The Nintendo Game Boy turns 30 this Sunday, and to celebrate this amazing occasion we’ll be running a series of related features this week, right up to the big day.
As the 30th anniversary of the Game Boy’s Japanese debut approached, we here at Nintendo Life Towers were thinking a lot about the ol’ DMG-01. The appeal of that chunky lump of grey plastic endures to this day, despite multiple hardware revisions and being superseded by umpteen portables. Yes, it’s bulky by modern standards, and these days you’ll find a better screen on your average set of bathroom scales, but the OG Game Boy remains a reassuringly solid and comfortable bit of kit in your hands.
A quick survey around the office reveals that a few staff members are too young to have owned the original version of the console, but thanks to the backwards compatibility of the Game Boy line (right up to the Micro variant of the Game Boy Advance), there’s nobody that doesn’t get a dose of the warm fuzzies at the mention of the classic system and its huge library of games.
We’ve already heard what developers thought of the all-conquering handheld and now it’s time to listen to us blather on for a paragraph or two about what makes the Game Boy so special. So, grab a fistful of double-As and saddle up for a nostalgia trip…
Ryan Craddock, staff writer
Sadly, I’ve never owned an original Game Boy, but the Game Boy Color (close enough, right?) was my very first gaming console. I vividly remember being painfully jealous of my next door neighbour who had a Game Boy with a copy of Pokémon Blue, and my little, six-year-old self would go round every day, play on it for as long as I could (without saving over his progress) and then do it all over again the next day.
Eventually, my mum treated me to my very own Game Boy Color (which had only been out for a year or two) and a copy of both Pokémon Red and Blue. I’m not exaggerating when I say that Pokémon took over my entire life as a kid – it was everything – and that love for the series, and later Nintendo, has led me right to where I am today on this very site.
Being so young meant that I couldn’t collect the sheer number of games I do for consoles these days, so I can’t declare myself as a ‘super fan’ of the system as such, but the Game Boy family of consoles kickstarted my love for a hobby which has always stayed with me and I can’t give them any better praise than that.
Dom Reseigh-Lincoln, reviewer
The Game Boy wasn’t just a flashy toy to me. It was the start of a lifelong love of handheld gaming. And every game – even the bad ones – felt that bit more important because I could play them anywhere. It even got me into genres I might otherwise have never played. The cryptically named Soccer sent me football mad (including it’s amazing soundtrack). The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening cemented the series into my being long before Ocarina of Time. And, of course, I spent endless hours playing WWF Superstars. My love of PSP, Vita and Switch all come back to that big yellow Game Boy that meant so much.
Gavin Lane, staff writer
It’s only very recently that I tracked down an original Game Boy of my own – back in the day I briefly played on a red Game Boy Pocket (which has since been lost to time or, possibly, distant relatives) before upgrading to a beautiful turquoise Game Boy Color at the same time I swapped Pokémon Blue for the enhanced Yellow version. It was on that which I played my select library of original Game Boy games. The one that really stands out in my memory (besides the brilliant Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins, of course) is the simply named Tennis.
No, this game didn’t have any ‘Super’ prefix or a new-fangled colon-subtitle to get you excited! Back in those days you could name your game after the sport it emulated and that was quite enough, thank-you-very-much; no bells, no whistles, just tennis. Even today I find the control you have over your shots impressive, and – blasphemous as it may be – it’s not Tetris I turn to for a bite of retro-relaxation, it’s Tennis.
Gonçalo Lopes, contributing writer
My experience with the original Game Boy is hard to compress in just a few short paragraphs but I am not one to shy away from the challenge. While I was a very happy Commodore Amiga owner at the time (1991), it was not the ideal digital entertainment platform in a world where my parents ruled the TV screen (never got a monitor for it, they were expensive).
I stumbled upon the first news of the Game Boy like pretty much everything else in a pre-internet connected world: through the magic of foreign press. A Game & Watch with interchangeable games and the innards of a souped-up ZX Spectrum with a 20+ hour battery life? You can keep your colour games, Game Gear and Lynx, I need something that could last me 300-kilometre bus trips and doctor appointment waiting rooms while still fitting in my pockets. Portugal was going into the transitional period of enforcing EU copyright laws (i.e. the end of over-the-counter piracy) and video game consoles were starting to at last show up in local toy stores. Sega nearly immediately took over the country with its usual flare and aggressive marketing, but Nintendo eventually began sneaking into toy stores and the Game Boy arrived fashionably late along with the outdated 8-bit NES.
As you might imagine, things on the playground weren’t easy for Nintendo fans; games became extremely expensive overnight and none of us could afford more than one system and maybe a game every couple of months. Most of my friends turned to SEGA and they simply could not comprehend why I was so happy to return to 8-bit and a system with only 4 colours and no backlit screen. However, thanks to my monthly investment in foreign press I knew exactly what was happening in the US and Japan, with companies like Capcom and Konami releasing portable miracles every other month. Even better, local toy shops began sneaking in (thankfully region-free) Game Boy imports onto their inventory so it wasn’t long before my humble collection grew outside of official European offerings.
I am still discovering nowadays new Game Boy games by exploring the Japan-only catalogue and I have played so many brilliant titles it is truly impossible for me to pick a single game as “the one”. But like most wonderful journeys it all began with my first game and to most people’s surprise it was neither Super Mario Land nor the packed-in Tetris (which I still replay often). It was a very humble first-party developed shmup called Solar Striker. I played it so much I reckon I still know every pattern and safe spot needed to defeat all end-of-level bosses. Further proof of my eccentricity, I never played or owned any Pokémon games; when those came out I was already knee-deep into Japanese Super Famicom imports.
Besides the undeniable staying power of the system, the beauty of the Game Boy remains that there is no ‘right way’ to enjoy its fantastic game library. There is something for everyone if you look beyond the obvious choices. Who knew that 30 years later it would find a whole new life as the weapon of choice among chiptune music artists? It was a luxury back then and obsolete or not, a luxury today and tomorrow; you simply can’t put down this brick.
Alex Olney, video producer
My brother and I both got a Game Boy Pocket each one Christmas back in what must have been the mid-nineties, which considering our age was unthinkable, as we usually had to share everything. Both of them are still both going strong today, but mine was certainly put through its paces in its heyday.
One fine-ish day, I was feeling rather unwell and so stayed home from school so as not to infect all the other small humans. Naturally the shiny electronic brick was used whenever this happened, but this was before I properly understood how to take care of the things that I owned and didn’t want to be damaged. As I was given some cold medicine from my mum, I didn’t really want to pause the game, so I dried drinking it from the tiny plastic cup hands-free. What resulted was the sticky syrup slipping southwards and landing on my console’s D-pad. It soaked in beautifully, and not wanting to let my family know what a complete boob I’d been, I tried to hide it and clean it up as well as I could. Over the coming weeks the D-pad was getting stickier and stiffer all the time, making Alleyway even more unplayable than it was before.
I’d resigned myself to the fact that it was broken, and nothing was going to fix it short of some miracle my dad could perform with some power tools behind closed doors. After a few weeks in a drawer however, the sugary glue had completely hardened, and although it could still be seen through the clear body of the device, one quick press snapped its bonds in twain, and although slightly gritty, the system was working perfectly again. These little buggers are borderline invincible.
Liam Doolan, news writer
I played a wide variety of releases during the original Game Boy generation, but one game I’ll always cherish is the 1998 action-adventure title James Bond 007, created by the now-defunct developer, Saffire Entertainment.
While the Pokémon craze was growing in popularity here in the west, somehow I found myself playing this on the side, on a regular basis. Compared to various other Game Boy games at the time – such as Pokémon Red and Blue – the design of James Bond was a little rough around the edges. Long story short, I ended up getting stuck in a number of difficult segments throughout the game due to its design but managed to persevere.
I eventually saw the credits roll and to this day, it’s still one of my favourite Game Boy games – and memories – of all-time.
Austin Voigt, contributing writer
My first experience with the Game Boy was in my next-door neighbor’s kitchen, and I remember it like it was yesterday. While my friend was my age, their parents allowed them to have a Game Boy, and mine did not (because they thought videogames were the devil’s work, apparently). I’d played the SNES copiously in my youth on my uncle’s system, but this was the first time I’d experienced handheld gaming that could just move anywhere with you – mind-boggling! We played Super Mario Land while listening to the Lion King soundtrack (yeah, it was quite a few years after the initial release – I’m a youngster), and I remembered thinking: “This is the future, people. Handheld gaming, music on CDs… what next?!” Ah, if only Little Austin could see what Nintendo’s doing now…
Darren Calvert, operations director
As I started my gaming life as something of a Sega kid with the Master System, like so many others my age in the UK, I have fond memories of the Game Boy as it introduced me to all the great Nintendo franchises long before I would go on to pick up a battered old Mattel NES for myself. While many of my cherished Game Boy memories were playing Vs Tetris against my best friend outdoors via the game link cable, I also remember being completely addicted to Super Mario Land at that time too.
A local video game store which we frequented used to have the latest issue of Famitsu on the counter for customers to browse and I remember how excited we were to see the first screenshots for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Fall of the Foot Clan which we promptly imported a whole year before it arrived officially in the UK. Gargoyle’s Quest was another fond import in 1990; we had no idea what was going on in the RPG section of the game, but it didn’t matter. We muddled through until we could get to the next slice of Firebrand platforming action.
The Game Boy was always with us wherever we went for many years, along with a stash of AA batteries of course. While the Sega Game Gear and the Atari Lynx did their best to challenge the humble Game Boy, nothing could beat its vast selection of games which were ideally suited to its small monochrome screen. 30 years later, many of these classic games are still great fun to dip into.
Those are just some of our memories, but that unassuming lump of grey plastic stokes the old nostalgia fires like Doc Brown’s Presto logs – share your own memories in the comments below and let’s all bask in the warm green glow of the (backlight-modded) DMG-01…