tinted to a yellow approximating the background of the original Game Boy’s screen. Some of these games have color encoding intended for the SNES Super Game Boy module, but I’ve elected to take the greyscale-and-tint approach to preserve the flavor of the hardware of that time.