Nintendo Nostalgia: The Evolution of the Game Boy

For those of you who grew up in the late 80s and early 90s, the Game Boy likely represents a hugely sentimental and sweetly nostalgic chunk of your memories. Today, the toddler Game Boy has matured into the adolescent New Nintendo 3DS, and it’s probable that even more advanced versions of the current handheld console will be hitting stores before we know it. With the advent of Pokémon’s 20th anniversary and the upcoming virtual reality explosion, it’s time to pause a moment and appreciate where we’ve been. After all, some of the greatest pieces of gaming machinery started out with roots as humble as Nintendo’s beloved Game Boy. Let’s take a brief trip back in time together.


1989: The Game Boy

Ah, the original 8-bit Game Boy. With its boxy shape and grand total of five buttons, the first Game Boy was a bit of a clunky device that nonetheless stole the loyalty and attention of gamers globally. The Game Boy was cartridge-based and featured LCD technology with pixel graphics that came in four shades of gray. Despite the release of other, more advanced gaming devices, the original Game Boy continued to dominate the handheld console market for five years. Original Game Boy games included titles like Tetris, The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening, and Super Mario Land.

1998: The Game Boy Color

The next stage in the Game Boy’s evolution could only naturally be the incorporation of color. The Game Boy Color launched in 1998 with a slightly different style and the option of a see-through case. The GBC was backwards-compatible with all of the black-and-white Game Boy games while also playing host to a plethora of a new games with color. The original Pokémon games Pokémon Yellow, Red, and Blue released on the Game Boy Color, along with other well-loved titles.


2001: The Game Boy Advance

Where the Game Boy and the Game Boy Color sported vertical configurations, the Game Boy Advance took on a different stylistic design: horizontal. With its sporty new look and additional trigger buttons, the Advance stayed true to its name, and offered Nintendo gamers a step up from the 8-bit visuals they were used to. The Game Boy Advance was backwards-compatible with the two previous Game Boys, which allowed enthusiasts to enjoy the new while still relishing the old. You might remember playing Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire, The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap, or Advance Wars on the Game Boy Advance.


2003: The Game Boy Advance SP

Although the Game Boy Advance SP has the “Advance” in its name, its design resembles very little of its older brother’s. Nintendo took the Game Boy Advance back to the drawing board and returned with the most compact and portable Game Boy yet: the SP. With a phone-like flip-up configuration and a built-in rechargeable battery, the SP really was a leap forward for the Game Boy devices. You may have played Final Fantasy Tactics Advance on your clamshell, back-lit Game Boy Advance SP.


2004-2008: The Nintendo DS, DS Lite, & DSi

Following a rather brief turn-around from the launch of the Game Boy Advance SP, Nintendo released the Nintendo DS, a vast improvement on the Game Boy Advance SP and featuring the Game Boy style we still see today. The Nintendo DS featured 2 screens on a clamshell design like the SP’s that flips shut, including a touch screen on the lower half and a suite of new buttons to delight original Game Boy gamers. The Nintendo DS Lite followed in 2006 primarily to fix the issues of the initial DS, including offering a slimmer design and better screens. In 2008 Nintendo released the Nintendo DSi, which again was an improvement on the DS design. The DSi boasted bigger screens, an SD slot, updateable firmware, and built-in cameras. Titles released for the DS series included: New Super Mario Bros, Mario Kart DS, Pokémon Platinum, and Nintendogs.

2011-2015: The Nintendo 3DS & 3DS XL, The New Nintendo 3DS & 3DS XL

And now we reach the pinnacle of Game Boy software for the time at hand. The Nintendo 3DS was originally released in 2010, and was the first “Game Boy” to boast augmented reality using its 3D cameras. The Nintendo 3DS also was a virtual console, allowing gamers to download and play games as well as purchase things from an online store. The Nintendo 3DS XL came out just a year later in 2012 with a 90% larger screen. Slight improvements on these original models were made with the New Nintendo 3DS and New Nintendo 3DS XL, which came out in 2015. The New Nintendo 3DS boasted an upgraded processor, increased RAM, and face detection among a selection of other enhancements. Recently available games include Pokemon X and Y, Animal Crossing: New Leaf, Fire Emblem Awakening, and The Legend of Zela: Majora’s Mask.



That’s a lot of Game Boys. As handheld console technology has advanced throughout the years, it’s been an incredible journey to watch the evolution of Nintendo’s original Game Boy. Today we have the New Nintendo 3DS XL as the epitome of handheld gaming, but tomorrow? Regardless of the vintage, every Game Boy version has a special place in Nintendo enthusiasts’ hearts. If you’ve got an old Game Boy lying around somewhere collecting dust, perhaps take a moment to brush it off and give it a whirl. You might be surprised at how enchanting even the oldest of Game Boy games is.