35 Years Of The Game Boy – Retro Dodo Reflects

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Can you believe that the Game Boy has been around for 35 years? I know, just take a moment for that to sink in a second. It only seems like yesterday since I was slotting Super Mario 6 Golden Coins in for the first time or opening the Game Boy itself on Christmas Day. Sadly, I’m a lot older and balder now than I was back then, but my Game Boy still kicks into action and takes me straight back to sitting in front of the fire in my pyjamas, discovering a whole new world of gaming that I had never dreamed of.

We all have someone or something that got us into gaming in the first place, and I have my Uncle Mimmo to thank for getting me into gaming and the Game Boy that you can see in the picture below. Back in the 90s, this DMG brought so many unbridled possibilities with it, games that spawned epic series that we still play today. It became a cult icon in its own right, appearing on T-Shirts, lunchboxes, anything you could fit a logo onto.

Brandon holding a Game Boy DMG

And let’s face it, the Game Boy cemented Nintendo as the king of the handhelds even before I was born. The DMG is the benchmark for vertical gaming handhelds and has influenced so many other retro gaming devices over the years. It’s a slice of retro history, and one that has had a profound effect on the entire team in lots of different ways.

The history of the Game Boy is something that we’ve covered in great detail on Retro Dodo over the years. Today, however, we’re going back to take a look at the Game Boy games and moments that have stayed with us over the years, the memories that have shaped us as writers and gamers into the big nerdy kids we are today, all while celebrating the console that will still be our favourite handheld over the next 35 years and beyond.

Pokémon Red: Seb Santabarbara – Editor In Chief

Seb Santabarbara's headshot (left) with Seb holding a Game Boy DMG in his hand (right)

Brandon and I had very similar childhoods, both growing up playing Pokémon whenever we had the chance. This is the second Game Boy I ever owned; my mum and dad bought me a Yellow one for Christmas one year, but sadly that perished a long time ago. Still, this trusty grey DMG given to me by my late uncle is still going strong.

Pokémon Red captured my heart and mind in a flash; it was unlike anything I had ever played before. I suppose as a child who has always been into fantasy books and the idea of being in a magical world that the Pokémon games transported me into another realm, with amazing creatures to catch around every turn. I would sit on the stairs and ride around Kanto on my bicycle, picking up TMs and battling trainers to my hearts content while my grandma shouted for me to come downstairs for my dinner.

As you can see from the featured image in this article, there are some other games I remember fondly from those early gaming years too – Mario & Yoshi, while simple in its design, was a game that I was glued to. My Mum and I would take it in turns to play it (when she wasn’t stealing the Game Boy to play Tetris, that is), trying to beat each other’s high scores and to see who the best gamer was. Then there was Kirby’s Pinball Land that I would play with my mates after school; I maintain that I always got a better score than Andy Cooke… if you’re reading, Andy, then you know it’s true.

I’ve already mentioned so many family members and friends in this segment already; the Game Boy is more than just a handheld, it’s a core feature of my childhood, a piece of tech that everyone loved and used on a regular basis. When I look at this little grey block, I think of childhood memories, joyous times with loved ones who aren’t here anymore, and all of the adventures that I had, adventures that fuelled my mind and led to me writing magical stories of my own.

Rik Mayall’s Game Boy Adverts: Theo Litston – Content Editor

Theo's headshot (left) and Rik Mayall holding a Game boy game (right)
Rik Mayall Image Credit: Youtube

I didn’t own a Game Boy growing up. In fact, the only Game Boy I’ve ever owned was a severely scratched, ‘pre-loved’ Game Boy Advance SP that I bought for the sole purpose of playing Kingdom Hearts: Chain Of Memories back in 2005. My lack of ownership doesn’t mean I never played Nintendo’s portable powerhouse though and I have vivid memories of playing Kirby and Mario on the Game Boy whenever I went to sleepovers with my schoolyard chums.

While those dimly lit platformers were, and indeed still are, great fun, my most lasting and enduring memory of the Game Boy doesn’t involve playing it at all. Instead, my fondness for the Game Boy comes from the fantastically chaotic and hilarious series of adverts featuring comedy legend Rik Mayall.

In an effort to demonstrate some of the ‘attitude’ that rival Sega exuded in abundance, Nintendo employed The Young Ones and Bottom star for a series of TV adverts promoting games like Link’s Awakening and Nigel Mansell’s World Championship Racing. As a huge fan of Mayall from an early age, I loved seeing him pop up in these zany commercials for the Game Boy and the SNES. Ever the jokester, Mayall reportedly used his Nintendo wages to purchase a new house that he dubbed ‘Nintendo Towers’.

Super Mario Land: Rob Page – Video Producer

Rob's headshot (left) and Super Mario Land game boy cartridge (right)

The original Game Boy was not only my introduction to handheld gaming, but also to the world of Nintendo. I was around three years old when I got my first taste of video games with the PlayStation, but it wasn’t long after that I got a Game Boy and from that moment on, I always associated Nintendo with handhelds due to the impact it had on me.

My first game for the system was Super Mario Land and even though it’s an extremely short game, I poured hours into it in my attempts to finally get to the end and rescue Daisy from the evil alien Tatanga.

Even to this day I consider Super Mario Land to be one of the most underrated games in the series due to how original it is. It doesn’t even feature Bowser as a villain, you aren’t in the Mushroom Kingdom but rather Sarasaland and even Mario’s iconic fire ball throwing has been replaced with the Superball which shoots directly down before bouncing off of the environment.

Despite the Game Boy’s fairly primitive speakers, Super Mario Land took full advantage of them and has a soundtrack which easily rivals the catchiness of the main theme from Super Mario Bros., some of the level themes have never been seen in the series since which makes this an original experience even to this day and it even has sections where you pilot a submarine and plane and turns the game into a shoot ’em up! I’m eagerly awaiting the day that Mario flies a fighter jet once again!

Pokémon Yellow: Brandon Saltalamacchia – Founder

Brandon's headshot (left) Pokemon Yellow cartridge (right)

The Game Boy literally changed my life; from the day I opened up Pokémon Yellow before the actual wrapped Game Boy on Christmas to the founding of Retro Dodo, to the launch of our new book series A Handheld History, the Game Boy kickstarted it all through the power of nostalgia. I was born in 1992 so I was a little behind on the Game Boy trend, but back then, technology and gaming consoles would last many years before any type of new iteration arrived which made it feel like you could never actually be “behind” with purchasing one, unlike nowadays when new iterations are coming out faster than I have hot dinners.

Tetris played a big part in my gaming history, likely being played in the back of my car while on the way to Legoland, or under my bed sheets with a worm light at midnight because I didn’t want to sleep, It was only until my parents purchased Pokémon Yellow when it felt like I was playing with friends. I would take my Game Boy to sleepovers to specifically trade Pokémon, or we’d have meet ups outside my house where all of the kids in the neighbour hood would bring their link cables so we could battle it out and see who was worth of taking Sarah as their new girlfriend… still to this day I regret using my Graveller against Tom’s Wartortle… what a stupid move… you can keep Sarah Tom… I don’t care.

Now, fast forward 25 years later, here I am writing about Game Boy’s in Cornwall while on holiday with my family. It’s truly remarkable at how much it has changed my life, and it’s why it will always be one of my favourite consoles, no matter what.

The Legend Of Zelda: A Link To The Past – Jason Brown, Retro Gaming Expert

Jason's headshot (left) and The Legend of Zelda Link's Awakening box (right)

The Game Boy launched on April 21st, 1989 in Japan, arriving in the US just a few months later. It didn’t arrive on British shores until late 1990, which felt like an eternity to UK gamers who’d read about it in magazines, or seen their rich, transatlantic travelling friends return from abroad with one. I can absolutely confirm that it was torturous, seeing kids at school rocking up after the school holidays with their import Game Boys and growing game collections!

There was a lot of snobbishness amongst kids at the time, however, with Atari’s 16-bit, full colour Lynx console also arriving on the scene at roughly the same time as Nintendo’s monochrome handheld. Who’d want to play a black and white, 8-bit console, they all declared, when you could have full colour games in the palm of your hand?

And yet, Nintendo’s little console beat the Lynx, and numerous other, much more technologically advanced consoles, in numerous ways; not least commercially, of course, but with a massive, varied and excellent software library that trounced them all. In fact, when I got hold of my own Game Boy, the naysayers in my own friend group were immediately silenced, and won over, just by playing Tetris.

It was an absolute masterstroke on Nintendo’s part to bundle Alexey Pajitnov’s iconic puzzle game with the console; it perfectly demonstrated exactly why the specs didn’t matter, especially when it meant that the batteries lasted much more than just a few hours at a time (hello Lynx, Game Gear and PC Engine GT!).

I recall being obsessed with Zelda, thanks to receiving The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past for Christmas 1992, so receiving Game Boy title Link’s Awakening for Christmas a year later was incredibly exciting. I didn’t think it would come close to the experience I had with the Zelda game for the SNES, but, somewhat incredibly, I was proven wrong.

Very wrong, as it turns out, because The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening just might be my absolute favourite Zelda game of all time, with a brilliantly designed overworld, clever puzzles and a truly affecting storyline. Oh, and it even managed to fit in short 2D platform sections too. Not bad for a black and white, 8-bit handheld, right?

It’s a truly magical console, and the fact that homebrew developers to this very day are still managing to create new, excellent games, on hardware that felt dated upon launch 35 years ago, is a real testament to the Game Boy’s versatility, range and its power to capture the imagination and attention of anyone who plays it.

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