The year was 1989, and the gift everyone wanted that holiday season was a little product put out by Nintendo called the “Game Boy.” And boy was I a lucky child. Not only did I get a Game Boy, I also had a brother with a Game Boy, so we could link up and play Tetris head to head.

About seven years later, the Game Boy was reduced in size, and sold as “Game Boy Pocket,” able to play all the same games, but a little more portable.

Then came the Game Boy Color. You could still play the same old games, but they were colorized. In addition, Nintendo released new games that were only supported by the color Game Boys.

In fact, Nintendo’s Game Boy has been the name in portable gaming for as long as portable gaming has been around. With the release of their two newest systems, “Game Boy Advance” and “Game Boy Advance SP,” it is time to look how far it’s come in the 14 years since its release.Back in 1989, “portable” had quite a different meaning than it does today. A slim device was one that had a depth of less than six inches, and portable merely meant that two body builders were able to move it around. So, taken in the context of its own time, the Game Boy was quite a marvel of then-modern engineering. It took four AA batteries, and they were good for quite some time. In fact, once you got used to its massive size, it was a wonderful system.

Game BoyThe Game Boy, obviously, deserves some respect for being the first of the line of portable systems, especially because, when it comes down to it, it is such a high quality product. I’ve had mine for 14 years, and it still works. It has survived my years of mistreatment, and is still fully functional. One of my friends lost his in the snow one winter, found it the next spring, and it worked for a couple years after that.

Game Boy PocketThen came the Game Boy Pocket. This product, while superior in its technical performance to the original Game Boy, was less durable and uninspired. Was it smaller? Yeah, sure. But it wasn’t an exciting upgrade. And this was seven years later. Seven years, and the best they could do was smaller with a colored case. So, sure, it was okay, but really, I mean, after such a strong opening move, I was expecting a far superior product hardware upgrade.

Game Boy ColorA few years later, Game Boy Color was released, smaller than the original Game Boy, but with severely reduced battery life. This however, was an upgrade worth making. It added color, and we were lucky to have color. The most important point to make, though — and this is one of the best things Nintendo has done — is to make it backwards compatible. Unlike their home gaming systems, where you had to buy new games with each new console, your old games still work fine, and there are more new games you can get. This is a brilliant idea, as it makes me more likely to purchase the new system since I already have a game library. This, as far as I’m concerned, is the reason that Game Boy is the most popular video gaming system in history.

Game Boy AdvanceMost recently — just a couple years ago — Nintendo released a new product, the Game Boy Advance. This system was a good idea for a release, but has a few issues with execution. Most importantly, the system was not lit. This meant that it was incredibly hard to see the great, upgraded graphics and appreciate the system in its entirety. A smaller problem here is that a lot of the system’s new titles were just old Super Nintendo Entertainment System games made portable. These two features probably hurt sales and also prompted a lot of complaints from the Game Boy community.

This system, again, was backwards compatible, which is another huge bonus, and many solutions to the lighting problem — such as installing LED to light the screen — were made publicly available by third parties. All in all the system was a good step forward, but had some drawbacks that needed to be solved. Game Boy Advance SPComing soon to the United States, is the Game Boy Advance SP. This product, almost identical to the GBA internally, has a few system modifications that make it a superior product. The system is side lit, making it well lit in almost any lighting. It has one major drawback — instead of taking regular store-bought batteries, it has one internal rechargeable battery, which seems to have impressive battery life, and comes with an adapter. It is much easier to see the screen clearly, and it is smaller, making it a lot easier to take with you. It has a clamshell design — like a miniature laptop — and is less stressful to the fingers than the original design. It also has quite the price tag — $100 retail — but you can trade in your original GBA to get a discount at many stores. That cost may scare away some, but this is definitely the best Game Boy derivative yet. It can play your original Game Boy games, it has a bunch of versions of old Super Nintendo games and additionally, a bunch of great new games have been coming out, such as “Metroid Fusion.”Game Boy has come a long way from its early days and has grown into quite a Game Man over the years. All in all, the best system for its time is, hands down, the original Game Boy, but I mean no slight to the newer models. They just aren’t as innovative as the original once was, but GBA SP is an excellent product nonetheless.

Lewis can be reached at lpowell@campustimes.org.



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