GameSpite Journal 10 | Super Game Boy

Super Game Boy | Dev.: Intelligent Systems | Pub: Nintendo | Genre: Consumer-Grade Test Kit | Release: June 1994

As the SNES marched steadily toward console domination, the NES and Game Boy faded into the distance. While the former was a matter of course, the disinterest in portable gaming troubled Nintendo, and someone somewhere wondered if they couldn’t increase profits by somehow marketing Game Boy games to the home console market -- to people who didn’t even have Game Boys. Someone else pointed out an obvious solution: slap a colorful sticker on the device they used to test Game Boy software on the SNES and let people pay money for it. Yes, the Super Game Boy -- a device allowing players to enjoy portable software on their home televisions -- was itself a piece of development tech that had existed for years prior.

But, since we’re talking Nintendo here, they added a few bells and whistles before sending that test kit out the door. Primarily, they gave users the ability to mess with the Game Boy’s four-shade palette, assigning whatever colors they liked to each shade independently. For the less experimental, the SGB provided 32 (really, truly hideous) pre-set color combinations. Future graphic artists could spend hours finding the exact four colors that would bring a once-monochromatic game world to life, then save them with a password. Like-minded friends could trade passwords, slowly colorizing their favorite games. Nintendo even snuck in presets for their previous GB releases, ensuring first-party titles would look best right out of the box. Without even realizing it, players learned about color relations, art design, and how to work within limited palettes. In short, they learned that presentation mattered.

Speaking of presentation, Nintendo accounted for the Game Boy’s differing screen resolution from that of Super NES by providing several borders that could be selected to wrap around the screen’s edges. With the right border and a solid color choice, formerly pea-green portable games really popped. Really driven users could even draw in their own borders, using art tools and the SNES Mouse stolen from Mario Paint. And just to prove themselves masters of presentation, Nintendo threw in some quirky surprises. Those borders, if left alone, would often animate (a theater audience chatting while two youngsters broke out a Link Cable). If the player sat too long while drawing a custom image, a janitor would saunter on screen to clean up the mess. While Nintendo could have raked in cash by simply releasing their hardware unaltered, they paired it with compelling software that became almost a meta-game in itself.

Like Mario Paint before it, the Super Game Boy provided a glimpse of a different kind of Nintendo. A more playful Nintendo that colored just outside the lines before handing players the crayon and inviting them to join in. I’d planned a much bleaker closing here, lamenting how rarely we see this side of the Japanese giant (as well as name-dropping the Game Boy Camera), but my mom just interrupted to talk about the small black cat she and grandma discovered last night while checking the Wii’s Weather Channel, and how much fun she had making it chase her cursor. She has no idea that pixelated feline descended from a tabby that happily meowed “Twinkle Twinkle” at quadruple speed, but it’s clear to me Nintendo will always be a toy company at heart. And be they games, title screens, applications, or even tweaked development tools— -- their toys are almost always fun to play with.

By Tomm Hulett? | Jan. 19, 2012 | Previous: Secret of Mana | Next: Super Metroid