Thursday, April 8, 2010

Nintendo Game Boy

These days we have hundreds of games on our phones constantly at our immediate disposal, but once upon a time a portable video game was a real novelty. Back in the 90s, we were far more easily impressed with what may now be classified as basic technology. While today we might discount a video game system entirely if it fails to achieve HD picture quality and super realistic audio, at the time of the Game Boy's inception we were more than satiated by a few loosely connected moving pixels and a hearty round of irritatingly repetitive tones masquerading as background music. In case you can't quite hearken back to this simpler gaming time, allow this video to serve as a handy reminder:

Yes, that's right: the outrageous new game tetris! Spoken in a booming, can't-contain-his-raging-excitement voiceover, no less. This used to be the kind of stuff that truly impressed us. The revolutionary new video link wasn't too shabby, either. It may look primitive now, but this head-to-head portable gaming technology unleashed a wave of uncontrollable child excitement. Not only could we sneak this bulky, boxy gray battery-operated wonder into class with us, we could also connect to our friends' Game Boys under the desks.

Today, we might be irritated if we have to wait five seconds for a game to load, so it can be tough to recall a more patient, more easily entertained time. Upon the release of the Game Boy, many of us were pretty psyched just to learn it lasted a then-impressive 10 to 30 hours without a battery change. It might sound shoddy to us now, but contemporary handhelds could blow through batteries in as little as two hours. That endless battery life-sucking cycle is so expensive it makes crack addiction seem like a real bargain. No, Game Boy delivered on its promises to give us a better handheld video game device, and we reaped the benefits for hours. Well, 10 to 30 hours worth of benefits. We still had to keep a lot of batteries on hand.

At about ninety bucks a pop, Nintendo Game Boys were relatively cheap in comparison to their competitors' models. It may not have been in the reasonable reach of every family, but it made video games far more accessible. Our parents may have felt some guilt at allowing us hours of brainpower-zapping Game Boy time, but these things were incredibly effective at shutting us up for extended stretches of time. Ninety dollars is a relatively small price to pay for some peace and quiet. Well, sort of. If they failed to enable the mute button, our families had the pleasure of listening to endless hours of this:

Brings back the memories, doesn't it? I can almost feel the Tetris tetronimoes gradually gaining speed and eventually outwitting even the savviest of my shape-turning strategies. I've already waxed poetic at length here about the virtues of Tetris, but its profound impact on my childhood warrants extended examination. Tetris has all the makings of a true addiction. Have you ever noticed if you play Tetris frequently enough, you begin thinking in shape-fitting combinations? It even haunts your dreams. True story.

Tetris may have initially been the default favorite game because it came bundled with the purchase of an original Game Boy, but other games quickly achieved massive popularity as well. The Super Mario Land series was very well-received by Game Boy users, giving us new worlds and characters for our old buddy Mario. Super Mario Land was actually the first choice for bundling with the original Game Boy release, but Nintendo replaced it with Tetris on the assumption that Tetris held a more gender neutral appeal. As a girl who loved Mario games, I'm not totally buying the gender stereotype-enforcing reasoning, but there's probably some truth to it.

Yeah, that ad totally tells us to "give Mario a happy ending." Like I said, these were simpler times. Or maybe just times in which we were less aware of potentially hilarious double entrendres. Maybe.

Many of us also sought to "catch 'em all" in the persistently popular Pokemon games, the several versions of which sold millions of Game Boy cartridges worldwide. Considering the creator's idea for the Pokemon series was sparked by his experiences with childhood insect collecting, it turned out much cooler than you might expect. Of course, you couldn't actually kill the Pokemon, they'd just pass out for a brief nap. You could, however, link to your friends' Game Boys and trade Pokemons. That part was pretty cool. It didn't quite make up for the no-kill environment, but to be fair, the Pokemon fainting was kind of adorable.

The Legend of Zelda series was also a major seller, proving kids everywhere love solving puzzles and defeat dungeons. The plot's main storyline centered around the task of rescuing the princess Zelda, which seems to have been a major Nintendo archetype of the time. This commercial is for the NES version of the game, not the Game Boy one, but it's so hilarious I just have to share it with you. From the "WHOA! NICE GRAPHICS!" to the rad rap and the disclaimer about your parents helping you set it up, this is pure, unfiltered early-era Nintendo goodness:

Following the release of the original came the more compact Game Boy Pocket and my personal favorite, the Game Boy Camera. I never actually had the privilege of owning one of these beauties, but it remains a long-standing dream of mine even after the technology has gone defunct. I'm still not totally sure what the appeal is, but it may have had something to do with the fact that digital cameras were still a novel concept at the time. We can take photos on just about anything these days, but there was something sort of endearing about taking them with a Game Boy, don't you think?

Nearly ten years after the release of the original Game Boy came the new edition in the form of the Game Boy color. It's a little humorous now how minimally colorized the screen actually looks in the first commercial, but at the time it was a pretty impressive innovation. By this point, we were well on our way to achieving the clear and colorized graphics of today's small gaming devices.

The Game Boy wasn't the first handheld video gaming system on the market, but Nintendo's product was both accessible and successful. For those of us who lost countless hours to Tetris and Pokemon, we may not be any wiser for it, but maybe we exhibit quicker finger flicking reflexes. That's got to come in handy someday, right? I'm sure of it. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to go listen to that Tetris music on repeat. It's just that good.


Kate said...

Oh my god yes! I actually did a Kijiji hunt a while ago and came up with a green Gameboy Colour and Pokemon Blue - which is exactly what I had when I was a kid! I posted a bit about it here.

Imma go play Pokemons now :D

Faux Trixie said...

I freaking LOVED my Gameboy. My favorite game was the duck tales game. I also liked the mario brothers game, albeit it was slightly different from the original.

I never had the Zelda game, namely because I could never figure out how to get out of Level one when playing it on my Nintendo NES.

I wonder if I could now...

Melanie's Randomness said...

I still have mine!!! I lost the back to it so I have this ghetto tape back going. I love it.. I miss getting the new games. It was soo heavy now considering how light my DS is now!!

Dana said...

i LOVED my gameboy when I was younger! I remember I begged my parents for one, and I got a cool transparent purple one for Hanukkah. Not gonna lie, I still play it from time to time.

90s lovers, check out my blog!! (it's for a school assignment) !!

coulrophobic agnostic said...

I had a Sega Game Gear instead, and shit, talk about eating batteries. It took six at a time. I kept that for ages. Heck, I wish I still had it. I like my DS and all, but it doesn't have Taz-mania :/

Kristen said...

ah I love this game boy!! How classic!!

Lisa said...

I was helping my sister unpack her boxes last week and we came across her old gameboy!! ahhh, memories! My dad got us these special games from China or something that had like 200 games on one disk and we were obsessed!

Andhari said...

Game boy! I used to sneak this in class, got caught pretty often :p

dragonzflame said...

I wasn't allowed a Game Boy (though we did have an Atari). But my cousin came to stay for a weekend and forgot it when she left, so I got to play with it until the next time I saw her.

When the batteries ran out mum kept 'forgetting' to buy more, and then I had to give it back.

Richard @ The Bewildered Brit said...

Nintendo's Gameboy was a brilliant device. They undercut their nearest rivals by $100 and they knew that it was all about the games.

RAY J said...

I still have mine, it's in a box with the games I had and some of the accessories that came with it, lol...

those headphones it came with were terrible though!!!

And didn't it take like 8 batteries too? lol... that thing was heavy compared to the later versions!

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