As Nintendo’s Game Boy turns thirty, we take a retrospective glance at the handheld that revolutionised portable technology.

If, like us, you weren’t around to see the launch of the now-iconic Game Boy on April 21, 1989, you may want to have a hunt around your parent’s attic. Given that the original console sold almost 120 million units worldwide, it’s very likely you’ll find one up there.

Just be sure to wipe the dust off before you boot it up.

What was the Game Boy?

You’ll almost definitely recognise the design of the Game Boy, even if you’ve never played on one. The system combined features from both the NES and Game & Watch hardware, promising customers a rich, whole experience of console gaming in a portable device.

A dot-matrix screen, adjustable contrast dial, and five control buttons kept the Game Boy minimal and sleek. It had a two-tone colour scheme and boasted a lengthy battery life. The competition, such as Sega’s Game Gear and Atari’s Lynx, was completely dwarfed in sales by Nintendo’s efforts, cementing the Game Boy as one of the most culturally iconic devices of its era.

Impressive stuff.

A revolution in design

Though it may look relatively primitive now with its green tinted screen, and lack of backlight, the Game Boy was an unbelievably exciting device for the time. The idea that anyone could play video games on the move in a self-contained console that fit in your hands was truly mind-boggling.

It’s not a stretch to say that without Nintendo’s little gaming device, we may never have seen the iPhone, Samsung Galaxy, or the Google Pixel come to fruition years later.

That’s a truly terrifying premise if ever there was one.

Despite all of the Game Boy’s somewhat unimpressive specs by today’s standards, the original model from 1989 is truly one indestructible piece of tech.

That’s not just us gushing with rose-tinted specs on. Tech reviewer Marques Brownlee recently undertook an experiment to test how robust Nintendo’s portable device was when put in the toughest conditions. In this case, that involved a flame thrower and Casey Neistat.

Yes, really.

If you’re still not convinced of the Game Boy’s absurd durability, check out this particular model that experienced intense blasts in the Gulf War bombings in 1991. It still works, too.

Why was it so important?

Portable gaming really didn’t exist in the way we know it today before the Game Boy. Sure, Nintendo had released experimental, budget titles like the Game & Watch series, but really these were more demos and loose ideas than fully fledged, flagship consoles.

This new, on-the-go device introduced many people to the idea of games being accessible wherever they went. No longer were Mario and Zelda exclusively confined to a fixed space in the house. For the first time, home entertainment systems could become more fluid, pocketable, and generally more lightweight.

The Game Boy birthed an entire subsection of the gaming industry. It would lead to several reworkings of the system throughout the nineties, before the Nintendo DS in the mid noughties, and the 3DS several years later.

You’ve likely played with or owned at least one of these systems, whether it was to experience the latest hard-as-nails Japanese RPG or simply to enjoy some Nintendogs.

You know who you are, virtual animal lovers.

That’s not to mention the influence Nintendo’s consoles have had on the mobile gaming market, whether that be through simple control layouts or general marketing tactics.

For a long while, it seemed that Nintendo were likely never to tap into the mobile market. Thankfully, with the insane success of Pokémon Go, Mario Run, and several others, its clear they’ve embraced iOS and Android as legitimate gaming industries.

All of this, at its core, has the original Game Boy to thank. It proved there was a hungry audience for games outside of the home, and generated a surge of mainstream interest that has never really diminished.

If you can get your hands on one, we recommend giving it a play just for the experience. It’s a fun history lesson for Nintendo lovers, that’s for sure, and is a wholesome reminder of the joy that can be had with video games.

Happy Birthday to the Game Boy. Or should it be called Game Man at this point?



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