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Game Boy and Game Gear On Film
By: Hoju Koolander
You likely recall the battle for video game home console supremacy waged across TV and print ads in the early 90's, resulting in many schoolyard debates over the benefits of Nintendo vs Sega. But you may have forgotten that a similar war was fought in the palms of our hands with portable gaming devices.
Shortly after Nintendo fired the first shot with the brownish-green screen of Game Boy, which took us beyond the simplistic LCD screens of their groundbreaking Game and Watch series, SEGA responded with the full color assault of Game Gear. The stakes were upped in graphics, but Game Boy was still the most recognizable name in the game.
Soon a new front emerged for this digital street fight, product placement! That's right, these 2 mini machines began showing up in all sorts of kid oriented movies and TV shows throughout the 90's. This is by no means a definitive list of handheld games on the big and small screen, but I think I've found some great examples. So let's take a look at the action, shall we?
Parker Lewis Can't Lose (1990) - Game Boy
Taking it's cue from Ferris Bueller's Day Off, but with a more madcap, cartoonish style, Parker Lewis Can't Lose was one of my favorite shows on the fairly new FOX network in the early 90's. "The Buds" as they were called spent time outsmarting bratty little sisters, high school snobs and most frequently the psychotic school principal, Miss Musso.
The show was very in touch with youth culture and as a result, frequently featured popular video game systems of the day, which in 1990 were the obsession of everyone from 7 to 18. Various episodes included glimpses of everything from the original Nintendo Entertainment System to SEGA Genesis and even the less popular (but actually first to achieve color for handheld gaming) Atari LYNX at one point.
It's no surprise then that in the episode "Operation Kubiac" the boys were found chilling with their Game Boys for a casual game of Tetris. What's interesting is that given the proximity of their devices you would assume that Mikey and Parker were playing a head to head game, which was possible in the real world with a special linking cable, but it's not present in this scene. Still they had indeed "achieved coolness" by including Game Boy in their show.
Josh and S.A.M. (1993) Game Boy
This one is kind of obscure, since as far as I know, the 90's runaway kid road trip movie Josh and S.A.M. was seen by no one, mostly based on the fact that it features no major stars unless you count Martha Plimpton aka "the girl with the glasses" from The Goonies. But I had seen the trailer for years on old VHS tapes, so I finally picked up a copy for myself and was thrilled to find that In addition to the very prominent placement of a SPAWN comic book in one scene, Nintendo's Game Boy also gets an extreme close-up.
Featured very prominently in the scene where older brother Josh tries to convince his younger brother, Sam that he is actually a kid-sized sleeper agent kill-bot designed by the government (yeah, that's the crux of the film) we see Sam intently playing Game Boy. The scene actually opens tight on the kid holding the gaming machine, then zooms out to begin the story.
What strikes me most about this scene is how these could just as easily have been the 2 brothers down the street from any 90's neighborhood. They weren't flashy Hollywood interpretations of kid culture with surfer hair and backwards baseball caps, they represented a reality of the time. The inclusion of a Game Boy in hand just makes it all the more accurate.
Parker Lewis Can't Lose (1990) - Game Gear
What's this? Parker Lewis is playing both sides? That's right, Game Boy got it's chance to shine in the entry above, but Game Gear also made an appearance at Santo Domingo High School in the video game focused episode "Jerry: Portrait of a Video Game Junkie" where the nerdier member of The Buds becomes addicted to "computer games" as they are hilariously called throughout the story.
In the final moments of the show, Jerry declares his freedom from video games by agreeing to steam roll a massive pile of SEGA Genesis and Tiger Electronics games (NOOOOO!). Afterwards his friends reward Jerry's bravery by giving him the gift of Game Gear and saying they believe he can control himself now.
Son In Law (1993) - Game Boy
In addition to fulfilling every 90's pre-teen boy's fantasy by featuring Kelly Kapowski stripping down to a red polka dot bikini, Son-In-Law was also Pauly Shore's least annoying film performance (IMO). It also includes an appearance by "Ham" the loudmouth catcher from The Sandlot ("You're killing me, Smalls!") and his handheld gaming system of choice.
Yes, this farm boy from South Dakota prefers the sweet comfort of Game Boy to spending time with his hard-nosed father. Declining an invitation to go fishing, he instead opts to stay home and play a fishing game on a murky screen. You'll also notice he is playing at the dining room table, which I can only assume has to do with the Game Boy's need for proper lighting. He even passes it over to his sister to try her luck on the famous gray brick.
Surf Ninjas (1993) - Game Gear
Hoping to cash in on the youth martial arts craze ushered in by Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, for which star Ernie Reyes, Jr. played an in-suit Donatello and Keno in Part 2, Surf Ninjas adds an extra layer of wackiness by featuring The Naked Gun star Leslie Nielsen as the totally not Asian Samurai warlord, Colonel Chi. But it also gets the award for most plot driven use of a handheld video game system on this list.
11 year old Adam is told of a prophecy that he is a prince who will become a "great seer", but instead of a crystal ball, he's got a Game Gear that plays out the future through his cartridge of Shinobi. Oddly enough, when he first starts getting visions, the title of the movie appears on the screen just before a digital version of Prince Adam (not that Prince Adam) is seen tying a bandana on his head.
Other uses of SEGA's little black box include selecting the weapons other characters will use to defeat the forces of Colonel Chi and even physically knocking a gun out the villain's hands a few seconds too late to save their bodyguard, Zatch (where were you on that one, kid?). In case you were wondering, this was totally meant to promote the actual Surf Ninjas video game for the Game Gear, though how successful the tie-in proved to be remains to be seen.
So what movies and TV shows do you remember seeing your favorite handheld gaming devices making an appearance on? I'm sure there's more that I've never seen. Tell us all about it in the comments below.
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