Issue 14? Prologue: Our Game Boy Moments: With Nintendo's classic portable system marking the 20th anniversary of its Japanese launch this week, the GameSpite crew has reached into its collective data banks to look at their first (or best) Game Boy-related memories. Or, in a few cases, interesting Game Boy-related tangents. Either way, this is all a lead-in to the upcoming GameSpite Issue 14?: a huge and all-inclusive look at the Game Boy's legacy. Whet your appetite for tiny, green sprites here today, come back for the main course in a few weeks.

Posted April 20, 2009

Super Game Boy
Developer: Nintendo | System: SNES | Date: 1994 | Contributor: Parish

The Game Boy was Nintendo's cruel taunt; in 1989, I could only afford a new NES game every few months, and I certainly didn't have the cash to drop on a whole new system, even if it was half the price of the competing Lynx. So I gazed with longing at those new Castlevania and Mega Man games, forever out of my reach. However, it wasn't until Nintendo launched a sequel to the NES game that had moved me like no other -- Metroid -- that I really felt the pain.

Fortunately, a more reasonable solution ambled along soon enough: The Super Game Boy. Cheaper than a Game Boy, and offering a much better image quality than the real system (albeit at the expense of portability), this Super NES add-on was a cheap and practical way for me to catch up on the Game Boy titles I missed. Stupidly, though, I started with Metroid II and Link's Awakening, which rather spoiled the experience: at the time, nothing else for Game Boy really compared. Still, it was a first halting step on the road to my becoming a portable-oriented gamer.

The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening DX
Developer: Nintendo EAD | Publisher: Nintendo | System: Game Boy Color | Date: 1998 |
Contributor: Nicola Nomali

My first issue of Nintendo Power was number fifty -- the Link's Awakening cover. I was immediately enraveled in its charm: What was with that gianted spotted egg? That owl, that catfish? Alas, the Game Boy's launch had passed me by, and from sources unclear to me to this day, I was already in possession of Sega's Game Gear. To own both handhelds (what's a Lynx?) would be the grossest height of opulence, so as consolation to myself, I ordered Nintendo's strategy guide via mail, pored jealously over its pages.

Further staving a purchase, the Game Boy seemed to buckle with ennui and shovelware in the mid-'90s; Link's Awakening was arguably the coda to its days in the sun, the bulk of its hits preceding my notice. But 1998 brought the Game Boy Color, and a familiar bounty was reborn in vivid hues. I was gifted one that Christmas, along with Tetris DX and Link's Awakening DX?.

Everyone talks about seeing falling Tetrads in their dreams, but it was the exuberant sound effects of Koholint that I continued to hear even when the game was off. I might have thought I was going crazy, but with portable gaming from then on, I was simply in love.

Mega Man IV
Developer: Capcom | Publisher: Capcom | System: Game Boy | Date: 1994 |
Contributor: wumpwoast

I talk up Mega Man IV quite a lot, but it ranks with the best golden-era Game Boy games, such as Link's Awakening and Super Mario Land 2: Six Golden Coins?. The densely creative levels, along with unexpected additions like P-Chips and item-shopping, gave the feeling that Capcom was finally rewarding our faithfulness for buying the same game year after year.

A testament to the quality of Mega Man IV (and its followup, the impressively original but slightly-inferior Mega Man V) is that I still wonder how good later games in the classic series would have turned out. If only publishers had kept faith in the Game Boy...

The Game Boy Car Trip
Developer: Nintendo R&D1 | Publisher: Nintendo | System: Game Boy | Date: 1989 | Contributor: CalorieMate

My Game Boy Pivotal Moment is technically cheating, since it isn’t exactly a moment. It has nothing to do with realizing the full potential of the system or finally playing an awesome game that forever endeared it to me. Instead, I can’t remember the Game Boy without thinking about an amalgamation of the hundreds of sweaty hours crammed into the backseat of the car on the way to Grandma’s house, wedged between a car door and one of my two brothers.

My family owned exactly two Game Boys, clearly a recipe for disaster when you have three bored boys in the backseat. These car trips were like a weird combination of Little Miss Sunshine and Malcom in the Middle (that one was particularly relevant), but it always felt incomplete because the kids weren’t fighting over whose turn it was to play the Game Boy or who had to use the one that had duct tape on the back because the battery cover was long since lost. To me, the Game Boy’s importance can’t be confined to a sole moment; instead, it’s the first generation of a ritual that I fully expect to pass on to my own kids some day.

The Game Boy Advance SP
Publisher: Nintendo | System: Game Boy Advance | Date: March 23, 2003 | Contributor: bobservo

It's strange when you think about it, but some of portable gaming's most essential features were only made standard a little over five years ago. Nintendo certainly didn't invent the system-lit screen or the rechargeable battery, but these notable additions to the original Game Boy Advance made the SP the first portable gaming system that didn't suffer from the drawbacks typically associated with the medium.

Yes, other systems had better backlit screens before the SP's retrospectively dim "front-lighting," but this came at the cost of sucking the life out of poor, helpless batteries over the course of a few short hours. The SP solved both of these issues by offering an energy-affordable lighting solution that didn't require the user to single-handedly keep the Duracell company in business with their portable power needs.

The first thing I did when I upgraded my old Game Boy Advance to a new, shiny SP? I played a game in the dark. Six years later, I can be found doing the exact same thing with my DS Lite on just about any given weeknight; but back in 2003, the SP's new front-lit screen made playing in any lighting condition--including sheer darkness--a complete novelty. The Game Boy was always promoted as something you could play anywhere, but the SP made Nintendo's handheld something that you could play anytime--a huge step for portable gaming.

Final Fantasy Legend III
Developer: SquareSoft | Publisher: SquareSoft | System: Game Boy | Date: 1993 | Contributor: Mightyblue

I have a long history with the old brick, to the point where I’ve owned every iteration of it except for the Pocket and the Micro, and I have a collection of some of the best GB games ever released. The one that I keep coming back to is Final Fantasy Legend III, which despite the fact that it isn’t quite as good as the second game in the little trilogy never stopped me from replaying it ad nauseum throughout my childhood either. This despite the onslaught of Pokémon in its color wheel glory and Link’s Awakening, the other cart that spent the majority of a decade in one Game Boy or another of mine.

I know exactly why every crevice and corner of that game is burned into my brain too; because it blew my little ten year old mind that I could have a full RPG, a full Final Fantasy in the palm of my hands no less. I had no way of knowing then that it wasn’t really a FF title, or God forbid, it wasn’t in color, but still. Twenty hour or so adventure in my sweaty little palms? Sold.

WarCraft III: Reign of Chaos
Developer: Blizzard | Publisher: Blizzard | System: PC-compatible or Tandy 1000 | Date: 2002 | Contributor: MCBanjoMike

The time had come to face Mannoroth, commander of the Burning Legion, enslaver of the Warsong clan. Mighty orc warriors Thrall and Grom Hellscream stood before the towering demon and prepared to attack, but Grom's fierce strike was easily deflected and his body sent flying by one swipe of the Pit Lord's powerful claws. Enraged, Thrall raised his axe, uttered a fearsome battle cry and...

The phone rang.

I looked at the phone on my desk, then the computer screen displaying the closing cinematic of WarCraft III's third campaign, and then back to the phone, ringing for the third and final time. There was nothing I could do to pause the scene, my only options were to skip it entirely or else miss the call. Oh, hell.

I may have answered that phone call in body, but my mind was still charting the course of Thrall's axe, wondering if it would reach its mark and avenge his fallen comrade. That day, I realized that videogames and real life were not always going to cooperate when it came to laying claims on my time. Somewhere, something had to give, and if game studios wanted me to keep buying their products, they were going to have to get smarter about letting me play my games how and when I wanted to.

The Missed Opportunity
Developer: Nintendo | Publisher: Nintendo | System: Game Boy/DS Lite | Date: 1989/2006 | Contributor: Kirin

I never bought a Game Boy. I eventually got my hands on an old, beat-up, original system being discarded by one of my relatives and played around with it a bit, but I never really caught the spark. Back in grade school I had no social life whatsoever, and was perfectly happy to get all my gaming in sitting in front of the old family TV (or, later, my Macintosh with a TV tuner card) with an NES or SNES plugged in. Those had awesome games and that was good enough for me. Why squint at a small monochrome screen when I had so much (relatively) big-screen goodness at hand?

So I basically missed out on generation after generation of excellent portable games. This situation continued on for, oh, about fifteen years until a bit after the debut of the DS Lite. Suddenly I looked around and noticed that not only was there a crushing weight of amazing portable games crying out to be played, but my more active lifestyle meant I was spending less and less time glued to a TV screen (despite finally having one that could be honestly called "big"). So now I'm a happy Lite owner, cheerfully catching up on the world of handheld gaming - well, at least from the GBA onwards.

Portable Gaming and the Realization of a Dream
Developer: Nintendo | Publisher: Nintendo | System: Game Boy | Date: 1989 | Contributor: Loki?

I’ve enjoyed many games on the various Game Boys over the years. They’ve provided me with many memorable moments, so much so that I have trouble picking out a single pivotal one. However, one location does keep coming up over and over when I scan my memories. The Game Boy showed the world that video games didn’t have to confined to a couch and a TV anymore. With the freedom to game anywhere on Earth I chose to take my Game Boy and retire to the once place that mattered. The bathroom.

I’ve ridden the world of a dragon lord, woken up a whale, and brought a monkey down to size and my porcelain friend has been there with me the whole while. I’m not trying to be crass here, or imply that all my gaming time is spent on the john. I’m just trying to express my appreciation for the Game Boy. With it we were finally given something to do with our hands during a long movement and an adventure would never again have to be put on hold just because a red chili burrito decided to make a return appearance.

2D Lives!!! On a small screen...
Developer: Nintendo, Sony | System: Gameboy Family, DS, PSP | Date: 1989-present | Contributor: chud666

I kind of hate playing handhelds. Where do you play them? Obviously on the road or on the can. I do bus around frequently. Due to habit I usually read on my bus-rides. Sometimes a periodical, sometimes a book. I save so much money it's off the hook. But I never play my DS or PSP. When at home I usually want to play my consoles. Play Gears of War?, Resident Evil or whatever, on my massive screen. It's pretty rad. Unless, of course, my consoles do not give me what I need. What I crave like some sort of slavering beast, or at least like an anachronistic gamer. And I don't just mean the 'new' experience that DS is capable of delivering, but the somewhat diminished art of 2D gaming.

The GBA and the DS both have phenomenal 2D capabilities. Recent Castlevanias, Mega Man Zeros and Contra 4 look and sound incredible. More importantly they play fantastic as well. And, on an even more base level, they exist at all, almost exclusively on handheld formats. There will, barring a download only miracle like Mega Man 9, most likely never be a 2D Zelda on a console again. There are 4.5 on Nintendo handhelds (.5 for Phantom Hourglass). Want a new 2d Metroid? Well you are still out of luck, but there are 2 excellent games on GBA. This is why I love my handhelds; to cling pathetically to the past. Er, I mean to live in the glory of two dimensions!

Worm Light
Developer: Nyko | System: Game Boy Color | Date: 1998 | Contributor: LeGeek

I was late in joining the Game Boy scene, having missed its heyday in four shades of green. Years later, I bought into the hype for the Game Boy Color and purchased a system for myself shortly after launch. Frustrated by the lack of backlighting or contrast, I sold the unit and placed portable gaming out of my mind.

Soon after, the Dreamcast was out. On my weekly trips to the Laundromat, I found myself bringing my VMU along to pass the time. Chao Adventure was decent, but Tiny Tetris--an aptly named homebrew game--was more compelling. I became rather obsessed and as the Tetrominoes were literally make of pixels, I soon developed severe eye strain.

I decided to splurge on a Game Boy Color again, but this time purchased a Worm Light along with it. Switching to Tetris DX after Tiny Tetris was like having a four course meal after subsiding on nothing but vended food.

Being able to play portable games in conditions other than "direct sunlight" was a big deal to me, battery life be damned. The GBA SP would later have both proper illumination and decent playtime between charges, but the Worm Light got the job done in the mean time.

Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3
Developer: Nintendo R&D1 | System: Game Boy | Date: 1994 | Contributor: Ilchymis

Before I was even acquainted with the term "guilty pleasure," I was powering into my third jaunt through Wario Land. Yes, Wario Land, the third entry (and literal bastard child) of the Super Mario Land series that launched the career of the most notoriously flatulent character in Nintendo's history. Granted, it was a bit of a crass abomination that tarnished the pristine reputation that Mario worked so hard to keep clean, but even to this day, Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3 still remains one of my favorite spin-offs of all time.

Wario Land wasn't just pivotal because it appealed to my highly refined adolescent sensibilities - it was also a rollicking good time. I can't remember exactly what I expected going into it, but the way that Wario manipulated enemies, changed hats, and literally crushed the competition drove me to 100% completion, multiple times. Blame it on the road trips, bus rides, or a penchant for infantile humor, but Wario Land remains one of those "feel good" games that I can practically finish in my sleep. Whether you'd ever want Wario to ever visit you in your sleep, however, is another issue entirely.

Developer: Nintendo R&D1, Bullet-Proof Software | System: Game Boy | Date: 1989 | Contributor: MNicolai

When Sony introduced their Walkman in the late 1970's it was a revolution for consumer electronics. No longer were you tethered to your home stereo, you could now take your music wherever you went. The name of the Game Boy is an obvious homage to to the Walkman's portability, allowing kids to play thier games on the go. And it wouldn't be a Game Man (aside from the fact that it sounds like you are saying "gay man") because games are just for kids, right? Long before Wii Fit, Nintendo was trying to broaden their audience (and maybe erase some social stigmas) with the Game Boy pack-in game Tetris. While the console might have had a kiddie name, the wide appeal of Tetris would be the keystone of it's long success.

The Atari VCS that I cut my gaming teeth on belonged to my father but I almost never saw him using it. And with the exception of a few rounds of Duck Hunt he showed no interest in my Nintendo Entertainment System. But when he got his hands on Tetris he had trouble putting it down. What I saw in my living room on Weekend nights, a grown up playing video games, is probably the biggest reason I am writing for GameSpite today. It had legitimized gaming for me in a way that playground chatter and Nintendo Power just couldn't. All the pieces just fell together.

Castlevania: Circle of the Moon
Developer: Konami | System: GBA | Date: 2001 | Contributor: Johnny Driggs

I'm nothing if not a latecomer when it comes to video games. Circle of the Moon was my virgin foray into Castlevania while the GBA was my first experience with Game Boy ownership. And while both the original GBA (which we still haven't given a cool posthumous nickname like the DS Phat) and Circle of the Moon were replaced by far superior successors, I still hold a place in my heart for each.

These days, we scoff at the shortsightedness of EGM claiming CotM was the thirty-fifth best game of all time, but dammit, the game meant something at the time. It meant that handheld gaming would no longer be a dumping ground for cartoon-licensed shovelware. Well, at least it wouldn't be just that. Developers could put actual effort into the games they put on handhelds knowing that they might actually get some recognition. Genres better suited to the 16-bit mentality could find a new home. Classic games could be re-released on a system suited to their needs. 2D games found a sorely needed ally.

Games like Metroid Zero Mission? and Aria of Sorrow may have lived up to the promise that CotM strived for, but it was one of the first signs that handheld gaming really had arrived.

Game Boy Advance
Developer: Nintendo | Date: 2001 | Contributor: Sarcasmorator

I never had a Game Boy as a kid. I was content with my NES and SNES (though I did hanker for Metroid II? and Link's Awakening). I didn't travel or take the bus much. Portable gaming largely passed me by until the Game Boy Advance came around.
I first played this marvelous little system at a Nintendo van tour stop — I was a features reporter for my college paper and was invited to sample some games such as F-Zero? and Super Mario Advance? a few months before the system was released.
I was impressed. Here was a system that exceeded the capabilities of the SNES in a piece of hardware barely larger than a controller. I picked one up a while before Metroid Fusion came out, and went on to discover Advance Wars 2?, Golden Sun? and other handheld gems. I've probably logged more hours on assorted GBA and DS systems (especially the vastly improved GBA SP) than any other system in the years since.

A Game Boy Advance and a Bus
Developer: Nintendo, Flagship | Date: 2001, 2002 | Contributor: Wes?

When I was a kid, riding the bus to and from school was the stereotypical grueling experience of far too many rambunctious hellions packed into far too cramped a space. In 8th grade, I solidified friendships with two other kids that persist to this day. Sitting together and talking wasn't enough to completely alleviate the annoyance of those 20 minute bus rides, but around the time we started high school, the Game Boy Advance suddenly transformed that 20 minutes into the best part of my day. Armed with our Arctic, Glacier, and Indigo handhelds, we'd hurriedly scramble to secure link cables and spend every possible moment playing the classic remake of Mario Bros.? packed in with the Super Mario Advance carts (I usually lost), or snaking through courses in Mario Kart Super Circuit? (I always lost).

Those were great times, but things got even better when we each bought The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past & Four Swords? and started exploring the randomly-generated mini-dungeons of Hyrule as an unstoppable team. Those early days of high school with Four Swords remain some of my most precious gaming memories, and I'll never forget the day we finally vanquished Vaati – in my excitement, I pressed L,R,A,B, and Start, resetting my Game Boy and eliciting a terrified “What did you DO!?”

Yeah, that was embarrassing. We beat him again the next day.

Pokémon Red and Blue
Developer: Game Freak | Date: 1998 | Contributor: Bergasa?

Maybe it’s not the most original pick of the lot, but my pivotal Game Boy moment comes from Pokémon Red and Blue. Having been 11 years old when the original entries in the series hit, I was the perfect target to be swept up by the cross-media juggernaut that launched with the release of the game paks. Truth be told, my story probably happened exactly as the marketing geniuses had planned: I first discovered Pokémon through an issue of Nintendo Power, and then expanded into watching the cartoon, receiving the game (contingent upon getting a good grade on a test, in classic child-parent relational style), and then collecting the card game cards.

Plugging the cart into my Game Boy was like being sucked into a different world -– sure I already had a collection of titles for my old black and white Game Boy, but Pokémon was unlike those comparatively simple platformers and puzzle games. The day I got it, I played it until my batteries died. During a later marathon Pokémon session, the batteries inside my Game Boy actually exploded and leaked acid (don’t worry, both Game Boy and little me were fine). The addictive gameplay was unrivalled, and through my many multiple playthroughs of it, I have sunk more hours into Pokémon than any game since.

The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening
Developer: Nintendo EAD | Date: 1993 | Contributor: Scott Lowe?

I was brought up as a Nintendo kid, but when it came time to beg my parents for a portable system they ignored my pleas for a Game Boy and instead gifted me with Sega's Game Gear. A color display means it has to be superior, right? While the Sonic? and Ecco the Dolphin? games were fun, my friends were playing games like Super Mario Land 2? and Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening?. These were the games I really wanted.

It took me a year, but I finally saved up enough allowance to purchase the newly released Game Boy Pocket, with Link's Awakening to accompany it. Everything was in shades of gray, but the game was every bit as complex as its Super Nintendo brother, Link to the Past?. I spent countless hours solving puzzles, defeating monsters and awakening the Wind Fish. My parents were bewildered at my choice, but life was good.