The time has come for the site’s second review on a retro handheld unit. As my last YouTube video said, I will be reviewing a retro handheld once a month until I have run out of handhelds (and then I’ll buy more to keep it going). Since I am a handheld gamer and grew up in the NES era, I have a lot of handheld systems at my disposal. The Sega Game Gear was an exception with me having never owned one until earlier this year.
The obvious starting point would be the Game Boy. I do own an original Game Boy, but unfortunately, it is in no state to be reviewed. Put simply, the system is occasionally dead and occasionally alive. You can put batteries in it and maybe it will turn on, but 90% of the time, it will not. It’s an honest miracle it is still functioning in the first place. Well over a decade and a half ago, it fell into a sink full of water.
Since the original Game Boy is out of the picture for now, I’m going to continue with the handheld that game just after that in the same family of systems. A purple unit that came out when the hardware first launched, here is my retro review of the Game Boy Color!
With only half the battery power, it does more? That’s technology for you
By design, the Game Boy Color is in the same design as the original Game Boy, and a design that handhelds are not made anymore. While most handhelds of today are held in a wide-screen form, much like the Game Gear, the GB and GBC had a “Portrait” type of form to them. They were more vertical devices than horizontal. The only recent handheld I know of to use this type of design is the 2DS.
On the front of the device is most of what you need to use. In the bottom corner is a mono speaker and above that are the buttons. D-Pad on the left with the A and B buttons on the right along with the start buttons. This makes up the entirety of the button interface, as games back in the days of these devices really weren’t all that demanding.
Above the button interface is the screen used to display games you were playing as well as a light to show when the power is and isn’t turned on. The original Game Boys had these in very apparent locations so you could always tell if your system was on, especially considering how the screens were managed, which I’ll get to in the performance section.
Then we have each side. On the left side, there is a spinning dial for the system’s volume and above it is a proprietary slot used for the system’s Link Cable for multiplayer features in games like Pokemon Silver and Gold. On the opposite side was a single movable switch that would turn the system on and off. The sides really didn’t have a whole lot on them.
Back when volume sliders were gear-shaped wheels. Much more noticeable than sliders
Then, we look at the back. On the top of this section was a large slot that you could place Game Boy Color or original Game Boy game cartridges in to play a game. Near the bottom is a panel that comes off for replacing batteries. Unlike the Game Boy with its 4-battery requirements or the 6-battery requirements of the Game Gear, the GBC only took 2 AA batteries to be able to run.
Finally, all the way on the bottom of the device, we have the lone headphone jack for the use of earbuds or headphones.
As far as design, that’s about all there is to it. The design itself is a little more curved than the original Game Boy, trying to point towards being more comfortable to hold, but aside from that, I’ve talked about pretty much the entire design.
The mono speaker truly is massive, even compared to the same on the 2DS
The way a retro handheld performs is the strangest part of these retro reviews. Obviously, there is technology now literally 20+ years ahead of these devices and there must be lines thrown into the review process specifically on how you push today’s standards onto a device that is clearly out of date. That might be the most fun I have with these, since just like a Vita review vs a 3DS review, there are different kinds of standards to be looked upon when doing this.
How does the Game Boy Color feel in your hands? Quite simply, it feels cramped. Every time I pick the thing up, my fingers are overlapping and hugging each other and the opposite sides of the system. It just feels really weird. Even though the 2DS has the same type of form factor, that doesn’t happen at all. While the system is the perfect size to slip into your pocket, it just doesn’t feel comfortable to play. Those wanting to play these retro games may quickly make the jump from the cramped GBC to the questionable use of emulators on their PC.
Another thing I have to mention is the mono speaker. I personally have nothing against the use of these things. I don’t even mind that the 2DS has a mono speaker on it. I am in the minority for that, as most handheld fans will say a mono speaker is absolutely unacceptable, but it doesn’t really bother me that much. The difference is that with the 2DS, switching to headphones gives you stereo sound. The GBA doesn’t. When you put in headphones, the majority of the sound comes out of one ear and not the other.
Games look good, but screen angle plays a big part of that
The screen is something to make note of. The biggest hindrance of the earlier Game Boy models is the lack of a backlight on the screen, making gaming out in the sunlight virtually impossible. Even in a well-lit room with the glare pointed away, the screen doesn’t show decent image quality unless you point the screen to a specific angle. This makes playing on the system that much more awkward and in doing so, can also increase the risk of neck cramps during long play sessions.
The best quality of the performance of this device is the battery life. Without a backlight hogging up battery power, the GBC is the gaming equivalent of the Energizer Bunny. I put a set of brand-new AA batteries into the system and left it on for more than 30 hours without it dying on me. The payout of having to change batteries doesn’t seem so bad when you can play for more than an entire day straight without the batteries running dry.
The Game Boy Color is a blast from the past that brought a lot to the handheld world, from the second generation of Pokemon to color in handheld Nintendo games. While the system has superb battery life, today’s standards do point out the flaws in the mono speaker, lackluster screen, and awkward feel you get when you try to hold it in your hands.