By the time that the Game Boy Color came around, Nintendo already owned the handheld gaming market. This device, the successor to the Game Boy Pocket, brought color to handheld games for the first time ever, further solidifying Nintendo as the champion of mobile gaming. Even today, Game Boy Color games are emulated on modern PCs, tablets, and smartphones thanks to the system’s simple 8-bit architecture, basic controls, and surprisingly entertaining games.
Released towards the end of 1998, the Game Boy Color had one major thing going for it: it was backwards compatible with all the past Game Boy games from the previous generation. This meant that in addition to its few launch titles — Tetris DX, Wario Land 2, and Pocket Bomberman — it had a massive library of other games already available. Gamers flocked to the system, and it sold over 118 million units over the course of its life.
Really playing up the colorful angle, Nintendo initially released the device in six different colors: berry (red/pink), grape (purple), kiwi (bright green), dandelion (yellow), teal (light blue), and atomic purple (transparent purple). This helped to differentiate Nintendo’s device from the small amount of competition it had. In Japan, the Neo Geo Pocket and WonderSwan were both vying for consumer attention, but in addition to fewer and weaker games, both devices were colored in dreary black and grey. The Game Boy Color outsold them with ease. Outside of Japan, the Game Boy Color dominated the market, virtually unchallenged.
And this was for good reason: it was an incredible console. Pokemon, which got its start on the previous generations of Game Boys, continued its legacy on the Game Boy Color. Pokemon Gold, Silver, and Crystal found their homes on this system. These evolutions of the Pokemon series improved upon the already fantastic series by adding a new region with 100 new Pokemon, adding two new types of Pokemon dubbed Steel and Dark, introducing differences between day and night play, introducing Pokemon breeding, and allowing the user to choose their gender. Gold and Silver went on to become so popular that they later inspired Nintendo DS remakes called HeartGold and SoulSilver.
The cartridges for these games needed some way to differentiate themselves from past Game Boy cartridges, since most of them were not backwards compatible with the Game Boy or Game Boy Pocket, despite being the same size and shape. To solve this, Nintendo used semi-transparent plastic for the cartridges, which both helped to differentiate them from the opaque cartridges of Game Boy games and made them more aesthetically pleasing. Some Game Boy Color games, like Pokemon Gold and Silver, were intentionally made to be backwards compatible and could be played on the Game Boy or Game Boy Pocket.
But in addition to backwards compatibility, Pokemon Gold and Silver had another trick up their sleeve that few other Game Boy Color games did: they could link up with the Nintendo 64. With an accessory called the Transfer Pak that plugged into the back of an N64 controller, users could load certain Game Boy Color games into the Pak and use them in conjunction with certain N64 games. Pokemon Gold and Silver linking with Pokemon Stadium and Pokemon Stadium 2 are perfect examples of this, but other games used this feature too, like Mario Golf and Mario Tennis. Since Nintendo had such popular home and mobile consoles, it only made sense to bring the two together like this.
And at the end of the day, when the Tranfer Paks and N64s are collecting dust in a storage closet somewhere, the Game Boy Color remains a favorite among collectors and gamers, and is emulated by many on more modern devices. What used to be confined to a tiny screen with limited battery life and no backlight can now be played on any smartphone in an instant. Technology has come so far, but our classic Game Boy Color games remain just as good as the day they came out.