It would be fair to say that the Game Boy's longevity surprised everyone, including Nintendo. Originally released in 1989, it was still going strong by the middle of the following decade and experienced a notable boost thanks to the timely introduction of the first Pokémon titles, Red & Blue. The momentum provided by these blockbuster releases helped drive sales for the aging handheld, which had already outlasted rivals like the Atari Lynx, Sega Game Gear and NEC PC Engine GT in order to utterly dominate the portable gaming arena.
While the original DMG-001 is a design classic, by the mid-'90s it was clear that a refresh was required. Despite regular rumours that a colour version was in the offing, Gunpei Yokoi and his team instead produced a scaled-down version of the existing Game Boy hardware which didn't offer any extra processing power or additional features. The Game Boy Pocket - which launched in 1996 - was very much a careful, considered refinement of the original concept rather than a revolution, and was compatible with all previous Game Boy software.
The console's 2.65-inch monochrome screen was perhaps the biggest improvement. While it wasn't backlit, it was noticeably better than the green-tinted display that shipped with the first model and was less prone to motion blur. The other big news was that the system was powered by just two AAA batteries, as opposed to the four AAs used in the 1989 model. Although this resulted in a notable drop in stamina (10 hours compared to the 15+ on the Game Boy), it was an acceptable trade-off considering that it used less batteries and boasted a smaller, lighter frame as a result.
Compared to the chunky, brick-like original, the Game Boy Pocket was truly pocket-sized and made the platform even more portable than before. Link cable connectivity was retained but the console used a smaller port, so Nintendo had to release the Game Link Cable Adapter to ensure that the Pocket could still interface with the original DMG-001 model. As was the case with the first Game Boy, Nintendo was quick to release a range of different coloured consoles, including a transparent version and the "classic" DMG-001 edition you see in the photos on this page, which was exclusive to Japan.
The Game Boy Pocket was supported by a renewed advertising campaign all over the globe which pushed the system's portability, software library and low price as key selling points. It was the perfect refresh of the existing system, making it more compact and improving the problematic display, but it was arguably a couple of years too late. By the mid-'90s gamers were getting their hands on new consoles like the PlayStation, Saturn and N64, and there was a feeling that Nintendo's portable was something of a relic from a bygone age. Nintendo continued to tinker, and the Pocket was joined by the Game Boy Light in 1997 - another Japanese exclusive - which introduced a screen which could be played in the dark. However, it was the 1998 release of the Game Boy Color which truly curtailed the Pocket's chances of becoming as iconic as its 1989 forerunner. The Color offered a better display but maintained compatibility with existing Game Boy games, rendering the Pocket (and the Light) somewhat redundant.
The Game Boy Pocket is especially noteworthy for being Gunpei Yokoi's final contribution during his time at Nintendo. Following the commercial disaster that was the Virtual Boy, Yokoi - who had created some of Nintendo's most succcessful products - was keen to end on a high, and the Pocket was his way of signing off. He would leave to form his own company and work with Bandai on the WonderSwan, a Game Boy rival which arrived on the market in 1999. Yokoi didn't get to see the machine launch, as he was killed in a traffic accident in 1997, aged 56. It's interesting to note that in terms of size, the Pocket and WonderSwan are quite similar, despite one being held in portrait while the other is played in landscape. Bandai's console also continues the theme Yokoi began with the Pocket; it uses just a single AA battery, making it even more portable.
The Pocket was widely distributed during the '90s and is easy to pick up today. The limited edition variants - like the one shown here - tend to carry a higher price point. Software naturally isn't an issue; Game Boy games can be collected online for very little money, although like any console, there are certain titles which have grown in value as the years have rolled by. The system shown in these photos have been fitted with an LED screen light by modding wunderkind Joe "Joe Bleeps" Heaton. Along with a bivert modification - which improves contrast - it makes the console playable in pretty much any environment.
What are your memories of the Game Boy Pocket? Was it your first handheld, or did you skip it in favour of the Game Boy Color? Let us know by posting a comment below, and don't forget to check out our entire Hardware Classics series.
Another overlooked Game Boy was the Game Boy Micro. Although it did quite well for releasing after the backwards-compatible DS and the superior GBA SP, I feel like it should have gotten more recognition, just because it was probably the most unique Game Boy out there (the small form factor, no backwards compatibility, the customizable and interchangeable faceplates...)
One birthday I got a Yellow Game Boy Pocket, along with Super Mario Land, Super Mario Land 2: Six Golden Coins, and Tetris, and The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening. My thumbs still click to this day from spending hours playing around on Koholint Island.
@EllenJMiller What a birthday! Surely worth the painful joints.
Never had the Pocket. I owned the original brick. My favourite game easily was Link's Awakening. A true masterpiece.
I own all the Game Boy up to the Game Boy Micro, my favorite is still the GBA SP2. The Game Boy Pocket was a neat and convenient handheld, all it's missing is an internal light source which the Game Boy Light has but never release outside Japan. Luckily I found one 3 years ago for $25 and snatch it up.
The GBA SP is, however, the ultimate iteration of the Game Boy line of handhelds, which still counts as a general Game Boy, imo, since it plays all the original games too. Although, I never actually played a Game Boy micro in person, so maybe that would have topped my list if I'd actually owned one.
PS: I'd actually love to see a GBA SP done in the colour scheme of the original Game Boy, just for fun.
PPS. I've just realised that the original Game Boy's colour scheme, particularly the purple buttons, was maybe a huge influence on them making the buttons on the American SNES purple too, seeing as how popular the GB was, and the Americans probably put 2 and 2 together and got 5. Not one of their better design decisions.
@Damo Until I got my Game Boy Colour they were the only games I needed. Then I picked up Harvest Moon GBC, Power Quest, and a little game called Pokemon.
I totally forgot about this one.
For some reason the fat one is the one that stuck in my memory - even though I owned the gb color pocket thing that was like a clear/purple case showing the insides.
I played DQ I+2 and Crystalis on that thing.
And some donkey kong country game.
I remember bringing this camping in the summer of 2000.
I would like one since I never owned one as a child.
But I hear they're pretty poor for chiptune, which is all I use my DMGs for.
I got the original Game Boy for Christmas bundled with Tetris. I got Turtles Fall of the Foot Clan separate. It was a good side scrolling beat em up. I was hoping for a Virtual Console release. The next hand held I bought was the Game Boy Colour.
I would never have owned or even played a Gameboy if it were not for a bizarre incident one day back in the early 90's when I was 14 (I think). I had given this boy I never really knew other than being the cheeky brat who lived next door to my sisters boyfriends parents,a shot of my Moonwalker for Megadrive. When I went to collect it back a few days later, his mother said she knew nothing about it.Went and asked him where it was and he told her he had dropped it in water and it wasn't working anymore.She came and apologised to me and handed me a Gameboy with Tetris and Mario Golf.Said I could have it to teach him a lesson. I took it ,loved it and later kind of felt bad about it. Years later I found out that same boy ended up in prison for a very serious crime I won't mention here.
@OorWullie Blimey, that's quite a story! Sounds like he was a wrong 'un, but at least you got a GB out of it! Well worth the trade for Moonwalker, which is pretty meh!
My first Game Boys were part of the colored series late in the original model's life.
I had a red one, which broke after a trip down a staircase, and a blue one, which was later stolen.
My one pal and my cousin both had Game Boy Pockets, but as kids go, I remember deciding to be unimpressed, because the better contrast of the screen made games look too "harsh".
Those were the days however, with Kirby games, Wario Land, Link's Awakening, and also one of those Chinese made compilation cartridges with "99" games on it. Most of them Mario Land under different names.
I remember playing Pokémon Red on one of those. Good times!
@LegendOfPokemon It didn't help they released it after the Nintendo DS, which could already play the GBA games. Although I do prefer to play the GBA games on the Micro.
@Damo Yep he sure was.It worked out perfect for me too as I was going on a family holiday to France not long after,it served me well on the journey haha.Whenever I think of the Gameboy that incident and the awesome holiday are what comes to mind.I never did like Moonwalker either so it was a great trade off
The transparent game boy pocket was my first console. It still works today, which is something I can't say for my first GBA.
The games I had bundled with it were all rubbish but my brother had a good collection for his classic that he was happy to share with me.
Then this little old thing called Pokemon came along and that was that, Ive been gaming for 20 years and won't stop any time soon.
Whoa! This was my 1st system! (I got a green one. The games I got were the following: some game I forgot, The Lion King from Virgin, Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins)
@Damo MoonWalker is "meh"?! HOW DARE YOU!! 😉 But then I may be a touch biased... lol
It was my first handheld. I got the James Bond game and struggled through it probably six times. Other memorable games I collected were Qix, Donkey Kong Land, and Pokemon Blue. My dad gave me his old fanny pack (it was the nineties!), which allowed me to carry the GameBoy, an AC adapter, a Link Cable, all of my games, and my instruction manuals with me everywhere I went. I still have everything at my parents' house and aside from some minor dents because I was nine, it's all in perfect condition.
This is a crazy nostalgia rush. Thanks, NL!
The Pocket was the first Gameboy I owned. I got a blue one with pokemon red and my best friend got a red one with pokemon blue the same xmas. I still have the game but the pocket is lost, most likely between one of my countless moves.
I bought the Pocket a few years after the Brick (I got into Game Boy a few years late). However, the Color was the "game changer" for me.
Awesome write-up @Damo! The Game Boy Pocket was my first handheld for me and my brother. We got Links Awakening and the Game Boy Camera. Soon afterwards we get the Super Mario Land games and the holy grail: Pokemon Red and Blue.
Man, my Game Boy Pocket is in such bad condition compared to the one in the pictures. It's my only handheld that ever got all scuffed up.
Many great times spent back then with my GB Pocket and Link's Awakening...
I loved the Game Boy Pocket, and had the silver and transparent versions. To me, it was the best "upright" design of Game Boy - certainly much better than the Original or Color.
My other favourite is the Game Boy Micro. It's funny, I don't think any type of DS or 3DS will go down as my favourite on design alone, but the GB Pocket and Micro were beautiful pieces of kit in their own right.
I had the tranparent one until it was stolen... Sigh I loved it, it was my first console ever and I still have the box, someday when I have enough money I'll buy it again.
Great memories of playing my green Gameboy Pocket in math class heh. King of Fighters 95 and Tetris Plus later were two favorites.
Best handheld. 10+ hours of battery life on 2 AAAs. Amazing games.
Just make sure you have some good lighting
Never owned the original brick or the Pocket, but I am still the proud owner of a purple transparent Game Boy Color, and it is in mint condition. It was my first handheld ever, not counting a couple of lcd games, such as an original Pac-Man game.
Oooo, now do the GameBoy Micro!
My 1st ever console was a red GBC that came bundled with Pokémon red as a gift to me. Best present ever. I don't even think I would play video games if I didn't get that GBC!
@MitchVogel We already did
What are my memories of this? Ha! I remember that it's sitting right across from me in a bag with 30+ games and I still play it regularly! This system is awesome!!
LOVED my red Gameboy pocket. Wish I still had it.
I got an original GameBoy in '92 but eventually it crapped out so I replaced it with a black GB Pocket, which I still use from time to time.
I only had the original brick , and never upgraded to the pocket or color...it's important for younger folks today to understand that we did not simply discard electronics or 'upgrade' for the sake of upgrading back then. Also years 95 & 96 and on was when I started getting extremely interested in girls...all the video game playing was kind put aside for the remainder of high school at least for me.
I have never seen a DMG colored Pocket before. Is this a custom job? I dont believe they were ever sold in the USA like that. maybe?
I started my handheld life a bit late with the Gameboy color and the Legend of Zelda: Links awakening DX but it was a good start.
I had a black GB pocket, and I remember playing the James Bond game on it. It didn't work anymore so I don't have it anymore.
@LegendOfPokemon I like the GB Micro as a handheld too. I passed it up when it first came out and then recently it seems to have gone up in price, around $75 to $100 from most sellers. My current one I bought for $20 because it had a black screen anomaly. I took it apart, cleaned what looked like a Cola had spilled in it and it looks and works like new now. Although it only plays GBA games, it's small form factor and great rechargeable battery life make it one of my favorites. That said I do have a GBA SP (model AGS-101, pearl blue) and a Japanese Spice Orange GBA that I have in my collection.
I remember when I received my very first piece of Nintendo hardware, the original big brick game boy, on christmas when I was 5 maybe 6. I had played my older brothers NES before he eventually passed it on to me, but the game boy was first and truly my own. I received tetris & Mario land 1&2 with it, eventually I received the mega mans and donkey kong lands whoah boy those were the days. Other times I remember being pushed by my mom in store shopping carts and playing, the portability was a dream come true cause I was otherwise so bored on her errand trips haha. My nephew and I stayed up all night and beat Mega Man IV by the time the sun rose one time. Good times.
I have one of the giant magnifying lens/light adapters you attached to the front as well haha so cumbersome but so awesome!!
I had the original dmg-01, will never forget the amazing Super Mario Land was when I first played it
I still have my Ice Blue Limited Edition Gameboy pocket. It still works and is a big improvement over the Brickboy.
Of course, it's not modded to be back-lit like the cool one mentioned in this article!
The GBP was my 2nd GB, and I somehow managed to get the special Gold edition from the Power Supplies Catalog, in conjunction with the Gold Zelda edition Game Boy Camera! I gave the GBP away to charity, though, since I figured I only needed a GBC later on. (Of course, I was oblivious to it's rarity! ) Definitely was nicer to use for a young kid than the original clear GB that I had, and the white/black screen had better contrast than the green/black screen, but both worked fine. The two would be used together with the link cable to trade Pokémon between my Blue and my sister's Red version!
It was very nice to have at the time, another great technical marvel from the late, great Yokoi! Not as durable as it's forebear that could survive a bomb blast, but compact and energy efficient.
@JasonTyo It was exclusive to Japan
I like to keep my Game Boy Pocket (see-through model) loaded with fresh batteries and a copy of Tetris. Sure, it goes a while without being played, but it's really cool when I remember it and give it some time. Really perks me up. It's a little like playing Tetris on an e-ink device today, lol. No color, some ghosting, but still pure bliss for the fun you get out of it.
@MetalKingShield I would say the Color was the best designed of the three. In particular, it's screen is the most enhanced by natural sunlight of any non-backlit screen I've ever witnessed. Too bad that type of screen was a one time deal...
@Kirk I dunno, I still think just about anything beats puke... I mean... "spice" orange... Bleh!
I always loved my Game Boy Pocket most back during my childhood. It was quite a terrible day when I found out my mother's boyfriend at the time smashed it and hid it from me, trying to convince me I lost it. I made sure that chump replaced it with the then new Game Boy Color, at least.
Was my first handheld, though my sister got given my mom's cousin's original model Gameboy so that we could trade Pokémon.
I had the green colored GBP. My first game was Animaniacs, but swiftly got Tetris and Pokémon Red and Blue.
@bezerker99 I only remember the Ice Blue Pocket because the commercial was terrible.
Unfortunately I had two Game Boys but both were original size (the original gray and the "Play It Loud" green one)
The length of time between the original and color is way longer than I remember it 😳 Imagine going all that time without Pokemon 😱
I gave my first GB with Pokemon Blue to my cousin. Still got my GBC and Pokemon Yellow tho 😃
You'd been struck by a Smooth Criminal 😋
My very first gaming system, when I was 11. Bought with my own money, I got Tetris DX and Pokemon Blue. Shortly after I bought Kirby's Dream Land and Link's Awakening DX!
That's the one still missing from my collection and I'd love to have one, but it's really difficult to get hold of an unblemished GB micro for a reasonable price these days.
Got the Red Gameboy pocket for my birthday back in the day with Pokemon Red - not sure how old I was now.
Loved it and played for hours. Also used to nick my brothers copy of Mario Land Six Golden Coins. He had an original Gameboy yellow and got Pokemon Blue when I got my Red.
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