I remember seeing the original GameBoy back in the early 90s.
My youngest cousin, some 22 years my junior (which is about the same age difference as between my father and I) had one back then. While I was mildly interested in it due to the fact that she had the Elevator Action cartridge, which faithfully reproduced the arcade game of the same name that I played in my own youth, overall my reaction was tepid. I had a computer with a 17″ color monitor that played a myriad of deeper, more interesting, and much more colorful video games than the chubby little monochromatic brick battery hog from Nintendo.
But I had made the jump from arcades and consoles ages before the GameBoy showed up. I dribbled a bit with a Sega Genesis when somebody gave it to me, but other than that I was strictly a computer gamer. So the GameBoy was something off in the periphery. I have vague recollections about changes in form factor, the arrival of color, and the advent of what might be the defining game for the platform, the Pokemon series of games. Though the latter first came to my attention via the trading card game, which brought me to the TV show, and the finally to the realization that it all started as a video game. That was at approximately the Pokemon Yellow stage of the series. One of my nieces had a GameBoy Advance SP, which seemed like a flimsy bit of hardware.
And it still wasn’t of much interest. The internet and online gaming was where it was at for me.
Then, on November 21, 2004 Nintendo officially launched the Nintendo DS in North America.
Again, something on the periphery of my gaming. It was a big deal and, thus, hard to ignore. The news bled through and I remember wondering how a two screen system would work and what advantage it would provide. I think the fact that the unit had more buttons on it that its predecessors made a bigger impression on me.
Of course, by that time I had a daughter of my own, though she was far too young for that sort of thing. But time passed. I remember us being at Toys R Us one day when she started playing with one of the DS units on display. It had Pokemon Diamond running on it and my daughter was transfixed by the idea of wandering the countryside in the game.
Not too long after that, we were preparing for a flight to Hawaii to visit family (my daughter has been to Hawaii more times in her few years than most people will go in their whole lives), when we discovered that the video player, used to maintain our sanity by keep our daughter busy, was no longer holding a charge. It would not be an option for this trip. Faced with six hours of “are we there yet?” my wife sent me out specifically to buy a Nintendo DS and a few games in order to keep our daughter busy during the flight.
And it had to be pink. This was the era of the Nintendo DS Lite, the overhaul of the original hardware and maybe the best packaging Nintendo ever did.
I remember the bit about the color, because when I got to the store, they only had blue units. So I bought a blue one because, what the hell, right? My wife wasn’t having that, and when I arrived home with the wrong item she called around, found a pink unit, and sent me out to exchange the red unit for the pink. That was a little over six and a half years ago.
The whole thing was a big hit, and I was as interested in the Nintendo DS Lite unit and the Pokemon game running on it as my daughter. Within a few weeks I had my own cobalt blue Nintendo DS Lite and a copy of Pokemon Diamond as well. I remain impressed with the unit to this day. It is solid, the screen is crisp and clear and colorful (though a bit small for my aging eyes these days), the battery life is excellent, and the built in WiFi and connectivity with the Wii was a master stroke.
And, of course, Pokemon.
There have been a few other games we have enjoyed on the DS hardware at our house. The Mario Kart games have been good, and my daughter has played a lot of Animal Crossing. But the mainline Pokemon RPG games have been the mainstay of the hardware for us, the reason for having the units. There are now five DS models in our home, all of which still function. We have the original two DS Lite units, a DSi XL unit my daughter got as a present, and then a pair of 3DS XL units, which followed the same pattern as the originals, as once my daughter got one… and started playing Pokemon X… I had to have one too.
Overall, I have to say I remain impressed with the design and functionality of the hardware. I have had the DS Lite out in order to transfer Pokemon between versions of the game as well as to withdraw quite a herd of Pokemon from Pokemon Ranch, and it was still a solid, comfortable device to use.
And I am clearly not alone in my admiration of Nintendo’s dual screen handheld. Over 150 million units of the original DS line sold during its life, making second only to the PlayStation 2 in console hardware sales, and another 45 million 3DS generation units have sold as well. That is nearly 200 million units, or nearly 400 million screens.
Nintendo seems to run hot and cold with its living room consoles. The NES and SNES were both hot, but the GameCube was not. The Wii was on fire, but the Wii U hasn’t found its killer app. The game pad controller seems like a weight around the console’s neck. They should have left that sort of thing to the handheld side of the team, as they did with the Wii.
But on the handheld front, Nintendo has been dominant for years. How much of it was hardware and how much of it was the games… especially Pokemon… I couldn’t say, but the combination has been a winner for Nintendo for a long time now. And there is a new 3DS unit on its way to consumers next year.
Over at The Verge they have a timeline of Nintendo portable devices, most of them hot, a few of them… well… not.