The Game Boy Was the Only Console I Needed Growing Up

On the Game Boy's 30th anniversary, how Nintendo's first true portable console defined a generation of gamers.

The stupidest thing I ever did was sell my NES. It was an impulsive decision made in the belief that the NES was done, 8-bit graphics were ancient, and that all I would ever want to do is play TIE Fighter. You make dumb decisions when you're 12, and the full weight of what I had done only sank in when I saw my collection being hauled off by an opportunistic neighbor kid who spotted it at our garage sale.

I had hoped that I would get a Super Nintendo or Sega Genesis that Christmas, but I wound up underestimating my parents' determination to never buy me a console again. With my PC getting older by the month, I was forced to turn to the one system that would become a constant through my youth: the Game Boy.

The Game Boy was pretty old by 1994, but it was still going strong relative to the competition. Nintendo was still updating it with neat peripherals like the Super Game Boy, which let you play Game Boy games on your TV, as well as excellent games like Donkey Kong '94. My own collection included classics like Metroid 2, which served as my introduction to the Metroid series, and lesser-known releases like Heiankyo Alien—a peculiar top-down puzzler I pronounced as "Hi-an-kyo Alien."

I remember thinking that Game Boy games looked really good, even in comparison to their counterparts on the NES. The small display pushed developers to create big, detailed sprites that often took up a lot of screen real estate, but looked great doing so. I remember being awed by the size of the Queen Metroid in Metroid 2 and the Wind Fish in Link's Awakening—both gorgeously rendered with a tremendous amount of detail given the technology available. Being the nerd that I was, I also loved the Game Boy's music, and even went so far as to tape record Metroid 2's end credits so I could listen to them whenever I wanted.

As with all retro consoles, we usually remember the best games while forgetting the oddities. I remember playing Mortal Kombat (Mortal Kombat!) on my Game Boy in art class. I remember the bizarre attempts to shoehorn Street Fighter and Donkey Kong Country onto the platform. The Game Boy was built with purposely limited parts to keep its price and battery consumption down, but that didn't stop developers from trying to push it beyond its limits.

The Game Boy kept me company for a good five years while I waited for the chance to get another console of my own. While my friends got N64s and PlayStations, I played Wario Land by streetlight on long roadtrips. I beat Kirby's Dream Land a hundred or more times, both on normal and hard mode. I borrowed a Link's Awakening cartridge from a kid at school and wound up calling the Nintendo hotline for help because I had never really played a Zelda game before. How was I supposed to know that I needed to push the blocks together in order to make the keys appear?

I wound up playing my Game Boy so much that the clasp on the battery cover eventually broke, forcing me to hold it shut when I played. It was in this condition that I hauled it to my grandmother's house for Christmas 1998, hopeful that I would I find a copy of Pokemon Red in my stocking. My parents tended to be hit and miss when it came to giving me games as presents, but to my surprise, they actually came through. That was my deteriorating Game Boy's last hurrah. A few months later I replaced it with a Game Boy Color and discovered that games looked much better when they weren't a blurry yellow-green mess.

When I got a job later that year, I was finally able to get the Super Nintendo I had always wanted; and not long after, a PlayStation. I didn't abandon my Game Boy though. On a roadtrip to Milwaukee in 2002, I picked up a copy of Pokemon Crystal on a whim—a game I still own to this day.

Looking back, I obviously would have preferred to have owned a Super Nintendo when, say, Chrono Trigger came out. It would have been nice to play Star Fox 64 whenever I wanted. But even with just a Game Boy (and a bad PC) to tide me over, I didn't exactly feel like I was being left out. Wario Land, Link's Awakening, Kirby's Dream Land, Metroid 2, and, of course, Pokemon, all provided me with hundreds of hours of quality gaming through the '90s.

It had a lasting impact on my gaming tastes. To this day I own nearly every iteration of the GBA, DS, and 3DS. When I lived in Japan from 2006 to 2008, I almost entirely shunned the Xbox 360 and PS3 in favor of my DS Lite. Even now I mostly play Switch in handheld mode because it just feels right.

The Game Boy showed me that console-sized experiences needn't necessarily be limited to the living room, and I'm not talking about compromised ports of Street Fighter, either. Games like Link's Awakening were every bit as impressive as their console counterparts, and have forged a lasting legacy of their own (we ranked Link's Awakening as the sixth best Zelda game ever, which I actually think is kind of low). Later this year, a remake of Link's Awakening will be released on Nintendo Switch, giving it the update it deserves. But if I'm being honest, Link's Awakening DX looks fine even now.

Even today, I still own a couple Game Boy games from when I was growing up. One is the aforementioned Pokemon Crystal, which only works on the Game Boy Color. The other, strangely enough, is the oft-forgotten Game Boy version of Battletoads, which remarkably looks really damn good on the small screen. It was that game that I plugged in when a Game Boy randomly showed up on my doorstep late last year, bringing with it a massive burst of nostalgia as I heard the familiar "ping" for the first time in years.

Now 30 years old, the Game Boy remains one of the most beloved consoles ever made, having defined the formative years of an entire generation of gamers. I only return to a handful of Game Boy games these days, mostly Pokemon Red and Tetris, but I think about it often. I still regret selling my NES; but with the Game Boy as an alternative, I think I managed to do just fine.

Days Gone roars on the release calendar on April 26. | Bend Studio/Sony Interactive Entertainment

Major Game Releases This Week: April 22 to April 26

Here are the major releases for the week of April 22 to April 26. Want to see the complete list? Check out our full list of video game release dates for 2019.

  • Days Gone [April 26, Switch]: Days Gone is finally coming out this week; and as the PS4's only real first-party exclusive for 2019 (so far), it hopefully will be a good one. Initial impressions are that it's just okay, but its combination of zombies, open-world gameplay, along with Sony's strong marketing push ought to make it successful. Look for our review later this week.
  • Mortal Kombat 11 [April 23, PS4, Switch, PC, Xbox One]: Mortal Kombat returns with a massive story-driven campaign and lots of ridiculous fatalities. More than ever, Mortal Kombat is an acquired taste—the gaming equivalent of a '70s grindhouse film. Personally, I think it's a bit much, but I know many people who still adore the series. Anyway, it sounds like Mortal Kombat 11 lives up to their expectations. You can read our full Mortal Kombat 11 review here.
  • Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen [April 23, Switch]: While everyone pines after Dragon's Dogma 2, Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen is getting yet another re-release, this time on Switch. Largely ignored in the run-up to its original release, Dragon's Dogma's strange mash-up of styles and memorable boss encounters has won it a cult following. Stay tuned for deeper thoughts on it when it arrives tomorrow.
  • SteamWorld Quest [April 25, Switch]: Image & Form returns to its popular SteamWorld universe with SteamWorld Quest, a card-driven fantasy RPG featuring its familiarly stylized robots. I really enjoyed it when I played it at PAX East, noting that it was quite a bit deeper than it looks—another Image & Form staple. Look for our review tomorrow.

This Week's News and Notes

  • With the Game Boy celebrating its 30th anniversary, we decided to re-promote and highlight this 2014 listing of the 25 best Game Boy games ever made. Our old boss Jeremy Parish made it, so you know it's going to be detailed. As for me, I still think Link's Awakening is the best Game Boy game, and I don't think it's particularly close.
  • I think I already mentioned this, but I just don't have the stomach for Mortal Kombat in this day and age. Cheesy and cartoony as it is, the gruesome fatalities are just a shade too detailed for my taste, and I say this as someone who watches Game of Thrones. As I noted above, the series has always had a weird sort of grindhouse appeal to it, but I'm well past the days when I was hooked enough to try and play it on Game Boy.
  • Stardew Valley creator Eric "ConcernedApe" Barone garnered attention today when he put up a job posting for an administrator, which some have pointed out is basically multiple job postings in one. Barone was famous for his crunch-driven approach to the development of Stardew Valley, and even with Stardew Valley being a massive success, it seems that old habits die hard. He responded to the criticism of his job posting in the lengthy Twitter thread above.
  • Quick PSA: More info about Persona 5: The Royal and Persona 5 S will be out this Thursday. Will a Switch port be announced? It's looking less likely than before, but surely Joker's inclusion in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate means something...
  • Sonic 06 is being remade in Unity and all I can ask is, "Why?"
  • Caty checked out The Friends of Ringo Ishikawa last week, and it sounds like the Persona - River City Ransom mashup of my dreams. I can't believe I never heard of this game until now.
  • What's the most painful game save you've ever lost? This has been an ongoing discussion on Twitter. I've actually been quite lucky on this front, but I seem to recall being extremely upset when my sister got hold of my copy of Pokemon Red and deleted my original save before I made it to the Elite 4.
  • And finally, Detective Pikachu is just a few short weeks away, and we've got yet one more trailer to watch. This one features a big ol' Psyduck hug.
  • Axe of the Blood God: Kat and Nadia go through their extensive mailbag to talk about which popular games deserve RPG spinoffs; BioWare's next-gen plans, and how to introduce people to this wonder and crazy genre that we love. Plus, Joker's translation to Smash Bros., what it means for for Persona 5 on Switch, Final Fantasy 10 versus 10-2, and Kat's long-awaited impressions of Super Robot Wars T! Subscribe here!

Tagged with Game Boy, Nintendo, Opinions, Platformer, Pokemon Red, Retro, Role Playing Games, Rpgs, Starting Screen.

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