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Rediscovering a Game Boy Color

August 26, 2012

I can still clearly remember the moment I got my Game Boy Color. It was my birthday, not sure how old I was; maybe about 10-11 years old. I remember sitting on my parent’s bed in the morning, a cluster of other presents and annihilated wrapping littering the bed. Then, as clear as day, I can remember looking up to see my mother re-enter the room, her face glowing with anticipation as she handed over to me this final present.

A handful of memories

And what a present it was: a mint condition Yellow Game Boy Color, along with Pokemon Blue and Pokemon Yellow. I already had Pokemon Red and many other classic Game Boy cartridges that were given to me second-hand, along with the behemoth gray block that was the original Game Boy, but oh man, I remember how sexy my Game Boy Color looked compared to that pile of garbage. It was sleek and it was streamline. This thing was the sports car of handheld consoles to me. It always fascinated me that it was spelt ‘color’ and not ‘colour’, it’s like it was trying to dissolve my braincells to mush before I even jammed in the double A batteries.

After holding it for the first time in many years, the first thing I notice is how small the screen is. I’ve obviously been spoiled for handheld screen size from my PSP Slim and DSi XL (‘grandpa addition’ is what it should’ve been called with its massive OAP assistance screen), but now coming back to this, damn, it’s so small and kind of fainted. No back light makes the games hard to see when you are in strong sunshine so I actually resorted to using the magnifying screen which I bought as a kid. I clipped it on wondering how I could have possibly played hundreds of hours of Pokemon, Donkey Kong etc, without this to bring the screen into focus.. .when suddenly, I remember. Having that damn monstrosity clipped on only throws shadows onto the screen so its even harder to see. Well, screw that. I would rather ruin my eyesight than try to play half the game in shadow!

What an eyesore!

Right, let’s dive right into my library of old Game Boy games.

Lets begin with The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening. first of all I notice that all the old saves are intact, but I have to admit that I have never completed this game, even though I have a complete save. I got this game, along with all the grey Game Boy games, as second-hand with the brick of an old Game Boy I got, before the Color. Anyway, rather than just load up the old save and wander around like usual I decided to start a new game.

So Link is somehow washed ashore onto the beaches of a new strange land only to wake up in the safe comfort of a bed, having been rescued by a couple of villagers. They advise me that I should take my shield and head back to the beach to grab my sword. So off I go, managing to grab my sword, suddenly a giant owl swooshes down and goes on about awakening some giant whale god thing. I don’t pay much attention other than that I need to acquire a key for the dungeon to the east of the beach.

So I head into the forest to see if I can find this damn key only to have some pesky bloody raccoon play a damn magic trick on me anytime I try to pass by. So somehow I have to deal with this bugger, the raccoon mentioned something about being sensitive to strong smells or something, so I decide to have a look around, and it’s not long before I manage to find a mushroom, and soon after wandering upon a witch in a hut who turns my mushroom into a powder. Obviously that’s intended as a tool to pass the raccoon. I head back and throw a handful of the fine powder in it’s eyes, which sends the raccoon spinning round and round the screen until it comes to a stop and transforms back into a man. Ignoring the strangeness of this transformation I travel upwards unimpeded and manage to collect the key, and start towards the next dungeon. That’s as far as I went but I think I managed to enjoy that relatively small amount of gameplay, a lot more than I would have thought.

The music is a wonderful little 16-bit tune that was so recognisable I could even whistle along with it, and I’ve never really finished a Zelda game, but I know the music from other Nintendo IPs such as Super Smash Bros Melee & Super Smash Bros Brawl. The combat is enjoyable and easy to grasp. I mean, come on, just two buttons, but it doesn’t feel simple and repetitive. It was really rewarding solving the problem of the raccoon, it is so rare to get that sense of reward from solving a puzzle nowadays because I wasn’t instructed to go there and do that like it seems in more modern games, but instead The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening decided to guide me and let me come to the conclusion myself.

Right, enough of that, lets get onto the meat of this meal. Pokemon.

Pokemon was the defining franchise of my generation. You weren’t a real 90’s kid unless you watched, played or breathed Pokemon on a daily basis.

I owned all the original games up and including Pokemon Gold and Pokemon Silver, this included Pokemon Trading Card Game and Pokemon Pinball, you know, that game that can equipped with a freaking rumble pack.

Red, Blue and Yellow, the primary colours of the Pokemon universe

Pokemon Red was the first Pokemon game I owned and the save has actually remained intact. I load it up to see the save information. 139 Pokedex entries, which is worth 131 hours and 10 minutes of playtime. That is an awful lot of time, most of my Mass Effect 2 saves added together probably wouldn’t beat that and I have 4 complete saves in Mass Effect 2. It’s quite extraordinary, but ultimately a tad boring to re-visit. Most of my Pokemon are Level 100, obviously I knew the Missingno cheat that would let you get hundreds of rare candies at a time.

So moving onto Pokemon Blue I load up a half completed save. If I remember rightly I used Blue as my restart cartridge, so if I wanted to play Pokemon from the start I would use Blue rather than Red so I never had a long save on Pokemon Blue.

I continue where I left off years ago in the Ghost Tower in Lavender Town. I have a look at my Pokemon team, who have been patiently waiting for my return. Not a bad team if I say so myself: a level 30 Raticate, level 33 Charmeleon, level 27 Pidgeotto, level 24 Meowth, level 23 Golbat and a level 26 Voltorb.

It’s only a few steps before I encounter one of the Channelers who stalk the floors of the Ghost Tower. Let the battle commence.

Right. so the Channeler has one Pokemon, no biggie. This should be a breeze. The Channeler sends out a Level 24 Gastly. It’s odd that in battle I can identify this ghost but outside of battle I encounter ghosts that I can’t identify. It’s been a few years so I can’t remember the item’s name, but I know you need it to see wild ghost pokemon, but for the life of me I can’t remember what the damn thing is. I have a feeling I need to ‘take’ it from Team Rocket. Anyway, back to the battle at hand. Raticate use Quick Attack! No effect on Channeler’s Gastly. Oh yeah I remember now, normal attacks can’t hit Ghost types. Okay, instead I choose Voltorb.

My next thought is how much I love the music and how easily it’s all coming back to me, as well as old memories stirring up in my head.

Channeler’s Gastly uses Lick. Voltorb’s only move I feel confident using is Thunderbolt! The Pokemon spirtes may look rubbish and mucky, and the battle effects may be kind of  dull, but in my head its a rich vibrant battle taking place. My Thunderbolt does half damage and the Gastly can only respond with another Lick, but this time it’s a critical and takes a significant chunk of Voltorb’s HP. So what now? Thunderbolt again!

Battling away I remind myself of the old tried and tested formula for victory in old Pokemon games before stats became such a crucial aspect of battling. Pick your biggest and best attack and spam the crap out of it.

Playing for even 15 minutes brings back a well of memories. I can remember the moment my friend first showed me Pokemon Blue on his Game Boy. I was completely dumbfounded by the concept but for some reason even playing for those few tiny moments Pokemon hooked me for life.

I remember sitting in the back of the same friend’s car as his mum drove us to the cinema, our Game Boys hooked up with a link cable, making those vital pokedex trades to see if we could become the very best. Playing the start over and over again so we could grab all the starters.

The last one to check out is Pokemon Yellow. I load up the save to see I have just beaten the third member of the Elite Four and am about to face the hardest challenge yet: Lance. Lance was always an annoying cock-bag, even as a kid I had a special place in hell for that spiky headed ass. What’s with the cape as well? Makes him look like a queer Saiyan!

Anyway I check my team before proceeding down the hall: A level 50 Moltres, level 45 Charizard, level 44 Blastoise, level 38 Pidgeot and a kevel 49 Pikachu.

OH MY GOD! What an awful team. Only 5 POKEMON! ONLY 5! Thats not enough! How did I even get this far.

I looked at the Elite Four guide online and scoped up Lance’s line up and OH DEAR BUDDHA!

A level 58 Gyarados, level 56 Dragonair,  another level 56  Dragonair, level 60 Aerodactyl and, saving the most badass for last, a level 62 Dragonite!

If that’s bad enough my team isn’t even balanced. 2 Fire types and 2 Flying types. Oh hell, and I only have 2 hyper potions left and one revive.

“I might as well give up now,” I thought, and I did. I just turned that off, disgusted by my own stupidity. Now I remember it, I can see that Pokemon Yellow cartridge taunting me, reminding me of a mistake when I was too dumb to realise it.

They are broken, it’s like a piece of my childhood faded away

Anyway, I can’t play Pokemon Gold or Pokemon Silver because the memory cell in the cartridges is toast so once I shut off the game that’s it. I can’t save.

Ah well, I got Pokemon Soul Silver for my DSi XL, so no problem, I can relive the memories by playing the classy upgrade.

Right, now onto one of my favourite second-hand games. Donkey Kong, where Mario was known only as Jump-Man: and that’s just what you did. Jump, jump, jump after the tie-wearing gorilla who had stolen your girl. Strangely, it was the only second-hand game that had no save file at all. I have a lot of memories grinding in this game: trying to make those all important jumps, trying to dodge those merciless enemies and getting so far as the final stage (which I believe was 8-9 or something odd like that). You had to fight a gigantic King Kong sized DK. I never managed to beat him so I was looking forward to using my wiser and more refined gaming talents on that giant ape, but alas, the memory cell has died and I was welcomed by three blank save files. All those memories of playing Donkey Kong at home, sitting cross-legged on my bed or buckled into the back of the car. It’s a shame I never got to beat the challenge, and I don’t have the patience to sit down and do it all again in one sitting. I doubt the double As would last. I complete the first 4 stages and having travelled down memory lane I’m happy to close the door on a game I never completed, but one I never forgot.

Finally I get to Pokemon: Trading Card Game and hooray, the save is still intact! I clocked in 47 hours and 40 minutes into this bad boy and collected 222 cards out of the possible 226 cards. The strange thing is, in real life I was an avid collector of Pokemon cards between the ages of 7-9 or whenever the massive boom in Pokemon culture was! The collecting problem was so bad that my school even banned them because some enterprising 10 year old had been making money off them! This stuff was the real deal, but it’s weird. For all the hype and mania to grab as many shiny and pretty Pokemon cards as possible, I had no idea how to play the game! It took a game of a card game to teach me the card game which I had abandoned years before.

I could talk about this game until the cows come home. I’ll say one thing, though. Loading up that cartridge again and playing a few games? Man, it bought back memories. Memories of being on holiday in a static caravan, the weather outside a dull grey, fine rain lashing the windows and walls, creating a symphony of peppered knocks against the caravan. Looking out beyond the windows I could see the churning everlasting ocean, with waves of whitewash growing and vanishing in the unending ribbon of water.

It’s not about the game, it’s about my childhood. People may say we wasted our early years enjoying games and not getting enough sunshine. Look, I was an active kid and managed to spread my time equally between running around and scraping my knees to sitting back and playing Pokemon into the dark hours of the night. The point is that the Game Boy Color and the games I treasured along with it are a gateway to my childhood. It’s nice to look back on that, and if one day I’m old and find my Yellow Game Boy Color gathering dust I hope I’ll be able to see these memories again as vividly, and maybe pass it on to someone younger and wide-eyed as I used to be.

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