Sega's Failed Attempts to Mock the Game Boy are Still Funny 30 Years Later

Sega's Failed Attempts to Mock the Game Boy are Still Funny 30 Years Later

Oh, you like the Game Boy? You probably also like drinking out of the toilet. Enjoy your 12 IQ, dumbass.

Today marks the 30th anniversary of the Game Boy's North American launch. Say goodbye to your knees and your metabolism, Game Boy. If they're not already shot, they're about to be. I know this from experience.

At over 118 million units sold worldwide, the Game Boy is the third best-selling game system of all time behind the PlayStation 2 and the Nintendo DS. It's certainly one of the longest-lived game systems ever released: The Pokemon boom of the late '90s was a veritable dip in the Fountain of Youth for the hard-working handheld. Nintendo eventually improved on the Game Boy with the (smaller, lighter) Game Boy Pocket and the Game Boy Color, but when we think "Game Boy," we generally think of the good old "grey brick" that simply wouldn't die. Even Sega's increasingly savage attempts to make the Game Boy seem uncool next to its own portable Game Gear did nothing to slow the Game Boy's momentum.

In the end, the Game Boy's sales lapped the Game Gear's comparatively modest numbers. There's no hard data on how many units the Game Gear sold (between 10 and 11 million is the popular estimate), but it's safe to say the Game Boy performed far more admirably. Given how the '90s were all about Sega dunking on Nintendo for being behind the times, it must've vexed Sega of America's talented marketing team to see its proven tactics prove utterly ineffective. In fact, the Game Boy succeeded because it was behind the times, which probably proved especially dizzying to said marketing team. Sega's "Genesis Does What Nintendon't" and "Welcome to the Next Level" campaigns leaned heavily on the power of the Genesis next to the NES and the newborn SNES. The Game Gear ads tried a repeat attack, but fans who adopted Sega's portable quickly learned power isn't an asset for a handheld when six double-A batteries are required to run said handheld for half an hour.

I'm not suggesting the Game Gear commercials have no merit. The "dog" commercial remains fully-formed in my memory all these decades later, and that's what a good ad is supposed to do. It's just funny to look back and observe how the Game Gear's "strengths" and the Game Boy's "weaknesses" are exactly why the former got trounced in the marketplace.

Oh, heavens. Look at that ugly "creamed spinach" color that let the Game Boy run for ages on four double-A batteries. Look at dinky, unexciting Tetris game that played no small part in propelling the Game Boy to its astronomical popularity. Look at the bright, colorful Game Gear graphics that gobbled up batteries! Look at those exciting action games that blur like crazy and suffer for the Game Gear's low screen resolution. (No, seriously, it's nearly impossible to beat the first boss of Sonic the Hedgehog 2 unless you memorize exactly where Dr. Eggman's projectiles are going to land.)

There you have it: Game Boy owners are colorblind and like to drink toilet water. Surely subsequent commercials became more tasteful once Sega realized "Ha ha, look at the two-color system!" wasn't an effective plan of attack?

Hint: No.

"Okay," said Sega, pitching another ad into the garbage can, "How about 'Game Boy owners are so desperate to play portable games in color, they'll give themselves a concussion using dead animals they find on the ground?"

Still ineffective. And still funny, to be honest.

In retrospect, Sega's tenacity wasn't the worst idea. No doubt the marketing team believed the Game Boy's graphics would look embarrassingly aged as the '90s wore on, and it expected kids would change over to the Game Gear as long as they were reminded the handheld was an alternative. Sega wasn't wrong about the Game Boy's graphics aging poorly, but the longer the Game Boy lived, the better its games—especially its first-party games—became. Even before Pokemon's release, the Game Boy was worth owning for Tetris, The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening, Donkey Kong '94, and the Super Mario World series alone. The Game Boy was also a great frugal option outside of consoles. If Game Gear was a wild and reckless teenager, then the Game Boy was the sensible dad who was always right, whether you wanted to admit it or not.

Overall, the Game Boy is a fascinating cultural study. It must've seemed like the world's slowest, stodgiest target for Sega's marketing team, but no matter how many times it was shot at, it just kept lumbering on like some kind of zombie ox. Then again, if a literal bomb couldn't stop the Game Boy, what chance did the Game Gear ever have? Even if it does have a few RPGs worth talking about.

Title image: Retro Gaming Australia

Sometimes we include links to online retail stores. If you click on one and make a purchase we may receive a small commission. See our terms & conditions.

Nadia Oxford

Staff Writer

Nadia has been writing about games for so long, only the wind and the rain (or the digital facsimiles thereof) remember her true name. She's written for Nerve, About.com, Gamepro, IGN, 1UP, PlayStation Official Magazine, and other sites and magazines that sling words about video games. She co-hosts the Axe of the Blood God podcast, where she mostly screams about Dragon Quest.

Read this next

Check Out Sega's Surprise Remix of a Classic Sonic Adventure Tune

Maybe don't get your hopes too high that this means anything, though.

What's The Scariest Video Game Setting?

COMMUNITY QUESTION | To continue with Halloween tradition, let's talk about the creepiest environments in games.

This Year's Scariest Halloween Costume? Movie Sonic

Ruin Trick-or-Treating for everyone with one easy purchase!

Zelda Link's Awakening Signpost Maze - How to Make it Through the Signpost Puzzle

Here's our guide on making it through the Signpost puzzle in Zelda Link's Awakening as easily as possible.

Why Are Portable Systems and RPGs Perfect Lovers? Axe of the Blood God Talks it Over

Nadia and Eric go over the reasons why handhelds are perfect for RPGs and name some of their favorites.

Link's Awakening Leads UK Charts Over Borderlands 3

It's the third time the Zelda series has ever led the UK Charts.

More Opinions

Blizzard's Very Bad October Just Keeps Getting Worse

THIS WEEK IN BUSINESS | Blizzard's ban on Hearthstone player Blitzchung catches the ire of Republicans and Democrats alike.

Baldur's Gate's Complex Interface Translates Surprisingly Well to Switch

Beamdog's Infinity Engine collections find great ways to bring those games to consoles.

Luigi's Mansion 3 References One of the Best Horror Films of All Time

Crazy things can happen when your back is turned.

Is Darth Maul in Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order? There's Strong Evidence For It After the Latest Reveals

Dathomir is in Fallen Order, and that could mean the return of the Baddest Man in the Galaxy.

More on Game Boy

The Analogue Pocket is Bringing Retro Handheld Gaming Back to Life

Analogue's new device looks like a Game Boy Pocket but supports a lot more than Game Boy classics.

What's The Scariest Video Game Setting?

COMMUNITY QUESTION | To continue with Halloween tradition, let's talk about the creepiest environments in games.

You Can Catch Fish With the Game Boy's Weirdest Accessory

You can lie about "the one that got away," but your Game Boy knows the truth.

We Dare You to Eat This Pile of Ancient Pokemon Food

Expiration dates are just suggestions.

Downhill Jam: The Game Industry Reflects on 20 Years of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater

Tony Hawk's Pro Skater turns 20 in September, so we spoke to people across the industry who remember the series fondly.

More Action Games

Control's New PC Patch Forces You to Launch Through the Epic Games Store [Update: It's Being Fixed]

An Epic representative tells USG that DRM and store authentication decisions are up to developers and publishers.

Microsoft Claims Xbox Game Pass Subscribers Play More Games and More Genres

The average Game Pass user is apparently playing—and buying—more games than they used to.