The Game Boy Color finally brought color to handheld Nintendo consoles, and it also featured a ton of fantastic games. But the Game Boy successor has more than just access to its own library of games.
Is the Game Boy Color backward compatible? Yes, the Game Boy Color is backward compatible with original Game Boy titles and accessories. Original Game Boy games, however, do not display in full color on the GBC hardware. Instead, backward compatible titles display in the tonal palette of the player’s choosing.
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For the Game Boy Color, backward compatibility wasn’t just another feature, it was a selling point. Backward compatibility wasn’t something that was to be expected when Nintendo announced the console, but it sure gave them the advantage over the competition. When the Game Boy Color launched, it had a massive library of original Game Boy games.
But just because the Game Boy Color can play original Game Boy titles, does that mean there is no reason to purchase the original hardware now? While many gamers say to opt for the Color, there are other factors to consider. Which handheld is right for you? Well, that largely depends on each gamer’s personal preferences – but like any hardware comparison, there are pros and cons.
Game Boy Color Backward Compatibility: Pros And Cons
ProsSmaller, more portable form factorRequires 2 AA batteries (as opposed to the 4 AA batteries in the original Game Boy)Longer battery lifeMore responsive and vivid screenMore powerful hardware
ConsSlightly smaller screen than the original model
Overview: When it comes down to playing Game Boy games on the Game Boy Color as opposed to the original hardware, it’s actually a lot more cut and dry than other backward-compatible consoles. The console is an upgrade in almost every way; honestly, it’s hard to go back to the original model after playing on a GBC. What’s not so cut and dry, however, are the different levels of compatible games.
For starters, there are games that play on both handhelds but are enhanced on the Color. Known as “black cartridge” games, these titles play on both the original hardware as well as the Game Boy Color – but the GBC offers technical upgrades aside from just color. The Game Boy Color doesn’t just play optimized games, though; it plays its own library of games too.
Known as “clear cartridge” titles, these games will not play on the original hardware. Thanks to technical requirements, the original Game Boy is simply incapable of playing these games. In fact, the cartridges themselves don’t even fit properly in the handheld; they are exclusive to the Color (however, they are playable on certain Game Boy Advance consoles). And finally, there are a ton of older Game Boy cartridges that were not developed to be enhanced by the GBC’s technical specs. That is not to say that these games don’t look better on the Color, however.
While Game Boy games do not display in full color on the GBC, the newer handheld does allow games to be played in different palettes as opposed to the four monochrome shades on the original console. A special combination of buttons toggles between a selection of palettes. And while these palettes aren’t the fully-colorized version of these games, they are (in general) a major improvement over the monochrome shades.
Not only does the Color offer different palette options, but the console can actually read each individual cartridge and determine the optimal settings and boots up the game with those recommended options. But if you don’t like the pre-determined option, there are still the dozen other palettes to choose from in addition to the original monochrome look if you’re feeling nostalgic.
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While it might not be backward compatibility per se, the Game Boy Color also enhanced re-releases of some of the original Game Boy’s best games – Tetris DX, Super Mario Bros Deluxe, The Legend Of Zelda: Link’s Awakening DX, and R-Type DX.
Even without the color improvements, the screen on the Color is just an improvement over the original Game Boy hardware. The pixels look crisper and it’s more responsive overall. Add in the palettes and the Game Boy Color’s own fantastic library of games, and it becomes a no-brainer.
Speaking of no-brainers, the Game Boy Color is actually cheaper than the original Game Boy on average. (Prices do tend to fluctuate, however, so make sure to check out each of these respective, continuously updated articles to stay up-to-date on hardware costs.)
And lastly, the battery life comes in at over 30 hours (this number can vary depending on the game and brand of battery). This is nearly twice as much as the original model and it also takes half as many batteries – two AA batteries as opposed to four.
That is not to say that the Game Boy Color is without any negatives. For one, while the screen is more responsive and vivid than the original model’s, it is a tad bit smaller. That being said, the difference in size isn’t dramatic enough for most fans to notice without placing the Game Boy Color side-by-side with the original.
The last point we’ll make is that it might make sense to opt for a Game Boy Advance SP instead of a Color or an original Game Boy. Advance SP handhelds come in either frontlit or even brighter backlit models and are capable of playing Game Boy Color and original Game Boy Games. (For an entire breakdown of the Advance’s backward compatibility, follow the link to check out our complete guide.) Speaking strictly about the display, the backlit SP is probably the best way to experience Game Boy and Game Boy Color games today, but make sure to check out the pros and cons before doing so.
Bottom Line: If you’re choosing between the Game Boy Color and the original Game Boy, we suggest going for the former. The original model is cool and nostalgic with its iconic design, but the experience is much better on the Color. On the other hand, if you’re looking at the Game Boy Advance it might be worth your while to upgrade and gain access to a backlit screen and a whole new library of incredible games.