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The green screen of life.
And the night got deathly quiet And his face lost all expression Said if you're gonna play the Game Boy You gotta learn to play it loud!
Until the late 1980s, handheld gaming was very limited, both in processing power and the capabilities of small monitors. Gaming until then was achieved by having an LCD screen that had all possible graphical elements built into the screen, and gameplay would be achieved by controlling which elements were visible to simulate graphics. A video game form of Limited Animation. This had been going on successfully for years with Tiger Electronics' handheld games and Nintendo's own Game & Watch series.
Then it became possible to fit an actual game system into a portable device. Atari tried to get into this with their Lynx, and Nintendo went in with the Game Boy.
Gunpei Yokoi, who had designed the Game & Watch, realized the system would work best if it was small and light (to enhance portability), durable (since it would be carried around a lot), inexpensive (since portable electronic devices often went that way, save for laptops), and have a damn good battery life.
He succeeded on all counts. Any handheld that didn't follow that design paradigm didn't make it very far. Although brand name and a Killer App were also important, as the Neo Geo Pocket and Wonder Swan proved.
Thanks to advances in technology, the system did have a major revision in the mid 1990s. The Game Boy Pocket was about half the size of the original, and used AAA batteries instead of AA. It helped boost sales for a few more years.
One of the ways it saves power and cost is to integrate the data, graphics, and sound processing into the CPU. It is a Sharp LR35902 clocked at 4.19 MHz, similar to the Z80 (a few instructions of the CPU were left out as they used more battery power than they added to processing power, however, there were added back in for the Game Boy Color).
Nintendo integrated popular features from the "MMC" support chips on NES Game Paks (scanline counters, status bars and extra RAM) into the Game Boy chipset. Game Boy Game Paks used much simpler "MBC" support chips to do bank switching and possibly battery save. This apparently contributed to the low price of the games, which were about half of NES games.
Up to 40 sprites on screen at once. Size is the same as the NES (8x8 or 8x16 pixels), but it is far less likely to flicker if there are too many sprites on screen. Game Boy sprites can cover up to half a scanline, while NES sprites can cover only a quarter.
Note that there are two sprite palettes for sprites - the only difference is the middle shade of gray. It's either the lighter or the darker shade - white and black remain as is.
Four colors. Just that many. It could still have a lot of detail in the right hands.
The selling point of the Super Game Boy, a peripheral for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System that allowed you to play Game Boy games on your television, is to customize those four colors into a color palette of your choice or creation, saved via password. GB games created with Super Game Boy features have special palettes that frequently change mid-game, and sometimes divide the screen into areas that get their own sets of four colors.
There is also no light for the screen without a peripheral. One Japan-exclusive version of the Game Boy Pocket, called the Game Boy Light, had a switchable Indiglo backlight, but otherwise, Nintendo decided that the battery cost was too risky.
Resolution is 160×144.
Uses 4 AA batteries.
The Pocket uses 2 AAA batteries.
Its battery life is only half as long as that of the original Game Boy, because of that. But with a single replacement, you still got about the same time as the original.