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Nintendo Game Boy

You don't need me to tell you about the Nintendo Game Boy. But I'm going to anyway.

top/side view of the Game Boy

The Game Boy came out in 1989, four years after the Nintendo Entertainment System. While a portable device that played multiple games was a fairly novel thing at the time, the draw here was not the technology. Nintendo had clearly thought long and hard about what this device needed, and they determined that people want two things in a handheld game device: good battery life and good games.

And so, the Game Boy came carrying many portable versions of that console's vaunted titles. Mario, Zelda, Tetris, Metroid, Donkey Kong, it's all here.

But perhaps as iconic as those games is the thing that makes the Game Boy's excellent battery life possible: the screen. A black-and-white, four-shades-of-gray, unbacklit dot matrix display.

simulated view of Super Mario Land being played on the GB's monochrome screen

Nothing flashy - but certainly solid, though at times frustrating. Indeed, readers of a certain age may remember that struggle of finding the position in the back of their parents' car that best caught the sunlight on their screen, or perhaps having one of those magnifier lights that clipped to the device that were more an aid for wishful thinking than for actual gameplay.

Mods to add a backlight are now available, for the hardcore Game Boy fans - which are numerous, mind you. And the 'homebrew' scene is still alive and kicking, producing a new game every once in a while, which can be bought to those who keep an eye out for such things.

*Digression alert*

Speaking of which... somewhere in the late 2000s, a program called Little Sound DJ was created. It was available for free and could be flashed on Game Boy cartridges, allowing users to program music on their Game Boys. LSDJ helped revolutionise the chiptune scene and played a prominent role in the thousands of tracks released on now long-defunct websites like 8bc and 8bitdaily. DJs such as Anamanaguchi, Zabutom and Je Deviens DJ en 3 Jours got started back in those days. I myself may even have released a couple of tunes way back then, back when we were all just a bunch of bored nerds experimenting on decades-old hardware, before there were chiptune festivals, before some of us became successful DJs... anyway, on to the issue at hand.

*End of digression*

three GBs in a row: original gray, transparent, and cherry red

The device initially came only in its iconic gray colour. Simple, bricklike, to the point. Eventually, in the nineties, Nintendo introduced different colours, and several shades of translucent Game Boys were even sold, all while Nintendo campaigned for its users to "play it loud!"

In an age before spinning disks became the norm, RAM cartridges were the norm for game systems - it remained the norm for most portable systems, too. One inserts cartridges that look like this...

top/side view of the Super Mario Land 2 cartridge

...into the opening in the back of the device, which looks like this: bottom/front view of the GB

And the fun begins. The Nintendo logo scrolls down and lands in the middle of the screen with a clear, crisp 'ba-ding' from the Game Boy's 8-bit sound chip - at least, that's the idea. Sometimes, a black, rectangular block will appear instead of that logo, which means the cartridge has not been inserted properly. Remove, blow into cartridge, reinsert. Repeat throughout your life.

Below, you'll find some clear (ha-ha) pictures of the front and back of one of my Game Boys, which you can click to enlarge.

top and bottom views of the transparent GB

Many first, second and third party accessories were created for the Game Boy, including lights, magnifiers, battery packs, a Game Genie, communication cables, clip-on joysticks, and a camera (which I'll detail in due time).

One I'd like to show you that is perhaps the ultimate in enhanced Game Boy gameplay is called the Boosterboy:

GB inserted into the BoosterBoy

An exosuit that one places the device into. It connects to the power input and the headphone port to power the gameboy and play its sound through two powerful speakers. It takes four C-cell batteries to power the device, the speakers and a lit magnifying glass. It is the final word in Game Boy enjoyment, and it gets you noticed on the bus.

GB in the BoosterBoy, with the front hatch removed to reveal the GB

It is ridiculous, and it is good.

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