Thursday, April 8, 2010
These days we have hundreds of games on our phones constantly at our immediate disposal, but once upon a time a portable video game was a real novelty. Back in the 90s, we were far more easily impressed with what may now be classified as basic technology. While today we might discount a video game system entirely if it fails to achieve HD picture quality and super realistic audio, at the time of the Game Boy's inception we were more than satiated by a few loosely connected moving pixels and a hearty round of irritatingly repetitive tones masquerading as background music. In case you can't quite hearken back to this simpler gaming time, allow this video to serve as a handy reminder:
Yes, that's right: the outrageous new game tetris! Spoken in a booming, can't-contain-his-raging-excitement voiceover, no less. This used to be the kind of stuff that truly impressed us. The revolutionary new video link wasn't too shabby, either. It may look primitive now, but this head-to-head portable gaming technology unleashed a wave of uncontrollable child excitement. Not only could we sneak this bulky, boxy gray battery-operated wonder into class with us, we could also connect to our friends' Game Boys under the desks.
Today, we might be irritated if we have to wait five seconds for a game to load, so it can be tough to recall a more patient, more easily entertained time. Upon the release of the Game Boy, many of us were pretty psyched just to learn it lasted a then-impressive 10 to 30 hours without a battery change. It might sound shoddy to us now, but contemporary handhelds could blow through batteries in as little as two hours. That endless battery life-sucking cycle is so expensive it makes crack addiction seem like a real bargain. No, Game Boy delivered on its promises to give us a better handheld video game device, and we reaped the benefits for hours. Well, 10 to 30 hours worth of benefits. We still had to keep a lot of batteries on hand.
At about ninety bucks a pop, Nintendo Game Boys were relatively cheap in comparison to their competitors' models. It may not have been in the reasonable reach of every family, but it made video games far more accessible. Our parents may have felt some guilt at allowing us hours of brainpower-zapping Game Boy time, but these things were incredibly effective at shutting us up for extended stretches of time. Ninety dollars is a relatively small price to pay for some peace and quiet. Well, sort of. If they failed to enable the mute button, our families had the pleasure of listening to endless hours of this:
Brings back the memories, doesn't it? I can almost feel the Tetris tetronimoes gradually gaining speed and eventually outwitting even the savviest of my shape-turning strategies. I've already waxed poetic at length here about the virtues of Tetris, but its profound impact on my childhood warrants extended examination. Tetris has all the makings of a true addiction. Have you ever noticed if you play Tetris frequently enough, you begin thinking in shape-fitting combinations? It even haunts your dreams. True story.
Tetris may have initially been the default favorite game because it came bundled with the purchase of an original Game Boy, but other games quickly achieved massive popularity as well. The Super Mario Land series was very well-received by Game Boy users, giving us new worlds and characters for our old buddy Mario. Super Mario Land was actually the first choice for bundling with the original Game Boy release, but Nintendo replaced it with Tetris on the assumption that Tetris held a more gender neutral appeal. As a girl who loved Mario games, I'm not totally buying the gender stereotype-enforcing reasoning, but there's probably some truth to it.
Yeah, that ad totally tells us to "give Mario a happy ending." Like I said, these were simpler times. Or maybe just times in which we were less aware of potentially hilarious double entrendres. Maybe.
Many of us also sought to "catch 'em all" in the persistently popular Pokemon games, the several versions of which sold millions of Game Boy cartridges worldwide. Considering the creator's idea for the Pokemon series was sparked by his experiences with childhood insect collecting, it turned out much cooler than you might expect. Of course, you couldn't actually kill the Pokemon, they'd just pass out for a brief nap. You could, however, link to your friends' Game Boys and trade Pokemons. That part was pretty cool. It didn't quite make up for the no-kill environment, but to be fair, the Pokemon fainting was kind of adorable.
The Legend of Zelda series was also a major seller, proving kids everywhere love solving puzzles and defeat dungeons. The plot's main storyline centered around the task of rescuing the princess Zelda, which seems to have been a major Nintendo archetype of the time. This commercial is for the NES version of the game, not the Game Boy one, but it's so hilarious I just have to share it with you. From the "WHOA! NICE GRAPHICS!" to the rad rap and the disclaimer about your parents helping you set it up, this is pure, unfiltered early-era Nintendo goodness:
Following the release of the original came the more compact Game Boy Pocket and my personal favorite, the Game Boy Camera. I never actually had the privilege of owning one of these beauties, but it remains a long-standing dream of mine even after the technology has gone defunct. I'm still not totally sure what the appeal is, but it may have had something to do with the fact that digital cameras were still a novel concept at the time. We can take photos on just about anything these days, but there was something sort of endearing about taking them with a Game Boy, don't you think?
Nearly ten years after the release of the original Game Boy came the new edition in the form of the Game Boy color. It's a little humorous now how minimally colorized the screen actually looks in the first commercial, but at the time it was a pretty impressive innovation. By this point, we were well on our way to achieving the clear and colorized graphics of today's small gaming devices.
The Game Boy wasn't the first handheld video gaming system on the market, but Nintendo's product was both accessible and successful. For those of us who lost countless hours to Tetris and Pokemon, we may not be any wiser for it, but maybe we exhibit quicker finger flicking reflexes. That's got to come in handy someday, right? I'm sure of it. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to go listen to that Tetris music on repeat. It's just that good.