by Vedant Namboodiri
The Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) is a console that many of us hold dear. I mean, we all remember the hours we wasted, glued to our TV screens, controller in hand, frantically guiding that pudgy Italian plumber through a number of dangerous worlds only to be met with the phrase, “Thank you, Mario, but our Princess is in another castle”. Well, what if I told you that the NES was not even Nintendo’s greatest triumph? What if I told you that the console Nintendo, used to revolutionise gaming, was released as nothing but a sidekick to the NES? This is the story of how Nintendo’s Gameboy became a man.
The name “Game Boy” was intended as a connotation to its status as the NES’s right hand man. Upon release in 1989, it was a bland, brick-like handheld device, with a black and green LCD screen. Its control scheme resembled that of the NES with an eight directional D-Pad, the A and B buttons and the Select and Start buttons. This portable sidekick to the NES may not have had fancy graphics but it had a trump card. It came bundled with a copy of Tetris, which was the 1989 equivalent of Candy Crush or Angry Birds. The Gameboy was ying o the shelves. The sidekick had surpassed the hero. Suddenly, kids wanted a Gameboy instead of the NES because they could take Mario to school with them and not worry about Dad getting in the way of a Tetris high score because he wanted to watch the news.
But Nintendo wasn’t done. Even though the Atari LYNX (released in the same year as the Game Boy) trumped the specs of the Gameboy in every single aspect, Nintendo had something Atari never would – Pokémon. With the release of Pokémon Red and Blue, the sales of the Gameboy skyrocketed once again and all other competition was left in the dust. Every kid on the block who didn’t have a Gameboy rushed out to get one so that he/she could trade and battle with friends. In a way, the Pokémon games were tailored specifically for the Gameboy. The idea of carrying your personally trained set of monsters in your pocket and pit them against those of your friends probably wouldn’t have had the same feel if it wasn’t on a handheld device.
Every kid on the block who didn’t have a Gameboy rushed out to get one so that he/she could trade and battle with friends.
The Gameboy only grew wiser with age. After the release and success of the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES), Nintendo released the Game Boy Advanced. This time, it was not a sidekick. It was basically a portable version of the SNES with a little more kick. It ew o the shelves despite its unimpressive release in 2001. In 2003, the Gameboy adapted to the trends of flip phones and morphed into the Game Boy Advanced SP, which now had a backlit screen and a cool clamshell design to match the “hip” new mobile devices.
The Gameboy and its variants put together have sold over 200 million units world-wide, making it the highest selling handheld console to date. And why wouldn’t it? It took gaming outside your living room and into the playgrounds. Even today, almost 25 years since its release, we still reminisce fondly about the good times we had. All our adventures in the Mushroom kingdom, the elusive Tetris high score set by that one friend and that feeling of invincibility when Charizard hit level 100. When I look at my old Gameboys today, I realise that in all these years, it may not have been the only thing that went from being a boy to a man.