As we all well know by now, today, April 21, 2019 is the 30th birthday of the Nintendo Game Boy! …although, at age 30, I would think he’d be a Game Man by now. I mean, he’s been able to vote in America since 2007.
Anyway, I just want to take a brief moment here to talk about my history with the Game Boy and some of my favorite games!
I certainly wanted a GB when it came out in 1989, and had played it in stores and borrowed it from friends. But it wasn’t until the mid-1990s that I actually started my own GB library when I picked up a Super Game Boy adapter for the Super NES, and got a copy of Metroid II. And I didn’t get an actual Game Boy unit until the Game Boy Color came out in 1998 — it sounds funny coming from me now, but I mostly got it to play the original Pokemon and link up with a friend. (Remember, before it became a juggernaut of kids’ entertainment, Pokemon started off as just a Game Boy RPG from Nintendo, and the original was quite enjoyable for gamers of any age!) From there, I really started picking up GB and GBC games, both new and used.
It wasn’t even until the early to mid-2000s that I actually acquired an original model Game Boy — the ol’ gray brick itself — and I got it at a Goodwill for something like 4 bucks. (Man, THOSE days are over, right?)
At any rate, I sure did enjoy a lot of the handheld 8-bit goodness that the Game Boy had to offer, but getting into it that late in the game meant that I moved on to things like the Game Boy Advance and Neo-Geo Pocket rather soon thereafter. So discovering the Game Boy library has actually been a slow, ongoing process for me all these years, and I’m really enjoying it. From time to time I’ll get on a GB kick, and learn about some great game I missed out on and seek it out.
In fact, there are even some games that I’ve had forever that I’ve only recently seriously tackled. Case in point, Link’s Awakening, which was one of the first things I wrote about here on this blog — I bought it new, but I didn’t finish it until 2016 — and I loved it! Bionic Commando was another one that I only fairly recently played through and fell in love with.
What I really like about the original Game Boy games is how they’re often this sort of alternate version of a well-known game. You may be familiar with a title on the NES, but there’ll be a Game Boy version that, for whatever reason, is a little (or a lot) different. The Mega Man games and the aforementioned Bionic Commando are like that; very similar to the NES versions, but different enough to make them whole new experiences, almost like a remix. And if you’re a fan of the original NES Kid Icarus, but Uprising on the 3DS wasn’t quite your cup of tea, let’s not forget that there was a proper sequel on the Game Boy that was much closer to the NES game.
Perhaps the best example of the “Game Boy twist” is Donkey Kong, the classic arcade game given a multitude of new gameplay elements in the GB version, not the least of which being almost 100 new stages.
Other GB games I’ve really appreciated over the years include Operation C, a very worthy entry in the Contra franchise; Ganso!! Yanchamaru, a simple and fun spin off the original Kaiketsu Yanchamaru, aka Kid Niki; and of course, Kid Dracula, the Castlevania parody that was released on the Famicom in Japan but not the NES in the US — however, we did get the excellent Game Boy version!
However, I have yet to sit down and seriously tackle Super Mario Land. I will. Promise.
Another point I wanted to make is that most of my favorite Japanese franchises got Game Boy games of one type or another — Godzilla, Patlabor, Lupin III, and Fist of the North Star are all represented.
Even though further iterations of the Game Boy improved on its innovations with color, larger games, and eventually more advanced hardware, I’m continually surprised at how well many of the original Game Boy games still hold up. They’re simple yet impressive, and they paved the way for portable gaming as we know it today.
So Happy Birthday, ya big ol’ gray brick with the green graphics. You will always be a cornerstone of video game history. And ya kinda look like it, too.