Unbreakable, unshakeable, unmistakable, unputdownable

Game Boy / Game Boy Color (1990 / 1998)

I think we can all be pretty much unanimously agreed on what are the three hardest substances known to man. Forget about any of your piddly diamond or adamantium, or even unobtanium if you wanted to get really ridiculous – I’m talking moreso about the three bits of hardware that’ll never let you down, and they could only be, in no particular order: a Nokia phone; an AK47 assault rifle, and most Toyota cars.

Firstly, the humble Nokia phones. I’m thinking of the old 3210 and 3310 here in particular, although one of my own early phones, the 5110, almost smashed my foot into a thousand pieces when I dropped it after another fruitless attempt at getting a great high score in Snake.

It wasn’t a million years ago when I was without phone (I could give a grown-up, professional, cover story but the far more entertaining truth is that I was steaming drunk at a toga party and the phone fell from my makeshift belt and right into the toilet, and that was that) and I had no other phone to fall back on for a time other than an old Nokia, which I activated for a laugh but which got me through the next several weeks.

Oh sure, my pals weren’t happy that they couldn’t use a proper app to text me anymore, and it meant my incoming nudes had to be put on hold for a week. But is that longevity or what? I think the bloody thing even had a bit of charge left in it. And it didn’t start piddling and moaning at you about low battery after six hours either.

An old Blokia phone might be heavy to throw (as opposed to Ready to Go), and if you aim well I think you actually could take someone out with a flung 5110. If you’re looking for properly reliable killing power though, it’s got to be the AK-47, favourite of the child soldier, and so good it’s even gotten onto flags of insane countries and disputed territories.

Even the naming is nice and simple and something you can count on – the AK refers to it being an Automatic weapon by a trigger-happy Soviet bloke called Kalashnikov, and it was finished in 1947. Talk about getting long lifespan out of your death weapons, I’ve had knives that were no good after a year, and rat poison lasts no time at all.

I’ve fired an AK before, and it worked pretty well in those tricky conditions of a well-air conditioned warehouse, although part of me was slightly disappointed that the AK47 I was given didn’t have the classic wood finish. I missed the targets by miles anyway, but I would have liked to look the part while doing so.

Finally, the Toyota. Probably the example of a bulletproof Toyota I see most often is the Corolla. I know a family who had three, and most of them dated back to the last millennium and still sailed through the safety test every year, baldy tyres and all. One of them even found itself mere inches away from a raging fire and the only thing wrong with it is that the bumper fell off, and I bet that was aftermarket rubbish anyway.

You might be more familiar with the invincible Toyota Hilux they put through the Hercules trials on Top Gear, with the still-working vehicle now housed in a museum in x. Having problems with your car is the most annoying, the biggest heartbreaker and threat to a nice, worry-free existence there is, it’s an absolute windup. I’d buy a Toyota that looked like a literal pig on wheels if it guaranteed me no problems. Take an AK with me and I’ll never again cock up a drive-by shooting – I could even have the Nokia theme blaring in a sinister fashion.

You’d have thought these three bulletproof implements couldn’t be touched, but now, a fourth side to this triangle of durability emerges. Well actually, it’s not now, it’s thirty years after it was made and released on general sale – but then, how can you properly test durability and reliability without a lot of time having passed? We didn’t routinely drop Nokias on the floor back then, if you get what I mean; we’d probably have cracked the tiles.

I’m talking of course of the Game Boy, which doesn’t need any more introduction than that – it is unquestionably one of the most enduring pop culture icons of the 1990s, and legendary in its own right. It wasn’t to be found outside of over 100 million kids and kids-at-heart worldwide, and it was popular enough to spawn several revisions, including a slightly more advanced though slightly more American version, the Game Boy Color.

I know my own Game Boy Color, which I carried everywhere with me as a child, took more than a few hefty whacks against the concrete floor as I’d be outside while the normal kids would be playing football, but stone me if the original fat Game Boy wasn’t made of granite. Famously, a Game Boy that copped a bomb blast in the Gulf War is on display in the Nintendo Store in New York.

Now, I should think the screen was absolutely melted on this Game Boy which now resembles a very burnt piece of toast and had to be replaced, but that’s not a technicality – think of it as replacing the windscreen on that same Toyota Hilux, it’s a creature comfort really, so long as the engine still starts.

You’re guaranteed a system for life, then, with the Game Boy, and it might take Japan into the lead over Russia and Finland in our reliability game. Might as well get some games running on our portable tank then, although I fear that things have aged slightly here. You see, the killing power of an AK47, that never loses its appeal. There’s always a bit of fun and sport in that. And there’s nothing about driving a Toyota that would make you think you’re missing out – it’s not like you’re on a pedal bike in the rain.

But the Game Boy has been seriously outclassed, naturally. It’s a bit like that Nokia, you know – a radiation-green screen with black shapes scurrying about on there was impressive in the 90s, but we’ve evolved a bit beyond that now. You’re talking four AA-batteries in the Game Boy, and what you get back is a pretty dodgy display, and you can forget about playing it in the dark, although this can be remedied through one of about a thousand third party clip-on lamp and magnifying glasses that make your Game Boy look, well, a bit unfashionable – like sticking a leopard skin grip on your Kalashnikov.

Of course, it was the absolute bizzo in the early 90s, because this meant that even if it were in greyscale, or rather greenscale, you were still playing some top portable titles including the zillion selling Tetris, absurd portable versions of Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat and Killer Instinct, two Super Mario Lands, and actually three which became the first Wario Land. Then the brilliant Wario Land II, the less brilliant Wario Land 3, in the later days Pokémon Red and Blue, and probably the best game on the system in Zelda: Link’s Awakening.

But it didn’t stop there. The early onset blindness, I mean – the 1998 revision the Game Boy Color didn’t bring with it a backlight. There was a Game Boy Light in 1996, but guess what, only Japanese children got to see, the rest of us were buggered when it got dark. Ridiculously, even the Game Boy Advance didn’t possess a backlight at first, so I can’t get too upset with the early Game Boys.

But with the Color days, things got even better – how about Pokémon Gold, Silver and Crystal, Pokémon Trading Card Game, Game and Watch Gallery, Dragon Quest, ports of Donkey Kong Country, Zelda Oracles, Metal Gear Solid? Pokémon gave the portable wonder a new lease of life alright, and even as the cartridge batteries die and some of the internals corrode, the Game Boy shall live on.

There’s hardly much point in whipping one out today of course, not when you could be using the latest iPhone, or a gun that melts everyone in the room instantaneously, or driving a Tesla Truck. But if you find yourself in the tundra, the desert or somewhere in between, and you’ve got a stock of batteries, then the Game Boy is your only man.

29 April 2022

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