Inexpensive, low-tech and sporting an impressive battery life, the Nintendo Game Boy was released in 1989. Next month, Nintendo is releasing the 3DS. It's everything the Game Boy wasn't. It is the Anti-Game Boy.
Designed by Gunpei Yokoi, the Game Boy was big and bulky with gray graphics. The machine was and is almost indestructible, making it a perfect portable. Players didn't have to worry about chucking it in their bag. Neither did soldiers. And not only was the Game Boy tough, it could run on batteries for seemingly forever.
There were more powerful, technologically superior handhelds released during the Game Boy's lifespan, like the Atari Lynx and the Sega Game Gear, but the Game Boy beat them all. Much of the console's success was due to a strong library of games like Tetris as well as Pokémon, Mario and Zelda. The handheld's affordable pricetag didn't hurt either, putting it in reach of a wider array of consumers.
The Game Boy was initially priced at US$99.99, but gradually became cheaper over time as production costs lowered. In comparison, Sega's Game Gear cost $149.99, putting it in the realm of a home gaming console. When the console was released, Sega played up the machine's technical features, while poking fun at Nintendo's low-tech approach to handheld gaming. It didn't matter, the Game Boy destroyed the Game Gear.
But where does the Nintendo 3DS fit in? Unlike the Game Boy, the Nintendo 3DS is outfitted with all sorts of bells and whistles — far more than what the Nintendo DS originally offered. The 3DS boasts a plethora of features beyond simple gaming. It can do augmented reality, it has a 3D camera, it can trade data with other 3DS owners players pass on the street. The bells and whistles on the 3DS are actually the most un-Nintendo thing about the product. This is a company who did not put a DVD player in the Wii, because it thought people should only play video games on it. Yet, the 3DS lets gamers view streaming television and movies, all in 3D.
Nintendo still seems to believe that the focus with the 3DS is fun, but at $249.99 and with its 3D tech (that's making some ill, apparently), the 3DS is certainly not in the same spirit as the Game Boy. No doubt, Nintendo is hard at work on enjoyable and compelling titles, but the 3DS certainly isn't this generation's Game Boy. It costs more, and the battery life is apparently no where near the Game Boy's 30 hour battery life.
The Game Boy was an every man's portable. The 3DS is definitely trying to be that, what with its optional 3D effects. But that's the thing, there will be gamers who shell out $249.99 and use the 3D effects, which are presumably causing higher production costs for the machine, and then never use them again. The original Game Boy was so barebones that players paid for what they got and pretty much used it all.
Nintendo is once again rolling the dice. The gamble on the DS paid off handsomely, and don't count the Kyoto-based game maker out just yet with the 3DS. Fears that the 3DS is more Virtual Boy than Game Boy are overstated. It'll survive the handheld wars. Just don't go looking for the 3DS to survive real wars like the Game Boy did.