The original monochrome Game Boy is the elder statesman of Nintendo's handheld family, having arrived on the market back in 1989. The console became a commercial and cultural phenomenon, effortlessly casting aside its more technically-competent rivals and establishing a brand which would sell in excess of 200 million units worldwide, before being mothballed by Nintendo in favour of its new "Dual Screen" line.
This handheld marvel continues to attract attention in spite of its advanced years; modders are keeping the console alive by retro-fitting it with better components while chip-tune composers even go as far as using it as an instrument in front of live audiences. The appeal of the Game Boy is arguably timeless, and no one knows this better than veteran video game journalist Jeremy Parish. His career has seen him in key roles at outlets such as 1Up and IGN, and his current position as Editor-in-Chief at US Gamer gives him a very unique perspective on the entire games industry.
However, we're here today to talk about a side-project which is very dear to his heart: Game Boy World, an effort to painstakingly catalogue every single game ever released on Nintendo's handheld, from 1989 to the end of its lifespan.
Nintendo Life: What's the overall objective of Game Boy World?
Jeremy Parish: Theoretically, to unearth the history of and shed light on every Game Boy game ever published in all regions. Realistically, that's something like 2,000 games, which means if I tackled a game per week for the rest of my life it would basically take the rest of my life. Really, I just want to create a permanent reference resource for anyone interested in Game Boy, and when possible I want to dig into the history of all these games no one ever thinks about any more.
What makes the Game Boy so special to you personally?
Nothing, really! I didn't own a Game Boy until Game Boy Color. I had a Super Game Boy briefly, but really I was an outsider to the GB universe during its lifetime. Beginning with GBC and Neo Geo Pocket, though, I started to fall in love with portable gaming, and being the backward-facing dude that I am, I've grown interested in its history.
No one really pays attention to Game Boy, though, because it's not as landmark a system as the NES or as vibrant as Genesis or Neo•Geo. Yet it was the best selling game system of the 20th century - it even outsold PlayStation! I figure there's got to be something to that, beyond the obvious fact that it was cheap and convenient. So really, I guess this gets back to the first question - this project is a chance for me to discover Game Boy, a missing piece of my video gaming history.
How are you playing each title? Are you using original hardware?
Yeah, it's important to me to use real hardware whenever possible. Emulation never quite feels right to me, and part of this project is to upload sample footage of these games for anyone to use for archival purposes, or for their own video projects. I always get acquainted with games on either a Game Boy or Game Boy Light. it's all well and good to be able to see the game in action clearly, but to really feel the game you need to experience it under the conditions it would have been played in. And playing on real hardware makes a huge difference... fast-paced games are a completely different creature on a tiny screen with huge lag and ghosting.
When it comes time to capture, though, I have a Super Game Boy running in an RGB-modded Super NES feeding into an upscaler to convert the signal to 720p. It's literally the best possible image quality you can get from real carts and hardware. Maybe not authentic to the console experience, but whatever.
How difficult has it been tracking down these games? Do you think there may be some you'll never get your hands on, and if so, what's the plan in those cases?
It's as difficult as I want to make it. When I first started out, I was just grabbing loose carts off eBay, which is a cinch. But as the site evolved, I decided it would be great to include photography and scans of all the games' packaging. And that is MUCH harder. But that's what happens when you're working with a console geared toward elementary-age kids. Most of them weren't anal-retentive little weirdos who kept all their game boxes like I was. The real question is, how much am I willing to spend on them?
It's no trouble to find bare carts of even the most obscenely rare Game Boy titles, like Amazing Tater or Space Marauder, but I've been watching for complete versions of certain games for a year and have had zero luck. Even some of the more mundane Japanese games are tough to find; I figured I'd be able to grab everything I could ever need last time I was in Japan, but even there kids weren't so good at hanging onto boxes and manuals. I had the hardest time finding Golf complete in Japan. Golf! That's a common first-party title!
There are some games I accept I will never be able to photograph in their entirety, like Trip World. Thankfully, though, readers have offered to lend me some of their hard-to-find carts for video capture needs, at least. In the absolute worst-case scenario, where a game is impossible to find in any capacity, I'm OK with falling back on something like a GB Everdrive.
Which games have surprised you the most? Have you had any games which you've covered as part of Game Boy World which you perhaps missed back in the '90s?
Well, I'm playing through the library systematically, so I've only seen maybe 1-2% of the total library. That said, even these few games I've played have had their share of surprises. Stuff like Revenge of the Gator and Kwirk are games I've never have given the time of day outside of this project, but they're really good. Meanwhile, sequels to NES games (Castlevania, Wizards & Warriors) have mostly been terrible.
The real education, as I've built the site database, has been just how closely the Japanese and Western Game Boy experience were at the beginning, and how much they diverged over time. And, to be honest (skipping ahead in the syllabus here), how comparatively awful most Western-developed Game Boy titles were compared to their Japanese counterparts.
You've previously mentioned that you may also expand the site to cover the Game Boy's rivals, the Game Gear and Lynx. What's the rationale behind growing the scope of the site in this way?
Games don't exist in a vacuum. To appreciate their evolution, it's good to see what else was happening in the world around the same time. But mostly, I want to tackle other platforms because in all honesty devoting yourself wholly to Game Boy is really tough. It's such a limited system. I like the little thing, but there's only so much its games can do.
Do you see the site expanding to cover Game Boy Color and Game Boy Advance in the same detail?
Ah, I could maybe get to Color, but Advance... I dunno. That's a long way out. The problem with both of those systems for my purposes is that it's a real challenge to get the same high-quality video capture from real software that I have for classic Game Boy. To get Game Boy Player to output a true 240p signal, you have to drop a lot of cash and jump through a lot of hoops that seem a bit much for the moment.
You're cataloguing the release dates of software that is over 20 years old. Has it been hard to pinpoint actual dates for some of these games?
For Japanese games, it's a cinch. The Japanese games industry tracked precise release dates of every game back to the Famicom launch for every system, and those dates are readily available. I can read enough Japanese to parse all but a handful of titles, and those last few I managed to figure out through trial and error.
Western dates are harder. Nintendo of America has a complete database of official U.S. launch dates for all Game Boy releases, but they're generalized to the month. Meanwhile, European dates - even for latter-day Game Boy Color titles! - often get no more specific than the year. You guys need to work on your indexing technology.
Projects like this are incredibly important - despite gaming being a relatively young medium, we're in very real danger of losing a lot of its history. Was this a motivation for you starting Game Boy World?
Yeah, that was a big motivation. I want this to be more than just a survey of games... there are plenty of those around. I'm really interesting in digging as deeply as possible into the origins of Game Boy's library, to learn more about the developers who made the games. Which is tough, given how poorly those things are documented, and there's a lot of guessing involved. But like I said, games don't exist in a vacuum, and I think it's valuable not only to look at games but to understand their context - their developers' history, cultural trends at the time, that sort of thing.
For instance, the Japan-only release Yakuman is a mahjong game. Who cares, right? But it's named for, and based on, a rare Nintendo LCD game from the early '80s that was like a Game & Watch on steroids. That's pretty cool to know! And it's not on the Wikipedia page. I love digging up things like that, making connections.
I'm sure some of the connections I'm making are spurious, since a lot of what I'm doing in my research involves making some assumptive leaps. So, maybe the late '80s surge in beach volleyball games like Malibu Beach Volleyball WASN'T due to Top Gun's famous shirtless volleyball scene... but even so, that's part of the cultural context for these games, and I'm enjoying the process of connecting the dots. I see some SD Gundam games on the horizon, though, so I suspect I'm going to be watching a lot of anime.
Are you accepting any help or assistance from contributors, and if so, how can people can involved?
Absolutely. I'm not too proud to beg. I have a Patreon whose income goes pretty much to acquiring software and hardware for this project. I kicked off the project using a Super NES clone on a terrible video signal, but I was able to upgrade to a much better setup thanks to hardware contributions by very generous people who share my interest in this tiny little niche of game history. I also happily accept donations of games, or even loans for boxes and manuals for photography and scans. I'm in the process of locking down all of 1990's releases at the moment, and any help is appreciated.
The Game Boy enjoyed one of the longest lifespans in gaming history, which means there's an awful lot of ground to cover here. Have there been any moments where you thought you'd bitten off more than you can chew with this project?
Oh, from the start. I hemmed and hawed over this project for almost a year before launching it, because I know there's no way I'll ever make it to the end. But I've made peace with the fact that I'll die before completing this, and that's OK! It's a project worth undertaking. What else am I going to do in my free time, binge-watch Netflix? I'd rather be productive.
You've published the first year of Game Boy releases as a book - do you plan on doing the same for each year of the console's lifespan?
For as long as I can keep this going. Several years of the system's life have 100+ titles, so I might have to break those into a couple of volumes. The books are important to me. Web content is ephemeral - it can be deleted or lost or whatever, but once it's in print, it's locked down forever.
The Game Boy is perhaps one of the most iconic gaming systems of all time. Why do you think it was able to achieve such critical and commercial success?
Nintendo (and specifically Gunpei Yokoi) were geniuses at figuring out just how much they could strip out of a product to cut costs without rendering it unusable. Game Boy is a master class in engineering, a game console pared down to the absolute minimum of functionality. Take out anything else and those games would have been too primitive to stand alongside the NES. And as a result, the system was crazy cheap, battery efficient, and easy to program for. There was just enough under the hood to deliver rich experiences like The Legend of Zelda, but at half the price of Lynx or Game Gear. Great engineering, great software, great price, great marketing...
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