Game Boy
Image: Damien McFerran / Nintendo Life

The Game Boy was a pivotal moment in Nintendo's history, establishing near-complete dominance over the portable gaming market that still persists to this day somewhat. Part of the appeal of the Game Boy was offering a largely console-esque game experience on the go, and its usually attributed to the talented mind of Gunpei Yokoi. Recent reports, however, suggest that things could've turne out much differently had Yokoi gotten his way.

Satoru Okada—a former Nintendo employee who was the head of R&D1—recently talked with Retro Gamer Magazine and reflected on his time with Nintendo. When discussing the game boy, he explained that the original concept was to have it be a Game & Watch-like device, with no third-party developers and cheap, simple games. Were it not for Okada's adamant assertion that they flesh it out more, the Game Boy we know and love would never have happened. Here's what he said:

When was young, I was rather stubborn and often became angry at my superiors when was trying to defend my ideas. The best example of this was the Game Boy. The Game Boy you know today actually had nothing to do with the one Yokoi had in mind. He saw the Game Boy as a direct follow-on from the Game & Watch, which meant a rather cheap toy, without any real business model and no long-term ambition. To give you a clear comparison, Yokoi wanted a Game Boy that would have looked like the Microvision and would not have lasted more than one or two seasons. For instance, he did not care if there were third-party editors or not. Furthermore, he only wanted 'quick games', quickly completed and quickly forgotten. I wanted the Game Boy to have more ambition, closer to what the R&D2 had managed to with the Famicom: a machine built to last, with hardware that was good enough to play a variety of quality titles. I was the assistant director of R&D1 and we had many arguments over this. In the end, he gave in and angrily told me: 'Okay, do what you want!' l then asked him: 'Fine! But are you givng me full responsibility?' and since he said 'yes', I made the Game Boy project my own. Yokoi just gave his seal of approval. In the end, the Game Boy is much more similar to the Famicom than the Game & Watch. The hardware was good enough to offer a wide range of games and we were ready to welcome third-party editors, with a real development kit, instruction booklets, some real support, etc..

What do you think? Would Nintendo still have dominated the portable market if it went down this route? What's your favorite Game Boy game? Share your thoughts in the comments below.