The innovative Nintendo Game Boy transformed the electronic games market by popularizing handheld gaming.
Nintendo scored a huge hit with the 1985 release of Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), a home video-game console that delivered a fun, high-quality gaming experience and made the Nintendo brand dominant during the late 1980s and beyond. Gaming hardware was (and still is) the cornerstone of the interactive entertainment industry, but it is the games, stored on external media, that lead to sales and market share. Popular NES game titles, such as Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda, captivated video-game players in Asian and North American markets alike. The system sold more than sixty million units during a decade-long production run.
Following the incredible success of NES, Nintendo released the cartridge-based handheld Game Boy in 1989. Cartridge-based systems, such as NES and Game Boy, offered consumers (and manufacturers) the advantage of an infinitely expandable library of game titles via interchangeable game cartridges. By the late 1980s, this cartridge model was the standard in the console market, but not with handheld electronic games. Nintendo wasn't the first game company to produce a handheld system with this capability; Milton Bradley released the handheld Microvision a decade earlier and had only limited financial success due to poor graphics and limited game titles. Nintendo's system, however, was a resounding success.
Game Boy was lightweight with a built-in screen, controls, and speaker. The unit's small size made it highly portable, just the right size to fix in a backpack or jacket pocket. Video games to this point were played either on a cabinet game in an arcade or on a home console attached to a television. Players brought Game Boy to school, to summer camp, and to the back seat of the family automobile.
The first version of Game Boy shipped with the puzzle game Tetris, Alexey Pajitnov's block-stacking classic. Tetris was available for play on personal computers years earlier but it became a sensation as the "pack-in" cartridge for Game Boy. The game also expanded Nintendo's audience beyond its core adolescent following. An additional "launch title" released alongside the system was Super Mario Land, featuring Mario from the smash NES hit bearing his name. And the hits kept coming-hundreds of them-the most significant being the role-playing game Pokémon, released in 1995. Pokémon quickly became a global phenomenon. In addition to sales of nearly 200 million video games for Nintendo, signature characters such as a Pikachu have been merchandised for trading cards, manga, and anime.
As technology advanced, Nintendo refreshed Game Boy with enhanced color displays, better sound, and more compact forms. These incremental product innovations led to more than a half-dozen distinct models in the Game Boy series, from the original unit to the current Game Boy Micro, and scores of accessories. In total, Game Boy sales topped 200 million making this by far the best-selling handheld system ever. In 2004, Nintendo launched their next handheld system, the Nintendo DS and, although a successor to Game Boy, it draws heavily on the successes of the iconic handheld that went before it.