May 3rd, 2009
A few Tuesdays ago marked the Gameboy’s 20th Anniversary and as usual I’m late to the party. It’s not because I wasn’t aware of this momentous occasion, rather I’m usually fashionably late. By the time the topic came to me, I needed a few days to reminisce and then finally wait until my writing groove came about. And anyways, where was Nintendo? You’d have thought they’d be joining in the festivities of their biggest money spinner. Despite their no-show and my markedly late arrival, I think it’s time we unpack the memories, here are my personal favourites;
Original Game Boy
My first Game Boy was a Game Boy Pocket. I bought the system in a pack with Super Mario Land and a small carry bag for around $AUD120. Pokemon was one of the key reasons I wanted a Game Boy. My brother had saved up enough for his transparent GBP and Pokemon Red, and sure enough, I wanted one too. Pokemon wasn’t the only game that caught my attention though, I’d previously completed chunks of Donkey Kong Land years earlier, as well as sampling the amazing Zelda: Links Awakening (one of the best in the series). These titles as well as odd bits of Tetris, Mario, Kirby among others all intrigued my small mind.
When I did finally purchase Pokemon, perhaps a good few months later, it was my 3rd Game Boy game, alongside Mario Land and Ducktales (a B&W iteration of the Capcom NES classic). I blasted through Mario Land in a few short days after I picked it up. The speedy pace, and similarity to the original made this an ideal obstacle course to flex my platforming prowess. Ducktales was slower, focusing instead on exploration. Like all the Disney licenses handled by Capcom, Ducktales shared notable Capcom traits. For me, a fan of the series, the well characterized sprites were a highlight, but of course, it’s difficult to ignore divine chip tunes like the famous ‘The Moon’ track. Very iconic that.
Pokemon was a magical game for me. I don’t think I’d every gotten so much millage out of a single title. As I read on a design student’s blog elsewhere (sorry mate, I lost the link, you stopped updating), Pokemon was the ideal Game Boy games because it was really a game for young boys. Pokemon succeeded in digitizing the essence that made the activities of young boys enjoyable, such as adventuring, collecting and playing. Pokemon was the digital playground of its era, and I lost many hours to it.
Zelda: Links Awakening and Wario Land followed suit not long after (it might have been before – little vague). The box-art for the Mario Land titles presented an imagery that weakened my Nintendo-loyal heart. I never ended up purchasing Super Mario Land 2 (the title with the most endearing box-art of the lot) until just a few years ago, the title was difficult to find on store shelves for some bizarre reason. Super Mario Land 3: Wario Land on the other hand wasn’t, it was quite readily available, so I settle for it instead. Availability aside, this game had my interested piqued, I mean, who after all is this Wario character, besides some guy that wants to beat Bomberman at his own game
Wario ended up being one of my personal favourite Nintendo games. The series has always always delivered a strong villainy fibre to it, not just in the designs itself, but by the way the move set represents the design. Wario was a large, Italian tyrant whose anti-hero role was best characterized by the fact that he doesn’t just stomp on heads, he literally attacks enemies. His repertoire of ramming, stomping, ground thumping and apprehending harmless creatures spoke more villainy than his domineering appearance ever could. The two qualities worked together to separate him from another Luigi.
Zelda: Link’s Awakening ushered me into this real-time world of adventuring. It’s a title so far ahead of it’s time, no wonder it was re-released for the Game Boy Color 4 years later. Link’s Awakening is most memorable for diverging from norms. Portablizing a brand new, console-sized game world – an incredible task. Allowing you to steal from the local store and then renaming you to THEIF for the rest of the game as punishment. The inclusion of appropriate 2D platforming elements. In fact, swooping through Wikipedia reveals even more series staples that began on the Game Boy, wow, I’m impressed; item-trading side-quests, assigning weapons to controller buttons, fishing, flying around by rooster and the use of the ocarina. Damn, I want to go back and relive his title.
There were other games that I enjoyed during my childhood. I think Legend of the River King should be the last significant title I point out. My brother and I rented this niche-ly little fishing game during the phasing out of all B&W Game Boy games. The title’s similarities the much loved Harvest Moon series instantly struck a chord, and even though the game is questionably a shoddy, arcane little RPG that wouldn’t garner a passing glance for many, like Harvest Moon, it’s also a niche staple that fits nicely alongside Survival Kids as a cute trio of classics.
Wow, that’ll do more for now, I’ll continue my personal retrospective in the next post.