April 25, 2014
Game Boy Celebrates 25 Years – And Tetris Made It A Hit
Back in 1985, the video game industry – at least as far as home systems went – was dead. A slew of awful games and a poor licensing system that allowed pretty much anyone to make games for systems such as the Atari 2600 all but ensured that no one wanted to stock video games any store shelves.
That changed in 1985 when Nintendo introduced its Entertainment System – or NES. It was a clever way NOT to call it a video game machine. It even came with a robot.
Over the years Nintendo introduced must-have systems that flew off the store shelves during the holidays season – including the Nintendo 65 back in 1995 – but the company also released a few systems – such as the GameCube – that were far from hits. The Nintendo Wii U hasn’t exactly been a mover either.
Yet, what the 100+ year old company has done right – mostly – is portable gaming. Nintendo, which actually was making playing cards a century ago, can be credited with introducing a generation of young gamers to the power of playing games anywhere. While there had been portable video games prior to the Nintendo Game Boy, which celebrated its 25th anniversary this week, most were simply one-off game machines that allowed people to play football or blast away at aliens.
The Nintendo Game Boy was different in that – like the NES – it worked with changeable cartridges. This was a true game changer. Then the killer app arrived. As NBC noted just four months after the arrival of the Game Boy in Japan, Tetris arrived, and the Russian puzzle game went on to sell 35 million copies.
Given the slew of puzzle games available on mobile phones and tablets it is hard to think that a single game could make that much difference, but Tetris was just such a game. It actually managed to take advantage of the grayscale LCD display that the Game Boy featured probably better than most games at the time.
Unlike other video games at the time Tetris didn’t feature anything resembling a storyline. It was thus a casual game that parents as well as kids could play – and people played it a lot.
There is a common misconception that the Russian game actually made its American debut on the Game Boy. This isn’t true.
First, it may be hard to believe it today, but Tetris actually was developed at the Soviet Academy of Sciences by Alexey Pajitnov. However, Tetris could also pretty much symbolize the end of Communism and the era of détente, as the designer sold the rights to Spectrum HoloByte, which released an IBM PC version. Versions of Tetris then came out on the Apple II+ and Apple IIe, as well as the Commodore Amiga and Atari ST computers.
In the late 1980s, those computers were pretty much machines for business – at least in the case of the IBM PC and the Apple computers – or for geeky teenagers in the case of the Amiga and Atari ST. Families weren’t really using those machines much, so most younger gamers likely never heard of Tetris.
That is until the arrival of the Game Boy.
A strange copyright case ensued – because let’s face it, the Soviets did many things wrong, including understanding copyright issues. In 1988, Tengen, the console software division of Atari Games, ended up with the rights for the Nintendo Entertainment System’s version of Tetris and the rest is history. The game arrived for both the NES and the Game Boy, but it could be argued that Tetris made the handheld system a hit.
Today, various clones and copies of the games can be found on mobile phones. But for those who remember the Game Boy version, there is really no substitute.
Image Credit: Nintendo