Hardware Classics: Nintendo Game Boy
Posted by Damien McFerran
The Nintendo DS may be the biggest selling handheld console of all time, but you could argue that this is only the case because of the vital groundwork laid down by the Game Boy. The original monochrome brick was pushed onto the market in 1989 in the wake of Nintendo's popular Game & Watch range, and would go on to sell millions and redefine portable gaming. The work of the late Gunpei Yokoi, the Game Boy remains a classic piece of design, with that iconic colour scheme and the unique "sometimes yellow, sometimes green" display becoming part of Nintendo lore.
Powered by four AA batteries and lacking a backlit screen (unlike its rivals, the Sega Game Gear, Atari Lynx and PC Engine GT), the Game Boy is a good example of how Nintendo's savvy understanding of the needs of the average gamer secured success. While the black and white visuals and unlit screen made it seem a little archaic when compared to its high-tech competitors, these elements resulted in robust stamina - surely the prime concern with a portable device. It's arguably this fact which allowed the system to become so popular.
Incredibly, the original DMG-01 design would last until 1996, when Nintendo produced the Game Boy Pocket. Essentially the same system in a sleeker case, it also boasted an improved screen and was powered by just two AAA batteries. The Game Boy Light would follow, but remained a Japanese exclusive. It wasn't until the Game Boy Color appeared in 1998 that the original monochrome model was considered obsolete; even then, the Game Boy Color shared many technical similarities with its predecessor and remained backwards compatible with all black and white software.
Given the sheer number of Game Boy units sold worldwide, it's not difficult to pick one up these days. However, potential collectors should be wary of simply buying the first console they lay their eyes on. Over time, many Game Boy units have developed issues with their screens, with vertical lines appearing, making it hard to see what's happening. This is a result of the connection between the LCD screen and the motherboard becoming loose. A fix is available, but requires you to open up the console and perform some rather delicate surgery. Sadly, it would appear that all original Game Boy consoles will eventually succumb to this issue - even placing your beloved system in storage won't prevent it.
Software is usually found unboxed, due to the fact that Nintendo opted for cardboard boxes for packaging. Game Boy cartridges come in protective plastic clamshell cases, although second-hand titles are often sold completely loose. The vast majority of the system's most popular titles - such as Super Mario Land, Tetris, The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening and Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3 - can be picked up for reasonable prices, although there are some collectables worthy of note. Konami's Castlevania: Legends is worth a pretty penny, more because of its limited print run and the prestige of the Castlevania series than anything to do with the quality of the actual game. It should also be noted that it was the original Game Boy which hosted the very first Pokémon title. That's quite a boast.
Although it's possible to play Game Boy software on a Game Boy Advance and take advantage of the vastly improved screen, there's something nostalgic about experiencing titles on that blurry display. The size of the Game Boy makes it more comfortable to use for prolonged periods, and the overall design of the system will hold a certain appeal to anyone old enough to recall the console's original release, and the revolution it provided. The Game Boy may have been comprehensively bettered from a technical perspective, but it remains a classic slab of Nintendo history nonetheless.