Game News She’s 35 today and you’ve all played it! Descent into hell and return to grace for this essential Nintendo console.

35 years in the world of video games is rare. Only a few big names can boast of being this age. And among them, only a small percentage have shaped the future. The 80s were shaped by very influential titles but also by consoles. It was in this decade that NES, Game Boy, Atari and Master System were born. And it’s one of those that celebrates its 35th anniversary today.


  • After the NES, the desire to make a similar but portable console
  • A roaring launch, helped by one of the best-selling games of all time
  • Coping with modernization
  • Pokémon dynamites Game Boy sales

After the NES, the desire to make a similar but portable console

So back almost 40 years ago. Nintendo is doing well: the Japanese company is past the video game crash. It is sometimes she who is designated as having been a saving grace for the market at the time by affixing a seal to her video games guaranteeing “Big N” quality. Its notoriety is well established and everyone is snapping up the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), aka the Famicom (Family Computer in Japan), with Super Mario Bros. Seeing this success, it was Hiroshi Yamauchi (president of Nintendo at the time) and Gunpei Yokoi who, in a meeting, decided to suggest a new project: that of making a portable console with the possibility of changing games. Small digression, but it is to him that Nintendo owes a lot: he contributed to making the game more accessible to all through his ideas and, initially a maintenance technician on machines, he was given the title of “toy god”.

In short, Yokoi believes in the idea that gaming pleasure does not depend on advanced graphics, but on engaging and accessible gameplay. The idea of ​​a portable, robust, low energy consumption and economical console was born from this philosophy. The choice of the monochrome screen, for example, was aimed at maximizing battery life and keeping the cost low, aspects crucial to its success in complete opposition to what was being done at the time. What sows doubt at Nintendo. In an interview delivered to the newspaper The world, historian and specialist Nintendo journalist Florent Gorges looks back on it. He is the author of a series of books entitled The History of Nintendo the fourth and final volume of which is dedicated to that of the Game Boy. He explains :

Even internally, very few believed it. At Nintendo, internally, the project was even criticized. Its code name, DMG, was quickly diverted, the console was nicknamed dame game, which in Japanese means “ the game sucks “. Some thought it was commercial suicide.

A supposed commercial suicide into which Hiroshi Yamauchi fell. The design of the Super NES was delayed then. But we still had to release something.

A roaring launch, helped by one of the best-selling games of all time

Today, those who predicted a doom for Nintendo’s first portable console must have a smile on their lips. The Game Boy (use prefers feminine, Nintendo insists on the use of the masculine) conquered gamers when it was released in April 1989. It must be said that it shares characteristics with its elder brother, the NES, which can be considered as the portable younger version. In addition to the similar key configuration, it displays the same philosophy: be accessible to the general public. The specialized media criticized it at the time for poor technique and in particular a quality of graphics below standards. But it is precisely because the Game Boy is made this way that it is attractive.

What it has in its stomach, less at the cutting edge of technology, allows two things. The first, essential at the time, is not to put too much strain on the batteries. The Game Boy then displays a duration of use longer than that of its competitors. And inevitably, having lower quality components than its rivals allows you to display a lower price too. Two arguments which, combined with the most important one, knock out anyone who wants to take a piece of the pie.

Because the most important thing for a video game console is… its video games. You won’t doubt it for long, Nintendo makes a strong impression at the launch of the console. The latter is launched with Super Mario Land, but also with… Tetris. It was at the request of Nintendo that Henk Rogers, Dutch source of inspiration for JRPGs or Shigeru Miyamoto, recovers the rights in Russia. The latter persuades the Japanese company to include the title at the launch. Still with the newspaper Le Monde, Florent Gorge says:

If you want to sell the Game Boy to kids, Super Mario Land is great. But if you want to sell it to kids, parents, and even grandmothers, then take Tetris instead. And that won’t stop kids from wanting it for Super Mario Land.

A genius marketing move in retrospect: Tetris is one of the top 3 best-selling video games of all time with 100 million units distributed worldwide. It remains far behind the first two, GTA 5 and Minecraft, but still. s initial sales, surpassing expectations and setting a record that is difficult for its competitors to beat.

A documentary film traces the acquisition of the rights to Tetris by Henk Rogers.

Coping with modernization

It is therefore above all thanks to its catalog of outstanding games that Nintendo ensures the longevity of the Game Boy. After its launch in 1989, other manufacturers dazzled by the success of the portable console got started. The ATARI Lynx, the Sega Game Gear and the NEC TurboExpress were released shortly after. They all appear as more efficient machines and the Game Gear in particular by establishing itself as a direct competitor. We can consider it as a kind of portable Master System which, despite a certain success thanks to the porting of certain games, is not unanimously accepted. The six batteries required to use the machine were probably one of the reasons for its failure.

Although all-powerful (and helped by its rivals who did not know how to react), the Game Boy is not eternal. We are in 1996 and seven years of existence is already colossal. Except that the repeated emergence of more powerful and more modern models threatens more than ever. Even Nintendo is also working on a more recent version of its portable console with the Game Boy Advance (the development of which was postponed in panic in 97).

But a video game heralds the return to favor of the Game Boy and also the birth of one of the most famous licenses of all time. In 1996, Pokémon was released in Japan. Without repeating the entire story around the development of the first episode, we must remember that Pokémon Red//Green were not “hits” when they were released.

Pokémon dynamites Game Boy sales

An event triggers PokéMania: the one around Mew. The latter is a legendary Pokémon at the origin of many theories. Originally, it was not supposed to be part of the final game but was integrated in secret by one of its developers: it is impossible to capture. Except that some players stumble upon it inadvertently. Game Freak, the developer of the Pokémon games, decides to publicize the existence of Mew in a magazine by organizing the first official distribution of Pokémon. 20 players are randomly selected to collect the legendary Pokémon. It doesn’t take much to generate word of mouth among players who want at all costs to have Mew for the Pokédex. Exchanges are made in a loop throughout the country thanks to the Game Boy’s cable link system, which has the effect of boosting sales: in 1997, the console sold better than at its launch (3.93 million units sold for 4.16 million). This is only the beginning of the recovery, with figures exceeding ten million units sold between 98 and 2001 (11.02 million; 13.55 million; 17.24 million; 18.86 million in 2001!) according to figures from VGChartz.

In total, almost 120 million Game Boys have been sold worldwide. Enough to make it the fourth best-selling console of all time, helped by Pokémon of the first name. The latter is still waiting for a successor since 1996, it has always been at the top of the best-selling Pokémon games with 31 million copies sold.

The arrival of “Pokémon Red” and “Green” (then Blue in the West) marked a turning point for the Game Boy, injecting new life into the console. This series not only revitalized sales of the Game Boy, but also set a new standard for role-playing games on handheld consoles, helping to secure the Game Boy’s place in history as one of the most successful consoles. sold all time. With more than 118 million units sold, including the Game Boy and Game Boy Color, the console has left an indelible legacy, influencing future generations of handheld consoles and demonstrating that success in the video game industry does not depend not only from the power of the hardware, but also from the overall experience offered to players.

An observation that becomes clearer over the years. The Game Boy paved the way for portable consoles for Nintendo. If the Game Boy Advance and the 3DS remain behind (although only the Wii home console has surpassed them), the Nintendo DS and the Nintendo Switch have taken over. These are the only two Nintendo consoles to have surpassed the Game Boy in terms of sales. A benchmark for portable video games in its time, the Game Boy continues to seduce the public with its little sisters who increasingly adopt the principle. And with the increasingly persistent rumors of a new Switch model, we can legitimately think that this is not going to stop anytime soon.

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