Last year, renowned video game historian and occasional Nintendo Life contributor Liam Robertson uncovered the story of the Work Boy, a never-before-seen accessory that had the potential to turn the humble Game Boy into a powerful tool of productivity. Now, a year later, Robertson is back with yet another investigation – this time about a device that might have given us the internet on our Game Boy Colors in 1999.
Dubbed the “Page Boy,” the device is said to have used radio transmission to connect Game Boy Color owners to a wealth of information, such as weather reports, sports titles and even live television – as well as between them. It was also suggested that the device could be used with the Game Boy Camera so that users could send photo messages to each other, years before the concept of “selfie” became mainstream. It would be powered by two AA batteries and would have its own cartridge slot, maintaining compatibility with all Game Boy games and accessories.
The company behind the device, Wizard, was derived from Source, the same UK-based company that offered the Work Boy prototype. Wizard pitched the idea to Nintendo of America – even going so far as to produce physical mockups and user interface samples – and got a positive reaction; Nintendo could see the obvious potential for an add-on that not only encouraged users to spend more time with their Game Boy Color consoles, but could also potentially be a way the company could promote its products more directly; the “live TV” element could easily be considered a precursor to current Nintendo Direct broadcasts. It was also possible to add additional content to the games when used with the Page Boy, or upload high scores to a live database.
Robertson spoke to people familiar with the project and managed to find the simulated screens that show how the device would have worked; the proposal was to make Mario the main focus of the interface and even make him talk and sing tunes as the content loaded.
Other innovations – which seem quite ahead of their time for 1999 – included the ability to vibrate the device when messages arrived, and a clip on the back that would allow the user to attach the Game Boy Color and the Page Boy on his belt buckle. While the technology was rudimentary by modern standards, it’s easy to see where Wizard was going with this product; it’s not a million kilometers from the modern smartphone.
Unfortunately, the Page Boy never saw the light of day, with Nintendo’s enthusiasm waning when it discovered that the technology involved would only work in North America and could not be deployed in other key regions, such as Japan and Europe. Ultimately, the project was scrapped before the production of functional physical prototypes or the coding of any software. All that’s left is a selection of overview materials and screenshots – it’s unclear what happened to the non-functional units that were designed to be shown to Nintendo.
Of course, a little over half a decade later, Nintendo would be embracing many of those same ideas with the Nintendo DS and the Wii – which makes you wonder if the Page Boy was an influence.