The Game Boy turns 25: How a 'grey brick' took over the world of portable gaming

First released on 21 April 1989, the original Game Boy line-up has since sold nearly 118 million units and spawned legendary titles from Tetris to Pokemon

Twenty five years ago today Nintendo launched the Game Boy, the first handheld games console to achieve mainstream success and a device that would lay the foundation for today’s world of portable gaming.

Although it wasn’t the very first of its kind (the 1979 Microvision and its 16x16 resolution screen take that honour) the Game Boy certainly did more than any other device to popularize the concept of interchangeable cartridges that were central to the success of portable gaming.

When the original Game Boy was released on 21 April 1989, single-game devices from companies like Tiger Electronics were the norm, and these had already been overshadowed by the variety on offer from 8-bit home consoles like the NES.

Making this sort of variety available on the go while removing the need to take control of the TV meant that gaming became more personal and more involved, with expansive titles like The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening and Pokémon Red and Blue allowing players to achieve that ultimate cliché of 'entering another world’.

The Game Boy and its 1998 successor the Game Boy Color also used peripherals to their advantage, adding extra functionality that would let portable gaming leapfrog home devices.

Long before the internet would enable multiplayer and online collaboration, Nintendo’s Link Cable was letting gamers hook their systems up together for everything from head-to-head games of Tetris to hard-fought pokémon trades. Four and even 16-player titles were also available – even if getting together the requisite cables and consoles was beyond the reach of most gamers.

With the Game Boy, Nintendo also proved that it could look beyond the world of purely virtual entertainment in a manner that still stumps its competitors. Peripherals like the front-facing Game Boy Camera and pleasingly lo-res Game Boy Printer were the spiritual predecessors of the Nintendo Wii - combining gaming mechanics with ‘real-world’ escapades.

The Game Boy was also notable for being an early success in crossing the gender divide in the industry. In 1995 Nintendo of America announced that just under half (46 per cent) of Game Boy players were female –beating previous divides for both the NES (29 per cent) and the SNES (14 per cent).

And then, of course, there were the games themselves. Although the Game Boy launched with world-beating puzzler Tetris (the best-selling title on the system) as well as the first hand-held port of Nintendo’s favourite plumber via Super Mario Land, recent phenomenon such as the crowd-sourced multiplayer mayhem of ‘Twitch plays Pokémon’ show that the cultural impact of the Game Boy has not been diminished.

After the dust had settled and the Game Boy Color was discontinued in 2003, the original Game Boy line-up (including the Light and the Pocket) had clocked up more 118 million sale worldwide. It's an impressive number but one that was still beaten by Nintendo's dual-screened DS range, which has since cleared more than 154 million units to date.

With smartphones and tablets continuing to undermine Nintendo’s already precarious market share, it's possible that we might never see the Japanese giant regain its crown as king of hand-held gaming but thanks to the evocative memories of those early games and the availability of ports and emulators (some legal and some less so) it’s certain that the legend of the Game Boy will live on for years to come.

News
people
News
people And here is why...
News
peopleStella McCartney apologises over controversial Instagram picture
Life and Style
Laid bare: the Good2Go app ensures people have a chance to make their intentions clear about having sex
techCould Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Burr remains the baker to beat on the Great British Bake Off
tvRichard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
News
i100
Sport
footballArsenal 4 Galatasaray 1: Wenger celebrates 18th anniversary in style
Arts and Entertainment
Amazon has added a cautionary warning to Tom and Jerry cartoons on its streaming service
tv
News
people
News
The village was originally named Llansanffraid-ym-Mechain after the Celtic female Saint Brigit, but the name was changed 150 years ago to Llansantffraid – a decision which suggests the incorrect gender of the saint
newsWelsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
Arts and Entertainment
Kristen Scott Thomas in Electra at the Old Vic
theatreReview: Kristin Scott Thomas is magnificent in a five-star performance of ‘Electra’
News
Destructive discourse: Jewish boys look at anti-Semitic graffiti sprayed on to the walls of the synagogue in March 2006, near Tel Aviv
peopleAt the start of Yom Kippur and with anti-Semitism flourishing, one Jew can no longer ignore his identity
Life and Style
Couples who boast about their relationship have been condemned as the most annoying Facebook users
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Hayley Williams performs with Paramore in New York
musicParamore singer says 'Steal Your Girl' is itself stolen from a New Found Glory hit
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: Real Staffing Group is seeking Traine...

    QA/BA - Agile

    £400 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client are currently seekin...

    Senior Infrastructure Engineer - Server, Networks

    £40000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Infrastructure En...

    Application Support Analyst - Service Desk - Central London

    £30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Support Analy...

    Day In a Page

    Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

    Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

    A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
    Time to stop running: At the start of Yom Kippur and with anti-Semitism flourishing, one Jew can no longer ignore his identity

    Time to stop running

    At the start of Yom Kippur and with anti-Semitism flourishing, one Jew can no longer ignore his identity
    Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

    Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

    The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
    An app for the amorous: Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?

    An app for the amorous

    Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
    Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

    Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

    Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
    Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

    Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

    After a few early missteps with Chekhov, her acting career has taken her to Hollywood. Next up is a role in the BBC’s gangster drama ‘Peaky Blinders’
    She's having a laugh: Britain's female comedians have never had it so good

    She's having a laugh

    Britain's female comedians have never had it so good, says stand-up Natalie Haynes
    Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

    Let there be light

    Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
    Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

    Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

    Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
    Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

    A look to the future

    It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
    The 10 best bedspreads

    The 10 best bedspreads

    Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
    Arsenal vs Galatasaray: Five things we learnt from the Emirates

    Arsenal vs Galatasaray

    Five things we learnt from the Gunners' Champions League victory at the Emirates
    Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

    Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

    This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
    Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

    The children orphaned by Ebola...

    ... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
    Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence