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The line is a line of battery-powered handheld game consoles sold by Nintendo. It is one of the world's best-selling game system lines with a combined 200+ million units sold worldwide.

The original Game Boy and Game Boy Color combined sold 118.69 million units worldwide. As of September 30, 2009, all versions of the Game Boy Advance combined have sold 81.49 million units.


Nintendo's Game Boy handheld was first released in 1989. The gaming device was the brainchild of long-time Nintendo employee Gunpei Yokoi, who was the person behind the Ultra Hand, an expanding arm toy created and produced by Nintendo in 1970, long before Nintendo would enter the video game market. Yokoi was also responsible for the Game & Watch series of handhelds when Nintendo made the move from toys to video games.

When Yokoi designed the original Game Boy, he knew that, to be successful, the system needed to be small, light, inexpensive, and durable, as well as have a varied, recognizable library of games upon its release. By following this simple mantra, the Game Boy line managed to gain a vast following despite technically superior alternatives which would have color graphics instead. This is also apparent in the name (conceived by Shigesato Itoi), which connotes a smaller "sidekick" companion to Nintendo's consoles.

Game Boy continues its success to this day and many at Nintendo have dedicated the handheld in Yokoi's memory. Game Boy celebrated its 15th anniversary in 2004, which nearly coincided with the 20-year anniversary to the original Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). To celebrate, Nintendo released the Classic NES Series and an NES controller-themed color scheme for the Game Boy Advance SP.

Nintendo president Satoru Iwata had this to say in 2006 on the rumored demise of the Game Boy brand: "No, it's not true after all. What we are repeatedly saying is that for whichever platform, we are always conducting research and development for the new system, be it the Game Boy, or new console or whatever. And what we just told the reporter was that in thinking about the current situation where we are enjoying great sales with the DS and that we are now trying to launch the Wii, it's unthinkable for us to launch any new platform for the handheld system, including the new version of the GBA... Perhaps they misunderstood a part of this story, but as far as the handheld market is concerned [right now] we really want to focus on more sales of the DS; that's all."

Game Boy

The original Game Boy

The original Game Boy was first released in Japanmarker on April 21, 1989. Based around a Z80 processor, it has a black and green reflective LCD screen, an eight-way directional pad, two action buttons (A and B), and Start and Select buttons. It plays games from ROM-based media contained in small plastic detachable units called cartridges (sometimes called carts or Game Paks).

The killer game that pushed the Game Boy into the upper reaches of success was Tetris. Tetris was widely popular, and on the handheld format could be played anywhere. It came packaged with the Game Boy, and broadened its reach; adults and children alike were buying Game Boys in order to play Tetris. Releasing Tetris on the Game Boy was selected as #4 on GameSpy's "25 Smartest Moments in Gaming".

The original Game Boy was one of the first cartridge-based system that supported more than four players at one time (via the link port). In fact, it has been shown that the system could support 16 simultaneous players at once. However, this feature was only supported in Faceball 2000.

A Manchester United-branded Game Boy

Play It Loud!

In 1995 Nintendo released several Game Boy models with colored cases, advertising them in the "Play It Loud!" campaign. Specifications for this unit remain exactly the same as the original Game Boy, including the monochromatic screen. This new line of colored Game Boys would set a precedent for later Nintendo handhelds; the Game Boy Pocket, the Game Boy Color, Game Boy Advance (including the SP and Micro), Nintendo DS, Nintendo DS Lite and Nintendo DSi all feature different colored units. Play It Loud! units were manufactured in red, green, black, blue, white, and clear cases. A very rare, limited edition Manchester United Game Boy is red, with the logos of the team emblazoned on it was released simultaneously with the Play it Loud! handhelds in the United Kingdom. The Play It Loud's screens also have a darker border than the normal Game Boy and a replacement is hard to come by.

Game Boy Pocket

Green Game Boy Pocket

In 1996 Nintendo released the Game Boy Pocket: a smaller, lighter unit that requires fewer batteries. It has space for two AAA batteries, which provide about 10 hours of game play. The Pocket has a smaller link port, which requires an adapter to link with the older Game Boy. The port design is used on all subsequent Game Boy models, excluding the Game Boy Micro. The screen was changed to a true black-and-white display, rather than the "pea soup" monochromatic display of the original Game Boy. The first version did not have an LED to show battery levels. This was soon added due to public demand, along with new Game Boy Pocket units of different colors, some of them new to the Game Boy line. There were several limited-edition Game Boy Pockets including a metallic Ice Blue unit and a pink model exclusive to Japan. The Game Boy Pocket was a new software platform and played the same software as the original Game Boy model. It was extremely popular in the U.S.A.

Game Boy Light

Game Boy Light

The Game Boy Light was released on April 14, 1998 for ¥6,800 and was only available in Japan. Considered the rarest of rare Game Boys, NIB Game Boy Light units regularly sell in the triple-figures on online auction websites. The Game Boy Light is only slightly bigger than the Game Boy Pocket and features an Electroluminescent backlight for low-light conditions. It uses 2 AA batteries, which gave it approximately 20 hours with the light off and 12 with it on. It was available in two standard colors; Gold and Silver, as well as numerous special editions. There is an Astro Boy edition with a clear case with an Astro Boy picture on it. There is a Tezuka Osamu World shop edition with a clear red case and a picture of his characters. There is a Pokémon Center Tokyo version in yellow color.

It was the only handheld Nintendo produced with an integrated backlight until the release of the Nintendo DS in 2004 (The Game Boy Advance SP released in 2003 was frontlit)

Game Boy Color

Game Boy Color

First released in Japan on October 21, 1998, the Game Boy Color (abbreviated as GBC) added a color screen to a form factor slightly larger than the Game Boy Pocket. It also has double the processor speed, three times as much memory, and an infrared communications port. Technologically, it was likened to the 8-bit NES video game console from the 1980s although the Game Boy Color has a much larger color palette (56 simultaneous colors out of 32,768 possible).

A major component of the Game Boy Color is its near-universal backward compatibility (that is, a Game Boy Color is able to read older Game Boy cartridges and even play them in a selectable color palette) (The only Black & White Game Boy games known incompatible are Road Rash and Joshua: the Battle of Jericho). This backwards compatibility became a major feature of the Game Boy line, since it allowed each new launch to begin with a significantly larger library than any of its competitors. Some games written specifically for the Game Boy Color can be played on older model Game Boys, whereas others cannot (see the Cartridges section for more about this).

Game Boy Advance

Game Boy Advance

In Japan, on March 21, 2001, Nintendo released a significant upgrade to the Game Boy line. The Game Boy Advance (also referred to as GBA) featured a 32 bit 16.8 MHz ARM. It included a Z80 processor and a switch activated by inserting a Game Boy or Game Boy Color game into the slot for backward compatibility, and had a larger, higher resolution screen. Controls were slightly modified with the addition of "L" and "R" shoulder buttons. The system was technically likened to the SNES and showed its power with successful ports of SNES titles such as Super Mario World and Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island. There were also new titles in popular SNES series, such as Mario Kart Super Circuit and F-Zero: Maximum Velocity, and a variety of original titles. A widely-criticized drawback of the Game Boy Advance is that the screen is not backlit, making viewing difficult in some conditions. The Game Paks for the GBA are roughly half the length of original Game Boy cartridges, and so older Game Paks would stick out of the top of the unit. When playing older games, the GBA provides the option to play the game at the standard equal square resolution of the original screen or the option to stretch it over the wider GBA screen.

Game Boy Advance SP

Game Boy Advance SP

First released in Japan February 14, 2003, the Game Boy Advance SP — Nintendo model AGS-001 — resolved several problems with the original Game Boy Advance model. It featured a new smaller clamshell design with a flip-up screen, a switchable internal frontlight, a rechargeable battery, and the omission of the headphone jack, which requires a special adapter to be purchased separately. In some regions owners of the original Game Boy Advance received a special limited offer to trade their old models into Nintendo and merely pay the difference on the Advance SP. In mid September 2005, Nintendo released a significantly improved SP model, unofficially dubbed the "Mark II" or GBA SP +, in North America, and officially Nintendo model number AGS-101, that featured a high quality backlit screen instead of a frontlit, similar to the Game Boy Micro screen but larger.

Game Boy Micro

Game Boy Micro

The third form of Game Boy Advance system, the Game Boy Micro is four inches wide (10 cm), two inches tall (5 cm), and weighs 2.8 ounces (80g). By far the smallest Game Boy created, it is approximately the same dimensions as an original NES controller pad. Its screen is approximately 2/3 the size of the SP and GBA screens while maintaining the same resolution (240×160 pixels) but now has a higher quality (than original SP, not improved SP) backlit display with adjustable brightness. In the United States and Canada, except for the 20th Anniversary Limited Edition Game Boy Micro (pictured on the left), included with the system are two additional faceplates which can be swapped to give the system a new look; Nintendo of America sells additional faceplates on its online store. In Europe, the Game Boy Micro comes with a single faceplate. The Game Boy Micro is unable to play any original Game Boy or Game Boy Color games, only playing Game Boy Advance titles (with the exception of the Nintendo e-Reader, discontinued in America, but still available in Japan).


The Game Boy, as with many other consoles, has had a number of both first-party and unlicensed third-party accessories, such as Action Replays, released.


Each video game is stored on a plastic cartridge (or "Game Pak", as they are officially known). All cartridges, excluding those for Game Boy Advance, measure 5.8 by 6.5 cm. The cartridge provides the code and game data to the console's CPU. Some cartridges include a small battery with SRAM, flash memory chip, or EEPROM which allows game data to be saved when the console is turned off. If the battery dies in a cartridge, then the save data will be lost, however it is possible to replace the battery with a new battery. To do this the cartridge must be unscrewed, opened up, and the old battery removed and replaced. This may require desoldering the dead battery and soldering the replacement in place. Before 2003, Nintendo used round, flat watch batteries for saving information on the cartridges. These batteries were replaced in newer cartridges because they could only live for a certain amount of time.

The cartridge is inserted into the console cartridge slot. If the cartridge is removed while the power is on, and the Game Boy does not automatically reset, the game freezes; the Game Boy may exhibit unexpected behavior, such as rows of zeros appearing on the screen, the sound remaining at the same pitch as was emitted the instant the game was pulled out, saved data may be corrupted, and hardware may be damaged. This applies to most video game consoles that use cartridges.

The original Game Boy power switch was designed to prevent the player from being able to remove the cartridge while the power is on. Cartridges intended only for Game Boy Color (and not for the original Game Boy) lack the "notch" for the locking mechanism present in the top of the original cartridges, preventing operation on an original Game Boy (the cartridge can be inserted, but the power switch cannot be moved to the "on" position). Even if this is bypassed by using a Game Boy Pocket, Game Boy Light, or Super Game Boy, the game will not run, and an image on the screen will inform the user that the game is only compatible with Game Boy Color systems.

Game Boy Advance cartridges used a similar physical lock-out feature. Notches were located at the base of the cartridge's two back corners. One of these notches was placed as to avoid pressing a switch inside the cartridge slot. When an older Game Boy or Game Boy Color game was inserted into the cartridge slot, the switch would be pressed down and the Game Boy Advance would start in Game Boy Color mode, while a Game Boy Advance cartridge would not touch the switch and the system would start in Game Boy Advance mode. The Nintendo DS replaced the switch with a solid piece of plastic that would allow Game Boy Advance cartridges to be inserted into Slot 2, but would prevent an older Game Boy cartridge from being inserted fully into the slot.

Excluding game-specific variations, there are four types of cartridges compatible with Game Boy systems:

  • Grey cartridges (Also known as class A) are compatible with all Game Boy systems, excluding Game Boy Micro. All original Game Boy games are of this type. Some of these cartridges are in alternative colors, such as red or blue for Pokémon Red and Blue, and yellow for the Donkey Kong Land series. The games on these cartridges are programmed in black and white; Game Boy Color and later systems provide selectable palettes for these systems. Some grey cartridges that were released between 1994 and 1998 have Super Game Boy enhancements. Even fewer grey cartridges were released with built-in features that made them extrude from the slot, but included the notch to be compatible with the original Game Boy (notably the Game Boy Camera)
  • Black cartridges (Also known as class B) are compatible with all Game Boy systems, excluding Game Boy Micro. Although the games on these cartridges are programmed in color, they can be played in monochrome on Game Boy, Game Boy Pocket, Game Boy Light and Super Game Boy. Examples of black-cartridge games are Pokémon Yellow: Special Pikachu Edition, Pokémon Gold and Silver (however, the actual colors of these three cartridges are yellow, gold, and silver, respectively). Games such as Wario Land II, The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening DX, and Tetris DX were full-color re-releases of gray-cartridge games with additional content. About one quarter of Game Boy Color releases were black-cartridge games. Some black cartridges have Super Game Boy enhancements.
  • Clear cartridges (Also known as class C) are compatible with Game Boy Color and later systems, excluding Game Boy Micro. Some games (such as Pokémon Crystal) were released in specially colored cartridges, as had been done before, but the new colors remained translucent. About three quarters of Game Boy Color releases were clear-cartridge games. Some clear cartridges have built-in features, including rumble features (Perfect Dark) and tilt sensors (Kirby Tilt 'n' Tumble). These cartridges are a slightly different shape from the earlier varieties, and would obstruct the latch if inserted into the original Game Boy.
  • Advance cartridges (Also known as class D) are half the size of all earlier cartridges and are compatible with Game Boy Advance and later systems excluding the Nintendo DSi. Some cartridges are colored to resemble the game (usually for the Pokémon series; Pokémon Emerald, for example, being a clear emerald green). They are also compatible with Nintendo DS and DS Lite (but see the Popularity section for limitations). Some Advance cartridges have built-in features, including rumble features (Drill Dozer), tilt sensors (WarioWare: Twisted!, Yoshi's Universal Gravitation) and solar sensors (Boktai).


Thousands of games are available for the Game Boy, which can be attributed in part to its sales in the amount of millions, a well-documented design, and a typically short development cycle.The Nintendo DS and Nintendo DS Lite are able to play the large library of Game Boy Advance games (though the Nintendo DSi redesign does not feature a GBA port). However, it does not have a GBA game link connector, and so cannot play multiplayer GBA games (except for the few that are multiplayer on a single GBA) or link to the Nintendo GameCube. The DS is not backward-compatible at all with me Paks for the original Game Boy or the Game Boy Color, because it lacks a Z80 processor.

Other uses

Numerous musical acts have appropriated the Game Boy as a musical instrument (Game Boy music), using software such as nanoloop or Little Sound DJ.

See also


  1. Game Boy has 8 KiB of RAM and 8 KiB of VRAM. Game Boy Color has 32 KiB of RAM and 16 KiB of VRAM.

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