Birthday Boy, Nintendo’s GameBoy Turns 30

Today one of Nintendo’s most successful products turns 30. The original GameBoy had the processing power similar to that of a modern day scientific calculator, the GameBoy could play 8-bit games, there were many ports from Nintendo’s NES home console along with some original games. One of the key tiltes to the GameBoys early success was down to Tetris, which Nintendo eventually bought the rights to, it was also capable of multi-player Tetris when two of the portable consoles were linked via a cable, otherwise known as ‘the link cable’.

Many other companies had tried to compete with Nintendo in the portable gaming market, notably Atari, Sega and Sony. The Sony PSP coming the closest, however it had a rather limited library of games and most of them were also available on home console so there wasn’t anything particularly unique to draw people to the Sony’s portable despite the greater graphics power and media capabilities. Nintendo were able to hold the portable market with their exclusive in house games and of course the Pokemon franchise which sells millions of copies worldwide.

Nintendo have always been quite an innovative company in the games industry and not afraid to take risks in what is now a rather saturated market where they had originally been a dominant name in the home entertainment, experiencing a few ups and downs with their home consoles, NES, SNES, N64, GameCube, Wii & Wii U. Sega was their strongest competition in the early days with the Mega Drive (1989) being very popular, Sony mixed things up a bit when they released the PlayStation (1994) and the PS2 (2000) became one of the best selling home consoles of all time only discontinuing production in recent years, sales of the PS2 were also aided by the DVD functionality, which was a key selling point at the time. Microsoft’s second entry with the Xbox 360 (2005) brought HD gaming to the home at a very competitive price, it sold better than Sony’s PS3, however it only played normal DVD’s, the PS3 could play Blu-Ray movies and this effectively paved the future for physical HD media, where even the latest Xbox One plays Blu-Rays.

Nintendo hit a home run with the release of the Wii. The Wii brought gaming to the masses, it was a novelty in it’s own right with unconventional controls and intuitive game-play that the whole family could enjoy of almost any age. The Wii console came bundled with Wii Sports, it could be played by multiple people in turn with just one controller and encouraged them to get up and move, Nintendo’s slogan ‘Wii Move You’ was everywhere, then Wii Fit was released, the console and Wii Fit were in short supply for the first couple of years of initial release. The Wii opened up the gaming industry to many people who may not have even though about gaming before, Nintendo had won the non-gamers and families. However things were about to change, Nintendo tried to continue on the success of the Wii with the release of the Wii U, the console didn’t gain the same amount of traction and didn’t offer much new despite it’s innovative controls and backward compatibility.

There were various iterations of the original GameBoy. Nintendo released the GameBoy Pocket (1996), which was a smaller version of the original console, it was more power efficient and ran on two AA batteries as opposed to four AA batteries of the original console. The GameBoy Color (1998) which was effectively the same console with a colour screen and some exclusive game would eventually come out for the portable. The Color was the last 8-bit GameBoy in this series before Nintendo released the 32-bit GameBoy Advance which could play much more complex games and opened up Nindendo’s library of SNES games to the handheld. The GameBoy Advance also have several iterations the SP (Special Project) which folded like a laptop and the Micro, these two iterations were the first time Nintendo included back-lighting in their portable consoles. However the GameBoy had pretty much come to an end by the time the Micro was released, Nintendo released the DS (Dual Screen) in 2004, which initially was said to be a separate project alongside the GameBoy, however it was another portable console from Nintendo with a touch screen at the bottom and a second non-touch screen above, there was even a microphone and the unique combination of hardware allowed from some quirky games on release, notably ‘WarioWare’ which has a series of timed mini-games where you have to think and react quickly to progress, there were also the likes of ‘Brain Training’, the cleverly named ‘Nintendogs’ and not so clever ‘Nintencats’. There were also several iterations of the DS, the DS Lite (2006) which slimline the rather chunky original and the DSi (2008) which added a camera alongside some other hardware revisions, Nintendo also began making XL versions of the DS at this time. There was no release or any second thought of another GameBoy by this time and the release of main series Pokemon games for the DS effectively secured that.

Nintendo continued the DS line of consoles with the release of the 3DS (2011), however the 3D functionality wasn’t necessarily embraced and considered more of a gimmick, they released the 2DS (2013) which was a more budget friendly alternative stripped of the 3D functionality and could fold. A slightly more powerful updated and adequately titled ‘New 3DS’ (2014) with updated processor and joystick was released, this enabled better controls for 3D ports of N64 games such as ‘Zelda Ocarina of Time’ and some other exclusive games for the newer hardware. However it’s likely that Nintendo will be discontinuing their 3DS consoles shortly.

Back to the present day, we have the Nintendo Switch, perhaps one of the more successful Nintendo consoles in recent years, it uses old Nvidia hardware from 2014, however the Nvidia X1 mobile chip is no slouch, it has four 64-bit Arm Cores and a 256 core GPU, capable of 4K HDR video. To say the least the hardware was ahead of it’s time and mobile GPU’s are only just starting to catch up with it, Nvidia have pretty much left the mobile device segment and they have been focusing on their mobile chips on AI and their latest processors can been found in high end cars. Nintendo have for a long time had a focus on game-play, user experience and innovation rather than raw processing power, which is effectively how they are able to turn a profit on their consoles, their innovation is a key part to their success in a market where the home consoles market share is effectively owned by Sony & Microsoft at present. Moreover the Nintendo Switch is also portable, a hybrid home console if you will, it embraces the latest USB-C technology for docking & Power Delivery, Nintendo even nailed the accessories, with the clicky joy-cons which can split into two separate controllers and of course the pro controller for the core gamers. Nintendo also happens to have the games line up secured with their exclusive titles, such as Mario and Zelda, which have their huge fan followings alongside the re-release of exclusive ‘Wii U’ games. The Switch’s hardware is also more easily accessible for developers due to the Nvidia GPU architecture and with Nintendo’s again innovative controls games such as ‘Arms’ are available, the success of the hybrid home/portable console is now seeing the release of a main series Pokemon game this autumn. There are rumours of Nintendo releasing an update Switch this year, however it’s unlikely that they will be updating the processor where there isn’t really anything comparable accessible apart from the later Nvidia GPU’s, it could be possible that they make a few amendments to the size of the console, either larger or smaller and adding some cameras to bring it in line with the ‘New 3DS’ which it is likely to replace.