Feeds

Happy 25th birthday, Game Boy!

Monochrome handset ushered in modern mobile gaming era

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

On April 21st, 1989, Nintendo introduced a handheld system which would go on to become the best selling games system of the 20th century. The original Game Boy made its debut in Japan on that day, and for the next decade the chunky off-white handheld would become an essential accessory to a generation of gamers.

Many of us who grew up in the heyday of the Game Boy have many a fond memory of passing road trips, doctor-visit waits, and hours of "homework" mashing buttons and staring into the 2.5-nch, 160x144 "creamed spinach" monochrome display.

Debuting in between the releases of the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) and the Super Nintendo (SNES), the Game Boy was developed as a handheld component that offered slimmed-down or adapted 8-bit versions of titles that would appear on the larger home consoles.

Handheld gaming systems had existed for more than a decade before the Gameboy was released, though these devices were often extremely simple and limited in terms of gameplay. Nintendo itself had released a handheld console called the Game & Watch back in 1980, with development headed up by eventual Game Boy boss Gunpei Yokoi.

The Game Boy, however, introduced to the world a number of concepts that now form the basis of mobile gaming. The handset was affordable and the games themselves were fun to play, offering a wide catalog and deep experience. The Game Boy surpassed the novelty of just being a portable device and was embraced as a full gaming system.

Nintendo Game Boy

The original Game Boy

Click to enlarge

Under the hood, the Game Boy was underpowered even by the standards of the day. The aforementioned 2.5-inch monochrome screen was powered by a 4.19MHz Sharp processor designed with elements of both the 8080 and Z80 chips. (Which architecture is closer remains a matter of debate.) The system contained 8KB each of RAM and video memory.

Technically, the Game Boy was severely outclassed by competing handheld consoles of the day. Sega's GameGear and Atari's Lynx consoles both offered superior color screens on their consoles, but neither managed to keep pace, thanks to a strategy that Nintendo continues to benefit from today.

The Game Boy made up for its technical limitations, in large part with its games. From its launch, the Game Boy sported "killer app" titles such as Tetris, Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening, and in its later years Pokemon –which, even on limited hardware, bordered on being addictive to play.

The original Game Boy would be phased out by the late '90s as the smaller Game Boy Pocket and more powerful Game Boy Advance were introduced. The brand carried over into the 21st century before eventually being replaced by the DS family of handhelds.

A quarter-century after its release, the Game Boy lives on as one of the most influential gaming devices, handheld or otherwise, of all time. ®

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

More from The Register

next story
Will.i.am gets CUFFED as he announces his new wristjob, the PULS
It's got four KILOWATTS of something, apparently
Don't wait for that big iPad, order a NEXUS 9 instead, industry little bird says
Google said to debut next big slab, Android L ahead of Apple event
Netscape Navigator - the browser that started it all - turns 20
It was 20 years ago today, Marc Andreeesen taught the band to play
A drone of one's own: Reg buyers' guide for UAV fanciers
Hardware: Check. Software: Huh? Licence: Licence...?
Jaguar Sportbrake: The chicken tikka masala of van-sized posh cars
Indian-owned Jag's latest offering curries favour with us
iPhone 6 shunned by fanbois in Apple's GREAT FAIL of CHINA
Just 100 Beijing fanbois queue to pick up new mobe
The Apple launch AS IT HAPPENED: Totally SERIOUS coverage, not for haters
Fandroids, Windows Phone fringe-oids – you wouldn't understand
Here's your chance to buy an ancient, working APPLE ONE
Warning: Likely to cost a lot even for a Mac
Is living with Dolby Atmos worth the faff?
Subtle, naturalistic ambiance – perfect for Transformers 4
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Win a year’s supply of chocolate
There is no techie angle to this competition so we're not going to pretend there is, but everyone loves chocolate so who cares.
Why cloud backup?
Combining the latest advancements in disk-based backup with secure, integrated, cloud technologies offer organizations fast and assured recovery of their critical enterprise data.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Saudi Petroleum chooses Tegile storage solution
A storage solution that addresses company growth and performance for business-critical applications of caseware archive and search along with other key operational systems.