Nintendo were late to the party when it came to creating a colour handheld console, but they were fashionably late. At the behest of Gunpei Yokoi, Nintendo waited until they were truly ready to launch a colour handheld console, watching as competitors tried and failed to trump their technologically inferior machine.
In the aftermath of the launch of the Game Boy, Atari and Sega had released handhelds to rival Nintendo's machine but despite displaying LCD colour screens, neither the Game Gear nor The Lynx made a big impact. First up was the Lynx in 1989 but it was far more expensive than Nintendo's console and even an attempt to relaunch the handheld in 1991 with a reduced price and sleek new look failed to convince. The fact was that it didn't have enough brilliant games and, even if loads of all-time classics had been developed for the Lynx, gamers wouldn't have been interested because the six batteries that they'd forked out for would be dead after four hours of gameplay.
As for Sega's Game Gear, it suffered from similar problems. Despite a marketing campaign that tried it's best to discredit the Game Boy as the inferior machine (one TV ad apparently showed a gamer hitting himself in the head with a dead squirrel in an attempt to see colour in the Game Boy's monochromatic screen), Game Gear couldn't compete with the Game Boy and once again, battery life was its downfall. Six batteries were needed to power six hours of game life and not even the appearance of Sonic The Hedgehog could withstand such limitations.
As you may have read in last week's Game Boy feature, it was always Gunpei Yokoi's insistence that Game Boy would only go colour when Nintendo could make an affordable colour machine that didn't drain battery life. By 1998 the time had come but sadly Yokoi would not be around to see it. The failure of the Virtual Boy had lead to his resignation from Nintendo in 1996, days after his Game Boy pocket was released. He moved on to work on the WonderSwan with Bandai but was tragically killed in a car accident in 1997.
Although developers wanted a new Game Boy with colour visuals, Nintendo also wanted gamers to be able to play their old games so they created a backwards compatible console that could play all the old Game Boy games. This was important because not only could the new handheld display 56 different colors simultaneously on screen, it could also add basic four-color shading to games that had been developed for the original Game Boy. Games such as Pokémon Yellow and Super Mario Land benefited from this.
Some games such as Tetris and Legend Of Zelda: Link's Awakening were re-released to take advantage of the new handheld. Tetris DX and Link's Awakening DX were arguably even better experiences in colour and then there was Super Mario Bros. Deluxe. Released in 1999, this was an update of the original Super Mario Bros., the game that ONM voted as its best Nintendo game of all time. It featured multiplayer, a challenge mode and eight additional worlds based on the notoriously difficult Super Mario Bros. The Lost Levels. This unlockable extra wasn't called "For Super Players" for nothing.
Yet the biggest stars of Game Boy Color weren't Nintendo old timers such as Mario and Zelda, but Pokémon. We've already mentioned Pokémon Yellow but Pokémon Gold/Silver were the first Pokémon games to be released exclusively for Game Boy Color. The games launched in the UK in 2001 and by this time Pokémon was massive, partly thanks to the TV series which was broadcast every Saturday morning on Ant & Dec's SMTV. With 100 new Pokémon to catch, new items and the introduction of Pokémon breeding, Gold/Silver lived up to the hype and sold millions of copies worldwide.