We are little under a week from Nintendo’s big E3 focused direct. While the world will be watching for upcoming games (Pokemon Sword & Shield, Fire Emblem Three Houses, Super Mario Maker 2) and some potential surprises (Metroid Prime 4? Super Smash Bros. Ultimate’s next fighter? A new F-Zero?), there is probably one item that will probably not be there: the next Game Boy.
Though the Switch will likely carry both the console and handheld markets once the 3DS is officially discontinued, the lack of a dedicated “virtual console” or digital platform to download and purchase legacy software (yet?) has been the console’s most notable flaw. It is clear that there is demand for classic games with Nintendo introducing the NES and SNES mini consoles, but they still have no intention of selling individual titles anytime soon.
With rumors of smaller or dockless Switch popping up, it looks like Nintendo is not interested in reviving the Game Boy or creating a successor for the 3DS. But let’s suppose they are still interested in having a dedicated handheld market given their usual dominance in that field. What would a modern Game Boy in 2019 even look like? I have a few ideas/suggestions:
I’ve stated before Nintendo is all but done selling legacy software for now. Why sell you games when they can profit more from having you subscribe to a service yearly? However, they are more than happy to bank on your nostalgia and sell you expensive toys for a one time price.
Much like the NES and SNES mini, the Game Boy Mini would likely follow the same formula and just bundle multiple preinstalled games in a fun-sized console shell. If they really wanted to sweeten the deal, it would be a mix of the entire Game Boy brand (Game Boy, Game Boy Color, and Game Boy Advance), but that would likely drive up the price or make it more difficult to narrow it down to a select few titles (let’s say about 20 games). Personally, I would settle for a Game Boy Advance/SP/Micro mini (which were backwards compatible except the Micro).
One reason why I can see Nintendo holding onto the Game Boy brand is the idea that they can sell a more affordable gaming experience for those not willing to pay for a home console. Though it is a bit harder in the age of the Smartphone to justify a dedicated gaming handheld, a platform that is dedicated to the entire Game Boy family’s greatest hits would make a strong argument for it if it were sold at a reasonable price.
Nintendo could develop a slightly updated version of the Game Boy with some of the modern touches we’ve come to expect (Wi-Fi, backlit screen, maybe a few other utitlies/interface) and just throw up their own digital store that sells all of the handheld games from across the three major Game Boy platforms. I’m omitting the DS/3DS as that would add to the cost and the form factor would have to change (trying to keep this as light as possible), essentially bringing us back to the 3DS to add touch and dual screens.
Again, this would just be a platform to download and play their legacy handheld games. They could go one step further and introduce brand new games to their store exclusive to their platform in the Game Boy format or even throw in some less intensive indies to the mix depending on how powerful this device would be.
This idea is very unlikely, but Nintendo could just develop an all new Game Boy and introduce it as its next major handheld assuming they want to sell to two markets as they were doing before the Switch. They could take a few cues from the 3DS, but dual screens would likely have to go or else this would be a new DS/3DS system. Assuming they went this route, it would use cartridges much like the Switch or 3DS used and have completely new games developed for it. If it were closer to a Smartphone, it would have apps (YouTube, Netflix, web, etc.), have a few other non-gaming functions (i.e. a clock, calculator, etc.).
The downside to this route is the price. It would be the most expensive to market and produce, not to mention they would be supporting two platforms again. Then there is the backwards compatibility or legacy downloads that we’ve been circling back to since the beginning of this article. Given Nintendo’s track record for taking its sweet time to rollout legacy games, they would likely withhold their games until they’ve secured a user base and managed to sell some of their own original games.
I don’t advocate this route simply because it gets away from the original reason I’m even writing this article: Just give me a legitimate way to play your handheld games!