The Game Boy launched in Japan on April 31, 1989. Within two weeks, it has sold through its entire stock of 300,000 units. An American launch followed in July, and managed to sell 40,000 units on its very first day. While Nintendo fought tooth and nail to get the NES onto the shelves of stores and into the minds of American kids, the Game Boy was an overnight success.
Atari's handheld, now called Lynx, arrived just a few months behind. The battle was over before it began. Atari's system had better graphics, better sound, a huge, full-color screen, and even a respectable lineup of original games, but Nintendo's practical approach won out. The Game Boy sold for $100 less than the Lynx, got more than twice the battery life, and it was only a fraction of the size.
Less was more, and Nintendo never forgot it. The Game Boy bested many contenders in the years to come. Sega entered the ring with Game Gear the following year. Their color handheld took the middle road, with a color screen and a conservative 8-bit spec, but even still, they couldn't take Nintendo down. Subsequent challengers practically sank themselves. SuperVision, Game.com, Wonderswan, and Neo-Geo Pocket would all try to take a bite out of Nintendo, only to chip a tooth and go home crying.
The Game Boy was more than just a piece of plastic and silicon. A successful launch can make you money, but to dominate for more than a decade, you need a killer lineup. The handheld market was uncharted territory, and all the rules were different. It took time for Nintendo to find their groove, but over the coming years, they learned exactly what made a game work on the go.
The early games on the platform weren't very adventurous. Tetris changed a lot of rules, but the rest of Nintendo's first generation of games didn't stray far. The Game Boy was the child of the R&D1 division, and Gunpei Yokoi and Satoru Okada spearheaded the company's early attempts to build a library. Super Mario Land stayed close to the proven formula, with gameplay that practically cloned the 1985 original, despite the new team and new scenery. The Game Boy was red hot when the system launched, and Super Mario Land sold 14 million copies anyway, but R&D1 realized their new system had special needs.... (read more about Game Boy's history here).