Unreleased Nintendo Game Boy keyboard revived

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The original Nintendo Game Boy was one of the most popular electronic gizmos in the late 80’s and early 90’s. Of course, there were many accessories. Not all Game Boy accessories received Nintendo’s express blessing, but the Work Boy did. This small mobile keyboard appeared briefly in gaming magazines after its debut at CES 1992. The device was never launched, and disappears as fast as it appears. Game History YouTuber Liam Robertson has acquired a Work Boy – possibly the last in the world, and it’s working thanks to the giant Nintendo data leak from a few months ago.

The Work Boy was a Source Research and Development project produced by Fabtek Inc. under the direct supervision of Nintendo. It consisted of a complete QWERTY keyboard and an accompanying software package. If the Work Boy were launched, it would have made the game’s computer into a rugged PDA with features such as currency conversion, an address book, a clock, and a calendar. Just when the device and the software were completed, Nintendo announced that they wanted to drop the price of the Game Boy. Fabtek, worried that people would not buy an accessory that was more expensive than the Game Boy itself, scrapped the project.

That might have been the end of it, had it not been for a series of features in game magazines. Liam Robertson began researching the history of the Work Boy 28 years after his debut. Since Fabtek decided to do the project, you can not just buy a Work Boy. Fortunately, Fabtek founder Frank Ballouz had another prototype in his possession, possibly the last existing Work Boy in the world.

Robertson was indignant when he learned that the Work Boy, which was connected to the Game Boy via an integrated switch cable, did nothing when plugged in. It turns out that there was a pattern component that used most of the Work Boy software. Without a copy of it, the accessory was dead forever. Consequently, a major Nintendo IP leak known as the Gigaleak occurred just a few weeks after Robertson got hold of the Work Boy, and the hiding in the many gigabytes of Nintendo history was the Work Boy’s near- final software.

Robertson burned the Work Boy software (v8.87) into a reusable cart and plugged in the device – and it worked. You can see the Work Boy doing his thing in the video above. Although the functionality is low by today’s standards, it would have been incredible in the early nineties. Owners could maintain databases and retrieve other data with a (marginally) portable device. It even supported phone numbers by playing dial tones in the receiver.

You can understand why the Work Boy got the ax – it was bulky, expensive and the keyboard itself seemed difficult to use. It will take years before another handset gets these kind of features. But it would have been nice to see the Work Boy come on the market.

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