Did Nintendo Plan On Another Game Boy Handheld Before Settling On the DS?

by Robert Workman


The Nintendo DS was a quick change of pace for the company’s mobile division, shying away from the Game Boy brand that it had leaned on for many, many years. But it proved to be a success, and now, in hindsight, former Nintendo R&D general manager Satoro Okada spoke with website Japanese Nintendo about an interesting factoid – there was, in fact, another Game Boy being considered.

"Actually, after the SP, we were working on the newest model in this range,” said Okada. “The code name for this new Game Boy was IRIS, like the flower. The explanation for this name is simple: since it was for us the fifth generation of Game Boy, we chose the symbol of May (the fifth month of the year). In the Hanafuda playing cards, the month of May is symbolized by the iris. The project was moving forward at a good pace but during the development, something at unexpected happened."

When it came to the idea of the DS, late Nintendo president Satoru Iwata spoke with his predecessor, Hiroshi Yamauchi. "President Iwata then came to see me. He was obviously bothered and he said: ‘l talked to Yamauchi-san over the phone and he thinks your console should have two screens… A bit like the multi-screen Game & Watch, you see?’ Everybody is aware of this, but what people do not know is that at the time, everybody hated this idea, even Iwata himself. We thought it did not make any sense."

Restrictions on second screens didn’t exist anymore, though. “Back in the Game & Watch days, it was different because a second screen allowed us to double the playing area and the number of graphic elements on display. But with the modern screens, there was no point. We were free to choose the size of our screen, so why bother splitting it into two? Especially considering that it was impossible to look at both screens at the same time. This is why we did not understand his idea.”

With a bit of persistence from Okada and his team, Iwata decided to take a gamble on the DS…and it’s one that paid off eventually. “Unlike many people in the company, I was not afraid of Yamauchi-san. I had already fought with him over different issues and I also sometimes publicly opposed his ideas. But Iwata turned me down and said ‘No, we will still give it a try. See what you can do with [it].’ We were both bothered by this, especially since it meant that we had to start all over with our project! So I tried to put my team at ease and I told them ‘I have some experience working with double screens, we will give it our best shot and we’ll see, don’t worry.’ It became project Nitro, released in 2004 under the name Nintendo DS...”

With over 150 million units sold, it was great to see history go in the right direction for Nintendo’s mobile division…especially on the cusp of the forthcoming Switch announcement, which takes place on January 12th.

By Robert Workman

Robert Workman has spent years working in the video game industry, for sites like Shacknews, AOL GameDaily and Marooners Rock. He's also very skilled in contributing to podcasts and video broadcasts, and can pretty much out-game you under the table. Oh, and just go ahead and ask him about glorious craft beers. Go on, ask him.