The Best and Worst of the Original Game Boy
Last week the original Game Boy celebrated its 25th birthday. A quarter of a century has treated the console and its progeny well; the portable powerhouse that is the Nintendo 3DS might have never existed without it. Heck, many of those grey bricks are still in existence and usable today! Though there were plenty of positives to the system, not everything was sunshine and rainbows…so, to remember the original Game Boy, we’ve assembled a list of the five greatest features of the original Game Boy…as well as five of its worst hangups.
Good: Battery Life
Can you imagine getting 15 hours of active gameplay out of your 3DS or VITA? Even your iPod Touch? I didn’t think so. 4 AA batteries got you 15 hours of gameplay on the original Grey Brick (notice it’s GB, too) back in 1988. This gets seriously outdone by the Game Boy Color later on, which does an even better lifespan on only two AAs, but there’s certainly nothing to scoff at about getting 15 hours of gameplay on a four-pack of dollar store batteries. Of course, the lifespan might have to do with a little thing the GB lacked that all modern portable consoles have:
Bad: No color.
The original Game Boy offered you two colors: black, and the pea-soup green of the LCD. Sure, there were varying shades of gray as well, but the system’s lack of color made it challenging for designers to create worlds with the same amount of immersion as even the NES’ 8-bit color pallet allowed. The monochrome choice also made the GB an easy target for the Game Gear’s marketing campaign against it. But we all know who won the battle between SEGA and Nintendo’s handhelds; maybe that had something to do with the Game Boy’s…
Let’s admit it: there’s something about a well-designed game with simple controls that’s inherently charming. Many gaming newcomers get intimidated by gaming on controllers with multiple shoulder buttons, face buttons, and analog sticks, but the Wii revived the casual gamer by providing simple, easy-to-access controls. The Game Boy featured two face buttons, start and select buttons, and a D-pad. That was it. And even so, we got great games like Metroid 2: Return of Samus and The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening. The Game Boy proved that, especially on a small screen, simple was better. But simplicity has its limits, and one of the Game Boy’s chief limitations came from…
Bad: Not Enough Buttons
Simplicity doesn’t have to come at the expense of potential, but restricting the portable system to only two face buttons limited its ability to cater to games later in its lifespan, particularly ones that were scaled-down ports of SNES titles. Games like Mega Man Xtreme (and its sequel, Xtreme 2) were admirable for their 8-bit approach at 16-bit gaming, but they would have felt more authentic with even just X and Y buttons in addition to the A and B. The SEGA Game Gear would attempt to resolve this issue on its handheld by replicating the Genesis’ three-button control scheme, but the Game Gear wouldn’t stand the test of time against the Little Grey Brick that Could. Maybe one of those reasons was because with the GB you could:
Good: Go play outside!
Even with 6 AA batteries, the Game Gear’s near-15-second lifespan prevented you from really taking it anywhere that you couldn’t plug in its AC adapter. On the flip side, the Game Boy’s long life-span and basic LCD screen meant that it was perfect for taking on the go, even to realms that are unfriendly to backlit screens: the great outdoors! Yep, when Mom or Dad got frustrated about you spending all your time on the NES and forced you to go play outside, you could take that bad Boy with you and see everything perfectly in natural sunlight. And if you happened to take your GB with you outside, odds were that you wouldn’t lose it because…
Bad: The Game Boy was HUGE
Anyone who’s tried to sneak in some game time either in class or during an important meeting knows how important the form-factor of the game console is. There was no sneaking in game time with the original GB, though; the gigantic machine was a dead giveaway to any playtime you got in. Even if you were just on-the-move, odds versus possibilities it wouldn’t fit in a pants pocket or even a small purse, requiring special attention and love. That made the system prone to drops and accidents, but most of the time the GB just shrugged off collisions. That’s because the original Game Boy was basically…
Well, almost indestructible. With the exception of taking one quality blow to the screen, the original Game Boy was (and maybe still is) one of the most resilient pieces of portable hardware out there. In addition to its ability to take a beating, the hardware itself stands the test of time; throw some batteries in a Game Boy 25 years from now, and it’ll probably still start up just as well as it always did. And you won’t even have to worry about a bulb burning out, since the original GB had…
Bad: No Backlight.
If you did any serious time with the Game Boy or any of its predecessors before the Game Boy Advance SP, you almost certainly fought at night to see a few more minutes of Metroid or Tetris before bed. The original Game Boy’s lack of a backlight rendered it virtually useless in dark areas without some sort of external lighting source. Whether you bought one of the light/magnifier attachments or just held a flashlight in your mouth, it was still worthwhile to bring your own light to the party. After all, with a comprehensive library of both casual and hardcore titles, you could do something more than just carry your Electronic Football LED game with you in the car (though that you could play in the dark). You could play whatever you wanted, so long as you were willing to carry…
Bad: Big Cartridges.
Nowadays carrying multiple games is a pretty simple task. VITA and 3DS cartridges are small enough that carrying an arsenal of gaming is almost too easy, and digital distribution lets you carry tons of games on a single memory card. In contrast, every game on the original Game Boy was a palm-sized square bound to bulk up your pockets in a heartbeat. But we were happy to carry them around; it was worth it because we were spending time with…
Good: True Gaming-on-the-Go
This wasn’t some simple LED game, this wasn’t even one of Nintendo’s Game and Watch handheld games. The Game Boy represented a paradigm shift in mobile gaming, started the revolution that we’re continuing to push on our phones, tablets, and mobile consoles. In the car, out at the park, or maybe even in a cubicle while hiding from the boss, gamers took their Game Boys everywhere they could so they could experience stories, beat high scores, and challenge their friends. It’s a fantastic ability that we take for granted in our free-to-play world of smartphone apps and laptops, but the Game Boy started the first big push in the direction we’re moving now.
Regardless of any of the hang-ups the system offered, having a Game Boy back in the day was a privilege and an experience for all involved. 25 years later the Game Boy legacy is still strong, and we think back on those old 2-bit days with fond memories. Thanks, Game Boy; I hope in 25 years we have even greater gaming experiences on our busses, in our cars, and out with our friends thanks to you.
What are some of your favorite Game Boy memories? Or least favorite Game Boy memories? Leave them in the comments!