In professional wrestling, the act of blading (deliberately cutting one’s self open) is also known as “getting color,” which is used to help generate more interest from the audience towards a match. So in a way, as the Game Boy approached a full decade on the market, it’s amusing that the way for Nintendo to generate more interest in the aging product line was also to “get color,” albeit in a little more literal of a fashion.
Throughout the 90’s, through battery-draining competition and teases of the concept, one question surrounding the Game Boy remained constant: “When are we getting a color Game Boy?” Rumors of such a device were kicked up a notch in early 1996 as buzz began to circulate about a new handheld titled “Project Atlantis,” said to be a 32-bit color successor to the company’s colorless cash cow.
However, various factors kept any such device from reaching the market. For one thing, the original Game Boy (in all its various permutations) was still just too dang popular, especially with Pokémon providing a much-needed shot in the arm. For another, perhaps more significant reason, it just wasn’t practical: It was cumbersome, guzzled batteries, and cost too much to manufacture — effectively making it the antithesis of the Game Boy in all the worst ways.
While the Game Boy Advance would come along to eventually fulfill the promise of Project Atlantis, Nintendo needed something to respond to developers’ demands for something more capable. Enter: The Game Boy Color.
Released in around the world over the latter part of 1998, the Game Boy Color upped the system’s specs to include a color display with graphics that were roughly on par with those of the Nintendo Entertainment System, minus the smaller 160×144 screen resolution. At 133.5mm tall, 78mm wide, and 27.4 mm thick, it was slightly beefier than the Game Boy Pocket which preceded it, but not by much.
The Game Boy Color ran three types of games: Original Game Boy cartridges, typically released in the standard grey; Game Boy Color cartridges, which were clear and would only run on the Game Boy Color hardware; and backwards compatible games, which came on black cartridges and would run on both Game Boy Color hardware with full pallets, as well as original Game Boy models with monochromatic visuals. For original Game Boy titles, different button combinations could be used to initiate a limited color palette, though some titles had their own custom palettes built into the hardware itself.
Nintendo also attempted to introduce the world to wireless linking with the Game Boy Color, by way of the introduction of an infrared communications port, but it didn’t really catch on.
The hardware came in a variety of colors and styles, initially launching in North America with Grape (purple) and Atomic Purple (transparent purple). Japan had a wider range at launch, many of which followed in North America the following year, as well as a number of limited edition and Pokémon variants.
While the original Game Boy hardware would have a lifetime of 14 years, running from 1989 to 2003, the Game Boy Color’s life would be less than half of it, acting more as a bookend to the line’s 8-bit legacy as it too came to an end in 2003. Nevertheless, it helped to nicely bridge the gap between the monochrome portable titles of yesteryear and the more advanced games of the 21st century.