There are many, many types of gamers. Some gamers only play the newest FPS. Some gamers only play MMORPGs. A few of us – the weird or the nostalgic – play a lot of retro games. While retro games may be simpler that doesn’t make them worse. Tetris, Super Mario Bros., and Sonic the Hedgehog can hold up against any game today. They are fun. For the most part they are unbroken. And these basic cartridge games have two giant advantages to the newest gen games: they have no load times and they are easy to pick up and play for 5 minutes. That brings me to my love affair with the Game Boy.
Nintendo started out by making playing cards and games. By 1980 they famously introduced an innovation not found elsewhere really, the Game & Watch series. Supposedly, game designer Gunpei Yokoi saw some businessmen playing with calculators on a train and adapted that idea into handheld games. These were fun and extremely simple handheld games. They were far superior to those craptacular Tiger Electronics games we all had. And from these sprung the greatest gaming system of all time, the Game Boy! Trust me, I’m a scientist*.
The Game & Watch series were barely games, just LCD watches with basic controls (though they did introduce the D-pad). Ah, but the Game Boy was something special. The Game Boy grew out of the classic Nintendo philosophy of lateral thinking with withered technology. That is, take cheap and easy technology and apply it to something entirely novel. Here, single color LCD screens were stuck onto 8-bit processors and sold as cheaply as possible. They were cheap. The single color display allowed for longer battery life. They worked great. And they were nearly indestructible. Hell, a Game Boy survived a bombing in the Gulf War and still works. Your average Xbox One or PS4 can’t even survive dust.
The Game Boy came out in 1989. The Game Boy Color brought us glorious reds and blues in 1998. Then, in a near miracle, we finally got the biggest flaws of the Game Boy remedied… The Game Boy Advance SP added a backlight in 2005! Ok, so maybe that was one giant flaw to deal with.
The key thing is that the Game Boy is fun, easy to use, and has a myriad of great games. Plus, those games are all pretty cheap. Even the rarest or most sought after games in the Mega Man and Castlevania series are still about $30 or less. Only a few games in the original Game Boy and Game Boy Color library crept up past that and only one or two of them were good (be on the lookout for Game Boy Color game Shantae… It’s the Holy Grail of Game Boy games). You can reasonably get all the games you want loose for a couple of hundred bucks. You’re not likely to be able to do with that NES, SNES, or Sega. You can also come across some hidden gems for next to nothing, especially if you like puzzle games.
What helps the Game Boy shine in today’s world of beautifully rendered graphics and immersive worlds is that it’s a fun throwback that you can play anywhere. Unlike most app games, they are easy to control and can be fairly complex without the tedium of repetition or being a rip off of another game. The original Game Boy isn’t likely to fit into your pocket unless you bust out a pair of JNCO jeans, but you can take Color and a few games in a purse or bag. Bored out of your mind at the DMV? Play Pokemon Yellow. Sick and tired of sitting at the doctor’s office? Play Kid Dracula. Hate being around your family? Mario’s Picross.
Actually, I lied. The real thing that makes the Game Boy stand out in a sea of apps and 3Ds players is that it’s a weird retro system with a lot of memories. If you bust out your atomic purple Game Boy Color and start playing Austin Powers: Oh Behave! you’ve got a strong probability that someone will start up a conversation about their favorite Game Boy game, mention their favorite Pokemon, or complain that they no longer have a copy of Wario Land. Of course this can be a major annoyance if you hate talking to random people but enjoy it. Talk retro games. Share a love of gaming from when you were a kid. Complain about whatever triple-A title just came out broken and needed 47 updates. Oh, and maybe bring a link cable just in case they are a weirdo with a Game Boy in their car, too…
Love the Game Boy. Embrace retro gaming and a simpler time. Pick up Tetris and play for 5 or 6 minutes without a single minute of loading time or needing to complete a 43 minute mission just to open the next area that you can clearly just enter because your character has a bazooka and it’s behind a locked wooden door. Post selfies with your Game Boy Camera. And remember how much fun gaming was before it become a serious slog of online cooperation full of swearing teenagers.
And if someone has a copy of Shantae, I will trade a copy of Uncanny X-Men #9 for it.
*Editor's note: He really is a scientist