The Game Boy: A Look Back
Childhood family trips for hours on end were often the least enjoyable aspect of growing up. Stuck in the back of a car for hours on end to go to a relative's house for a summer visit or holiday fulfillment was never something I looked forward to. I can't think of many kids that did, especially when you're crammed in the back of a 1988 Cutlass with two other siblings and have to use the restroom on six hour trips to Kansas City.
Of course, now I miss those trips. Not the trip itself, mind you. That was hell no matter how you look at it. No, it was the end result of good food and family at the end of the line. As a kid, though, you take that for granted and really don't care. So when Nintendo unleashed the Game Boy into the world in 1989, my salvation on those long trips and boring homes with no videogames came with it. Now you could play all the time. Plus it was Nintendo, and having Nintendo at your side constantly in the late 1980s was like having your best friend with you. Now Grandma's house didn't seem so bad, seeing as how they only had one game system, or your uncle's home was made better because you didn't have to fight with your cousins over their NES.
"Damn cousins...I'll just go into the other room and play my Game Boy - i.e. something you don't have. So there."
I can't recall how or when I got a Game Boy, though. I don't recall pleading like I did with an NES or Genesis. It kind of just showed up around the time it first came out. I know it was new, but I want to say it was a birthday present which sits right in line with the holiday trips that I would go on that very year it came out. (The Game Boy came out July, my Birthday was November, Trip was December where it was the brand new thing I showed off to those pesky cousins and/or siblings, so logic dictates that's probably how it went down). I had Tetris, like everyone, and Mario Land. Over the years, and more trips came and went, the game collection started growing. I even got one of those nifty traveling cases you could put everything in. I can't recall the game I played the most, but I could probably bet anything with "Mario" or "Turtles" in it were guaranteed.
The Game Boy just hit my life right at the perfect moment. It's one of the few consoles I've owned over the years that I can say I actually "needed." As a kid, you "need" everything, though, right? But now, as an adult, I can say that without hesitation. I would have been hell on wheels and absolutely bored out of my mind if the Game Boy didn't come out when it did, because those family trips would go on for a good ten years or so through high school. And there was that original Game Boy, my best friend, still at my side until I sold it, games, traveling case and all, in a garage sale for about twenty bucks. I'm thankful for that, but probably more thankful to parents that probably realized and acknowledged that it was something needed.
- Gunpei Yokoi, one of Nintendo's "Godfathers" of game and product development (and one of the coolest names ever), originally developed the Game and Watch series of handheld travel games for Nintendo to great success. He began taking next steps to create a product that combined the NES and the convenience of Game and Watch.
-Yokoi partnered with Satoru Okada to develop such a product. Both engineers had their specialties: Yokoi developed the look and exterior of the product, basing much of what he learned from Game and Watch on its design, while Okada developed the interior CPU. Okada's task proved the more difficult, with Okada having to cut back much of his initial plans as well as go with a simple graphics interface.
-The original prototype emerged in 1987 to great applause by the head of Nintendo, all of whom felt it would be a hit. The final product to be released a few years later ran on a single 8-bit CPU, 4 channel audio and utilized a monochrome graphics screen.
-During further development, Henk Rogers, a game designer, was out in the world trying to sell his latest acquisition: a Russian puzzle game named Tetris. He arrived at Nintendo of America to meet with Minoru Arakawa and pitched his idea - Tetris would be perfect for a portable system. Arakawa reported back to Nintendo of Japan, and soon after Tetris became THE game to own for the Game Boy at release, some considering the most pivotal aspect as to why the Game Boy ended up so successful: it was universal. The soon-to-arrive competition (such as the Atari Lynx) didn't stand a chance.
-The Game Boy release in Japan in April of 1989 and a few months later in July for the US. Europe sadly wouldn't see it until a year later in September of 1990. It sold for $90.00 US and Nintendo even had the courtesy to throw in four AA batteries as well.
-It sold roughly 120 Million units worldwide during its run, selling out in Japan and selling nearly 40,000 units on its first day in the US alone - an overnight success. The little green-screen portable system that could was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame in 2009 - the Game Boy's 20th Anniversary.
-Gunpei Yokoi left Nintendo in 1996, after Nintendo cited him the reason as to the failure of the Virtual Boy, however it was a mutual break and Yokoi still consulted with Nintendo even after. Yokoi was sadly and tragically killed in a car accident on October 4th, 1997. Yokoi was inspecting a vehicle, alongside an associate Etsuo Kiso, after pulling off to the shoulder. A driver sideswiped both. Yokoi died at the hospital a few hours later...his legacy, though still lives.
Tetris was THE game that sold Game Boys, make no bones about it. So I'm not going to waste time putting it as a consideration. Teris is an entity all its own. So, instead, here's ten games you should play. A majority of them are platformers because, like the NES, platformers were probably what the Game Boy was best at.
10: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Fall of the Foot Clan
(Ultra Games - 1990)
1990. Nintendo. Gameboy. Ninja Turtles. The time had the franchise at its all-time high. The show was at its most popular, the arcade and NES had a beat em up and a live action movie out as well. It's easy for a lot of Ninja Turtle things to slip under the radar, not least of which is this little fighting platformer from Ultra Games.
The controls were spot-on, the game never too hard (if not unfairly easy) and just a joy to play on long trips. It's simple, basic, covered everything you love about the show and had itself some pretty awesome graphics and sounds that the Gameboy was able to dish out. It's easy to write it off, Ultra did the horrible Turtles game for the NES the year before, but here they simplified it all, gave fans really all they would want and made for great times on long trips having them at any time to play with.
9: Pokemon Red/Blue
(Game Freak/Nintendo - 1996)
The ones that started it all, I would be remiss to have the origins of the Pokemon franchise, still going strong to this day, not on such a list. I actually never got into the Pokemon craze. Perhaps I was just out of the age range (or it could be the fact I don't think I had my Game Boy when they came out) but I've always respected it. Hell, you have to, don't you? A world-wide phenomena in gaming that really hadn't been seen since Mario at the time? Yeah, you better.
The original Pokemon titles laid the groundwork for every other Pokemon game to come. The big attribute it really added was its focus on community, something Nintendo has always been strong on, by putting both titles out at the same time and having players only able to get every Pokemon through the link-system. In other words, sharing with their friends. The link-system was rarely used with the Game Boy, but this showed how it should best be used. As a result, more kids bought Pokemon, traded, told friends who didn't have it to get it and so on. It's more a genius marketing strategy than anything...but they're damn good little RPGs too (as in the best selling RPGs of all time still to this day).
8: Kid Dracula
(Konami - 1993)
Now here's an interesting one. When putting this little list together, I looked and asked around and this title constantly came up. So, I hunted it down, played it, and you know what? This is one hell of a little platformer from Konami. Despite its limitations, the Gameboy had its share of pretty solid platformers from the likes of Capcom and Konami. Kid Dracula is, in a sense, a parody of the Castlevania games.All with a bit of a Mega Man twist to it all with various powers and weapons you can garner along the way.
I suppose that's a little like Castlevania, but whereas the Castlevania games used those as just subweapons, in Kid Dracula they can be used to really enhance the gameplay and platforming. Once such power being the gravity-flip to allow you to walk on ceilings or power ups to destroy walls and advance. It has pitch-perfect controls and lovely large sprites and animations, not to mentions some awesome horror-movie homages throughout the game. Probably one of the most unheralded titles on the Game Boy, and possibly from Konami themselves.
7: Kid Icarus: Of Myths and Monsters
(Nintendo - 1991)
Not only is this a sequel to an NES classic, it absolutely outdoes it. That's something that many don't mention regarding this little sequel. Let's start with the gameplay: you can move in all direction. None of that "screen stoppage" when you move, so it pretty much takes on the Metroid style entirely (it uses the same game engine of Metroid II). You can also fly. Well, you can float, at least, and control your jumps with your wings to help in precision.
The game also does a great job with re-playability. Your final score determines the treasures you get to keep, and trying to get the Ultimate-Pit is a lot of fun to attempt, though it's easier said than done. I think the demand for another Kid Icarus games stems from the polish of this title and the potential it shows the franchise can have. Hopefully the new Kid Icarus title lives up to the two games that came before, it's only been twenty years.
6: Super Mario Land 2 - Six Golden Coins
(Nintendo - 1992)
Retooling the finely-honed Super Mario 3 Engine and gameplay, many consider Super Mario Land 2 a quasi-sequel to the NES classic and one of the best Mario games ever made. I recall this being one of the last games I played on the Gameboy before I eventually lost it somewhere around 1993/1994.
But enough of that. The reason why this game is incredible is for the guy in the screenshot: Wario. That's right, in rare form for the Mario series, Bowser, aka King Koopa, is nowhere to be found. What's more is how absolutely memorable he soon became as just a greedy, selfish guy that acts like an eight year old looking for his juice box. What's more, here, is that technically, Wario's plan succeeded. He has control over the land from the get-go, and Mario has to bring the world back. Even Bowser never got that far. He only succeeded at kidnappings. Wario was the man.
5: Kirby's Dreamland 2
(Nintendo - 1995)
A great example of a sequel exceeding the original, not that the original was bad or anything. It was still good, but not until Dream Land 2, thanks to Kirby's Adventure, did we really see the Kirby we know and love get the ability to gain powers, making the gameplay that much more deeper. Originally, Kirby was just a blob that inhaled his enemies. After Adventure, every Kirby game (as far as I know) have the power-gain ability. Dreamland 2 also has the addition of animal friends, making for some fun and interesting stages along the way.
I have a weird history with Kirby, myself. I played his Super Nintendo incarnation, but that's really about it. In the late 1990s, I got around to playing the original Game Boy games (around the time the Game Boy Color came out) and really fell in love with the character. Dreamland 2 really was a hell of a polished game, easily one of the best platformers on the Game Boy with some fantastic controls and polished, good ole green screen Game Boy graphics.
4: Gargoyles Quest
(Capcom - 1990)
One of the most unique, hybrid games you can ask to play, Gargoyle's Quest was a blend of classic role playing and platforming. Firebrand, that's our hero, can gain better stats and new abilities as well as carry items as you progress through the games. It also has an overworld with towns and secrets, as well as those classic random encounters, and some pretty awesome boss fights along the way.
You might know its sequels a bit more, notabnly Demon's Quest on the Super Nintendo which has quite the cult following itself and considered one of the system's hidden top-tier titles, though it lightened up on the RPG elements. What I find interesting as that this game out in 1990. I'd argue it was a title well ahead of its time and took some pretty damn bold steps to offer a unique and original experience that is still seen to this day.
3: Metroid II: The Return of Samus
(Nintendo - 1991)
Gunpei Yokoi not only created the Game Boy, he also helped produce some of the best games on the NES such as Kid Icarus and Metroid and some of the best titles on his beloved Game Boy such as Mario Land 2 and 3, both also in this list. He brought the Metroid series exclusively to the Game Boy in a title that many felt outdid the original in every way and certainly influenced Super Metroid a few years later in look and design...and you could only play it on the Game Boy, so either you bought a Game Boy, or at the very least a Super Game Boy to play it on the Super Nintendo you probably also just bought. To make games like the top three here exclusive to the handheld gave the Game Boy an undenyable notch in the win column against all other competitors and even against some home consoles.
I picked up Metroid II pretty late in the game. In fact I think I bought it used. It's everything you want in a Metroid game and more and battles Super Metroid, in my mind at least, as the best Metroid game out there.
2: Warioland: Super Mario Land 3
(Nintendo - 1994)
If you don't like this game, you're just a bad person. This is one of the best platformers you could ever ask to play. Think of it as Mario, but not quite Mario in how it controls. It looks like Mario, even moves a bit like him, but when you start to attack and move around, you start noticing that Wario is just awesome. He literally throws his weight around and enjoys using himself as the blunt instrument to take out enemies.
Everything about Wario Land feels familiar, yet at the same time it's all fresh and new. New characters, new mechanics, you're playing as a greedy asshole and not some typical hero. Wario is in it for himself, he doesn't care about others. He wants the gold. It does this all tongue-in-cheek as you collect your powerups and moneies (the more money = better ending). Out of all the titles on the original Game Boy, only this and our number one title do I consider games that every game simply must play.
1: The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening
(Nintendo - 1993)
It's a trend I've noticed for the past few years across the internet: people are really starting to put this little Zelda title, which was seemingly forgotten in the shadows of Ocarina of Time and A Link to the Past, as one of the best Legend of Zelda titles easily on par with them.
And they are right.
It's familiar, yet strikingly different for a Zelda game. Not taking place in Hyrule, no Princess Zelda, no Ganon, no Triforce. The structure and gameplay is the same, with a few tweaks (Such as jumping) and a unique focus on music and instruments that Ocarina of Time and Wind Waker would adopt, this is the kind of directions many thought the Zelda games would start taking - different worlds/stories and refined gameplay. Well, that maybe didn't quite pan out exactly, but the facade of it all is just enough to bring us one of the more original and epic games in the series and certainly on the Game Boy itself.
Think about this for a minute: From 1989 to 1998, the original "Green screen" Game Boy was the only game in town. It lasted nearly ten years until the Game Boy Color was released. Ten years! More powerful handhelds with color screens came and went, yet this little monochrome baby outlived all of them and some consoles while it was at it.
We take having all the gadgets and gaming in our pockets for granted these days. Phones, game systems, music players, Kindles and cameras. In 89, at best, we had a Walkman and a travel case full of cassettes. To have gaming at your hand when you wanted on this level rather than little Game and Watch or cheap gas station handheld games? That was immeasurable, something that, I think, I would only compare to the MP3 player's getting rid of physical media on equal "wow" factor by everyone. In that light, it's no wonder this is THE line when it comes to handhelds even today. The foundation and original incarnation wasn't even an experiment or a test of the waters, it was a huge, overwhelming success and probably Nintendo's greatest success at that.