A bizarre facelift for Game Boy's oldest work

Derived from a '60s computer game, Game Boy's Lunar Lander was the strangest-ever take on the concept.

The early days of the Game Boy were absolutely jam-packed with vintage PC games, to the point that yet another old computer conversion popping up on Game Boy Works no longer seems particularly remarkable. Yet even within this increasingly crowded field of ancient reworked PC software, this latest episode stands out: Pack-In Video's Lunar Lander definitely represents the most "vintage" work we'll ever see on our Game Boy odyssey.

The Lunar Lander concept stretches all the way back to the dim and distant year 1969. 1969! That makes this the one official Game Boy release that can trace an original property back into the ’60s. "Property" may be the wrong word to use here, though. The original Lunar Lander came into being during the pioneer days of computing, for a PDP-8 minicomputer, and as with most software applications of that era it doesn't appear to have been saddled with the burden of copyright. Pack-In Video more directly adapted their Game Boy release on Atari's arcade rendition of the game, which added graphics, ship rotation, and scoring challenges to the primitive text-based original.

Lunar Lander for Game Boy adds even more to the Atari intepretation. One addition, the Space Shuttle phase, does a pretty nice job of helping to modernize the concept somewhat (even if the Shuttle program had fallen out of public favor by 1990, due to the 1986 Challenger disaster). After all, the original Lunar Lander was clearly inspired by the space race of the ’60s and the 1969 moon landing. Makes sense to modernize it by throwing in a Space Shuttle, too... right?

The other new phase of the game, on the other hand —that one's a little harder to explain. It feels somewhat like loopy ’50s sci-fi as you dodge moon men... but it also feels like some sort of riff on 1979's Heiankyo Alien. It's pretty weird, but that's precisely what makes this episode so fascinating.

Fittingly, this is also the most quintessentially Retronauts-ish episode of Game Boy Works. Not only does it involve a fairly comprehensive dive into the history of a Game Boy product most Americans will never play (Lunar Lander only shipped in Japan), not only does it contain a justifiable comparison to Heiankyo Alien, it also includes a prog rock connection. The opening song, the absolutely period-appropriate "Everybody's Gone to the Moon," was sung by Jonathan King, the guy who "discovered" the band Genesis. Yeah. It's full circle this week.

By the way, if you enjoyed this retrospective, please consider supporting the Retronauts video Patreon! I'd love to be able to produce two of these videos per week, but that'll only be possible if we have the budget to pay more people to take on some of my other duties around here.