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Portable Wonders

Lasting the Distance

Despite including the least amount of features, the Game Boy outlasted the three contenders, going on to become the most successful console of all time. It left Atari in tatters, NEC left the gaming scene altogether, and Sega never recovered fully from the loss.

But why did this happen? How could three consoles, all so much stronger then the Game Boy, fall flat on their face so easily? One answer could reside in battery life. The Lynx and Game Gear churned through batteries very quickly compared to the Game Boy, leaving many frustrated over the constant purchase of new batteries for the next road trip. This became the Game Boy’s greatest strength.

The next answer comes down to software support. All four consoles had their fair share of games to play, but as time went on more and more 3rd party developers shifted their focus to the Game Boy, mainly due to the cheaper costs for creating software on the system. And then, of course, there’s the 1st part Nintendo software. If there’s any reason why anyone should purchase a Nintendo console, it’s for the quality in software the company releases each year. Metroid II, Kirby’s Dream Land and Zelda: Link’s Awakening were three of the big sellers for the system during the early years after Tetris made its mark.

Marketing is another factor to take into account, as Nintendo made sure everyone around the world knew about the Game Boy. NEC barely distributed outside of Japan, meaning most of its user base never reached Europe or Australasia.

Finally, it all comes down to money. Atari struggled to pay for the Lynx (and later the Jaguar) thanks to the video games crash of the 80’s. Sega, on the other hand, had bigger fish to fry as they went head-to-head with Nintendo in the 16-bit console wars leaving the Game Gear dangling with little support.

In essence, both the Lynx and Game Gear were ahead of their time, at least in terms of handheld gaming. The technology they were built on, while similar to the console systems of the time, just weren’t compact or portable enough to ensure strong sales. And with Nintendo dominating the market, it made things harder for both companies to ensure a profit each year. But if Atari and Sega had released these systems a few years later, things may have been different.

Continued: Stalemate with Monsters

Table of Contents: Portable Wonders