The handheld video game console – and its addictive game Tetris – took Europe by storm on this day in 1990.

The Game Boy – Nintendo's second handheld game system after the Game & Watch series – was first launched Japan in April 1989. Within a fortnight, it had sold out of its entire stock of 300,000 – and when it launched in the United States a few months later, 40,000 units were sold on the first day.

It caused a similar sensation when it arrived in Europe in September of the following year.

A portable system which used interchangeable game cartridges, the Nintendo Game Boy was off-white with a monochrome screen. It had a directional pad in the shape of a cross, four buttons – labelled A, B, SELECT, and START – and two dials, one controlling volume and one contrast. It could run off a power supply or four AA batteries – promising 30 hours of playing time with the latter.

The Game Boy was designed by Nintendo's Research and Development 1 team, led by engineer Gunpei Yokoi. When it first launched, industry critics said that the console’s monochrome screen was too small and its processing power inadequate – so Yokoi recognised that it needed to be launched with a killer app. That app turned out to be Tetris – a game which Nintendo had bought the rights to in 1988 after seeing it demonstrated at a trade show.

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Tetris was one of four game cartridges launched when the console went on sale in Europe – along with Super Mario Land, Alleyway and Baseball.

Many more games would follow over the years – but it was the addictive, falling blocks game which caught the public’s imagination, making the Game Boy a 1990s must-have not just for gamers but for anyone with opposable thumbs.