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Useful Notes / Game Boy Color

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"Get into it!"

"Nintendo brings you this Game Boy game... in Color."

In 1998, Nintendo basically enhanced the Game Boy parts to make a souped-up portable NES and sent out the resulting Game Boy Color into the wild. This made sense, since the Game Boy was similar to the NES already. Learning from the mistakes of the Nintendo 64, Nintendo made the Game Boy Color easy to develop for so that their handheld branch could retain their massive third-party support.

The Game Boy Color owes its existence to, of all things, the WonderSwan. When Nintendo CEO Hiroshi Yamauchi caught wind that Bandai was planning to release their own handheld gaming system, he feared it could be real competition. Bandai had exclusive licenses to a litany of Japan's biggest Anime & Manga properties, and worst of all, they were partnering with Koto Laboratory, founded by Game Boy creator Gunpei Yokoi and fair handful of the team that helped him.

Yamauchi ordered Nintendo R&D1, Yokoi's original unit, to develop a color handheld in a record 10 months to beat the WonderSwan to market. R&D1 was well underway on Project Atlantis, a more powerful 32-bit handheld that eventually became the Game Boy Advance, but the new mandate forced them to put the more advanced handheld's development on hold, and instead work on a much more modest upgrade of the original Game Boy with color capabilities.

The Game Boy Color also follows the Game Boy's design paradigm (size, durability, cost, and battery life), is about the size and weight of the Game Boy Pocket, the launch price was in between the original Game Boy and the Pocket's, the battery life is about the same as the Pocket's, and best of all, it was backward compatible with all original Game Boy games.

The Color's biggest selling point was, naturally, its ability to display color. This made it closer to the idea of being a portable NES than the original Game Boy, though the Color's larger color palette meant it was capable of producing more detailed sprites and backgrounds than the NES ever could. The Color could also overlay a handful of 10-color palettes onto original Game Boy games to give them a hint of color, though it was unable to use the color palettes of Super Game Boy–enhanced titlesnote . Games made specifically with the Game Boy Color in mind would include more specific and variable color palettes — many games were released that were compatible with both the older Game Boys and GBC, but later-released games would require a GBC. Color games compatible with the original model were typically encased in cartridges in a color different from the grey used for the Game Boy (typically black), while GBC exclusive games used translucent cartridges.

One of the handheld's more interesting features was the IR port, which could allow for wireless data transfer between two systems. While more convenient than the Link Cable since it wasn't a separate peripheral, the port's functions were limited in comparison (i.e. no multiplayer) and it was utilized by very few games. As usual for the Pokémon series, Pokémon Gold and Silver and Crystal were probably the most well-known users of this feature, allowing two players to "Mystery Gift" with each other once a day, basically creating random items for both players. The games could also communicate with a virtual pet, which could get the player a variety of items. Additionally, a Mission: Impossible game released for the Color had a function to turn the handheld into a universal remote by using the IR sensor, while Bomberman Max used it for Mon battles and sharing version-exclusive stages.

The Color was well-supported considering it had a relatively short lifespan. Over 900 games were made specifically for it, with some being colorized re-releases of Game Boy games (often known as "DX" versions). Nintendo also made sure to publish a large number of high-profile first party titles: The Legend of Zelda, Mario, and Pokémon would all see multiple installments on the GBC, with Pokémon in particular providing the system's biggest Killer App via Pokémon Gold and Silver.

The total sales of the Game Boy Color are unclear, as Nintendo officially treats it as a revision of the original Game Boy and folds their numbers together. However, everything points to it being a huge hit; the highest-selling GBC game exceeded 23 million units.

The system lasted only a little over four years before retiring in 2003, as Nintendo had fully moved on to the Game Boy Advance and were preparing for the imminent release of the Nintendo DS in 2004. The Color is probably the most successful system ever to have such a short cycle thanks to its large library and high software sales.


  • The CPU is an enhanced version of the Game Boy's Z80-compatible running at 8 MHz. The clock speed can be lowered to allow the system to play original Game Boy titles, ensuring backward compatibility.


  • 32 KB main Random Access Memory and 16 KB Video RAM. This is triple the memory of the original Game Boy.
  • Carts could be around 4 (maybe 8) MB in size.

Display and Graphics

  • Sprites, resolution and screen size are the same as the Game Boy. Up to 40 sprites on screen at 8×8 or 8×16 pixels, resolution is 160×144 and the screen size is 1.9×1.7 inches.
  • Backgrounds can be more detailed in GBC-only games due to additional memory for tiles.
  • Up to 56 colors on screen (eight 4-color background palettes and eight 3-color sprite palettes), out of 32,768 total. Note that this is not really a hardware limitation, but rather palette memory limitation. If the palette is changed every scanline, it is possible to display over 2,000 colors at once.
  • The system cannot use the predefined in-game color palettes on Super Game Boy–enabled titles. Instead, it comes with 12 pre-programmed color palettes which can be selected at boot time when playing original Game Boy games, although it is programmed to automatically select particular palettes when specific cartridges are played. Some of these palettes are Game Breakers in that they actually reveal hidden routes in some games (like in Pokémon Red and Blue) if not outright introduce minor glitches to the graphics.


  • Integrated into the CPU itself. Four channels stereo output via headphones but mono via the integrated speaker. Two square wave channels, one PWM channel and one noise channel.
  • The cartridge slot allows for custom audio chips to pass a mono signal back to the console. However no cartridges produced ever made use of the functionality.


  • 2 AA batteries give a life of just over 20 hours.

Add-Ons and Accessories

  • All accessories that were compatible with the Game Boy Pocket are also compatible with the Game Boy Color, including the Universal Link Cable, the Game Boy Camera, and the Game Boy Printer. The original Game Boy Link Cable and Four-Player Adapter isn't compatible without adapters due to the difference in port shapes. Even though it was perfectly compatible with the Game Boy Pocket Link Cable, the Game Boy Color did have its own Link Cable, except the extra cord to plug into the original Game Boy was replaced with a simple adapter (officially called the Universal Game Link Adapter) tethered to the cord.
  • An accessory unique to the Game Boy Color was the Mobile Game Boy Adapter. One end would connect to the Game Boy Color's extension port and the other end into a cellular phone to allow communication between a Game Boy Color and a cellular network to challenge other players or exchange data remotely. The adapter was forwards-compatible with the Game Boy Advance which had its own games that utilized the adapter. Unfortunately, it was too ahead of its time, and for numerous reasons the Mobile Game Boy Adapter failed to take off. Only six games on the Game Boy Color used the Mobile Adapter, and sixteen games on the Game Boy Advance. The service to use the Mobile Adapter shut down in December 2002, not even two years after the Adapter's introduction. The Mobile Adapter never left Japan.

In short, the system can't exactly run rings around the NES, but it can handle graphics just as intense without slowdown or flicker and exceeds it in some areas.


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  • Color-Coded for Your Convenience: There were two types of Game Boy Color cartridges: ones that were compatible with the original Game Boy (and by extent, the Game Boy Pocket, Game Boy Light, and Super Game Boy), and ones that weren't. Game Boy-compatible cartridges were usually black (though sometimes came in different colors, as is the case with Pokémon Gold and Silver) and used the same design as original Game Boy cartridges, while Color-exclusive cartridges were usually clear and uniquely-shaped.
  • Made of Indestructium: Zigzagged. It's a durable, well constructed shell that isn't easy to break, but like the original Game Boy, the screen is rather easy to scuff and scratch, and most unfortunately, the buttons can be worn out over time, making gameplay difficult or impossible. Even worse, the LCD panels were also prone to screen-burn. Keeping your Game Boy Color in a box in a non-air-conditioned store room if you live in equatorial regions is a good way to kill the display.
  • Product Facelift: Zigzagged. It's an upgrade to the original Game Boy with the ability to display in color, but there's also some under-the-hood power increases for more intensive games, and Nintendo lumps it in with the original Game Boy. However, a majority (about 70% according to The Other Wiki) of Color-compatible games do not support the original Game Boy, which might lead one to classify it as its own system.