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The Video Game Handheld War Part 3 August 16, 2013

Posted by Maniac in Histories, Video Game Handheld War.
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Welcome back to our history segment on the Video Game Handheld War.  When we last left off, Nintendo had completely dominated the handheld market throughout the late 80s to the late 90s with the Nintendo Game Boy and their later revisions of the Game Boy.  Sega, NEC, and Atari couldn’t even come close to penetrating their market share, and when Nintendo released Pokémon, their handheld saw a second renaissance that could not have been believed!

However, while Nintendo had been releasing amazing games for their system that people were buying left and right, the fact remained that the Game Boy had been on the market for nearly ten whole years without a successor, and to the developers, the Game Boy was quite long in the tooth.  In 1998, the Game Boy was still an 8-Bit monochrome system, just as it had been the day it was released in 1989.  While Pokémon was an amazing game that captured many people’s imagination, it was limited by the Game Boy’s technology.  The game could only be seen in color if used in a Super Game Boy adapter for the Super Nintendo.  People who would be playing it on its native system would have to look at it on a plain old black and white screen.  This was quite a shame since color handhelds had been in the market in the early 90s and gamers knew that a system with color was possible with current technology.  By the late 90s, with Pokémon keeping the Game Boy afloat, the time was right for Nintendo to release a successor to the Game Boy…and it would indeed be in color.

In 1998, Nintendo released the Game Boy Color, the first true successor to the Nintendo Game Boy.  From afar it looked almost exactly like a Game Boy or Game Boy Pocket, but when you looked closer there was a lot more going on under the plastic shell.  It was only slightly larger than a Game Boy Pocket, but the new handheld boasted all of the features of a Pocket and a lot more.  It could play any Nintendo Game Boy or Nintendo Game Boy Color game, immediately turning the system into a logical upgrade, just as the Game Boy Pocket had been years earlier.  It would also support multiplayer across multiple systems with a System Link Cable, but once again you would need to buy a new one, as the Game Boy Color’s System Link port was different than the Pocket’s.  It also featured an IR transmitter, something that has been around for quite a while but was made popular in other handheld devices like the Palm Pilot around the same time.  The best part was that it could run off of just two AA-batteries, and once again, those batteries would last a long time.

The small problem was that the system would not be perfect for displaying original model Game Boy games in color, but Nintendo devised a few workarounds for this.  They hard-coded color palates for some of the Game Boy’s most popular titles (including Super Mario Land) into the system RAM, so when a game it recognized was inserted, it would automatically load it with the color Nintendo manually programmed for it.  Nintendo would also release new color versions of popular Game Boy games, which would usually be denoted by a “DX” after their title.  For any other Game Boy games that were left over, the user could manually choose their own color palate for their game by pressing certain buttons during startup.

The number 1 game that I can remember people playing on it when it came out?  Pokémon Blue and Pokémon Red.  That’s right, my friends were actually buying Game Boy Color systems to play games made for the original Game Boy.  There were a new set of Pokémon games on the horizon which were designed specifically for the Game Boy Color, but they were taking a while to come to the US.  In the end, when they finally did get released, Pokémon Gold and Pokémon Silver became the two best-selling games for the Game Boy Color, and to this day many players consider them the finest games in the Pokémon series.

Now this is the point in my article where I usually discuss some other company that would enter the handheld market and try to take Nintendo’s crown from them, but in all honesty, I have to admit that as far as I’m concerned, Nintendo entered this Handheld War uncontested.  Try to remember, this system launched at the height of Pokémon fever worldwide, and while it would take a while for Pokémon Gold and Silver, the Color-native sequel, to launch on the Game Boy Color in the US, players were more than happy playing the first Pokémon games on them while they waited.  While systems like the Neo Geo Color would come out during this time, unlike the Sega Game Gear which made a small impact on the market, the Neo Geo Color would not even make the slightest blip on the radar against the power of the Game Boy Color.  I can’t think of a single person I knew who bought one of those things or discussed it.  In fact, most of Nintendo’s competition would never even come stateside, leaving the US exclusively to Nintendo.  Once again the only company to uncrown Nintendo in the Video Game Handheld War…would be Nintendo.

The lifespan of the Game Boy Color would not last nearly as long as the Game Boy did, as technology was quickly improving and Nintendo realized that they could release handhelds with improved technology on a more regular basis from then on.  For the next Video Game Handheld War, we’re going to talk about the Game Boy Color’s successor, the Game Boy Advance, and the mighty company who had made a fortune selling cell phones who thought they could beat Nintendo out of the handheld market.  Stay tuned, that story is coming next time.

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