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History Of Nintendo: Game Boy

How a grey box ruled the nation's bus routes!

Classic pub quiz question: What was the first ever handheld console? Did you say Game Boy? You're wrong. In fact it was the Microvision but you hardly ever hear the name mentioned these days which is proof, if ever it was needed, that being first isn't always the most important thing. And whilst MB were releasing its Microvision in 1979, a man called Gunpei Yoko was busy creating Game & Watch, Nintendo's own handheld games machines. Unlike MB's machine, they didn't have interchangeable cartridges and unlike MB's machine, they were very popular! Nintendo released 59 Game & Watch games between 1980 and 1991 but by the time Mario The Juggler was released in 1991, the kids (and their parents) were playing on Gunpei Yoko's new creation - The Game Boy.

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When it comes to Nintendo legends, the late Yokoi is right up there with Shigeru Miyamoto - his Game & Watch design would go on to directly influence the DS which would never have seen the light of day had he not kicked off a new passion for handheld gaming in 1989. One of the reasons the Game & Watch series took off was because they were relatively inexpensive at the time and so when Yokoi set about creating his first handheld console with interchangeable cartridges, he had the same aim: to make an affordable console with high-quality games. And he had one high quality game up his sleeve, alright. Tetris.

Block Party

The Tetris story has been told many times before. Created by Alexey Pajitnov while working for the Soviet Academy of Sciences, Tetris had already been released in the US in 1986 but it wasn't really until Elorg (who had been granted marketing rights by the Soviet government) gave the handheld rights to Nintendo that the game became a worldwide phenomenon. The simple block puzzler launched with the Game Boy in 1989 and went on to sell an incredible 33 million copies, helping Nintendo reach a new audience, an achievement the company would repeat decades later with Wii and DS.

Tetris was the perfect game for Game Boy. Simplicity was the key with this game and it didn't need smart or colourful visuals to suck people in to its addictive charms. Which is probably for the best as the Game Boy had very basic monochrome graphics. You see, aside from making the handheld itself affordable, Yokoi wanted the Game Boy to be economical and he resisted the temptation to use the latest technology in order to preserve battery life. His bosses may have wanted him to produce a colour machine, but he refused to comply because the battery life needed to power colour consoles wasn't sufficient at the time. Something Sega and Atari would learn to their cost with the failure of the battery sucking GameGear and Lynx.

So the ugly grey box with basic black & white games succeeded where flashier models would fail. Why? Well, although it was relatively inexpensive, it wouldn't have survived for so long without a continuous supply of classic games. Alongside Tetris at launch was a brand new Mario game called Super Mario Land. Produced by Yokoi himself, this Mario may have been a platformer similar to Mario Bros. but it didn't feature familiar faces such as Bowser, Luigi or Princess Peach. This time the damsel in distress was Daisy and Mario had to save her from the clutches of a spaceman called Tatanga. Mario wasn't the only big name to have his own Mario games - Link would follow in the plumber's footsteps with Link's Awakening in 1993 and Rare would release Donkey Kong Land in 1995 but it was a new generation of stars who would breathe life into the ageing handheld in 1996. They were Pokemon.

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19 comments so far...
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  1. tgrech Wednesday 11th Nov 2009 at 16:53

    First post, now lets read it. :lol:

  2. tgrech Wednesday 11th Nov 2009 at 17:04

    Im amazed that they released an MUFC gameboy, shows how great they are.

  3. Ai64 Wednesday 11th Nov 2009 at 17:08

    Terrific. Not only did it sold more than 8 million but there were a bunch of legendary games such as tetris and super mario land. All hail the bulky but brilliant game boy.

  4. SoulSilver IV Wednesday 11th Nov 2009 at 17:42

    I remember the first console which was truly mine was the Game Boy Pocket. I still remember seeing it on the shelves in Toys R Us. It was the pack that came with Super Mario Land 1 & 2, and a carry case. Good times! :D

    I can't believe that you rated the original Mario Land above the sequel though, ONM. The sequel, imo, improved on the original in every way: graphics, level length, number of levels, power ups, music, etc etc etc. Not that I'm saying the original wasn't any good. That game has the privelage of being the first Mario game I every played and owned, and I still do. :lol:

  5. nintendo_guy Wednesday 11th Nov 2009 at 18:51

    First game released: 1989

    Last game released: 2003

    :shock: :shock: :shock:

  6. Deku scrub Wednesday 11th Nov 2009 at 20:24

    WOOT my first handheld Pokemon RED FTW i remember happy times :)

  7. Deku scrub Wednesday 11th Nov 2009 at 20:25

    WOOT my first handheld Pokemon RED FTW i remember happy times :)

  8. kayz2810 Wednesday 11th Nov 2009 at 20:57 first handheld was a gameboy with such games as the pokemon red, jelly boy, 2 versions of Mario and many others. Loved it...even if it didn't have colour! :D

  9. D.J Thursday 12th Nov 2009 at 08:54

    One of my fondest memories from the original Game Boy was Kirby's Pinball Land.

    Back in 1994, I found it to be even more addictive than Tetris.

  10. laguz Thursday 12th Nov 2009 at 11:12

    i still have my original game boy, my favouite games are:

    pokemon red/blue/yellow
    pokemon gold/silver/crystal
    super mario land
    super mario land 2
    kirby's dream land

  11. NEO.BAHAMUT Thursday 12th Nov 2009 at 11:17

    Ahhhh, Pokemon Red, still my most loved Pokemon game, and forever will be. No Pokemon game will ever compare to Red/Blue/Yellow, they are THE best Pokemon games around!

    And the Gameboy, my most loved handheld ever! I still have my lovely Yellow Gameboy! And I still play it every now and again! It would be so amazing if we got a Gameboy VC for the DSi Shop! Oh well, we can dream I guess...

  12. hardcoregamerrob Thursday 12th Nov 2009 at 16:31

    i still have my original game boy, my favouite games are:

    pokemon red/blue/yellow
    pokemon gold/silver/crystal
    super mario land
    super mario land 2
    kirby's dream land

    WOW thats my top gameboy games too :D.
    also i love the donkey kong land games too :)

  13. super yoshifan Thursday 12th Nov 2009 at 17:37

    I found it to be even more addictive than Tetris.

    Nothing is more addictive then Tetris

  14. sciqueen Thursday 12th Nov 2009 at 19:49

    The Game Boy, the greatest handheld ever.

  15. gamester Thursday 12th Nov 2009 at 22:04

    I found it to be even more addictive than Tetris.

    Nothing is more addictive then Tetris

    Yup nothing can beat the adictivness of tetris.

    (Off topic: if you like Tetris join this site:
    It's brilliant no joke)

    The Gameboy a truely remarkable handheld if it wasn't for that we probably wouldn't have the games and handheld's we have of today.

  16. Evosnake Thursday 12th Nov 2009 at 22:36

    I have two gameboy pockets, two colours, and two advances. ;)

  17. ACRID Friday 13th Nov 2009 at 14:06

    First Handheld I had was GBA SP, I did play on various Gameboys, Game Gears and GB Colours but never owned one and so never really had a proper gaming session on one. The Game Boy was the first handheld I ever played though, back in 1990 I think, first game I played was Super Mario Land.

  18. luke4liverpool Friday 13th Nov 2009 at 17:25

    want one of these...i love me retro :p

  19. danbish Saturday 14th Nov 2009 at 10:44

    Ahhh, the one that started it all. I remember my GameBoy fondly and still play it's games every now and then. An incredible machine that started me off in the world of gaming, and to think, I won it in a promotion by Quavers! Result! :D

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