I’d like to start by saying that this article should not be taken too seriously. I was bored one day and a thought struck me: “I wonder which console each handheld is most similar to?” I Googled around for a few minutes, found a lot of forum posts discussing the topic in the same way they tend to discuss Saiyans and Supermen, and finally decided that I should write up an article. If I was curious, surely someone else is curious. But how do you compare a handheld — a system that was released with fewer resources than a console made during its generation — to its console counterpart — a machine that was manufactured in an earlier time, before certain programming tricks and staples of video games had matured?
I could compare them on a purely technical scale, calculating and estimating how one console’s lump of memory stacks up with a handheld’s separate system, graphical, and cached memory. But people hear enough about that every time a new console war starts up and it rarely proves anything.
I could take a game that was ported to a handheld and compare it with the game running on the console. But like in the case of Super Mario Bros. Deluxe, the game can be modified so much from its console version that it’s like comparing apples and oranges. And in the case of Ocarina of Time 3D, the 3DS was able to replicate OoT all too easily.
After racking my brain, I finally came up with this gauge: “a console can usually be summed up by the type of experience that is had over the course of its life. It is not represented by its tech demos and cross-platform games, but rather the games the console is known for.” Now, this can still be subject to personal experience, but for the most part, we experience a console or a handheld in the same way, even when we don’t all play the same games. When I think of the Xbox, I think Halo and other first person shooters. PlayStation? Metal Gear Solid and some Japanese RPGs. So while this may not be a perfect comparison, I’d like to get down to the heart of each system and discover which console each handheld is really like!
Let’s start at the beginning with the Game Boy. That’s right, the old gray brick. It had a yellow-green monochrome screen with a contrast adjuster wheel, and you had to be in a fairly well-lit area to see anything going on. The audio was tinny, yet distinct and charming. I got the Game Boy for Christmas. My older brother and I each got a copy of Killer Instinct without an extension cable. My younger brother got a Game Boy Pocket (the first “slim” model of a game system) with a copy of Super Mario Land. Those two games got played vigorously for a few months and eventually got sold. But I’m sure few people remember the Game Boy because of Killer Instinct. No, the Game Boy is most known for the game my brothers and I received the next Christmas (along with a few million other kids).
Christmas day we unwrapped our copies of Pokemon Red and Blue, the Game Boy’s killer apps. While fast fighting games and precise platformers did not work well with the dimly lit screen, a turn-based RPG set in a world that you could leisurely stroll through was ideal for the system. Sure, there may be other games that sold more, but the games that saw the most play time were Pokemon Red, Blue, and Yellow. Other games that made the system shine were the Kirby’s Dream Land games — a series of forgiving platformers where you fly instead of jump, The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening — a game that offers side-scrolling action adventure, and if I’m being fair, the Super Mario Land games were pretty playable with a strategically-placed lamp.
Nintendo took a risk with the Game Boy and its limited graphics. There were other handhelds that blew the Game Boy out of the water. It relied on fun games with paced gameplay to sell the system. The audio is simple yet unique at the same time. Multiplayer was possible, but the majority of gameplay requires you to have your own system. Lastly but most importantly, it set the standard for handheld gaming.
The gaming console counterpart for the handheld Game Boy was an IBM PC/AT running MS-DOS. Featuring a 286 processor with the Monochrome Display Adapter (or four-color CGA) it didn’t stand a chance against it’s competitors who could pack a whopping 16 colors onto the screen right out of the box! But it made itself stand out by running slow-paced yet fun games. In fact, some games required a slower processor (try playing the higher levels of Tetris on a 486)! You could play platformers, but never expected to have a good time with fast-paced games requiring precision. Prince of Persia was not meant to be experienced this way.
The games that really made gaming enjoyable on the system were RPGs like the SSI Gold Box games, where you could explore the world and do things on your own time. If you wanted to play games with a friend, you could either take turns, or struggle to figure out how to connect the two machines.
Lastly, and very importantly, the IBM PC/AT set the standard for computing and computer gaming! The increase in clock speed from the Intel’s 8086 and 8088 made IBM PC compatible machines a serious gaming platform. It’s also important because it was the first machine to use the 80286 processor. IBM later offered an upgraded version of the IBM XT, and several computer manufacturers used the chip, but the AT was first and it stuck. In fact, IBM played it safe and continued using the 286 for years after Intel released the 386.
A company producing inferior technology and waiting to see how new tech is received? To me that screams Nintendo, and that’s exactly how the Game Boy came to exist. Come to think of it, they both suffered faulty hardware issues years later and finding either of them in working condition can be difficult. The IBM PC/AT is the closest counterpart to the Game Boy that I can think of.
And to those of you screaming “that’s not a ‘console,’ that’s a computer!” I say to you: the Game Boy had a printer, a webcam-like device, and an unreleased keyboard with organization software (Game Boy Printer, Game Boy Camera, and Game Boy Workboy, respectively).
Please, let me know which console you would equate the handheld Game Boy to, or feel free to disagree with me in the comments section below.