The Game Boy's 'Underpowered' Hardware Was The Key To Its Success

It's easy to forget how hit and miss the console business is. What's going to be the selling point for this particular generation? Good graphics? A cheap price point? A killer launch app? A mix of things? In the case of the Game Boy, it was the combination of lower-end hardware and a competitive price point that saw it trounce the opposition for many, many years.

Over on YouTube, JackTech has produced this great video (which looks like it'll become a series) on the hardware inside the Game Boy. While the first part here covers the CPU, the clip itself starts with a bit of background on the handheld's history:

Despite being incredibly successful, the Game Boy was quite underpowered for its time. The Sega Game Gear was released just a year later sporting a back-lit, full colour LCD and almost direct ports of games for its older sibling, the Master System.

So how did the Game Boy come out on top?

[Nintendo's] decision to use older, simpler components and a monochrome display meant that [its] device launched at a price $US60 lower than [its] eventual competitor. [It also] sported an amazing 30 hours of battery life, compared to the Game Gear's five.

To say Nintendo nailed exactly what the Game Boy had to be — an affordable, portable gaming device that would provide over a day's worth of entertainment on a single charge — is an understatement.

I should note the first video is about a week old; since then, JackTech has posted another clip that addresses some errors in the original.

The Game Boy, a hardware autopsy - Part 1: the CPU [YouTube]


    I had a Gamegear before a GB (Pokemon eventually made me want one) but I loved the hell out of it. For a travel device, it was terrible. For something to have at home with an AC adaptor, it was brilliant. The fact that it even had a preferial to play Master System games as well, the thing was gold.

      I believe that the Game Gear was actually more powerful than the Master System, and it had some fantastic games. Unfortunately it ate batters like potato chips.

        I'd always assumed that the existence of the MS converter widget for the Game Gear meant they had basically the same CPU and graphics engine.

        When I bought my original Game Gear they didn't have Sonic the Hedgehog in stock, and bought the Master System version plus the converter widget instead.

        The GG also had a TV attachment, which (with the death of analogue TV) is now completely useless.

        The Lynx was a step further along from the Game Gear - even better graphics and a faster (16-bit) CPU but it burned through batteries like nobody's business.

          Always wanted a Game Gear... I had to make do occasionally with my friends unit when he brought it round. I had a Lynx though. The sprite-scaling on that machine is still crazy-impressive. I had one in 1991, and it could do things my Mega Drive (and SNES) couldn't do. Bonkers.

          I just ordered an original Game Boy with an LED back-light and Bi-vert modded screen. I've got a unit I wanna eventually try and mod myself, but I ordered one to see if the results are worth it. There's only so much a YouTube video can show you, I need one in person to check out. Can't wait to get my GB collection back and burn through some of the games I haven't played in YEARS.

            I have (floating around at home) a GB Colour, Advance, DS and 3DS... and also the widget that fits into the GameCube to let it play GBA games. (And the disc required to make it work.)

            I really need to ditch some of my old hardware.

            Er, also a GameGear and a Lynx. Possible they're the worse for wear after leaving batteries in, however.

            I should probably stick some of it up on Ebay along with my Amiga 500 and 1084S monitor...

    How can you talk about competitors to the original Gameboy and forget to mention the Lynx? A much better system than the Game Gear IMO, and released a whole year before the Game Gear too.

      Lynx's problem was the same as a lot of others - battery life. Was amazing tech for its time, but on longer trips it just fell short. Was all well and good to have amazing hand held graphics, but if batteries only lasted 90 minutes, it missed the point of being portable.

      The Gameboy left the tech side of things behind to solve that problem, and in the end outsold everything else by quite a margin. Plus, as pokedad says below, the Gameboy also had Tetris, one of the most unexpected killer apps of all time.

        Oh no doubt, I'm not claiming the Lynx was a good system in that regard, all I'm saying is that it was a better system than the Game Gear.

        Either way, whether you were playing the Lynx or the Game Gear, you were kinda kinda tethered to a wall adapter.

          Yeah, would have prefered a Lynx over a Game Gear myself, it was colorful and vibrant, and amazing graphics for the time.

          Being tethered to a wall adaptor wasnt necessarily the worst thing in the world, but as I said, it kinda defeated the purpose of being mobile. Why wouldnt you just plug in a regular console and play that instead?

          My best fun was using the gameboy on the train commute to work, both there and home. Something I wouldnt be able to do with either the GG or Lynx.

            To be fair, I played my Lynx a lot when away on holidays. I wouldn't play it much during the trip obviously, but one I was there, I'd plug it in and away you go. Much more convenient than lugging a much larger console around. Not to mention that holiday houses often only had one TV that you needed to fight for, and may or may not have been modern enough to plug your console into.

            Also the biggest issues with the Lynx and Game Gear, aside from the battery life, was that the systems were unusable direct sunlight.

            Last edited 29/02/16 12:28 pm

    full of errors, watch the 1.5 update of this video for clarification

    this is very in dept but should really broaden out a bit more in its comparisons

    Gameboy also had a killer app.

    It came bundled with Tetris. The best version of Tetris to this day.

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