Game Boy Color

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Game Boy Color
Game Boy Color logo.svg
The Atomic Purple version
Also known asGBC / CGB-001
Developer Nintendo Research & Engineering
Manufacturer Nintendo
Product family Game Boy [1]
Type Handheld game console
Generation Fifth
Release date
  • JP: October 21, 1998
  • NA: November 18, 1998
  • EU: November 23, 1998
  • AU: November 27, 1998
Introductory priceUS$79.95(equivalent to $150 in 2023) [2]
DiscontinuedYes; date undisclosed
Units shipped118.69 million (including the Game Boy)
Media Game Boy Game Pak
Game Boy Color Game Pak
CPU Sharp LR35902 core @ 4.19/8.38 MHz
Memory32 KB RAM
Display TFT LCD 160 x 144 pixels, 44x40 mm [3]
Online servicesMobile System GB [4]
Best-selling game Pokémon Gold and Silver, approximately 23 million units
Game Boy
PredecessorGame Boy [5]
Successor Game Boy Advance [5]

The Game Boy Color (commonly abbreviated as GBC) is an 8-bit handheld game console, manufactured by Nintendo, which was released in Japan on October 21, 1998 [6] and to international markets that November. It is the successor to the Game Boy and is part of its product line. Critics like IGN consider it more akin to a hardware revision than a next generation product. [7]


The handheld features a color screen rather than monochrome, but it is not backlit. It is slightly thicker and taller and features a slightly smaller screen than the Game Boy Pocket, its immediate predecessor. As with the original Game Boy, it has a custom 8-bit processor made by Sharp that is considered a hybrid between the Intel 8080 and the Zilog Z80. [8] The American English spelling of the system's name, Game Boy Color, remains consistent throughout the world.

The GBC is part of the fifth generation of video game consoles. The Game Boy and the Game Boy Color combined have sold 118.69 million units worldwide making them the fourth best-selling system of all time. [9] [10] Its best-selling games are Pokémon Gold and Silver, which shipped 23 million units worldwide. [11] [12]


Development of the Game Boy Color began in October 1997, when Nintendo learned that Bandai was planning to release a new handheld with the help of several former Nintendo engineers, including Gunpei Yokoi, before his death around the same time. The design was based off an earlier color prototype made in 1992, allowing development to be completed by August 1998, quicker than normal, and the Game Boy Color was designed to be backward compatible with all existing Game Boy software. [13] [14]

Nintendo formally announced the release of the Game Boy Color on 10 March 1998. [15] All remaining new units were sold by March 31, 2003. [9]


Technical specifications

The technical specifications for the console are as follows: [16]

SizeApproximately 78 mm × 133.5 mm × 27.4 mm (3.07 in × 5.26 in × 1.08 in) (WxHxD)
Screen2.3 inch reflective thin-film transistor (TFT) color liquid-crystal display (LCD)
  • Maximum sprites: 40 total, 10 per line, 4 colors per sprite (one of which being transparent)
  • Sprite size: 8×8 or 8×16
  • Tiles on screen: 512 (360~399 visible, the rest are drawn off screen as a scrolling buffer)
Display size 44 by 40 mm (1.7 by 1.6 in) [17]
Framerate 59.727500569606 Hz [18]
PowerInternal: 2× AA batteries [19]
External: 3V DC 0.6W (2.35mm × 0.75mm)
Red LED indicator
Battery lifeUp to 10 hours of gameplay.
CPU4.194304/8.388608 MHz Sharp Corporation LR35902 (custom hybrid between the Intel 8080 and the Zilog Z80)
Memory32 KB RAM; 16 KB VRAM
Resolution 160 (w) × 144 (h) pixels (10:9 aspect ratio; same aspect ratio and resolution as the original Game Boy)
Color support32,768 colors, 56 simultaneously.
Sound2 square wave channels, 1 wave channel, 1 noise channel, mono speaker, stereo 3.5mm headphone jack
  • Eight-way control pad
  • Four action buttons (A, B, Start, Select)
  • Volume potentiometer
  • Power switch
  • Serial I/O ("Link cable"): 512 kbit/s with up to 4 connections in serial
  • Infra-red I/O: less than 2 m distance at 45°
  • Cartridge I/O

Game Paks manufactured by Nintendo have the following specifications:

Without additional mapper hardware, the maximum ROM size is 32 KB (256 kbit).

The Game Boy Color motherboard Nintendo-Game-Boy-Color-Motherboard-Bottom.jpg
The Game Boy Color motherboard

The processor, which is a hybrid Intel 8080 and Zilog Z80 workalike made by Sharp with a few extra (bit manipulation) instructions, has a clock speed of approximately 8 MHz, twice as fast as that of the original Game Boy. [lower-alpha 1] The Game Boy Color has three times as much memory as the original (32 KB system RAM, 16 KB video RAM). The screen resolution is the same as the original Game Boy at 160×144 pixels.

The Game Boy Color features an infrared communications port for wireless linking. The feature is only supported in a small number of games, so the infrared port was dropped from the Game Boy Advance line, to be later reintroduced with the Nintendo 3DS, though wireless linking would return in the Nintendo DS line using Wi-Fi. The console is capable of displaying up to 56 different colors simultaneously on screen from its palette of 32,768 (8×4 color background palettes, 8x3+transparent sprite palettes), and can add basic four-, seven- or ten-color shading to games that had been developed for the original 4-shades-of-grey Game Boy. In the 7-color modes, the sprites and backgrounds are given separate color schemes, and in the 10-color modes the sprites are further split into two differently-colored groups; however, as flat black (or white) was a shared fourth color in all but one (7-color) palette, the overall effect is that of 4, 6, or 8 colors. This method of upgrading the color count results in graphic artifacts in certain games; for example, a sprite that is supposed to meld into the background is sometimes colored separately, making it easily noticeable. Manipulation of palette registers during display allows for a rarely used high color mode, capable of displaying more than 2,000 colors on the screen simultaneously. [21]

Color palettes

Alternate color palettes
Directional padAction button
None (default)AB
UpBrownRedDark brown
DownPale yellowOrangeYellow
LeftBlueDark blueGray
RightGreenDark greenReverse

For dozens of select Game Boy games, the Game Boy Color has an enhanced palette built-in featuring up to 16 colors—four colors for each of the Game Boy's four layers. [22] If the system does not have a palette stored for a game, it defaults to the "Dark green" palette. However, at power-up, one of 12 built-in color palettes is selectable by pressing a directional button and optionally A or B while the Game Boy logo is present on the screen.

These palettes each contain up to ten colors. [23] In most games, the four shades displayed on the original Game Boy translate to different subsets of this 10-color palette, such as by displaying movable sprites in one subset and backgrounds in another. The grayscale (Left + B) palette produces an appearance similar to that experienced on the original Game Boy, Game Boy Pocket, or Game Boy Light.

Illustrated color-samples of the palettes for the different key combinations. Any color crossed out will be present in palette RAM, but rendered as transparent. GBC keypad palettes.png
Illustrated color-samples of the palettes for the different key combinations. Any color crossed out will be present in palette RAM, but rendered as transparent.

Games with special palettes include:

Game Boy Color color palette reference

A few games used a scan-line color switch technique to increase the number of colors available on-screen to more than 2,000. This is referred to as "Hi-Color mode", and was used by licensed developers including 7th Sense. Some examples of games using this technique are The Fish Files, The New Addams Family Series, and Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare. [21] Cannon Fodder uses this technique to render full motion video segments in the introduction sequence, ending, and main menu screen. [24]


The clear cartridge for exclusive Game Boy Color games Nintendo-Game-Boy-Color-Cartridge.jpg
The clear cartridge for exclusive Game Boy Color games
The black cartridge is for Game Boy games that take advantage of the Game Boy Color's increased palette, but not the increased memory or processor speed. These games can be played on the original Game Boy in grayscale. Nintendo-Game-Boy-Cartridge-Black.jpg
The black cartridge is for Game Boy games that take advantage of the Game Boy Color's increased palette, but not the increased memory or processor speed. These games can be played on the original Game Boy in grayscale.

Game Boy Color exclusive games are housed in clear-colored Game Pak cartridges. [25] They are shaped differently than original Game Boy Game Paks. Notably, these cartridges lack a notch that prevented the original Game Paks from being removed while the original Game Boy was powered on due to a plastic piece attached to the power switch, which would slide over the notch, locking a cartridge inside the system during gameplay (although some special cartridges like Kirby Tilt 'n' Tumble [26] do include this notch). The lack of this notch keeps original Game Boy systems loaded with Game Boy Color cartridges from powering on. Similarly, Game Boy Pocket, Super Game Boy, Super Game Boy 2, and Game Boy Light will power on when loaded with a Game Boy Color cartridge but will refuse to load the game and will display a warning message stating that a Game Boy Color system is required. This same warning message can be viewed on an original Game Boy as well if the piece that slides into the notch is cut out (or by having the entire piece removed) from the Game Boy. Some Game Boy cartridges such as Chee-Chai Alien [27] [28] and Pocket Music [29] cannot be played on Game Boy Advance and Game Boy Advance SP systems. When inserted and powered on, these systems will exhibit a similar error message and will not load the game. Black cartridges are backward compatible, playable on the original Game Boy.

Model colors

The logo for Game Boy Color spells out the word "COLOR" in the five original colors in which the unit was manufactured: Berry (C), Grape (O), Kiwi (L), Dandelion (O), and Teal (R).

Another color released at the same time was "Atomic Purple", made of a translucent purple plastic similar to the color available for the Nintendo 64 controller. Other colors were sold as limited editions or in specific countries.


Due to its backward compatibility with Game Boy games, the Game Boy Color's launch period had a large playable library. The system amassed a library of 576 Game Boy Color games over a four-year period. While the majority of the games are Game Boy Color exclusive, approximately 30% of the games released are compatible with the original Game Boy. Most Game Boy Color games released after 1999 are not compatible with the original Game Boy.

Tetris for the original Game Boy is the best-selling game compatible with Game Boy Color, and Pokémon Gold and Silver are the best-selling games developed primarily for it. The best-selling Game Boy Color exclusive game is Pokémon Crystal .

The last Game Boy Color game ever released is the Japanese exclusive Doraemon no Study Boy: Kanji Yomikaki Master, on July 18, 2003. The last game released in North America is Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets , released on November 15, 2002. In Europe the last game released for the system is Hamtaro: Ham-Hams Unite! , on January 10, 2003.

Beyond officially released games for the platform, there is an active online community creating new games for the Game Boy and Game Boy Color through the use of tools like GB Studio. [30] One such example is Dragonhym (originally Dragonborne) which was available for release on a physical cartridge which will be playable on the Game Boy Color. [31]



The Game Boy and Game Boy Color were both commercially successful, selling a combined 32.47 million units in Japan, 44.06 million in the Americas, and 42.16 million in other regions. [9] [10] At the time of its discontinuation in 2003, the combined sales of the Game Boy were the best-selling game console of all time. Surpassed in sales by the Nintendo DS, PlayStation 2 and Nintendo Switch the trio are now the fourth-best-selling console, the third-best-selling console and the second-best-selling handheld of all time. Sales of the console were in part driven by the success of Pokémon Gold and Silver and Pokémon Crystal , with combined sales of 29.5 million units, making them one of the best selling-video games of all time.

Sales of the Game Boy Color were strong at launch. Nintendo of America reported a sale of one million units from launch to December 1998, [32] and two million by July 1999. [33] Retail chains in the United States reported unexpectedly high demand for the console, with executives of FuncoLand reporting "very pleasant and unpredicted" sales and Electronics Boutique stating "the entire Game Boy Color line just exploded, including accessories" upon release. [34] Faced with high worldwide demand and competitive retail pricing, retailers such as CompUSA sold out of Game Boy Color stock in the weeks before the 1998 Christmas season. [32]

Critical reception

Reception of the Game Boy Color was positive, with critics praising the addition of color and improved clarity of the display. Affiliated publications such as Total Game Boy praised the handheld for its "bright, colorful picture that can be viewed in direct light", backward compatibility features preserving the "vast catalogue of original Game Boy games", and improved technical performance. [35] Computer and Video Games praised the Game Boy Color for making the Game Boy library of games "look better than ever - everything is crystal clear, bright and in colour". [36] Writing for GameSpot , Chris Johnston stated that the display was "crystal clear" and free of motion blur, stating that Tetris DX was the "killer app" of the launch titles on the platform. [37] Milder reviews included those by Arcade, who conceded that the colors were "very impressive" but "not as eyeball-popping as you might have hoped for [...] it's mostly seaweed greens, rusty browns, timid yellows and the like". They concluded that "nothing about [the Game Boy Color] is very radical" but also said the device was "Game Boy as it always should have been". [38]


Commentary on the legacy of the Game Boy Color has been shaped by the perception that the handheld was as an incremental and transitional upgrade of the Game Boy rather than a completely new handheld release. [39] [40] In a history of Nintendo, author Jeff Ryan noted the Game Boy Color had a reputation as a "legacy machine" that found success mostly due to its backward compatibility, as "few wanted to lose all the Dr. Mario and Pokémon cartridges they had amassed over the years." [41] Quoted in Retro Gamer , Blitz Games Studios developer Bob Pape acknowledged that although "backwards compatibility more or less defined (the) Game Boy Color", the handheld "ticked all the right boxes with regards to size, battery life, reliability and most importantly backwards compatibility". [40]

Positive assessment on the legacy of the Game Boy Color has also focused upon the merits of its game library, particularly for its third-party and import titles. Travis Fahs for IGN noted whilst "the Game Boy Color's life was relatively brief", it "built up a small library of excellent games", including Wario Land 3 and Pokémon Gold and Silver , and a "unique" and "previously unheard of" line of successful third-party games, including Dragon Warrior Monsters , Metal Gear Solid and Yu-Gi-Oh! Dark Duel Stories . [39] Ashley Day of Retro Gamer noted that the handheld had an "overlooked" status, stating "the Game Boy Color (has) an unfair reputation as the one Nintendo handheld with few worthwhile titles, but this simply isn't the case...returning to the Game Boy Color now reveals a wealth of great games that you never knew existed, especially those available on import." [42]

See also


  1. The Game Boy Color CPU is sometimes considered as running with a clockspeed of approximately 2 MHz, because all of its instruction timings are divisible by 4. [20]

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