Quick: Name the most successful video game system on the market. If you didn't answer the Nintendo GameBoy, you're wrong. While it has undergone several changes since its introduction, the GameBoy hasn't lost ground.
Handheld electronic games have been around for a much longer time, but most of them were built as one-game units, like Mattel's old football game that consisted of multiple LEDs that were supposed to be players. The fact that I actually enjoyed playing it proves that it had very little likeness to an actual football game. Next-generation one-game handhelds used LCD displays instead and allowed likenesses of monkeys and such to be created, but their action was limited to available pre-set areas of the screen.
Nintendo's first handheld was actually of this ilk. The Game & Watch series (1980-1991) each featured a single game that was a variation of "move this guy to catch something" or "move this guy to hit something." The most popular games were stripped-down versions of their already popular arcade games such as Donkey Kong and Mario Bros.
In an attempt to combine the successes of their Game & Watch series and their NES home console in the late '80s, Nintendo set out to create a handheld gaming device that would use interchangeable game cartridges. This was the birth of the GameBoy, and its introduction in 1989 was a huge success, owing much of its appeal to the inclusion of a highly addictive game that crossed generational boundaries: Tetris. Marketplace saturation was cemented by the release of versions of its popular arcade and NES games.
The original GameBoy eventually shrank in size (GameBoy Pocket), added a color screen (GameBoy Color) and changed from an 8-bit processor to a 32-bit (GameBoy Advance). The latest version on the market is the GameBoy Advance SP, which features a folding body for screen protection, a side-lit screen and an internal rechargeable battery. The reason all of these game systems can be considered one is because each newer version can play all previous GameBoy games. Nintendo's latest handheld in development is the Nintendo DS (Double Screen) which seems to have dropped the GameBoy name, but even DS will have the ability to play all GameBoy titles.
So where is my game review? Well, this week I'm actually reviewing the GBA SP, which I recently bought with some birthday money. (Oh, you're sorry you missed it? Don't fret, you can send e-gift cards for game purchases to my e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.) With my purchase, I picked up Super Mario Bros. 3 as a reintroduction to the GameBoy world, given that I hadn't played one since the Tetris days. The Mario platform games are all great fun if you like platformers, but I felt like I wasn't getting the full potential from my new system because the game is just a ported version of the original.
Enter Max Payne, one of the few GBA games with a "Mature" rating. The fact that the options include an on/off setting for gore should give you some insight to the reason for this. Payne is basically a third-person action game with cut scenes involving an ex-cop who's trying to get to the mob boss who killed blah, blah, blah.... All you really need to know is that you get to run around a 3D environment shooting bad guys and taking pain killers whenever you get shot. If this sounds appealing to you, you'll love it, and the linear storyline does actually make for a more involved gaming experience than a tiny plumber jumping on mushrooms.
My review for the SP: two cramped thumbs up. Its small size can make game play a little hard at times, but the fact that I can put it in my pocket and have gaming on the go makes it worthwhile.