For nearly ten years following the Game Boy's release in 1989 Nintendo thoroughly dominated the handheld video game market. By 1998, designer Gumpei Yokoi's creation had sold over 60 million units worldwide. Companies like Sega and Atari tried to break into the portable game industry by introducing color platforms but were unable to make an impact. The monochrome Game Boy trounced its competition due to a combination of quality, affordability, battery efficiency and a superior library of game titles. In November 1998, Nintendo finally introduced a successor, or in movie terms, released a "color remake," to its legendary Game Boy system.
In the mid-1990s, Nintendo attempted to build on the phenomenal success of Game Boy by starting the development of a revolutionary new 32-bit color handheld platform code-named Project Atlantis. This proposed system never made it past the developmental stages and instead on November 18, 1998 (October 21, 1998 in Japan), Nintendo released the Game Boy Color in North America. The Game Boy Color was not the groundbreaking handheld console the company had originally planned, it was mostly an updated and improved version of the original 8-bit Game Boy system. At its launch the U.S. retail price of Game Boy Color was $79.95 and was available in only 2 colors: "Grape" and "see-thru Atomic Purple."
Like the Game Boy, the Game Boy Color is powered by a Z-80 processor, however the color version has been customized to run at twice the clock speed (4.28 MHz) as the original (2.14 MHz). Sharp manufactures the Z80 processor in Game Boy Color as well as the 2.3-square-inch TFT (Thin-Film Transistor) color LCD display screen.
In the past, the purchase of a color portable game system meant that inevitably a lot of money would be spent on batteries. The Game Boy Color, with its highly efficient TFT (Thin-Film Transistor) color screen from Sharp, broke this rule. The system is capable of displaying 56 colors onscreen simultaneously from a palette of more than 32,000 and is extremely battery efficient. It requires 2 AA batteries that last an average of ten hours during continuous play (though there is also a "high speed" CPU mode that consumes battery power at a greater rate).
Another factor that contributed to Game Boy Color's great battery mileage is that its liquid crystal display is not backlit, instead it is highly reflective and can be played in direct sunlight and virtually any situation but total darkness. While a non-backlit screen may appear to be a limitation, it does provide a tremendous boost in battery economy. The Sharp-designed TFT screen represents an improvement over the original's giving a crisp edge to images and eliminating blurring problems.
On the top of the Game Boy Color case there is an infrared communications port which allows low rate data transfers between two consoles. Players can exchange game data information from one Game Boy Color to another without a cable (though for head-to-head play a cable is still required). The Game Boy's two player abilities have also been speeded up with the Game Boy Color's Game Link Port which features a data transfer rate that is 64 times faster than the original's.
Another important feature that Nintendo has provided Game Boy Color with is that it is backward compatible with original Game Boy game titles. There are 3 different types of Game Boy Game Paks that will work with the Game Boy Color:
1. "Original" - when an original Game Boy Pak is inserted into the Game Boy Color's slot, a palette of 4 to ten colors is added over the monochrome game in effect "colorizing" it. Original Game Paks can be used on both the Game Boy and Game Boy Color.
2. "Dual mode" - A Dual Mode Game Pak contains two different versions of the same game, one for the original Game Boy using 4 shades of gray and one that is capable of displaying 56 colors (out of a palette of 32,000) that can be played only on Game Boy Color. Dual Mode Game Paks can be used on both the Game Boy and Game Boy Color.
3. "Dedicated" - A Dedicated Game Pak offers enhanced colors and graphics and has been programmed to run only on Game Boy Color.
The Game Boy Color's RAM (random access memory) has also been expanded to 32K from the original's 8K. Because the Game Boy Color features a 16K graphics buffer, 512 tiles can be displayed on screen at once compared to 256 for the Game Boy.
The games that were released at the North American launch of the Game Boy Color were Game & Watch Gallery 2, Tetris DX, and Bomberman Pocket. Nintendo also has plans to release a Game Boy Color Pak that features a built-in rumble capability. By the end of December 1998 Nintendo claimed to have shipped approximately 5 million units of Game Boy Color worldwide. Six months after its launch by May 1999, the Game Boy Color has averaged sales of 94,000 units per week in the United States. Also by May 1999, of the 30 top-selling Game Boy titles, 19 were for the Game Boy Color. ~ Dave Beuscher, All Game Guide