I just read the pretty damn good Dtoid article about the Game Boy's 25th anniversary. Thought I'd do my own write-up of Nintendo's wonderful, iconic, borderline-indestructable brick of a handheld game console.
More or less? The Game Boy is THE handheld console. Its image is iconic enough for someone who barely knows video games to know exactly what it is, and the games that were available for it have gone on to be absolute classics.
I got my Game Boy in August of 1992, when I was just two years old. My parents bought it for me for my birthday, back when we still lived in Massachusetts. If I knew anything about the area of Cape Cod I lived in at the time, I'd definitely have tried to find out where my parents got the Game Boy. They probably had to go to the Hyannis Toys 'R Us, which, to my knowledge, is still where it was all those years ago. That's rare for a TRU in this day and age.
The Game Boy was originally bundled with Tetris, which was a marketing decision so great that I sincerely hope that the person who came up with it got some sort of commemorative plaque. I've talked about Tetris before, but it bears repeating that this game is absolutely flawless. It is the perfect balance of being easy to play and very hard to master, making the addictiveness of Tetris rival that of most hard drugs. There is a very good reason why Tetris was ported to every game console known to man (and a few only known to hardcore gaming fanatics): It's excellent. While the Game Boy wasn't necessarily the one that started it all, it definitely helped the sales of the Game Boy skyrocket.
A Nintendo launch really doesn't feel special without a new Mario game in the lineup. Maybe that's why the Wii left me cold initially. Anyway, Super Mario Land was released as a launch title for the Game Boy, alongside Alleyway, Tennis and Baseball.
Man, look at this cover. I do get what they are trying to do with this: They're trying to showcase the various game mechanics and the various enemies you'll encounter while playing, but this cover just comes off as a jumbled mess from an artist who took things too literally when asked to make a cover that summed up the game.
That said, this game is really friggin' weird. It wasn't designed by Shigeru Myamoto (the person who developed all of the other core Mario titles), it was instead designed by Gunpei Yokoi (the man who was behind the creation of the Game Boy itself). And good God, does it show. The gameplay doesn't quite "feel" like a Mario game, in that the physics are off from the standards of the NES titles. Mario sinks like a goddamn stone when he falls off of a ledge, and there is no pause when getting hit by an enemy, which, to a person who has played the NES games for hours on-end, is immediately noticeable and incredibly frustrating. It is definitely something that you need to get used to.
The enemy designs are downright bizarre. You've got your standard array of things like Goombas and turtles, but the turtle's shells explode after you've jumped on them. There are also things like giant flies or sphinxes that are so far removed from the Mario style that I wouldn't be surprised if this game wasn't supposed to be a Mario game originally.
You don't have a ton of time to think about a lot of this, however, as the play time can be well under an hour if you're used to the controls and you happen to be in a well-lit room to see the screen.
The Game Boy's screen has been the subject of a lot of scrutiny over the years, mostly due to the fact that you cannot see the goddamn thing in any normal lighting condition. Seriously, Sega had the right idea with putting a backlight on the Game Gear. In addition to being very hard to see, the screen suffered from a problem that a lot of old handheld screens used to have, in that there were ghosting/afterimage issues with games that had a lot of movement in them. This flaw made games like Contra: The Alien Wars and Donkey Kong Land virtually impossible to play on the original Game Boy. The best games to play on this thing were simple games like Tetris, or games that didn't require a lot of fast-paced movements or reaction times, like turn-based RPGs.
Coincidentally, Nintendo managed to release one of those late in the Game Boy's life.
Well, that's not exactly true: They managed to release two of those late in the Game Boy's Life.
Yuuuuuup. Pokemon Red and Blue were released in the US on September 28th, 1998. That is well over nine years after the Game Boy came out. Hell, today a lot of games don't get released on consoles when they are six years into their lifespan. Pokemon helped the Game Boy sell more units than ever, and it gave kids a reason to use the link cables that they probably had lying around since their parents bought them F1 Race. The Pokemon games also made RPGs accessible to millions of people who may have never played a role-playing game before, and it encouraged social interaction in video games years before online infrastructure was good enough for multiplayer.
I'm sure there are people out there that thought the Game Boy didn't even exist before Pokemon, or at least didn't think that the console would have been a near-decade into its' lifespan when the games came out.
Come to think of it, it's crazy to think that the Game Boy is 25 years old now (if we're counting from the Japanese release, anyway). The Game Boy is now old enough to rent a car. There were dozens of great games made for this console, and, luckily, you can get a bunch of them on the 3DS eShop right now. Go and pick up Wario Land or Link's Awakening, and when Mega Man V comes out on the eShop, get it there, as the original cart is far too expensive to consider paying for.
I'm definitely going to be playing some Metroid II or Alleyway during my lunch break at work tomorrow.
There's no better tribute to a console than to actually play it.