The Nintendo Switch was just released last week, but most people have only been able to enjoy it vicariously through YouTube reviews or TV commercials.
Unless you were able to beat the rush for a pre-order, or took your chances with long lines and low inventory at your local Best Buy or GameStop, the chances of getting your hands on a Switch have been slim.
In fact, the Switch has been selling so well that it has officially become Nintendo’s fastest-selling console ever – moving more units in North America in its first two days than even the Wii. Time will tell if the Switch will come anywhere near the Wii’s mind-boggling 100 million units sold worldwide, but it is certainly off to a promising start.
With Nintendo seemingly back on top of the gaming world, it seems as good a time as any to reflect on a product they couldn’t transfer their golden touch onto. I’m not talking about consoles with middling sales like the GameCube or Wii U. Though not particularly successful, they had their corner of the market and each had a number of hit games. No, I’m talking about the handheld time forgot; the Game Boy that, if you weren’t paying attention, came and went without leaving a trace.
I’m talking, of course, about the Game Boy Micro. Take a look:
The Game Boy What?
Released in September 2005, the Game Boy Micro was the final system in the hallowed Game Boy line. It arrived two years after the Game Boy Advance SP, which managed to move over 40 million units and received near-universal critical acclaim.
The Micro was Nintendo’s best-looking Game Boy. To this day, it remains Nintendo’s only handheld with a metal body, and it boasted interchangeable faceplates so you could customize your system at a moment’s notice.
Back when flip phones were trying to get smaller and smaller, the Micro didn’t buck the trend. Its name was fitting, as it measured just two inches tall, four inches wide, and only 0.7 inches deep. Its two-inch screen was nearly a full inch smaller than the SP’s, but featured a stronger backlight and richer colors than the SP or its predecessors. During itssurprise announcementat E3 2005, Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime described the new handheld as “just a hair bigger, and two thirds the weight of an iPod Mini.”
At only $99, with access to the entire Game Boy Advance library, it seemed primed for success.
The Game Boy Micro sounds pretty good! What went wrong?
The Micro was dead in the water. Despite its beautiful design, critics complained about its too-small screen and said that its compact chassis caused hand cramps after extended play sessions.
In order to fit the internals into such a small body, Nintendo opted to sacrifice backward compatibility, meaning that users with large collections of Game Boy and Game Boy Color games wouldn’t be able to use them on the new machine.
Though it achieved decent initial sales in Japan, the Micro never took off in Europe and North America. It ended up selling only 2.42 million units over its brief lifespan, paling in comparison to 36.2 million sold by the Game Boy Advance and the 43.57 million sold by the Game Boy Advance SP.
But if the Game Boy Advance consoles were so popular, how did the Micro fall between the cracks?
Did I forget to mention thatthishappened almost a full year prior to the Micro’s release?
Wait, the Game Boy Micro came out <em>after</em> the Nintendo DS?
Yup. The Nintendo DS hit stores in November 2004, and it took the world by storm. The new handheld system revolutionized what gaming on-the-go could look like.
Though Nintendo said that the DS was meant to work alongside the Game Boy Advance to take over the handheld market, within a month, the DS had already sold over 1 million units in the United States and was rapidly making the traditional Game Boy handhelds into old news.
Not only did the DS have a rapidly growing library of games, it also had the added benefit of backwards compatibility and could play all the same Game Boy Advance games as the Micro.
Nintendo even cut the price of the DS shortly before the Micro’s release, and consumers shopping for a new device could either purchase a Micro for $99, or spend an extra $30 and get a DS for $129. The choice, for many shoppers, was easy.
What happened to it?
It seems that Nintendo realized that its Game Boy Micro experiment had backfired very quickly. The console was discontinued in 2008 – a full two years before the Game Boy Advance SP took its final bow.
Now, the console is viewed as a quirky retro item and has become popular with collectors due to the limited number of units out there. You can still get your hands on one, of course, but be prepared to scour eBay listings to find anything under $200.
So, is there a moral to the story of the Game Boy Micro?
- Thomson Reuters
Late Nintendo president Satoru Iwata said it best: When asked about the sales of the Micro in a 2006 company corporate management policy briefing, Iwata explained that though there was excitement for the product in Japan, but they were unable to transfer that enthusiasm to the rest of the world.
Because a number of people, distributors, software developers and publishers were all saying that Micro could sell, we somewhat believed that we would just need to take the ordinary marketing approach, say, by saying that we will launch the new Game Boy model. Fact of the matter is, however, those who were impressed with Micro were the ones who have physically touched and felt Micro in their hands. However, the actual consumers had to evaluate Micro without touching them. In the end, we failed to explain to consumers its unique value and they concluded that Micro is not worth the price they have to invest.
Iwata also conceded that releasing the Micro so early into the DS’ life cycle made things difficult, as Nintendo was devoting a large portion of its resources to the next-gen handheld.
Last question: Did Nintendo, by any chance, run a commercial suggesting the Micro was so addicting that it made mice want to do unspeakable things to it?
Funny you should ask.