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Posted on Aug 9th 2019 at 12:00:00 PM by (MetalFRO)
Posted under Game Boy, Launch titles, Super Mario Land, Tetris, Baseball, Alleyway, Tennis

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*pic from*

Nostalgia can be a tricky beast. We all have warm, fuzzy feelings about one thing, or another, from our childhood. A favorite toy, a cartoon we watched after school, or on Saturday mornings; perhaps even a place we used to play. Many of us have a lot of fond memories of video games we played, whether with family and friends, or even solo gaming sessions, totally engrossed in whatever electronic entertainment happened to be captivating us at that time in our lives. But what about a system, and its launch games? Most of us would say, with a few exceptions, that launch titles are quite often weaker than most of the library. I would argue, nostalgia aside, that at least a portion of the Game Boy library transcends that trend. Let's examine the launch lineup, 30 years after the fact, and see if that theory holds water.

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I think it's best to start with the game that easily blows holes into the theory: Tetris. Yes, it's low-hanging fruit, but it still deserves recognition of the fact that it's one of the best selling games in history, and the highest selling game on the Game Boy system, due to it being a pack-in title. It was an easy choice for Nintendo, given the deceptive simplicity of its fast action puzzle solving gameplay. Moms, dads, sisters, brothers, grandparents: anyone can enjoy Tetris, and its universal appeal drove it straight into the hearts and minds of people in the late 1980's and early 1990's. There's a reason people reference the game's name, when talking about arranging things, or making stuff fit in a small space. Add the infectious, catchy music, that you could listen to on loop for hours, the head-to-head game play you could achieve with the Link Cable, and the addictive, "one more try" nature of it, and it was bound to be a hit. Score 1 point for the launch line-up.

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Ah, baseball. America's pastime. A sport I loved as a kid, but, as time went on, I fell away from. Still, I have fond memories of playing baseball, or something relatively equivalent to it, on various playgrounds. I remember warming the bench in my 5th grade summer baseball team, and occasionally getting to play left field, only to miss half the pop flies, due to the sun in my eyes, and no sunglasses to help, because I wore those giant, ultra-geeky Coke bottle glasses as a kid. No joke. But the sport itself certainly wasn't tarnished by my inability to properly play it. However, Nintendo's Baseball certainly does a commendable job of trying to make you wish you hadn't played the game. It's a very perfunctory experience, but not in a good way. There's little here to keep you coming back. The teams are totally irrelevant, especially because, if you're playing against the CPU, you're probably going to lose. The computer never really makes mistakes, so winning a game might take you more tries than you'd care to think about. Control is fine, in the game, but when your opponent has better AI than Skynet, chances are, you'll be the team left crying at the end of the game; quite literally. Unless you can play this via Link Cable with a friend, this is a sports game better left in the bargain bin. No points for this dud.

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Alleyway is a mixed bag, and something of an oddity. Taking a page from their past, Nintendo resurrects their Block Kuzushi electronic game from the 1970's, and updates it with a little Mario flair. Even with that, it appears very bare bones. There's no music in the game, other than the title screen ditty, and the tune that plays during the bonus screens. After playing Arkanoid on the NES, it feels like a step backward, with zero power-ups, and nothing to really draw you in. At the end of the day, it's a slightly more modern Breakout clone, with a few fun ideas thrown in to mix things up. Otherwise, it's very basic, utilitarian, and not particularly exciting. That said, I still find this game oddly compelling, in a weird way. It's fun in short bursts, and while the general consensus is that it's not very challenging, I still haven't managed to beat it after all these years. So it's a game I pick up periodically, pop in the Game Boy, and play for 20-30 minutes to get my fill, lose all my lives on a later level, and then put away for a few months. The fact that I enjoy it enough to return to it, despite its shortcomings, is enough for me to casually recommend it, and award it a half point. There are far worse ways to spend $5, right?

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Cue sports title #2 for launch. We're spoiled in the modern era, with things like Wii Sports Tennis, or Virtua Tennis, for different reasons. In the 8-bit days, however, there were fewer options, and they weren't as robust. Those looking to get their hardcourt action on, in a portable form, could look no further than Nintendo's own Tennis. Taking a page from the NES game, of the same name, this improves the formula somewhat, by allowing for a proper, 3rd person, behind the back perspective for each player, when using the Link Cable for 2-player fun. However, there are a few problems that keep this one from being an Ace. First, the AI in the game is brutally difficult, so if you're playing legitimately against the CPU, prepare to get trounced repeatedly. Second, there's a bug in the game, that allows you to score a point by whiffing each serve attempt, by swinging your racket at the apex of the serve toss. It's an easy way to cheese the AI, and score on every serve, but it doesn't amount to much fun. It's still better than Baseball, because you can still actually score against the CPU, but the game runs you up against the wall pretty quickly on higher difficulties. I'll give his a half point, because it's the better of the 2 launch sports titles, and is still a decent representation of the sport, all things considered.

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Of course I was going to save Super Mario Land for last. Not only is it a classic, but it's also a personal favorite. There was no way Nintendo wasn't going to put their flagship character/series on the handheld, but they boldly allowed R&D1 to do the job, rather than the character's creator, Shigeru Miyamoto, and his team. What resulted is a unique, charming little romp through a new place, called Sarasaland, and a few new faces, including the evil alien, Tatanga, and a new monarch, Princess Daisy. Changing up fireballs for super bouncy balls, and including a couple shoot-em-up stages, it adds enough to the existing Mario formula to keep it fresh, but not enough that it detracts from the core Mario experience. Some folks complain about the game's lack of inertia, or how Mario drops like a stone, after stepping off a platform. While these are valid concerns, I don't believe they're enough to stop Super Mario Land from being yet another awesome game in the Mario canon, and a fun little adventure that I come back to on an annual basis. I'd say this is an easy point scored for a game that translates the "Super Mario" experience pretty well to the small screen.

Let's tally the score, shall we? With 1 point for Tetris, a half point for Alleyway, a half point for Tennis, and a point for Super Mario Land, that makes the launch lineup a solid 3 out of 5. How many other consoles had as strong a list of games, at the time the system released to the public? I would contend that very few gaming platforms offered as many good-to-great experiences on day one. Some systems had more games on launch day, and a couple of those might have had more to offer, or a broader range of experiences, but for its time, the Game Boy's US releases were as strong a list as anyone had seen at launch. I think it's safe to say that, 30 years on, the Game Boy's initial spate of games was as much as anyone could ask for so early on.

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A fun retrospective, thanks!  And as a guy who cleared Alleyway on the car ride home (this was back when I played a whole lot of Arkanoid on C64) I would personally give it a full point.  I went back to it a lot more than Super Mario Land, which I only played on occasion and also finished on my first (and subsequent) try.  It was, as for most, mainly Tetris for me for the first couple years.  Nemesis was my next major purchase for the GBO, and I distinctly remember saving up $40 to buy it from K-Mart.  Played that a ton and cleared it all the way through also, and that took awhile.

Interestingly, although I played The Castlevania Adventure quite a bit upon release, I never cleared it until a couple weeks ago, along with the sequel, on the recently released compilation on the Nintendo Switch.  (also the Genesis Bloodlines.  I am not ashamed to say I used save-states, those end bosses were absurd.

Anyway, nice write-up and thanks for the nostalgia. Cheesy
@slackur: Thank you, sir! Alleyway is an odd little game, in the sense that, it scratches a certain itch, but not really well enough to get rid of it, but just satiate it for a bit. That's my biggest problem with the game. The simplicity doesn't bother me. It's just not compelling enough an experience (for me) to prompt me to keep going. Every time I got back to it, once I hit the wall, I'm not motivated enough to go further. I'm totally okay with that, because I have fun with it every time, but at some point, it would be nice to see the end. Still, it deserves some credit for its callback to Nintendo's humble video game beginnings, and is certainly well designed enough to be worth a look.

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