Thursday, April 14, 2016

Looking Back on the Game Boy Color

A Nintendo fan roots for the power of simplicity to keep Nintendo special.

The Game Boy Color was an exceptional mid-generation upgrade.

While the majority of the gaming market is looking forward to things like Nintendo’s move into mobile and their upcoming NX console, I wanted to take a minute to look back.  As I turn 30, I see the world around me continue to change in dramatic ways.  Tech devices, while making life much simpler, tend to get more and more complicated.  The days of single purpose electronics are long gone.  Even with the relative success of the 3DS, with it’s online game shop and camera functionality, it should come as no surprise that Nintendo’s most successful device today is still the DS.  

Dominance in the handheld market place could easily boil down to one feature, simplicity.  It was the very basic Game Boy brick that dominated the handheld market for years, defeating more complicated and advanced machines such as the Sega Game Gear and the Atari Lynx.  While other companies were trying to wow the customer with bright colorful displays and (relatively) powerful processors, Nintendo repeatedly defeated each newcomer with simple, colorless games that allowed for extended battery life. 

KISS: Keep it simple stupid
Nintendo continued this formula of simplicity all the way through the 90’s and early 2000’s with  the Gameboy line.  They made the disciplined choice to not introduce a new feature until they could do it right.  As we have stated here before, Nintendo is truly the Samurai of the gaming industry, waiting patiently for the correct time to strike.   It was due to this warrior-like patience that Nintendo was able to make advances in a plodding, but meaningful, way.  

Nintendo handheld timeline source
When Nintendo finally decided to release the Game Boy Color in 1998, Nintendo fans rejoiced!  The combination of the Game Boy library with the new Game Boy Color titles gave everyone a reason to upgrade, or jump in for the first time.  It was on my 13th birthday, in 1999 that I received the Kiwi Green Game Boy Color and was finally able to upgrade from the Game Boy brick.

While I was still chained to a reliable light source if I wanted to play on the go, the Game Boy Color was the perfect travel companion.  It spent a lot of time in my pocket at school,the worse place to bring it but the best lighting possible, getting brought out during study hall or at lunch (or during class).  I remember playing Mario on the go, in color, for the first time with Super Mario Bros. Delux, and getting a few holes in one while playing Mario Golf.  I even had quite the farm on Harvest Moon.  

While other systems were trying to beat Nintendo with more powerful handhelds, color display, and even online functionality, Nintendo kept it simple and dominated.  This domination continued with the Game Boy Advance, SP, and DS, selling millions upon millions of units and games. Not even the Playstation Portable, heralded as the angel of death for Nintendo's dominance eventually faded into irrelevance.

I think it is important to remember this.  As the gaming industry moves forward and tries to advance by doing more, Nintendo needs to stay disciplined and do what works by keeping it simple.  While other systems continue their quests to become a Jack of all Trades, Nintendo must strive to instead be a master of one.  I think back to my Game Boy Color and remember very fondly what it was like to carry around a simple handheld that didn’t need internet functionality, cameras, sd card ports, communication programs and more.  You put the game in the port and played.  

While many look at Nintendo’s fall from glory as a sign that they need to change, I think it is actually a sign that they have drifted too far.  The Wii was a monumental success.  It incorporated a new feature that the system could do well, and ignored all the other features that people claimed were needed.  It swam out into the deep blue waters of motion control and found its place in that generation as a fun primary console for families and children, and as a secondary offering for the “hard core”.  It would have been neat to see Nintendo really fine tune that niche, rather than move away from it with the Wii U.

While I am sure a lot of this talk is just the old fogey in me trying to get out, a huge part of me really misses the simplicity of the old days.  I think the charm and personality of Nintendo’s products are timeless and I do not want to see that change. I don’t want a Nintendo that looks like Sony or Microsoft.  I want a Nintendo that forges its own path.  A Nintendo that keeps swimming for that blue ocean.  A Nintendo that does its own thing without concern for the main stream.  I think that is what, above all else, will keep Nintendo as the number one maker of games.

Should Nintendo try to match industry trends? Or should they keep it simple and march to their own beat? Let us know in the comments below!

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Mark Ball is a teacher, writer, and adventurer from Ohio. He founded Nintendo Love Affair because he has a passion for gaming and its power to bring people together.

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