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Game Boy Off To Solid, But Not Stellar Start

It’s always difficult to predict what products will be the big winners and losers for the holiday shopping season, except for the past four years where Nintendo has consistently ranked number one. That looks to be the case this year, with its home console, the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) once again selling out across the country. For about $99 you get the full experience: the console, two controllers, a light zapper gun, and two games: Duck Hunt and Super Mario Bros. This entry level package promises fun for the entire family.

Nintendo was also banking on its new portable gaming system, the Game Boy, to sell impressive numbers as well. It released this past August with a multimillion dollar advertising budget. For $89 the system comes with stereo ear buds, a link cable to play with a friend, and a copy of the highly addicting puzzle game Tetris. By all accounts the handheld system has sold very well this holiday season with many retailers reporting brisk sales. However, it’s not the sell out situation that we’ve come to expect from Nintendo.

Over the past few years games have been difficult to find for the NES thanks to the popularity and a chip shortage that made demand far exceed supply. Thankfully that problem has been remedied and that means an ample number of Game Boy systems and games were available throughout the Christmas shopping season. Retailers ordered as many as they could, but because the shelves never really emptied out the hype and hysteria didn’t appear. In other words, the Game Boy sold well, but the news cycle wasn’t reporting shortages and so the sense of urgency to purchase one never materialized. We’ll get a better idea of exactly how many Game Boys sold early next year.



At this point in time it’s difficult to forecast how popular handheld gaming will become. It’s a newer market that has previously been relegated to sub-$20 simplistic machines with garish graphics. The Game Boy improves on the graphic quality with its dot matrix screen allowing for scrolling scenery and interchangeable cartridges. The technology is both forward thinking and somewhat antiquated at the same time. The system can only produce four shades of colors on a green background that isn’t the prettiest out there. Atari’s Lynx has a full color screen, but comes at a massive cost of about $180 – far out of the price range of most kids’ allowances.

With every product there are trade offs that have to be made. In Game Boy’s case Nintendo clearly wanted to create a machine that was affordable and easy to program for. Parents will no doubt be thankful that the batteries last much longer than the competition (20 – 30 hours compared to about 4 for the Lynx). Once players sit down, put in the earbuds, and link up with a friend for some hot Tetris action the tech issues melt away and what remains is pure gaming bliss. Even standbys like Baseball and Tennis are more fun when linked up against an opponent.

What is key to the NES becoming the mega-success it is today is the massive amount of quality software available for it. The Game Boy has very little available at the moment – about six games are currently on store shelves. 1990 promises a ton of third party licensee support and once the quantity of games begins to trickle onto store shelves we think the Game Boy will really begin to fly off store shelves. We’ve been having loads of fun with our systems and we think those that get to see one up close and in person will fall in love as well.


Big Names Flop With Christmas Buyers


Source: LA Times


Many other goods that were labeled mild disappointments sold reasonably well but failed to meet store owners’ overblown expectations. For example, “Game Boy,” the much ballyhooed hand-held video game from Nintendo, sold out at many stores but never generated the hysteria that some retailers anticipated when word came out earlier this year that Christmas supplies would be limited.

William B. White Jr., a Nintendo spokesman, described Game Boy as a big success, but he acknowledged that it wasn’t in “the Cabbage Patch range,” referring to the doll that was the rage among young children during previous holiday seasons.

Although the regular Nintendo game and other video goods remained popular, retailers said shoppers otherwise turned away from high-tech and electric toys in favor of more traditional products such as dolls and action figures. Among the victims: several of the lines of “hyper cars,” the speedy battery-powered vehicles that have been a big hit in Japan.



December 29, 1989 | Dennis Lynch



The year 1989 may well go down in home-computing annals as the Year of Nintendo. In the past year, Japanese-based Nintendo has solidified its position as the colossus of dedicated game machines. It so dominates the market that it has caused major ripples throughout the home entertainment industry.

For example, Epyx-a respected manufacturer of such superb products as Summer Games and California Games-recently laid off more than 75 percent of its work force and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. A large part of the reduction was caused by slack demand for traditional diskette-based computer products.

Because demand for Nintendo cartridges remains at fever pitch, software companies are devoting less energy to producing programs for other computer systems, except for the IBM PC, where sales remain strong.

Most companies that produce game software are now releasing either a Nintendo or an IBM version first; then, if-and only if-sales warrant, versions for other systems are released. As a result, great game machines such as the Amiga and Atari ST are suffering from a comparative dearth of new software releases, and their owners are beginning to feel like second-class players.

Best Game Machine: The Sega Genesis ($150). Much more powerful than the Nintendo, much less expensive than the NEC Turbografx.

Worst Game Machine: The Game Boy (Nintendo; $75). Okay, maybe there is a demand for a portable game system that fits in the palm of your hand. But do you really need a system that no color and a screen that is nearly impossible to read?

Ailment of the Year: Nintendo Neck. A Palmerton, Pa., chiropractor started getting a number of young patients with the same symptoms: charley horse-like neck spasms. The cause? Sitting or lying on the floor for long periods while playing Nintendo games and craning the neck to see the TV screen above.


Craig Majaski

Craig has been covering the video game industry since 1995. His work has been published across a wide spectrum of media sites. He's currently the Editor-In-Chief of Nintendo Times and contributes to Gaming Age.

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