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Feature: Remembering the Super Game Boy

Posted by Dave Frear

A colourful entry in the Game Boy family

The original Game Boy was a big hit when it launched in 1989, thanks to a winning combination of portability and some cracking games. One thing it did lack, however, was colour. Whilst rival handhelds the Sega Game Gear and Atari Lynx boasted colour back-lit displays, Nintendo's portable was limited to four shades of grey. A benefit of this was a vastly superior battery life but people wondered if (and rumours abounded that) a colour version of the machine was on the way. In the end the Game Boy Color would not arrive until 1998, but the Game Boy library of games would receive a splash of colour before that: thanks to the Super Game Boy in 1994.

The Super Game Boy was an adapter for the SNES into which users could insert a Game Boy game to play on their TV screens. As well as allowing SNES owners to enjoy the likes of Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3 and The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening, the Super Game Boy had some nifty extra features too.

The Super Game Boy featured 32 built-in colour palettes. In each case a colour is applied to one of the four shades the regular Game Boy would use to make a more varied display. Rather than blow the images up to fullscreen, the games take up around two thirds of the screen with a border displayed around the outside: by default this is one similar to a Game Boy but there are 8 others available. Many games used an orange and purple palette by default but others would opt for one of the others if it suited the look of the game better: an example being Metroid II: Return of Samus, where Samus appears in more familiar colours. Pressing L and R together would bring up a system menu through which the other borders and colour palettes could be selected. If these didn't appeal, players could create their own: a SNES mouse could be connected which made border-creation easier than with a standard controller. User-created borders could not be saved but colour palettes could be restored using a password. These were the basic options available for existing games, but new releases had even more additional features.

Following the launch of the Super Game Boy many (but not all) new releases took advantage of the adapters capabilities. Marked on the box as a "Super Game Boy Game Pak", these games were still playable on the handheld but enhanced for SGB users. Each title could have a special colour palette to best present the game and also featured an original border. Some games also featured enhanced audio (for example in Donkey Kong Pauline would let out a recognisable cry of “help”) but the majority stuck to visual improvements. In the case of Donkey Kong this included a border based on the original arcade cabinet, a varied colour palette and colourful map and bonus screens.

Unlike the regular game paks, SGB games could alter the colour palette at different points of the game, for example going blue for an underwater section rather than sticking to one palette throughout. In addition to this, static screens could display up to 10 colours, greatly enhancing the look for some portions of the games.

Some sports titles benefited from the availability of colour as teams could now play in noticeably different kits – though not necessarily team accurate. For the most part though, it seems developers found four colours too limited and opted to just apply a few different colour washes throughout the game (such as in Donkey Kong Land). In some cases, “Super Game Boy” games offered little more than a fancy border.

As well as allowing SNES owners to enjoy the likes of Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3 and The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening, the Super Game Boy had some nifty extra features

Some titles that worked best (visually at least) were the ports of older games. As these had used few colours when they had originally been released, the SGB versions came close to capturing their look. The Super Breakout/Battlezone 2-in-1 cartridge worked particularly well as did some Namco titles. Space Invaders took things a step further offering two choices of arcade cabinet border (upright or cocktail) and three screen types: colour, black & white and one that mimicked the look of black & white with cellophane strips laid over the screen. Space Invaders was also notable for including a fullscreen “Arcade” mode which, when selected, would actually boot up the SNES version: Space Invaders: The Original Game. Perhaps the best use of borders and colour palettes came with the Game & Watch Gallery series. Each game matched the appearance of the original very closely and featured the original LCD machine's casing as a border for extra effect.

Other games used multiple borders that would change throughout the game. Examples include Wario Land II, where the border changed depending on location, and Street Fighter II where the border switched with each place you flew to, closely resembling the original version of those stages. This works very well, though you'd have to question the sanity of a SNES owner who opts to play the Game Boy port of Street Fighter II over the other options available.

One thing the Super Game Boy did lack was a link port, cutting out multiplayer action for many games. Some titles however (mostly fighters) would allow a second player to play by simply plugging in a second SNES pad. A few other games including Wario Blast decided to let more people join in on the fun, and so connecting a SNES Multitap allowed 4-player gaming.

From the menu system the controller mapping could be adjusted, although this was really just altering what the B button does: for both options A remains A and Y acts as B. Although regular SNES pads could be used, there was an alternative option in the form of the Super Game Boy Commander. Released only in Japan, this officially licensed pad was produced by Hori and featured a button layout similar to the handheld Game Boy. It differed from a regular controller pad not just with this layout but in the functionality of its additional buttons. The menu system can be brought up by simply tapping R whilst the L button mutes the sound. X (like a standard pad) switches between user-created and default colour palettes whilst Y adjusts the speed at which the game runs (3 options available). A switch is also present that allows the pad to be used as a regular controller.

1998 began with Japan seeing the release of the Super Game Boy 2. Sporting a sexy transparent blue look it offered some different built-in borders, but the main selling point was the addition of a link port, finally enabling multi-player on all games. Overshadowing this SGB upgrade, however, was the release of the Game Boy Color (in various regions) in the final quarter of the year.

As you would expect, any Game Boy Color games compatible with the original Game Boy also work with the Super Game Boy, but what was surprising was that some still featured SGB enhancements. However whilst the Game Boy Color featured several colour options for displaying older games, special SGB colour palettes were not supported. In some cases SGB games reappeared as Game Boy Color (and later Game Boy Advance) titles with a less limited colour palette, but others did not.

The Game Boy Advance would handle these games the same way as the Game Boy Color, as would the Game Boy Player – similar to the SGB in that it allowed Gamecube owners to play the vast majority of tiles from the Game Boy line. In fact with the exception of Pokémon Stadium which (via the N64 Transfer Pak) would allow users to play the Pokémon games with the special palettes and borders, the enhancements have never been seen since. Consequently when Donkey Kong and Game & Watch Gallery arrived on the 3DS Virtual Console, minus their enhancements, many gamers didn't bat an eyelid, unaware they had ever existed.

So it seems that the only legal way to relive the Super Game Boy experience is by dusting off a SNES and digging out that adapter. Will this ever change? Iwata only knows, but it would be a shame if the SGB was completely forgotten. It was limited in what it could do and many titles didn't offer much reason to play with the enhancements, but some games got it very right and when they did, that splash of colour was really quite super.

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User Comments (58)



Corbs said:

I have a Super Game Boy 2 for my Super Famicom, but I have to be honest, I was never really blown away by the idea. In fact, I haven't even used it in years.



zezhyrule said:

That's cool and all, but I'll just use my GB if I feel like playing some GB games :3



Teh-Ray said:

I myself used the Super Game Boy a lot when I was a kid, my brother would even draw on the screen while I played, and we'd switch off. It was so fun to play like that!

It's sad that these kinds of features weren't available for eShop Virtual Console titles. If Nintendo remembers this thing, it'd be nice to see it in some sort of update.



LN3000 said:

AHA! I KNEW I remembered playing Donkey Kong and Game & Watch Gallery in color, so I was confused when the 3DS Virtual Console versions were so flat and B&W.
I had emailed Nintendo support about it, and they seemed clueless about what I was talking about.
Glad to see that I am not crazy.



Luffymcduck said:

None of my Super Nintendo owning friends never had this so until today I didn´t know what Super Game Boy was.



JimLad said:

I've always wanted one of these, but since the GameCube one plays both GB and GBA games that would make more sense to have.



skywake said:

It's a real shame that the VC games don't have the Super Gameboy enhancements............



Portista said:

What was the name of the tank game in the 3rd pic? I loved it and played it to death!



EarthboundBenjy said:

I was super excited when I got my GCN's GB Player.... I was giddy with excitement looking at Castlevania GBA on the BIG SCREEN!

Later on I got a Super Game Boy just for curiosity's sake. It doesn't really do anything worthwhile that the GB Player doesn't already do. In fact - the PAL version squishes the Game Boy game's image slightly, which is a bit annoying.



Gamesake said:

Nintendo wasn't worried about the Sega CD, because they had a secret weapon, the Super Game Boy. It had the power to make all your portable games not portable.



Other_Dave said:

It's Battle City, one of the games on Namco Gallery Vol. 1. The original arcade game was known as Tank Battalion (as was the MSX port apparently).



Link79 said:

Ha! I still have my Super Gameboy cart!
It never made sense to me why the Wii didn't include a built in Gameboy player.
If they were able to have Gameboy games played on your TV back in 1994 and again on Gameboy player for the Cube why not now? Plus the Super Gameboy could add almost full color to those old pea green games but on the 3DS VC this isn't possible?
Is technology going backwards?
I guess the old green color wasn't cool back then but suddenly now it's all retro and nostalgic.
Frankly I'd rather have an option for color.



Flowerlark said:

I remember a friend of mine having one of these, but I didn't start playing video games until the GBA/ Gamecube era. So I DO have a gameboy advance player for my gamecube which is a similar concept... minus the colour customisation.



TKOWL said:

Ah, the Super Game Boy. Way superior to the Game Boy Player if you ask me.



DiggerandIndy said:

I owned a Super Game Boy once, but I sold it and got a Game Boy Player for the GameCube. "Who needs a Super Game Boy when you got a Game Boy Player?" I thought to myself. "After all, the GBP can play all 3 GB families; the SGB can only play 1 1/2!" The Japanese SGB and SGB 2 sure is sleek-looking, though.



NESguy94 said:

I still have mine as well. It was always fun play your Gameboy games on the TV. To this day when I buy a Gameboy game, I put in the Super Gameboy the first day and see if anything was different.



Slapshot said:

I think we used our SNES to play Super Game Boy games just as much as we played SNES games. I've always thought the device to be a fun adapter, and the splash of colour added to a few of the games was fantastic, especially for the Donkey Kong Country games.

I honestly didn't know that a SGB2 even existed and/or a Game Boy Commander.

Thanks for the great read Dave. This was a great way to start off my Saturday morning.



Skotski said:

I loved this thing. Favorite backdrop were the toys, and how they'd come to life if you left the screen alone.
I'd play me a whole lotta' Wario Land on this thing.



theblackdragon said:

i loved our Super Game Boy as a kid. there were days i'd spend more time customizing a border than i would playing the game i wanted to play, haha.



Hyperstar96 said:

No, technology isn't going backwards. Just because a company chooses not to implement a feature doesn't mean the device is incapable of performing said action. Think before you speak.



RudysaurusRex said:

I still gotta get my hands on one of these. Have an SNES a ton of old GB games, but no Gameboy to play them with (Sold our GBA for DS, didn't know it didn't have Backwards compatibility.




I still play mine (since my GB died). I also modified my GB Game Genie to fit into the SGB since the SNES Game Genie doesn't work with the SGB.



Link79 said:

@ Hyperstar96
I wasn't literally asking if technology was going backwards.
It's called Sarcasm. No need to get snippy.



SteveW said:

Nintendo really needs to add the color options to the 3DS Gameboy releases, it's not hard to add that for the people who want to play them in color.

I don't know about anyone else but I haven't purchased any of them just because of that, I can just play my cartridges in color on my SNES or Gamecube, but it would be nice to have portable versions that I could play in color.



XyVoX said:

This article has got me thinking whats the easiest i can get to play Gameboy games on a big screen etc and WOW what i didn't realise until reading this article is that i already own a Nintendo GameCube Game Boy Player and i ALWAYS assumed that it only plays GBA games which was it only use to me but it actually plays all of the Gameboy games aswell, Can anyone answer if it acts like the Super Gameboy in that it enhances the colours of Gameboy games or does it just present the games as standard ? thx



SKTTR said:

The Super Game Boy is the best for playing Game Boy and Super Game Boy games.

The Super Game Boy 2 is the best to play Game Boy "Game Link" games.

The Game Boy Player is the best for playing Game Boy Color and Game Boy Advance games.

And the 3DS Virtual Console is the worst thing Nintendo has done to the Game Boy legacy, cutting all the great Super Game Boy and Game Link features.



StarBoy91 said:

The Super Game Boy is one awesome peripheral cartridge, and I use it often whenever I play the classic Game Boy games. Great way to play these games on the big screen.



TheGreenSpiny said:

@link79: I agree that Nintendo should include these things, can't be that hard to write some extra emulator code for them or something. I never owned the super gameboy but some of those old carts (like Metroid 2) will play in color on my GBA.

I'm sure these games would sell quite a few more copies if they included the enhancements.

This thing seems so awesome, what the hell happened to the company that put out such cool stuff as this?



Retro_on_theGo said:

Ah, the Super Game Boy. I still have mine and use it to play Pokemon Yellow sometimes. I love it. For the time it was pretty cool. Nintendo shouldn't just forget about it.



CerealKiller062 said:

I decided to take a trip to my video game storage house the other day. I amazingly saw this in an unopened box because I never used it. I am planning to now because I also wanted a reason to go back to more retro gaming. This could be it, what coencidence that this was posted.



Tasuki said:

I had one of those back in the days. In fact I loaned it to my friend for a bit so he could play Pokemon Blue since he had a SNES but not a Gameboy and wanted to see what all they hype about Pokemon was. I remember playing Donkey Kong alot on that thing and SML2.

Sadly that was stolen along with my first NES by a roomate years ago. I might have to look into buying another one one of theses days.



Knux said:

Back when I was a kid, I did not own any kind of Game Boy (until I bought a GBA SP when I was a teenager). But I did remember owning this as a kid, although the only game I remember playing on it was Pokemon Blue (which was the first time that I have ever played a Pokemon game).

I might buy another one of these again for my FC Twin. Awesome article was awesome.



Waxxy said:

Nintendo playing dumb about the SGB enhancements for the game boy games on 3DS is practically inexcusable. The "Super GameBoy-Enhanced" logo was on the packaging for every GB game that supported them; it's not like this was some obscure feature that only existed on a bare handful of games in a single region. I fail to see why Nintendo is choosing to give us the B&W boring versions of games when the data to support the special borders, colors and sound effects is included in the ROMs they're letting us download. It just doesn't make any sense and is another example of why Nintendo always seems to be living in the dark ages of gaming. (Speaking of which, let me remap my controls from B/A to the far superior Y/B please!!)



MeloMan said:

I didn't even know a special gamepad and SGB2 existed

I miss the SGB... for me it was all about no border, the movie theater border, and the "house with the big tree that changes from day to night" border. Limited color options, but in an age at that time of NO GB color, it was a godsend. Plus, I didn't even have a GB back then, so I HAD to play them with the SGB in my SNES, which was getting a fulltime workout in those days. A shame that the border idea didn't make it into the descendant known as the Gameboy Player, but eh. Can't wait for next time Nintendo lets us play portable games on the console (eyeing 3DS and WiiU)



ecco6t9 said:

Lots of great memories here, seeing Game Boy Games on the big screen for the first time.



Mr-X9000 said:

@11 the sega cd floped anyway,so it dosent matter really

iif i still had my super NES i would have bought this on the friken spot



SteveVice said:

I have a Super Game Boy as well, recently played Mystic Quest on the "big screen" where it should be.



coolvw93 said:

i remember using this to play pokemon on snes. it made it awsome to play with people and show off my pokemon roster. super gameboy 2 made battling even better.



Adam said:

I was never crazy about normal Gameboy. Super Gameboy is obviously better. It's on a bigger screen, the controller is not connected to the screen, you can draw on the screen, and it's super. I liked Gameboy Player better though since you could use a system link with it.

Nintendo needs to make Super DS for Wii U.



gamecubefan said:

obviously with this new crazy in downloadable games and every analyst predicting a switch over to purely digital content/software titles i think it's only a matter of time before nintendo releases all the great classics in it's online shops



Vinstigator said:

I actually have a Super Gameboy with an SNES system sitting on my shelf. I play it from time to time too. It was definitely one of the best SNES accessories out there!



lalalalalalal said:

Looking back at the newer gameboys (and metroid pinball DS), remember how they had a few game carts that would make you DS, GBA or whatever shake? That was cool. I hope they do that for the 3DS. And remember how there were GBA video carts that would play movies? Well, since Netflix 3DS isn't really planning for 3D movies and TV shows...and the 3DS could only store a few movies on the system, they should bring back video carts for the 3DS...



Tare said:

If every other Nintendo console (minus VB) can play handheld games, does this mean we will be able to play DS games on the WiiU?

I should think so!



Skogur said:

The thing I loved with this was that it didn't require any batteries.



TheChosen said:

I need to buy one someday. I love my Gameboy, but I prefer playing things on big screens.

I'd love to have Gameboy Player too, but those things seem to be bloody expensive. Super Gameboy's go 10€ tops here.



Ichabod said:

I loved the SGB back in the day. I, personally, have never really been overly fond of using a Gameboy (or it's predecessors) at home. It's great for out of the house, but when I have the option of using a full screen TV, I'm jumping at it. This little baby made that all possible back in the day, and saved my neck much pain from crouching over a small, hand held device. I really wish they had come out with one for the Wii/DS. Sigh



retro_player_22 said:

Still have my original Super Game Boy and Game Boy Player to this day. It's good cuz I had lots of GB, GBC, & GBA games to play them on too.



shinesprite said:

Hopefully, they will do this for the DS/3DS when the Wii U comes out. 3D TV owners could run the games in 3D (with glasses), while standard/HDTV owners could play in 2D. Naturally the Wii U tablet would function as a large touchscreen.



Capt_N said:

@Waxxy: #40 I whole-heartedly agree. The only argument I buy about no-special-enhancements in the 3DS is that a lot (of people) in the emulation community, explain that essentially, there are some unique hardware/software interactions that go on between the SNes, & SGB.

This is actually how you can tell if a(n) (online/youtube) video of a SGB game is being played via emulator: This article references/uses DK94 as an example. Pauline screams "help" on a real SGB. On a (real) GB, Pauline just makes a generic beep noise, if I remember right, in place of "help". In SGB emulation, Pauline makes no noise.

On the other hand, it's just a matter of Nintendo's code-writers to manage to "trick" the rom into responding, as though it were in actual hardware. Considering that the GBC/GBA/NDS/3DS are in many respects just as powerful, if not more so, than the Nes/SNes/N64/GCN respectively, I really doubt that having 2 emulation systems (from 1, & 1/2 decades ago) rolled into one(SNes/SGB) would tax the 3DS to point of it not working. Sidenote:Imo, Nintendo would do/be wise to have such a 2-in-1 setup. This would allow for someone to choose to play the GB games on their 3DS in either GB palette, (GB)Color palette, or (SGB) 100% enhanced game(sound/visuals/etc.)

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