Happy birthday Game Boy: Nintendo's trailblazing console turns 25

Console released same year the Chinese army violently cracked down on protesters in Tiananmen Square and the Berlin Wall fell

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 April, 2014, 7:52pm
UPDATED : Monday, 21 April, 2014, 5:32pm

Nintendo's trailblazing Game Boy marks its 25th anniversary today with the portable device's legacy living on in cutting-edge smartphone games and among legions of nostalgic fans.

The Japanese firm released its 8-bit Game Boy on April 21, 1989 - the same year Soviet troops pulled out of Afghanistan, the Chinese army cracked down on protesters in Tiananmen Square and the Berlin Wall fell.

Few knew it would turn the console-based industry on its head, starting a revolution that did for portable gaming what Sony's Walkman had done for mobile music.

It also helped turn Super Mario and Donkey Kong into global franchises, allowing users to change their favourite games on the go just by inserting small cartridges into the device.

Kyoto-based Nintendo, which started life as a games card maker that morphed into a global videogame giant, did not invent portable gaming.

But Game Boy's discount price and popular software blew away the competition at the time and pushed mobile gaming into the mainstream.

"At one point, portable gaming was synonymous with the Game Boy," said Serkan Toto, a Tokyo-based games industry consultant.

"It laid the foundation for what we call portable gaming today, regardless of whether it is console or smartphone games, because the basic concept is the same ... That's the legacy of Game Boy."

The device also allowed users to connect with another gamer through a link cable, setting off the beginnings of online gaming networks that now number in the millions of users.

"It made gaming portable, but what's great was it was built on the concept of networking, enabling users to connect and battle each other," said Hirokazu Hamamura, managing director at games research firm and magazine publisher Kadokawa Corporation in Tokyo.

A quarter century later, the company's financial fortunes have suffered to a considerable extent.

Nintendo has no commemorative events planned for the Game Boy, which ironically foreshadowed the creation of portable smartphone and tablet computer games that have offered stiff competition to stationary consoles such as Nintendo's Wii, the Sony PlayStation and Microsoft's Xbox.

The Game Boy was discontinued years ago. But in its heyday, Nintendo sold almost 119 million original Game Boy consoles and shifted another 81.5 million units of the next-generation Game Boy Advance series, which first became available to the gaming public in 2001.