Is that a gaming console in your pocket? Or are you just happy to see me?

By Ben


Few things for me have been more life changing than my introduction to video games. From my father purchasing an original NES that just so happened to make it into my room after he got bored with it to the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 sitting on the shelves under my HDTV right now, I got bit by the bug young and have never looked back. I became a man obsessed before I even started elementary school and that obsession hasn’t waned in over two decades.

In all those years one thing has been a huge interest of mine. It can allow me to satisfy two of my most basic nerdist urges; collecting and gaming. That thing is the magic that is the handheld gaming console. From the early days of boiled cabbage screens, 8-bit graphics, and enough heft to crack a toe should a friend mistakenly drop it on your foot, handhelds have had a very special place in my heart.

“I can play my Sonic at home AND on the bus ride to school? Sign me up!”

So now, as Nerdstafari’s friendly neighborhood gamer-man, I decided to highlight those handhelds. Those pocket(ish) sized machines that have allowed gamers to sever the umbilical – just temporarily of course – and get some sunshine while they take Bowser town and save the Mushroom Kingdom. Our story begins in 1989…

Episode 1: The O.G.

Conceived by Gunpei Yokoi, the Nintendo Game Boy opened the gates for the handheld gaming device. And by broke the gates I mean blew them off the hinges. Gamers could now play the franchises they loved on the go. Metroid, Legend of Zelda, and of course Super Mario Bros. all had multiple titles released for the console. Together with other Nintendo first party IPs and myriad third party developer titles, the Game Boy showed the world that gaming was no longer stuck in the living room. Now everything from the playground, to the college dorm, to a businessman’s international flight, was able to be an arcade.

The original Game Boy was no beauty, though. From the huge size, to the drab color scheme, to the oddly tinted greenish, greyish, brownish screen, the Game Boy wasn’t going to win any modern art awards. But with 10-12 hours of battery life and more games than you can shake a stick at, the Game Boy was a juggernaut and gamers bowed to its awesomeness.

Eventually the criticisms of its looks and advancements in technology allowed Nintendo to redesign the system to a more elegant and aesthetically pleasing form. The Game Boy Pocket was sleeker, had a better resolution screen, and came in different colored casings. While the battery life was lower than the previous model, the Pocket found its market with the newest generation coming into the gaming world. This sleek look also followed the system to its next incarnation, the Game Boy Color.

Released in 1998, the game Boy Color was a major leap forward for Nintendo’s handheld market. After stiff competition from Sega and their Game Gear handheld, the consumers wanted something more modern for the Game Boy. Nintendo answered with a pocket sized system with a 56-color display and a feature that would become the trademark for the handheld market for years to come; backwards compatibility. The Game Boy Color had the amazing ability to take a regular Game Boy game and add some color to the once monochrome graphics. It sounds trivial, but adding a tinge of blue to my copy of Pokemon Blue was like seeing it for the first time.

After years of success and millions upon millions of units sold, Nintendo took another leap for their handheld. Rivaling the SNES in graphical capability and feature a drastically redesigned housing, the Game Boy Advance stormed onto the scene in 2001. New millennium, new Nintendo. Still with a slot that would accept older Game Boy cartridges, the GBA now feature a “horizontal” design and left and right shoulder buttons. This redesign saw success with a new list of games and ports of classic SNES games. There were some flaws with the design, though. The GBA’s smaller cartridge port made classic Game Boy catridges stick out of the top of the machine and Nintendo continued with the same caveat that gamers had griped about for over a decade; the screen was not backlit. This made play in sunlight and dimply lit rooms as difficult as always.

Obviously aware, and finally responding, Nintendo once again put out a redesign of their handheld flagship. This design was a major step and features a mechanism still seen on Nintendo’s portable consoles. A hinged lid allowed the player to close the system and protect the screen. It also finally had a backlit display, complete with dimmer, to allow for play in any light level. Together with a limited run color scheme that mimicked the old NES console 2003’s Game Boy Advance SP was perhaps not the biggest selling, but certainly most acclaimed, Game Boys ever. It also is this author’s favorite handheld. I still have my SP and continue to play it to this day.

Sadly, nothing is forever and 2005 found the last Game Boy iteration. Technologically impressive, but poorly received, the Game Boy Micro was the final run for Nintendo’s original handheld platform. Featuring a very slim design that is roughly the size of the original NES home system’s controllers, the Micro packed a ton of punch into a small package. All the features of previous generations were stuffed together in a housing that was a mere half an inch thick. Unfortunately, due to poor marketing decisions and the introduction of Nintendo’s next portable platform, the Nintendo DS and questionable  omissions of well received features – the Micro was not backwards compatible – the console did not sell well and was not well received by the gaming community.

It was the twilight of the Game Boy. Nintendo’s portable powerhouse was finally retired and the new generations of handheld consoles were out and in the wild, but the legacy of the O.G. of the handheld world would live on. In 2009 the Nintendo Game Boy was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame. The Game Boy had solidified itself in the annals of history.

The system that showed the world that video games weren’t stuck tethered to the homes of gamers was a giant leap forward and a large factor in why video games are what they are today. It is only fitting that the first entry in this series be dedicated to that forerunner, that giant grey brick that soon became synonymous with handheld gaming and gaming culture.


*Fast Fact: TheGame Girl” Despite gaming being known as a male dominated medium, in 1995 research showed that the Game Boy boasted a whopping 46% female player-base! That was nearly double the amount of the NES and SNES combined! Who says girls aren’t gamers? (Gainesville Sun, Jan 15, 1995)


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