[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Game Boy is Twenty

April 20th, 2009 by Benj Edwards

Game Boy Newspaper Ad - 1989"Just pop it in your pocket and pull it out any time."

[ From The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, August 23rd, 1989 ]

Twenty years ago tomorrow, the Game Boy went on sale for the first time in Japan. It retailed for ¥12,500 (about $94 US at 1989 rates), and Nintendo offered four games at Game Boy's initial launch: Super Mario Land, Baseball, Alleyway, and Yakuman (a Mahjong game). Four months later, Game Boy reached American shores with a retail price of $89.99 and a powerful pack-in game — Tetris.

Nintendo's inclusion of Tetris as the US pack-in was a stroke of absolute genius. The handheld version of Alexey Pajitnov's addictive puzzler made such waves in US that its release will long be remembered not just as a defining moment in video game history, but as a major cultural event for an entire generation.

As we now know, Game Boy's long and successful run created an immense legacy, far beyond just Tetris. Overall, publishers released 1246 licensed games for the Game Boy in Japan and 952 in the US. To date, Nintendo has sold 118.69 million units of the original Game Boy line (including Game Boy Color) worldwide.

Above, we see an original Toys 'R' Us newspaper advertisement announcing the arrival of the Game Boy and its launch games in the United States. (Gotta love that line art.) It really brings back memories of my excitement regarding Nintendo's first handheld system.

Discussion Topic of the Week:

In your opinion, what factors made the Game Boy so successful?

On the other hand, what mistakes, if any, did Nintendo make with the Game Boy over its twenty year run?

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8 Responses to “[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Game Boy is Twenty”

  1. Jim Ulrich Says:

    It was initially successful because of three reasons:
    1. It was cheap. The TurboExpress was $250 and the Game Gear was $150.
    2. Good battery life 4 AA's would give 35 hours of playing time. The TurboExpress would go through 6 AA's in three hours and Game Gear 6 AA's in five hours.
    3. Tetris. It was a killer app for a portable gaming console. It was easy to learn, difficult to master. It was fun to play for five minutes or several hours. And it featured head-to-head gaming.

    It's continued success was due to one thing: Pokemon.

  2. Sirpaul484 Says:

    Yeah, I think the killer app was the thing that made the Game Boy kill off all the other portable systems. Plus, there were many more gems in the Game Boy's lineup than the Game Gear's. The price was also quite helpful, seeing as you could get a Game Boy, accessories, and an extra game or two for the price of a Game gear.

    As for mistakes.. I'd say waiting so long for a backlight and color capabilities. Sometimes, I felt like I spent more time fiddling with the contrast than I spent actually playing the game. Also, making the original game cases so hard to open didn't help much.

  3. JackSoar Says:

    I pretty much concur with the previous two posters. The battery life was a huge factor. Then, as now, it's no use having a nifty portable gadget if it doesn't allow you to operate it for more than a couple hours without needing either a recharge, or worse, new batteries altogether. Think of how many games people could have bought for the Game Gear or Atari Lynx for the price they spent on replacing the batteries.

    The greyscale (well, greenscale) graphics may not have been impressive, but the Game Boy had enough great games so that it didn't matter.

  4. k. Says:

    The Gameboy was successful because even my mother enjoyed playing countless hours of tetris with it

  5. pinball22 Says:

    Yep, it's all about the Tetris. I knew people who never played any other video games who had a GB just to play it.

  6. johney Says:

    i allway's wanted a gameboy to play on the group, so i din not need to wait till i was athome to play futher on the nes.but no way.
    despites the limmitations of the gameboy, against it,s rivals like atari lynx and turbo fx 16,it had good conversion games from home consoles,by using manny tricks like paralax scrolling etc,,,also the mbc bankswitching chip helped increasing the gameboy perfomance.
    rare had even shrunked the ACM graphics with their donkeykongland series into this handheld.
    some games even contained some voice samples like castlevania 2.
    the 3 big mistakes were, the hard to open case,the spinasy greenish lcd screen, wish was not that sharp, and the in b&w programmed games,
    as they do not look much presentible once colorized on the supergameboy.

  7. Cody Says:

    I remember seeing it in kids movies in the 90s and thinking it was a must-have toy, even though I never owned one.

    I did play Tetris a few times. My review? Booooring.

  8. Eric Forslin Says:

    I actually have a few issues of Nintendo Power that cover the release and details of the Gameboy. They're right next to me. My brother destroyed one a few days ago. Freakin' punk.

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