History of Consoles: Nintendo Game Boy (1989)

Handheld: Game Boy

Manufacturer: Nintendo

Availability:  1989

Original Cost: $89.99 ($169.73 including inflation)



Nintendo released the Game Boy in Japan on April 21st, 1989, in North America in July 1989 and in Europe on September 28, 1990.  It is the second handheld system released by Nintendo; with the Game & Watch line being introduced in 1980.  The Game Boy has features that combine both the Nintendo Entertainment System and their Game & Watch line, and in total sold more than 118 million systems worldwide.

The Nintendo Game Boy was created by Gunpei Yokoi and the  Nintendo Research and Development 1 team (the same crew who designed the Game & Watch line).  When the Game Boy first came out, it was launched with five initial games; Alleyway, Baseball, Super Mario Land, Tennis and Tetris.  Tetris was a pack in game for the Game Boy, and a huge reason for the success for the handheld.  In the United States alone, the first day Nintendo sold 40,000 Game Boy handhelds. In total the “original Game Boy ” had 815 game titles released (games are known as “Game Paks”).

The System:

Nintendo Gameboy

The Game Boy has a 2.6″ (66mm) reflective STN LCD screen that has a 2-bit color palette which can display four shades of gray.  There is an On/Off switch at the top left corner of the system, the Game Paks are placed (label facing away) in the top of the system, and a contrast control on the left of the system.  On the right side of the Game Boy there is a volume control and a an extension connector, which with a use of a link cable, two Game Boys can connect to play two player.

The controls for the Game Boy are identical to the NES, with one direction pad on the left, a Select and Start buttons in the middle, and both B and A action buttons on the right.

The Game Boy had a number of different competitor handhelds that were superior with display, graphics and sound including the Atari Lynx, NEC’s TurboExpress and Sega’s Game Gear, however the biggest difference between the Game Boy and its competition where the battery life and price tag.  The Game Boy only used four AA batteries that lasted 10-12 hours, while the competitors used six AA batteries that only lasts 4-6 hours.  The Game Boy was also priced at $89.99; significantly less than The Game Gear at $149, Lynx at $189.99 and the TurboExpress at $249.99.

Game_Boy_Game_PackTetris_Boxshottetris gameboy


Through the years Nintendo released a number of different versions and colors of the Game Boy handheld.  In 1996 Nintendo released the Game Boy Pocket which was smaller, required less batteries and had a better display helping with a lot of the video ghosting that the original Game Boy has.  In 1998 Nintendo released the Game Boy Light handheld system only in Japan.  The Game Boy Light had a backlight screen, and was the only lit screen handheld by Nintendo until the Game Boy Advance SP in 2003.

Technical specifications:

  • CPU: Custom 8-bit Sharp LR35902 core at 4.19 MHz. This processor is similar to an Intel 8080 in that none of the registers introduced in theZ80 are present. However, some of the Z80’s instruction set enhancements over the stock 8080, particularly bit manipulation, are present. Still other instructions are unique to this particular flavor of Z80 CPU. The core also contains integrated sound generation.
  • RAM: 8 kB internal S-RAM (can be extended up to 32 kB)
  • Video RAM: 8 kB internal
  • ROM: On-CPU-Die 256-byte bootstrap; 256 kb, 512 kb, 1 Mb, 2 Mb, 4 Mb and 8 Mb cartridges
  • Sound: 2 pulse wave generators, 1 PCM 4-bit wave sample (64 4-bit samples played in 1×64 bank or 2×32 bank) channel, 1 noise generator, and one audio input from the cartridge.  The unit only has one speaker, but headphones provide stereo sound (for further information, see Game Boy music)
  • Display: Reflective STN LCD 160 × 144 pixels
  • Frame Rate: Approx. 59.7 frames per second on a regular Game Boy, 61.1 on a Super Game Boy
  • Vertical Blank Rate: Approx 1.1 ms
  • Screen size: 66 mm (2.6 in) diagonal
  • Color Palette: 2-bit (4 shades of “gray” {light to very dark olive green})
  • Communication: Up to 2 Game Boys can be linked together via built-in serial ports, up to 4 with a DMG-07 4-player adapter.
  • Power: 6 V, 0.7 W (4 AA batteries provide 15-30+ hours)
  • Dimensions: 90 mm (W) x 148 mm (H) x 32 mm (D) / 3.5″ x 5.8″ x 1.3″ 

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About Gamester81

John "Gamester81" Lester started playing video games at a very young age. His first ever console that he played was a Colecovision, quickly followed by an Atari 2600, and his passion for video games hasn't stopped. In 2008 John decided to start a video game review show on YouTube called Gamester81 by reviewing rare and retro video game systems and games. His show quickly grew in popularity, and he became friends with many other gamers in the YouTube community. He is also one of the hosts of the All Gen Gamers Podcast which is a bimonthly podcast for people and video games of all generations. Some of John's other hobbies includes collecting Star Wars memorabilia (YouTube channel Starwarsnut77), playing classic arcade games (YouTube channel Gamester81Arcade), watching sports, and listening to music. John is a big fan of the 80's and 90's and in 2009 started a YouTube channel called NEStalgiaholic where he talks about nostalgic items and memories from his childhood. To see some of John's video's in 3D visit his YouTube channel Gamester81in3D. Favorite Systems: Colecovision, Commodore 64, NES, & SNES. Favorite Games: Donkey Kong Arcade, Atari Star Wars Arcade, Super Mario 3, Final Fantasy II, & Goldeneye 007