Game Boy: At 25, is it still a phenomenon?

Nintendo’s handheld games console the Game Boy is celebrating its 25th birthday this week.

Nintendo’s handheld games console the Game Boy is celebrating its 25th birthday this week. Launched on April 21, 1989, the console has sold more than 118 million units worldwide and gave birth to the popular gaming franchise Pokemon as well as making Nintendo household names.

But why was the Game Boy such a phenomenon?

Designed to a T

The Game Boy wasn’t the first portable gaming console, nor was it the best technically but Nintendo took a punt by sacrificing technicality for practicality in a hope that the Game Boy’s 30-hour battery life would make it far superior to it’s competitors.

As well as battery life the Game Boy followed a tried and tested button layout. The directional pad, along with A, B, START, and SELECT. The familiarity to the tried and tested NES gave Nintendo’s newest addition a boost in the market ahead of its direct competitors such as the Sega Game Gear.

What’s a Pocket Monster?

Nintendo will have had high expectations for their 1996 RPG Pokémon Red and Blue. Of course, they company will never have expected Pokémon to take off as it did and become such a global phenomenon making characters such as Pikachu and Ash Ketchum household names.

Pokémon became so much more than just a game but every success that game from the franchise all boils down to a little 8-bit character who gets given his first Pokémon before embarking on a quest through Kanto. Pokémon is the second biggest selling gaming franchise – after Mario – go Nintendo!

An adapting market

Design and innovation have always been a big part of the Nintendo ethos. Whether it’s the small yet powerful Gamecube, the touch-powered Nintendo DS (the Game Boy’s successor) or the best-selling Nintendo Wii.

As the Game Boy saw off its main rivals Nintendo had to find a way to keep it fresh, the gaming world moves, and it moves fast, as such the Game Boy went on a long way from its humble beginnings.

The Game Boy Pocket (still black and white) had a printer and camera accessory that could take pictures and print them using the thermal picture. Whilst the idea never really took off it showed Nintendo’s major attempts at innovation.

An ever changing line

With constant innovation came a few facelifts for the console now synonymous with the Japanese company with one of the biggest coming in 1998.

The Game Boy Color followed the same basic design as the Game Boy Pocket and still shared some style features with the original Game Boy, only now the slightly thicker console’s 8-bit processor was stocked with multi-coloured worlds for gamers to explore. It was however still backwards compatible meaning its pool of games would only ever grow.

The Game Boy Color also meant that Nintendo’s favourites Pokémon could come up with another offering. As such the almost 15 million selling Pokémon Gold and Silver brought the new world of Johto to life.

The Advancements don’t stop there

Not happy with resting on their laurels Nintedo furthered their design and innovation and in 2003 a complete redesign of the world renown console brought the Game Boy Advance.

The GBA brought with it an extra two bumper buttons on the top of the now almost unrecognizable console. Along with a series of new designs and new games the GBA stayed true to its roots and again led to backwards compatibility with the old cartridges.

The best selling games on the GBA, unsurprisingly, once again was Pokémon, this time with Ruby and Saphire.

Let’s get Special

After the GBA came another major design change. The Game Boy Advance SP, was a smaller console, and came with a backlight (or frontlight) as well as a more laptop-like lid design.

The SP only had a year lifespan before Nintendo released their touch-based Nintendo DS however the design of the incredibly popular SP can be seen in their future releases. The SP was replaced in the Game Boy line by the Micro but final Game Boy innovation never really hit the heights of previous models. 

What do you think of the Nintendo Game Boy? What was your favourite Game Boy game? Have your say in the comments section below.

Image: Wikimedia