Game Boy Color

The Game Boy Color[lower-alpha 1] (GBC) is a handheld game console manufactured by Nintendo, which was released in Japan on October 21, 1998,[3] and later released in November of the same year to international markets. It is the successor of the Game Boy and continued in the Game Boy family.

Game Boy Color
The Atomic Purple version of the Game Boy Color
Also known asGBC / CGB-001
DeveloperNintendo Research & Engineering
Product familyGame Boy
TypeHandheld game console
GenerationFifth generation
Release date
  • JP: October 21, 1998
  • NA: November 18, 1998
  • EU: November 23, 1998
  • AU: November 27, 1998
Lifespan1998 – 2003
DiscontinuedMarch 23, 2003 (2003-03-23)
Units shipped118.69 million (including other Game Boy systems)
MediaROM cartridge
CPUSharp LR35902 core @ 4.19/8.38 MHz
DisplayLCD 160 x 144 pixels, 44x40 mm[1]
Online servicesMobile System GB[2]
Best-selling gamePokémon Gold and Silver, approximately 23 million worldwide(details)
Game Boy
PredecessorGame Boy
SuccessorGame Boy Advance

The GBC 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 in the Game Boy line. 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.[4] The spelling of the system's name, Game Boy Color, remains consistent throughout the world, with its American English spelling of "color".

The Game Boy Color was part of the fifth generation of home consoles. The GBC's primary competitors in Japan were the grayscale 16-bit handhelds, Neo Geo Pocket and the WonderSwan, though the Game Boy Color outsold these by a wide margin. SNK and Bandai countered with the Neo Geo Pocket Color and the Wonderswan Color, respectively, but this did little to change Nintendo's sales dominance. With Sega discontinuing the Game Gear in 1997, the Game Boy Color's only competitor in the United States was its predecessor, the Game Boy, until the short-lived Neo Geo Pocket Color was released in August 1999. The Game Boy and the Game Boy Color combined have sold 118.69 million units worldwide making it the 3rd best-selling system of all time,[5] a metric that includes Game Boy units.[6]

It was discontinued on March 23, 2003, shortly after the release of the Game Boy Advance SP. Its best-selling game was Pokémon Gold and Silver, which shipped 23 millions worldwide.[7][8]


The Game Boy Color was a response to pressure from game developers for a more sophisticated handheld platform, as they felt that the Game Boy, even in its latest incarnation, the Game Boy Pocket, was insufficient.[9] The resultant product was backward compatible, a first for a handheld system, and leveraged the large library of games and installed base of the predecessor system. This became a major feature of the Game Boy line, since it allowed each new launch to begin with a significantly larger library than any of its competitors.

On March 23, 2003, the Game Boy Color was discontinued.[5]

Launch titles

Launch Title Japan North America Europe Notes
Dragon Warrior Monsters Yes No No Portable Role-playing game in Dragon Quest series
Hexcite Yes No No Puzzle Game for the Game Boy Color
Pocket Bowling Yes No No Sports game
Tetris DX Yes Yes Yes Game Boy Color Port of the 1984 puzzle game
Wario Land II Yes No No Sequel to the 1993 Platform Game
Centipede No Yes Yes Monochrome Title made by Accolade
Game & Watch Gallery 2 No Yes Yes Sequel to the 1995 Game & Watch Gallery for the Game Boy
Pocket Bomberman No Yes Yes Port of the Famicom 1983 game Bomberman



The technical specifications for the console are as follows:[10]

  • Main processor: Sharp Corporation LR35902 (based on the 8-bit Zilog Z80)
  • Processor speed: 4.194304/8.388608 MHz, effective speed 1.0485 (speed of original Game Boy) or 2.097 MHz (two processor modes)
  • Resolution: 160 × 144 pixels (10:9 aspect ratio, same aspect ratio and resolution as the original Game Boy)
  • Palette colors available: 32,768 (15-bit)
  • Colors on screen: Supports 10, 32 or 56
  • 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)
  • Audio: 2 square wave channels, 1 wave channel, 1 noise channel, mono speaker, stereo headphone jack
  • RAM: 32 kiB
  • VRAM: 16 kiB
  • Power:
    • internal: 2 AA batteries, up to 10 hours of gameplay
    • external: 3V DC 0.6W (2.35mm × 0.75mm)
    • indicator: Red LED
  • Input:
    • 8-way Control Pad
    • 4 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
  • Dimensions:
    • Metric: 133.5 × 78 × 27.4 mm
    • Imperial: 5.25 × 3.07 × 1.07 in
  • Weight: 138 g[11]

Game Paks manufactured by Nintendo have the following specifications:

  • ROM: 8 MB maximum
  • Cartridge RAM: 128 kiB maximum

Without additional mapper hardware, the maximum ROM size is 32kiB/256kib.

The processor, which is a 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. The Game Boy Color also has three times as much memory as the original (32 kilobytes system RAM, 16 kilobytes video RAM). The screen resolution was the same as the original Game Boy, which is 160×144 pixels.

The Game Boy Color also featured an infrared communications port for wireless linking. The feature was 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 (using Wi-Fi) would return in the Nintendo DS line. The console was capable of showing up to 56 different colors simultaneously on screen from its palette of 32,768 (8×4 color background palettes, 8x3+transparent sprite palettes), and could 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 were given separate color schemes, and in the 10-color modes the sprites were 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 was that of 4, 6 or 8 colors. This method of upgrading the color count resulted in graphic artifacts in certain games; for example, a sprite that was supposed to meld into the background would sometimes be colored separately, making it easily noticeable. Manipulation of palette registers during display allowed for a rarely used "high color mode", capable of displaying more than 2,000 colors on the screen simultaneously.[12]

Color palettes used for original Game Boy games

Alternate Color Palettes
Directional pad Action button
None (default) A B
Up Brown Red Dark brown
Down Pastel mix Orange Yellow
Left Blue Dark blue Grayscale
Right Green Dark green Inverted

For dozens of popular Game Boy titles, 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.[13] If the system does not have a palette stored for a game, it defaults to a palette of green, blue, salmon, black, and white. However, when the user turns on the system, they may choose one of 12 built-in color palettes by pressing certain button combinations (namely a direction key and optionally A or B) while the Game Boy logo is present on the screen.

These palettes each contain up to ten colors.[14] In most games, the four shades displayed on the original Game Boy would translate to different subsets of this 10-color palette, such as by displaying movable sprites in one subset and backgrounds, etc. in another. The grayscale (Left + B) palette produces an appearance similar to that experienced on the original Game Boy.

Partial list of games with special palettes

Game Boy Color color palette reference
0x00 0x10
0x01 0x11
0x02 0x12
0x03 0x13
0x04 0x14
0x05 0x15
0x06 0x16
0x07 0x17
0x08 0x18
0x09 0x19
0x0A 0x1A
0x0B 0x1B
0x0C 0x1C
0x0D 0x1D
0x0E 0x1E
0x0F 0x1F

Hi-Color Mode

A few games used a technical trick to increase the number of colors available on-screen. This "Hi-Color mode" is a mode used by the Italian company 7th Sense s.r.l. among others, and can display more than 2000 different colors on the screen. Some examples of games using this trick are The Fish Files, The New Addams Family Series and Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare.[12] Cannon Fodder used this technique to render full motion video segments in the introduction sequence, ending, and main menu screen.[15]


Game Boy Color exclusive games are housed in clear-colored cartridges, referred to as "Game Pak" cartridges.[16] They are shaped differently from original Game Boy games. When inserted into an original Game Boy, these translucent cartridges prevent the system from turning on due to a missing notch present in original Game Boy cartridges that prevent the cartridge from being removed once powered on (barring the Rumble Pack games or Kirby Tilt 'n Tumble[17]). While the Game Boy Pocket, Super Game Boy, Super Game Boy 2 and the Japanese-exclusive Game Boy Light do power on with a Game Boy Color exclusive cartridge inserted, these games display a warning message stating that a Game Boy Color system is required and refuse to play. In the cases of Chee-Chai Alien[18][19] and Pocket Music,[20] it however did power on with Game Boy Advance and Game Boy Advance SP, these games also display a warning message stating that a Game Boy Color system is also required and also refuse to play. Games that are designed for the Game Boy Color, but which also include backward compatibility with the Game Boy, Game Boy Pocket, Super Game Boy, Super Game Boy 2 and the Japanese-exclusive Game Boy Light, use the same cartridge shape as original Game Boy games, but are typically black and never gray.

Colors produced

The logo for Game Boy Color spelled out the word "COLOR" in the five original colors in which the unit was manufactured. They were named:

  • Berry (C)
  • Grape (O)
  • Kiwi (L)
  • Dandelion (O)
  • Teal (R)

Another color released at the same time was "Atomic Purple", made of a translucent purple plastic that was also used on the color-respective Nintendo 64 controller.

Other colors were sold as limited editions or in specific countries.


Due to its backwards compatibility with Game Boy games, the Game Boy Color had a large playable library at launch. The system amassed an impressive library of 576 Game Boy Color games over a four-year period. While the majority of the games were Game Boy Color exclusive, approximately 30% of the titles released were backwards compatible with the original Game Boy.

While Tetris for the original Game Boy was the best selling game compatible with the system, Pokémon Gold and Silver were the best selling games developed for the Game Boy Color. The best selling Game Boy Color exclusive game was Pokémon Crystal.

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


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.[5][6]

In 2003, when the Game Boy Color was discontinued, the pair was the best selling gaming console of all time. Both the Nintendo DS and PlayStation 2 would go on to outsell the pair and the Game Boy/Game Boy Color is now the third best selling system of all time and the second best selling handheld.

See also


  1. Japanese: ゲームボーイカラー


  2. "モバイルシステムGB". Nintendo (in Japanese). Retrieved September 23, 2015.
  3. – Game Boy Color
  4. "The Nintendo® Game Boy™, Part 1: The Intel 8080 and the Zilog Z80". RealBoy. Retrieved August 29, 2017.
  5. "Consolidated Sales Transition by Region" (PDF). Nintendo. April 26, 2016. Archived from the original (PDF) on April 27, 2016. Retrieved October 23, 2016.
  6. "A Brief History of Game Console Warfare: Game Boy". BusinessWeek. McGraw-Hill. Archived from the original on May 9, 2007. Retrieved March 28, 2008.
  7. "Japan Platinum Game Chart". The Magic Box. Archived from the original on December 13, 2007. Retrieved September 27, 2007.
  8. "US Platinum Videogame Chart". The Magic Box. Archived from the original on April 21, 2007. Retrieved September 27, 2007.
  9. Umezu; Sugino. "Nintendo 3DS (Volume 3 – Nintendo 3DS Hardware Concept)". Iwata Asks (Interview: Transcript). Interviewed by Satoru Iwata. Nintendo. Retrieved March 7, 2011.
  10. "Nintendo Game Boy Color Console Information – Console Database". Retrieved February 19, 2011.
  11. "Technical data". Nintendo of Europe GmbH. Retrieved February 4, 2018.
  12. "First Alone in the Dark Screenshots for Game Boy Color". IGN. August 4, 2000. Retrieved March 24, 2015.
  13. Disassembling the GBC Boot ROM
  14. "Changing the Color Palette on Game Boy Advance Systems". Customer Service. Nintendo. Retrieved January 4, 2009.
  15. Albatross, Zen. "Game Boy Games That Pushed The Limits of Graphics & Sound". Racketboy. Retrieved March 24, 2015.
  16. "Game Pak Troubleshooting - All Game Boy Systems". Nintendo of America customer support. Retrieved September 27, 2017.
  17. "Kirby Tilt & Tumble - Cartridge". Retrieved June 28, 2018.
  18. "プレイ日記 ゲームボーイ最強伝説 ちっちゃいエイリアン 近所のオバチャンに聞いたら「あのメグ・ライアンが絶賛した」とか言っていた!??". Retrieved June 28, 2018.
  19. "中古 [ゲーム/GB] ちっちゃいエイリアン (ゲーム... - ヤフオク!". ヤフオク! (in Japanese). Retrieved June 28, 2018.
  20. "Gameboy Genius » Blog Archive » Pocket Music GBC version GBA fix". Retrieved June 28, 2018.
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