Console of the Month (June 2017) – 8/16 Bit Handhelds – Nintendo Gameboy

I’m taking a different approach to my “console of the month” series and expanding it to handheld gaming devices for the month of June. Not only that, I’m lumping the 3 big challengers of the market, Gameboy, Game Gear, and Lynx into one month’s worth of posts and I’ll be kicking it off with the Nintendo Gameboy. Released in North America in 1989, the Gameboy is not the first ever handheld gaming device (e.g. Microvision, Game + Watch, Coleco table tops came before it) but few would argue that it was the most important in pushing the technology and popularity of handheld gaming forward in the late 80’s and into the 90’s. The Gameboy was a runaway smash tailoring its library of games to the built in audience of the NES. Popular franchises such as Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, Mega Man, Castlevania, Contra, Kid Icarus, et. al. received portable games for the Gameboy to appease the fans of the series and give them a leg up on their competitors. As anyone who has ever played the Gameboy knows, its lack of color is a definite drawback but on the flipside, it has an infinitely larger and more distinct library of exclusive games plus a longer battery life than what Sega and Atari could offer with their handhelds.

Another thing that Nintendo did well with the Gameboy once it had established its dominance, was to lengthen the system’s life through peripherals, upgrades and redesigns. From an upgrade standpoint, Nintendo released the Gameboy Pocket in 1996 which offered a smaller, sleeker, more colorful and less battery draining system than the original Gameboy. Just two years later, in 1998, Nintendo then released their color version of the system, the Gameboy Color. Gameboy Color was primarily still an 8 bit handheld which was pretty sad considering it had been almost 10 years since the original Gameboy was released. By this time, the Game Gear and Lynx were history and the Neo Geo Pocket Color was still a year away from offering anything resembling competition to Nintendo so they weren’t really required to innovate in order to dominate. Also around the time of the Pocket and Color redesigns and upgrades in the late 90’s, Nintendo released the Gameboy Camera and Printer. The concept was that you could plug the camera into your Gameboy to take low resolution black and white photos and then print them off to keep or share. This was obviously a gimmick to add excitement to the long in the tooth Gameboy and really wasn’t very practical. The camera runs off the battery power of the Gameboy, but the printer required 6 AA batteries in order to work. Yikes!

From a personal standpoint, I missed out on the Gameboy revolution in the 90’s. That time of my life encompassed my high school and college years so owning multiple gaming consoles and handhelds was just not an option. When I had the choice to upgrade my NES to something else, the SNES or Genesis were clearly going to win out over what I considered at the time as a fad. I wasn’t impressed with the lack of color and tiny screen of the Gameboy and gaming on the go wasn’t a necessity. I had a tape Walkman and later, a CD Walkman for road trips so I was content with that. Like many of my retro gaming items, I picked up a model 1 Gameboy,  a blue Gameboy Pocket and a red Gameboy Color all in the early 2000’s. At this time, the Gameboy Advance was the latest and greatest handheld and was a significant upgrade so these systems were sold off quickly and cheaply to my benefit. I picked up a GB camera and printer as well as some 3rd party add-ons like Nuby’s Snap n’ Power adapter and Game Light Mag in addition to a couple of carrying cases around this time. I’ve never strongly collected for the Gameboy, always focusing on consoles, but I have picked up and played a handful of the classic titles in the years since my initial Gameboy purchase. I plan on taking all of my 8/16 bit handhelds with me on vacation this month in order to use them as they were intended, on the go!

Currently in my collection:

  • Nintendo Gameboy model 1
  • Nintendo Gameboy Pocket, blue
  • Nintendo Gameboy Color, red
  • Gameboy Camera
  • Gameboy Printer
  • Gameboy Pocket carrying case
  • Nuby Snap n’ Power
  • Nuby Game Light Mag
  • Nuby Gameboy carrying case

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