The Game Boy is a fourth generation video game handheld console by Nintendo, and the console which the Shantae series debuted on. It was first released in Japan on April 21, 1989, and was created by Gunpei Yokoi (横井 軍平) and the original Nintendo Research and Development 1. In 1996, a new version called the Game Boy Pocket, lighter and smaller, was released, followed the next year by the Game Boy Light in Japan only. In 1998, the Game Boy Color version, featuring a much larger color palette, was the final version of the console and the one which was compatible with the first Shantae game. The console series was followed by the Game Boy Advance in 2001 and production was discontinued in 2003.


Premises: before the Game Boy


The Microvision was the first ever handheld video game console.

The origins of handheld game systems go back ten years before the arrival of the Game Boy: the first handheld game system to see the light of day was the Microvision, conceived in 1979 by Milton Bradley. But, while it already showcased great characteristics for the time, like game cartridges and a good battery life, it was a commercial failure.[1]

Gunpei Yokoi, an engineer for Nintendo, had not heard of the Microvision but imagined (according to the legend) while looking at a businessman trying to have fun with a pocket calculator on his train to work, that there might be a way to create a real entertainment device with a similar technology.

Game & Watch

Ball, an early example of the Game & Watch series.

He therefore designed the Game & Watch devices, with custom-designed LCD screens that could display characters and other things instead of pixels, moved by a single byte for each element. The art would therefore be nice to look at, but each Game & Watch system could only have one game. However, they were small and lightweight, and met with huge commercial success: the 59 titles combined sales are over 40 million units. Later systems also introduced the directional pad and even dual-screen games, revolutionary features at the time. The success of the system eventually convinced Gunpei Yokoi that portable game systems were actually viable.[1]

Creation of the Game Boy

Gunpei Yokoi

Gunpei Yokoi, creator of the Game Boy.

In 1987, Yokoi began to think about a follow-up to the Game & Watch series. He joined forces with Satoru Okada (岡田 智), member of the Research and Development 1, with whom he developed such classics as Metroid and Kid Icarus. Yokoi worked on the physical design of the handheld system, while Okada had to design the inner parts. They were instructed by Nintendo to make a system that could be sold below ¥13,000.[2]

Satoru Okada

Satoru Okada.

The system featured a Z80 CPU, which was a little more powerful than the NES one, but the screen could not support colours, being a monochrome LCD screen with four shades, tinted green to contrast the indigo appearance of the LCD. This colour became a sort of signature for the Game Boy. Okada was dissatisfied with the limited ambition of the project, but was unlistened.[2]

As competition was looming on the horizon, Nintendo realized that it was important to have really good games to launch the system. They naturally chose their mascot, Mario, as the flagship for it and created Super Mario Land. However, Nintendo of America were soon presented with a new game, Tetris, which showcased a very basic gameplay but was described by testers as terribly addictive[2] and had already sold over a million copies on other systems.[3] Nintendo of America decided to bundle Tetris with the Game Boy box.[2]

Launch of the Game Boy and first commercial successes

Tetris gameboy

Tetris, one of the best-selling games of all time.

The Game Boy was first launched in Japan on April 31, 1989, and sold in two weeks its entire stock of 300,000 units. It was later launched in the rest of the world and was a smash success in the entire world. The Game Boy outsold its entire competition, which included the Lynx, the Game Gear or the Neo-Geo Pocket.[2]

Many of the first games on the platform were also successful: Tetris, although helped by the fact it was bundled with the first Game Boys, has sold as of today 35 million units,[4] Super Mario Land has sold 14 million copies and early high-profile games like Kid Icarus: Of Myths and Monsters and Metroid II: Return of Samus were also minor hits.[5] Super Mario Land sequels, Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins and Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3, also met with extremely high sales.[6][7] Other successful early games include the Kirby series, with the first game having sold more than 5 million copies[8] and the second averaging more than 2 million,[9] The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening with sales of 3.8 million copies[5] or Donkey Kong with more than 3 million[10].

Super game boy

The Super Game Boy.

Building up on this success, Nintendo launched the Super Game Boy, a device designed to be plugged in a SNES cartridge slot and to receive Game Boy cartridges, in order for the games to be played directly on the TV screen with minor enhancements. Its lifetime was relatively short,[5] but still spawned the Super Game Boy 2 in 1998, with several new features, however, it was released only in Japan.[11]

Declining sales, Virtual Boy, Game Boy Pocket and Game Boy Light

Virtual Boy

The Virtual Boy.

By the mid-90s, however, the sales and the production of new games had stalled.[12] Nintendo tried releasing the Game Boy Pocket in 1997[13] and in Japan only the Game Boy Light which featured an illuminated screen but it was not enough to relaunch game sales.[12]

Gunpei Yokoi, the father of the Game Boy, was fired from Nintendo in 1996 after the failure of the Virtual Boy, an experimental console which featured generic 3D effects but which was occupying an unattractive market niche between handheld and home consoles. The next year, Yokoi died in a car accident.[12]

Despite the Game Boy's situation, the competition failed to seize the opportunity to topple it down. Sega tried releasing the Nomad, but its bad battery life and several other factors made it a commercial failure.[12]

Revived interest: Pokémon and the Game Boy Color

Pkm redblue

Pokémon Red and Blue, which resurrected the Game Boy.

In 1996, a Nintendo employee called Satoshi Tajiri (田尻 智) imagined that the Game Boy link cable functionality, so far used only for multiplayer competition, could be used for another purpose: creating a social community, with players having the ability to manage collections and exchange with their friends. He therefore came up with Pokémon, a now worldwide famous RPG which goal was to catch and exchange monsters. Nintendo legend Shigeru Miyamoto (宮本 茂) came up with the idea that there should be more than one version, so that players would be forced to socialize to complete their collection. The game became a huge hit in Japan, selling more than 10 million copies.[14]

Despite that, RPG were at the time mostly a Japan-only phenomenon, but the huge success of Final Fantasy VII the next year convinced them to export Pokémon. The game sales were once again tremendous, and the sales of the Game Boy started to build up once again.[14]


The Game Boy Advance, successor of the Game Boy.

Capitalizing on this success, Nintendo at last upgraded the Game Boy, releasing the Game Boy Color in 1998. The engine was enhanced, the screen could now display colours and an infrared wireless communication was added. The Game Boy Color sales were extremely high, close to matching that of the original model itself. Nintendo therefore re-released some classics in colour to use this success. Several new games also went on to sell highly, including the following versions of Pokémon, Wario Land 3, Dragon Warrior Monsters or even a version of Metal Gear Solid.[14]

The successor to the Game Boy, the Game Boy Advance, was finally released in 2001.[15] The Game Boy and Game Boy Color production was ultimately discontinued in 2003.[16]

Shantae and the Game Boy


The Shantae GBC box art.

In 2002, one year after the launch of the Game Boy Advance and one before the discontinuation of the Game Boy Color, the first Shantae game was released. The game had actually been in development since 1994[17] and was considered on a variety of platforms before ending up on the Game Boy Color. The bad timing of the release was due to Capcom, who chose to publish it, being really slow before actually releasing it.[18]

The game was released to high critical praise[19], with IGN notably calling it "the prettiest GBC game ever created"[20] but sold poorly and has gone on to be an obscure gem until the emulator era actually brought it back under a new light. It now has a cult following and the remaining copies of the game sell upwards to $100 on some sites.[18] Game Informer called it the 15th best Game Boy game [21] and the Complex website named Shantae the 7th greatest GBC game.[22]


Original model

  • CPU: 6502 8-bit (similar to the Z80 processor)
  • Main RAM: 64 k-bit (8kb)
  • Video RAM: 8kb
  • Screen Size: 2.6"
  • Resolution: 160x144 (20x18 tiles)
  • Colors Available: 4 shades
  • Colors on screen: 4 shades
  • Max sprites: 40
  • Max sprites per line: 10
  • Max sprite size: 8x16
  • Min sprite size: 8x8
  • Clock Speed: 4.194304 MHz (4.295454 MHz for Super GB)
  • Horizontal Sync: 9198 KHz (9420 KHz for Super GB)
  • Vertical Sync: 59.73 Hz (61.17 Hz for Super GB)
  • Sound: 4 channels with stereo sound
  • Power: DC6V 0.7 - 4 AA batteries
  • Dimensions: 148 x 89 x 32 mm
  • Weight (With batteries): 394 g
  • Min/Max Cart Size: 256 Kbit - 4 Mbit[23]
GB pocket

The Game Boy Pocket

Game Boy Pocket

Same as original model, except:

  • Power: DC3V 0.7W - 2 AAA batteries
  • Dimensions: 124 x 76 x 23 mm
  • Weight (With batteries): 148 g[23]
GB Light

The Game Boy Light

Game Boy Light

Same as original model, except:

  • Power: 2 AA batteries
  • Dimensions: 132 x 79 x 22 mm
  • Weight (Without batteries): 132 g
  • Backlit screen[24]
GB Color

The Game Boy Color

Game Boy Color

  • Processor: Z80 Sharp processor
  • Processor Speed: 8 MHz
  • RAM: 32K
  • Video RAM (VRAM): 16K
  • Colors Available: 32,000
  • Colors On Screen: 10, 32, or 56
  • Resolution: 160x144 @56 colors and 320x288 @24colors
  • Sound: 4-channel FM sound
  • Controls: 8-directional D-Pad, A, B, Select, and Start buttons
  • Power: 10+ hours on 2 AA batteries. AC adapter separately available[25]


The Game Boy had in 1997, before the release of the Game Boy Color, sold 64.42 million units by itself; as of today, the combined sales of the Game Boy and Game Boy Color average 118.69 million units. By region, they have sold 32.47 million units in Japan, 44.06 million units in North America and 42.16 million units in other regions.[26]

The combined sales of Game Boy and Game Boy Color games sum up to 501.11 million games.[27]


In 1995, Nintendo said that about 46% of Game Boy players were female, at a time when video games were seen as a predominantly male-oriented thing.[28] In 2009, the Game Boy was chosen to enter the Toy Hall of Fame.[29] In 2010, Jeffrey L. Wilson from PCMag named the Game Boy the 8th best video game console of all time.[30] The Game Boy is currently the second best selling handheld console of all time, and the third overall, behind only Sony's PlayStation 2 and the Nintendo DS line.[31]


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