Today, despite the fact that there are iOS devices and in part also Android devices, Nintendo still plays its part in the sector that thirty years ago created from practically nothing. It’s the hybrid console Switch, which you play a little ‘alone, a little’ in the company and a little’ attached to the TV at home (and which perhaps around Christmas will come out of the version “Light”, smaller).
But it was thirty years ago that the Kyoto house, founded in 1889 to sell the traditional Japanese playing cards called Hanafuda, made the real cultural turning point for our society. The year was 1989, the wave of arcade bar consoles and Game & Watch and other “special” liquid crystal devices, which Nintendo had long exploited, was already over. The era of the NES, the Nintendo Entertainment System, had already begun and the strategy of a company that produced games on cartridges was emerging, entrusting third parties with only a small and controlled part of the production, instead working a lot on Internet productions.
And so the immutable Gunpei Yokoi, key man of the old Nintendo, who had already invented the Game & Watch, pulls out another masterpiece of those who change the way to a company, along with the trusty Satoru Okada. The invention is an eight-bit, 4-tone grey (2-bit) system, the legendary Game Boy.
Today, we know the Game Boy as a pop icon, a piece of modernity, the progenitor of a genie of other devices. A spectacular object. At the time it was just science fiction. Of course, there were already other devices with more bits and more colors and capable of more complex games. The Game Boy was in fact the “cheap” and technically inferior piece compared to other fourth generation consoles: Game Gear by Sega. Lynx by Atari and TurboExpress by Nec. But the Game Boy had some differences that made it the winning machine.
The second was the battery life: four AA batteries (but you could also use the battery pack) that went on for days and days: the maximum duration was 15 hours continuous with the most “performing” titles.)
The third was the possibility of multiplayer: direct link between two Game Boy, or 4 with an adapter up to a maximum of 16 cascade.
Finally, the fourth were the titles available to the small grey console. Nintendo in a short time had surpassed itself and had arrived spectacular titles capable of immediately pull the maximum processor Sharp 4.19 MHZ with 8 KiB Ram moving objects at 60 fps on a screen of 160 by 144 pixels taking data from cartridges ranging from 32 KiB up to 8 MiB (the latest marketed).
The result was that, from 1989 to 2003, the year of its disposal, the Game Boy in its various incarnations sold 118.69 million pieces. And the incarnations were, in addition to the traditional Game Boy, the Game Boy Pocket (1996), the Game Boy Light (1998) and the Game Boy Color. In addition, the Game Boy games remained compatible with the Game Boy Advance (2001) and Advance SP (2003) but no longer with the Game Boy Micro (2005).
The best selling game ever for the “pure” Game Boy was Tetris, with 30 million copies and passes, but in second place there was already one of the titles in the Pokémon series, with 23.6 million copies. Pokémon will dominate the Game Boy Color (23 million copies) and the three Game Boy Advance/SP/Micro with a total of 13 million copies.
Apart from the evolutions of the packs, from the traditional version of the Game Boy to the Advance version, there were various accessories, from the Game Boy Camera to the small thermal printer Game Boy Printer, up to the adapters called Super Game Boy for the Snes and the Game Boy Player to play the games of the Game Boy on the GameCube.
Even today you can play some of the old Game Boy games thanks to the Nintendo 3DS Virtual Console and other services, as well as emulators – obviously not so legal, especially if you do not own the original Roma.
The Game Boy’s true legacy, however, was another: to have redefined for at least twenty years the space of the game, which became the personal and pocket-sized private territory of generations and generations of children around the world. The Game Boy was always with us, it didn’t require complex negotiations of the common times of home television to connect a console, and it allowed to participate side by side or at least close to long game marathons, filling a space that would later be that of music on headphones, social networks and games on today’s smartphones.
A teenager of the mid-eighties looks at his children who today are browsing lost among the belluries of their glossy glass tablets, always connected to the Internet, with their eyes fascinated by the magic of those who discovered these things with the aesthetic “Braun” at Dieter Rams and saw them grow, generation after generation, decade after decade.
A note also lies in the gender transversality with which gaming spread thanks to Nintendo’s small walking console: in 1995 Nintendo of America had shared statistics showing that 46% of gamers were female, a kind of record compared to any other gaming platform on the planet.
The music of Super Mario Land, the feats of Donkey Kong Game Boy, the adventures of Kirby, the first adventures of Zelda and Pokémon, are all timeless memories of a small console that has struggled for a long time to become something more. You have to get to the Nintendo DS to find track, as well as the revolution that accelerated Nintendo and led it to create the Wii, of the desire to build a small pocket organizer, a small tool to record your diary, share your experiences, be digital for the first time. It wasn’t Nintendo that rode this route, for various reasons, but it gave us guys back then the first thrill of having science fiction in our pockets. Unforgettable.