[RetroConsole] Game Boy Color

Hello guys,

With the success of the smartphone it seems normal today to have the possibility to play while you’re away from home, but there was a time (I talk especially to the yougest among you) that having an handheld device was something new. After the debut of the GameBoy in 1989, Nintendo decided to renovate its successful device and almost ten years later, in 1998 they released the GameBoy Color that today turns 20. So Happy birthday!

The story in a nutshell

When Nintendo released the GameBoy in 1989 they were the coolest guys around. Almost all of the kids back then got a GameBoy and they use to trade, swap and play together with friends in the pauses during the lessons at school, outside at the park and wherever they wanted.

However the system that in 1989 was a cutting edge piece of technology soon started to age. The competition was fierce: in the context of the “war” against Nintendo, Sega released in 1991 the Game Gear that was capable to display colors; the Atari released the Lynx in 1989, the same year of the first GameBoy and it was technically more advanced than the japanese handheld; in Japan in 1990 NEC released the Turbo Express, technically a 16-bit console and in 1992 Watara released the SuperVision.

Although Ninentendo always kept a predominance in the haldheld market, it could have surpassed by Sega with its full color console, even though the games available for it and the incredible amount of batteries needed to play them were obstacles to a wide distribution.

To avoid getting caught unaware, Nintendo updated its system even though this time the GameBoy Color wasn’t the technological masterpiece that people expected. However the backward compatibility of the opriginal console and the fact that Nintend established a loyal fanbase let the GBC to win another time the handheld war and made Nintendo virtually the only competitor in the handheld market, a predominance that still holds today.

The heart

Guess what? Yes, another Z80 processor, but this time customized by Sharp and named LR35902Z80 at the frequency of 4,19 or 8,28 MHz. The GBC has 32K or RAM while the ROM stored in the cartridges varies from 1Mbit to the enormous 64Mbit for the game Densha De Go! 2, released only in Japan.

The power is secured by two AAA batteries that allow to up to 10 hours of play.

The hands

The controls in the GBC are exactly the same as they were in the GB even though the console is slightly smaller. In turn these controls are the same as in the NES, even though the A and B buttons arer slightly tilted leftwards and the Start/Pause button are under the main ones.

The eyes

The GameBoy color had some interesting graphic capabilities. With a resolution fon 160*144 pixels (10:9 of aspect ratio) and a 16-bit color palatte (32768 colors available), supports 10, 32 or 56 colors at a time on screen, depending on the mode and can show 10 sprite per line with a maximum of 4 colors each.

With some tricks is possible to give colors to the original GB games and change the palette at the beginning of the game while the system is loading with a combination of D-pad and action buttons for a total of 12 palettes of 4 colours each.

The most impressive trick however is the Hi-Color mode with which up to 2000 colors at a time could be displayed on screen: games like F-1 Racing Championship for example make use of this technique and the effect is amazing.

F-1 Racing Championship on Hi-Color mode

The games

The GameBoy Color has a wide range of 581 titles to which the 1049 titles for GameBoy can be added to give an incredible amount of 1630 games. Even scratching the surface of such an impressive number of games will take weeks.

We can start to discuss the top-10 best selling GameBoy Color games:

  1. Pokémon Gold and Silver (23,1 millions)
  2. Pokémon Crystal (6,39 millions)
  3. Pokémon Pinball (5,31 millions)
  4. Super Mario Bros. Deluxe (5,07 millions)
  5. The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons and Oracle of Ages (3,96 millions)
  6. Pokémon Trading Card Game (3,72 millions)
  7. Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Monsters 4: Battle of Great Duelists (2,5 millions)
  8. Dragon Warrior Monters (2,35 millions)
  9. The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening DX (2,2 millions)
  10. Wario Land 3 (2,2 millions)

The first non-1st or 2nd party title is Yu-Gi-Oh! by Konami, a sign that Nintendo had the biggest share of titles developed for the system and as you can see then list is very “pokécentric”. Pokémon Gold and Silver is one of the best selling GameBoy games of all time topped only by two GB classic games, Pokémon Red, Green and Blue (31,38 millions of copies) and Tetris (35 millions) which was however bundled with the first consoles. A total of 17 GBC games sold more than 1 million units.

Since the offer of games was so big, it’s difficult that a casual player won’t find a game that suits his tastes. For example I’ve never been a Pokémon fan but I enjoyed games like Dr. Mario (as I enjoyed the NES version), Donkey Kong Land and Qix.

Most of the games released for the GBC are of course ports from the NES, even though some other very successful titles were designed specifically for the handheld, like the colorized version of Super Mario Land, originally developed for the GameBoy.

For sure one of the “oddities” for the console, a game that I look forward to own is Resident Evil Gaiden, a bizzarre take on the Resident Evil saga squeezed in the small GBC cartridge. Although not particularly well received, it is an interesting game (especially for a RE lover like I am) that shows how the developers had tried to put every kind of games in the small console.

Unfortynately I’ve never owned a GBC and I’ve only played some GameBoy games on one of my friend console so I’m probably missing some defining games for it. That’s the reason why I ask for your hel to identify them. What were (and are) the games to own in your opinion?

The legacy

The GameBoy line has been the most successful line of handheld devices until Nintendo topped itself with the DS family. The big N is still today virtually the only haldheld producer with almost no competiton.

After the GameBoy “classic” line (original, color and Pocket) was discontinued in 2003 the company had sold almost 119 millions of units. The following system Nintendo released was theGameBoy Advance and the Advance SP: discontinued officially in 2010 after 9 years, they sold in total 81 millions of units.

But that was not the end.

In 2004 Nintendo released the first of a long series of DS consoles, a family that is still on sale today, although in the restyled variants of 2DS and 3DS: As of 2017 they sold an ashtonishing 155+ millions of units.

Nintendo’s dominance in the handheld market can be seen in the market shares they left to the competitors: amoung the fourth generation of consoles, Lynx, Game Gear and Turbo Express sold in total 13 millions of units, in the fifth generation the total units sold by the “others” (Sega Nomad, Tiger Game.com, Neo Geo Pocket, Sony Pocket Station, and Wonderswan) were way less than 10 millions, while in the sixth and seventh generation the combined sales of Nokia N-Gage and PSP were 85 millions (where the PSP itself sold 82 millions of units).

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One Comment Add yours

  1. I used to own a GameBoy Color. I remember it was so much smaller than the original GameBoy and I preferred playing games displayed in full colour. It was also interesting that the console was also able to add a little colour to the games made for the original GameBoy. I also recognise some of the games listed as the bestsellers for the console. I was also interested by the comments about the Sega Game Gear, I used to enjoy playing Mega Drive games, but have never used the Game Gear (I am not that sure what it looks like). I would recommend Wario Land 2 (an interesting branching story with some interesting solutions to puzzles) and Pocket Bomberman (a 2-dimensonal platformer with a character that used bombs and an enjoyable extra feature), along with the Mario, Wario Land and Legend of Zelda games listed in the article, as good Gameboy Color games.
    How can a player change the colour palette of the original GameBoy games in the GameBoy Color? What games did you enjoy on the GameBoy? Why did you not like the Pokemon games?


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