A Brief History of: The Nintendo Game Boy

Making its market debut all the way back in 1989, Nintendo’s Game Boy was one of the biggest handheld gaming consoles to ever be released and grew out of the Big N’s “Game and Watch” experiments of the early 1980s.

Sporting a trademark pea-soup green screen with black pixels, the Game Boy was an efficient, if underpowered, handheld console that managed to recreate the magic of Nintendo’s Nintendo Entertainment System in a compact form factor that had nowhere near the power of its older brother but all the charm and magic.

Game Boy Original Packaging

Led by the legendary Gunpei Yokoi, the Game Boy and, later, the Game Boy Color, managed to best all of its market competition including competing systems from rival Sega and Atari.

Launched at a time when portable gaming was a relative unknown, the Game Boy largely capitalized on the success Nintendo had with its NES system and leveraged its lineup of iconic characters to move units. Six years prior to the launch of the Game Boy, in 1983, the North American video game market collapsed under the weight of its ubiquitous shovelware, nearly dooming the entire industry to irrelevancy in the process. Nintendo, of course, is credited with largely re-establishing the console market in North America and dominating it in the 8-bit era. 

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Tetris on the original Game Boy

But the Game Boy was also a bit of a cultural phenomenon for other reasons as well, one of them being its pack-in game Tetris.

Consumers who opted to purchase a Game Boy bundle typically received Tetris as their game and this was not only a genius move on Nintendo’s part but represented a broadening of the intended market for the Game Boy beyond just children and teenagers.

Though ubiquitous today, the novelty of the Game Boy was its ability to provide long battery life to play games that mimicked titles from the NES. As the system matured, it began to develop its own games and even eventually spawned the Pokemon series, one of the most successful video game series of all time.

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The insanely popular Pokemon for Game Boy

Even though it is beloved now, when it was initially proposed the Game Boy did not receive the most positive reception internally at Nintendo.

Referred to by the code name “Dot-Matrix Game,” what eventually would become the Game Boy was given the slang nickname of “Dame Game,” with dame being a Japanese word meaning everything from “stop” to “lame.”

Boy were the internal testers at Nintendo wrong: Among the many criticisms levied at the Game Boy over its history, no one ever called it lame. Selling millions upon millions of units, the Game Boy established a second pillar of Nintendo’s business and one that had not existed before: Portable gaming.

The Game Boy started us on a long journey to the Nintendo Switch

When you look at the Nintendo Switch hybrid console today, you can trace its roots to Gunpei Yokoi’s Game and Watch and Game Boy console which, for many gamers, maintained almost a separate world of games distinct from that of home consoles and PCs.