Have you ever felt like you are Mario? I have! Even today, I still get goosebumps when I see Mario or any Mario-related series, cartoon, or advertisement. Not once, not twice, not thrice.... like a hundred times back in my teenage years in the ‘90s. Back then I was addicted to the consoles like crazy. I couldn’t spend a whole day without playing a game. Either on the computer, handheld console, or on TV-dependent consoles.
I remember how we used to compete at school to find out who was the best of them all in the gaming industry. We would compete to see who has played more games, who has the highest scores, who was the most agile player. I guess this is why I still have that nostalgia for the retro games.
Today, when I see a retro game that I once played in the past, I literally get goosebumps all over me! Handheld gaming was my thing. Back then when phones were not as common as they are now, all I did was to walk around with my Nintendo Gameboy in my pocket. Any time I got some free time, whether it was on the bus, train, or just walking down the aisle, I would get my device, stick in a cartridge and catch up with some Mario adventure.
Decades down the line, am still a die-hard fan of these games. I still spend hours on gaming-related activities and of course, some dollars have to be spent in that regard. I know we share this addiction with many of you here.
Down Memory Lane: Looking back on the development of handheld games.
Today, I thought it should take a trip down memory lane and follow through the path and the development of the handheld game. I have always been a lover of retro games. That is evident from the many articles I have written in the last year or so here.
While rummaging through my past. I stumbled upon an old Nintendo Switch. Ok, the thing could not power up, but the joy I had to hold it and just look at it made me feel the best nostalgic feeling I have ever felt in years. It is amazing how you can have a psychological attachment to a mere gadget! I actually felt like we were related or something. The feeling was so powerful, so out of this world. For a moment I stopped and just let my mind drift away. I recounted the number of times in the past when I played epic games on the device while on the beach. Those are some of my most memorable moments.
This feeling pushed me to quickly check on YouTube for some review or gameplays that touched on the old handheld gaming devices at the time. And sure, I stumbled on a few. They were just legendary. I felt a strong connection to the past. I felt relieved, I felt rejuvenated. Actually, I kinda felt young again. It was a feeling I didn’t want to let go. And that is why I thought I should pen it down on this article. I thought we should walk together through the development of the handheld gaming systems, right from the Gameboy through to the DS series.
A Little Something About Nintendo Game & Watch
Do you have a recollection of the Nintendo Game & Watch? Before I start the countdown of some of the most important handheld game consoles of the past, I just must say something about this device. I think most probably because it was among the first devices I ever owned back then. This thing was pixilated with monochrome color, but boy...we would spend hours on end on this thing! It was like a gadget sent from heaven to kill boredom!
Honestly, if it were not for the Nintendo Game and Watch, I guess the video games we have today will not have existed. This was like the mother of all handheld game consoles. It was like the messiah of handheld consoles. Sometimes I think all other game designers had this in their workshop so that they can make their games using it as a template.
Was Nintendo Game & Watch the game changer?
Image Surce: The Verge
This simple handheld may have altered the course of modern video gaming. If Nintendo had not experimented with the Game and Watch, they may not have had the courage to double-down on video games and forever impact the world.
Nintendo’s Game and Watch was a handheld game released around the 70s and 80s. Its popularity would pave the way for the Famicom and, later, the Nintendo Entertainment System. The firm is returning to its root with the planned releases of the Nintendo Game and Watch.
In this article, we will look back at the evolution of all handheld game consoles and how they revolutionized video games forever. I only had to pay a special kind of respect to his particular console. Because it holds a special part in my heart.
History of the Game Consoles & Why they Matter
The changing priorities and likes of the gaming community is the most relevant explanation as to why this industry has been on an upward trend with new stuff being released every so often. If you were not a gaming fan back in the days, then you missed a lot on the real and authentic and almost perfect but for basic technologies.
Since its commercial inception back in the 50s, as a technological curiosity at a science fair, gaming has grown to become one of the world’s most successful entertainment industries. The current boom in mobile technologies has changed the business and ushered in a new generation of gamers. Indeed, gaming has grown so embedded in modern popular culture that even grandmothers know what Angry Birds are!
Did You Know...
Did you know that over 42% of Americans are gamers? And that four out of every five U.S families owns a console? That is pretty deep indeed! It shows how people take gaming seriously and the reason why gaming matters so much.
Sometimes I think the launch of Facebook’s Oculus was really timely. It came at the right time when people needed some way of traveling everywhere and experiencing different environments without actually leaving the house. I am actually among the first adopters of Oculus and am so addicted to this thing. Virtual reality is actually the way to go. It is the only way we will beet the stress and the restrictions imposed by the pandemic.
The Beginning of Digital Gaming as we know it today.
The first commercial home game system, however, did not appear until over 30 years later when Ralph Baer and his team unveiled their prototype, the Brown Box in 1967. This was a vacuum tube circuit that could be attached to a television set and allowed two users to control cubes on the screen that followed each other.
The Brown Box could be configured to play ping pong, checkers, and four sports games. Added attachments included a light gun for a target shooting game and a unique attachment for golf putting game, both of which utilized advanced technology for the time.
As per the National Museum of American History, Baer stated, “We knew we had a product the minute we played ping-pong.” We weren’t sure before that!” The Brown Box was licensed to Magnavox, who debuted the system in 1972 as the Magnavox Odyssey. It was released a few months before Atari, which is frequently wrongly regarded as the first video game console.
Around 300,000 Magnavox consoles were sold between August 1972 and 1975, when it was discontinued. Poor sales were attributed to poorly handheld in-store marketing initiatives and the fact that home gaming was still a foreign notion to the ordinary American at the time. Regardless of how poorly it was managed, this was the beginning of digital gaming as we know it today.
And then Came the Atari and Arcade Gaming
Atari not only developed their games in-house, but they also constructed a whole business around the “Arcade” and in 1973, for over $1,095, Atari began selling the first true electronic video game Pong, and arcade machines began appearing in bars, bowling alleys, and shopping malls all over the world.
Between 1972 and 1985, more than 15 companies began to develop video games for the ever-expanding market, recognizing they were on to something significant.
Then In came the Multiplayer Gaming
During the late 1970s, several chain stores and restaurants across the United States began to install video games in order to capitalize on the hot new craze. The games’ nature created competition among players, who could record their high scores with their initials and were anxious to claim the top spot on the list. Multiplayer gaming was confined to participants competing on the same screen at the time.
The earliest example of players playing on separate displays was “Empire”, a strategy turned-based game for up to eight players designed for the PLATO network system in 1973. PLATO (Programmed Logic for Automatic Teaching Operation) was one of the first universal computer-based teaching systems, developed by the University of Illinois and then taken over by Control Data (CDC), who produced the machines that can run the system.
The History and Evolution of the Handheld Game Console
Now let us get to the details on the actual history and development of the handheld consoles. But first things first, what are handheld consoles?
What are handheld Consoles?
So, what are handheld consoles? Let us not assume everyone was born in the era of handheld consoles. The millennials will understand this very well. But for the sake of the other generations, I will take some time to define these magical gadgets.
A handheld game console, often known as a handheld console, is a compact, portable self-contained video game console that includes a built-in screen, gaming controllers, and speaker. Handheld game consoles are smaller than home video game consoles and contain the console, screen, speakers, and controls all in one device, allowing gamers to carry them around and play them whenever and wherever they choose.
With the launching of Auto Race in 196, Mattel produced the first handheld electronic game. Subsequently, numerous firms, notably Coleco and Milton Bradley, developed single-game, lightweight table-top or handheld electronic game machines. The first commercially successful handheld console was Merlin, which sold over 5 million units in 1978. The Milton Bradley Microvision was the first handheld game device with interchangeable cartridges, released in 1979. Tiger Electronics released Game.com, the first internet-enabled handheld console with a touchscreen, in 1997.
With the release of the Game Boy in 1989, Nintendo is credited with popularizing the handheld console concept, and the company continues to dominate the handheld console market.
Where did the Handheld Console Come from?
Handheld and tabletop game consoles from the 70s and the early 80s. are the forefathers of handheld game consoles. These electronic gadgets can only play one game, fit in the palm of the hand or on a tabletop, and can employ a variety of video displays such as LED, VFD, or LCD.
Popular Electronics magazine classified handheld electronic games as nonvideo electronic games and non-TV games. In 1978, distinguishing them from devices that needed to use of a TV screen.
Handheld electronic games, in turn, arose from the synthesis of former handheld and tabletops electro-mechanical devices such as Waco’s Electronic Tic-Tac-Toe. In 1976, Mattel began development on a series of calculator-sized sports games that would become the world's first handheld electronic games. Michael Katz, Mattel’s new product category marketing director, asked the engineers in the electronic section to create a game the size of a calculator utilizing LED (light-emitting diode) technology.
The result was the 1976 release of Auto Race followed by Football later in 1977, the two games were so successful that according to Katz they were worth over $400 million. Mattel would eventually be honored by the industry for its invention in handheld game device displays. Companies such as Coleco, Parker Brothers, Milton Bradley, Entex, and Bandai quickly followed suit with their own tabletop and handheld electronic games.
Around 1979, Smith Engineering’s LCD-based Microvision distributed by Milton-Bradley became the first handheld game console and the first to employ interchangeable game cartridges. Microvision game Cosmic Hunter, developed in 1981 also popularized the concept of a directional pad for handheld gaming devices, which is handheld by moving the on-screen character in any of four directions with the thumb.
And then the idea was born...
On a bullet train in 1979, Gunpei Yokoi noticed a bored businessman pushing buttons on an LCD calculator, Yoko then had an idea for a watch that also functioned as a little game machine for passing time. Beginning in 1980, Nintendo began to release the Game & Watch games, a series of electronic games invented by Yokoi. Yokoi designed the series of LCD-based games to feature a digital time display in the corner of the screen, utilizing the technology in the credit card-sized calculator that had arrived on the market.
Yokoi designed a cross-shaped directional pad or “D-pad” for controlling on-screen characters in subsequent, more intricate Game & Watch titles. Yokoi also put his directional pad on the NES controllers, and the cross-shaped thumb controller quickly became standard on game system controllers and has since become widespread in the video game industry.
When Yokoi started building Nintendo’s first handheld game console, he created a gadget that combined elements from his Game & Watch devices and the Famicom Console, including both products’ D-pad controllers. As a result, Nintendo Game Boy was born.
The Bandai LCD Solar power was the first solar-powered game gadget, released in 1982. Some of its games, such as horror-themed Terror House, used two LCD panels layered on top of each other to create an early 3D effect. Takara Tomy’s Tomytronic 3D, released in 1983, simulates 3D by using two LCD displays lighted by external light through the glass on top of the device, making it the first specialized home video 3D hardware.
The Beginning of the Handheld devices.
Following the death of Microvision, the late 80s and early 90s witnessed the birth of the contemporary handheld game console business. Because backlit LCD game consoles with color graphics absorb a lot of power, they were not as battery-friendly as the original Game Boy’s non-backlit graphics, which allowed for longer battery life. Because rechargeable battery technology had not yet progressed at this point, more advanced game consoles of the time, such as the Sega Game Gear and Atari Lynx, did not fare as well as the GameBoy.
Checking out the Christmas 2018 present from my wife :), Ok but does have issues with sound and no SD card slot :(. So lets check this out!(Note: To get bac...
Later, NiMH batteries that did not share this criterion for optimal efficiency were not produced until the late 90s, years after the Game Gear, Atari Lynx, and original Game Boy had been phased out. Batteries had a very low mAh rating when technologically improved handhelds had stringent technical constraints because batteries with high power density were not yet available.
Rechargeable Lithium-ion batteries with customized form are used in modern game systems such as the Nintendo DS and PlayStation portable. Standard alkaline batteries are used in other seventh-generation consoles, such as the GP2X. Because alkaline battery mAh ratings have increased during the 90s, the power required for a handheld like the GP2X may be supplied by a smaller number of cells.
Game Boy: The Mother of all Handheld Consoles.
It is now over three decades since Nintendo unveiled the Game Boy. Genpei Yokoi’s design team was also responsible for the Game & Watch system, as well as the Nintendo Entertainment System game Metroid and Kid Icarus. Nintendo CEO Hiroshi Yamauchi criticized the Game Boy, claiming that the monochrome screen was too small and the processing power was insufficient.
The design team felt that a lower initial cost and energy economy were more essential issues, and the Game Boy was a huge leap ahead when compared to the Microvision. Yokoi knew that the Game Boy needed a killer app - at least one game that defined the platform and convinced users to buy it. Minoru Arakawa, the then CEO of Nintendo of America, attended a demonstration of the game Tetris at a trade event in 1988. Nintendo bought the rights to the game and included it as a launch title with the Game Boy console. It was an almost instant success.
More than a million copies were sold in the United States. The Game Boy and Game Boy Color have sold over 118 million copies worldwide as of 2005.
Atari Lynx: Best Minimalistic Designed Game Console
Around 1987, Epyx released the Handy Game, which evolved into the Atari Lynx in 1989. It is the first color portable console ever built, as well as the first with a lighted screen. It also has networking capabilities for up to 17 other players, as well as a powerful technology that allows sprites to be zoomed and scaled.
The Lynx may also be turned upside down to accommodate left-handed players. However, all of the capabilities came at an exorbitant price, prompting people to look for less expensive alternatives. The Lynx is also quite awkward, burns batteries quickly, and lacks the third-party support enjoyed by its rivals. The Lynx was a commercial failure despite a redesigned model of 1991 because:
- It was expensive
- Short battery life
- Production constraints
- Lack of engaging games.
TurboEXpress – 1990
The TurboExpress was a simple portable version of the TurboGrafx that was released in 1990 for 249.99 and raised to over $299.99 before drastically dropping to $199.99 in 1992. The PC Engine GT is its Japanese equivalent.
It was the most advanced portable gaming console at the time. It could play all of the TurboGrafx-16 games. It has the same 66 mm screen as the original Game Boy but had a significantly better resolution and could display 64 sprites at once, 16 per scanline, in 512 colors. Despite the fact that the hardware can only support 481 colors at once. It has a RAM of 8kb. The HuC6820 CPU is clocked at 1.79 or 7.16MHz by the Turbo.
The optional TurboVision Tv tuner has RCA audio/video input allowing TurboExpress to be used as a video monitor. The Turbolink enabled two-player gameplay. Falcon, a flight simulator, includes a head-to-head dogfight mode that is only accessible through TurboLink. However, very few TG-16 games included co-op play modes specifically developed for the TurboExpress.
Bancorp Game – 1990
The Bitcorp Game was one of the first handheld game systems developed in response to Nintendo’s Game Boy. It was first released in Asia in 1990, and by 1991, it had reached a global audience. It was horizontal in orientation, like the Sega Game Gear, and required 4 AA batteries, like the Game Boy.
In contrast to many subsequent Game Boy clones, its internal components were professionally built. Unfortunately, the screen is the system’s fatal fault. Even by today's standards, the screen is difficult to operate, suffering from the same motion blur issues that plagued the original generation Game Boys.
Sales were likely low as a result, and Bitcorp went down by 1992. However, fresh games were still being released for the Asian market as late as 1994. The overall number of games launched for the system has yet to be determined. The games were built for stereo sound; however, the console only has a mono speaker.
Sega Game Gear – 1990/1
The Game Gear is Sega’s third color handheld console, following the Lynx and TurboExpress. It was released in Japan in 1990 and in North America and Europe in 1991, and it is based on the Master System, which allowed Sega to swiftly build Game Gear titles from their enormous library of Master System games.
While it never achieved the kind of success that Nintendo did, the Game Gear proved to be a more durable competitor, lasting longer than any other Game Boy rival.
While the Game Gear is most commonly seen in black or navy blue, it was also available in red, light blue, yellow, transparent, and violet. All these variants were only available in limited quantities and frequently just in the Asian market.
Following the success of the Game Gear, Sega began work on a successor in the early 90s, many years before the Nintendo DS, with the intention of featuring a touchscreen interface. However, such technology was prohibitively expensive at the time, and the handheld itself was anticipated to cost roughly $289 if it were released.
Sega finally abandoned the plan, instead of releasing the Genesis Nomad, a handheld version of the Genesis, as the successor.
Watara Supervision – 1992
in an effort to compete with the Nintendo Game Boy, the Watara Supervision was released in 1992. The initial model resembles a Game Boy in appearance, although it is grey in color and has a somewhat large screen. The second type has a hinge across the center and maybe bent slightly for extra comfort.
While the system was moderately successful, it had no impact on Nintendo or Sega’s sales. The Supervision was remodeled as The Magnum for the last time. It was released in limited numbers and was basically equal to the Game Boy Pocket. It came in three different colors: Yellow, green and grey. Watara created many of the games themselves but they got some third-party assistance from Sachen later on.
Hartung Game Master – 1990
The Hartung Game Master is an obscure handheld produced in the early 90s. Its visuals were far simpler than those of most of its contemporaries, and were comparable in sophistication to the Atari 2600. It was available in black, white, and purple, and its distributors, including Display, Viddeoje, and Systema, repeatedly rebranded it.
The precise number of games released is unknown, however it is likely to be more than 20. This console is most commonly found in Europe and Australia.e
Evolution of the Handheld Game Consoles in the Late 90s.
By the later 90s, the lack of major progress in Nintendo’s product line allowed for the creation of more advanced systems such as the Neo Geo Pocket Color and the Wonderswan color.
Sega Nomad (1995)
The Nomad was unveiled in North America in October 1995. The release occurred five years into Genesis’s commercial lifespan, with a library of more than 500 Genesis titles already in place.
According to former American Sega research and development head Joe Miller, the Nomad was not intended to be a successor for the Game Gear, the Sega of Japan had little planning for the new handheld. Sega supported five different platforms, including the Saturn, Genesis, Game Gear, Pico, and Master System, as well as the Sega CD and 32X add-ons.
In Japan, the Mega Drive was never popular, and Saturn was more popular than Sony’s PlayStation, therefore Sega Enterprises CEO Hayao Nakayama decided to focus on Saturn. The Nomad was being sold for less than a third of its initial price by 99.
Game Boy Pocket (1996)
The Game Boy Pocket is a modified version of the original Game Boy and retains all of the original Game Boy’s capabilities. It came out in 1996. The variant is notable for being smaller and lighter. It is available in seven colors: red, yellow, green, black, clear, silver, blue and pink.
It takes two AAA batteries, which provide about 10 hours of gameplay. Instead of the original Game Boy’s pea soup monochromatic display, the screen was modified to a black and white display. Although like its predecessors, the Game Boy Pocket lacks a backlight to enable it to play on low light situations, it does significantly enhance visibility and pixel response-time by eliminating ghosting.
Another major enhancement over the original Game Boy is the use of a black-and-white display screen rather than the original Game Boy’s green-tinted display, as well as improved response time for less blurring during motion. The Game Boy Pocket’s first model did not include an LED to show battery levels, but the functionality was added due to popular demand.
The Game Boy Pocket was not a new software platform; it ran the same games like the original Game Boy.
The Game.com is a handheld game system unveiled in 1997 by Tiger Electronics. It had several innovative concepts for handheld consoles and was intended at an older audience, with PDA-style features and functionalities like a touch screen and stylus. Tiger, on the other hand, though it would compete with Nintendo’s Game Boy and established a following among younger gamers.
Unlike other handheld game systems, the early game.com consoles included two slots for game cartridges, a feature that would not be repeated until the Tapwave Zodiac, DS and DS Lite, and could be connected to a 14.4 kbit/s modem. Later variants only featured one cartridge slot.
Game Boy Color (1998)
The Game Boy Color also known as GBC is Nintendo’s successor to the Game Boy, and it was released in October 1998, in Japan and in November of the same year in the US. It has a color screen and is slightly larger than the Game Boy Pocket.
The processor is twice as fast as a Game Boy and has double the memory. It also contained the memory. It also contained an infrared communication connector for wireless linking, which was not present in a later version of the Game boy, such as the Game Boy Advance.
The Game Boy Color was created in response to pressure from game creators for a new system, since they thought that the Game Boy, even in its most recent form, the Game Boy Pocket, was insufficient. The resulting device was backward compatible, a first for the portable console system, and used the prior systems' vast library of games and larger installed base.
This became an important feature of the Game Boy line since it allowed each new launch to begin with a substantially greater library than any of its competitors. As of 2005, the Game Boy and Game Boy Color had sold 119 million copies globally.
The console can display up to 56 different colors on the screen at the same time from 32,768 color palettes, and it can add basic four-color shading to games designed for the original Game Boy. It can also give the sprites and background different colors, for a total of more than four.
Neo Geo Pocket Color (1999)
The Neo Geo Pocket Color (NGPC) was introduced in Japan in 1999, followed by the US and Europe later than a year. It was a 16-bit color handheld game device created by SNK, the same company that created the Neo Game home console and arcade machine. It followed on the heels of SNK’s initial New Geo Pocket monochrome portable, which was released in Japan in 1998.
Following SNK’s acquisition by Japanese Pachinko producer Aruze in 2000, the Neo Geo Pocket Color was withdrawn from both the US and European markets, ostensibly due to commercial failure. The system appeared to be well on its way to become a success in the US. It was more successful than any Game Boy competitor since Sega’s Game Gear, although it was hampered by various problems, including SNK’s infamous lack of contact with third-party creators and the Game Boy Advance’s anticipation.
The decision to package US gams in cardboard boxes rather than the hard plastic cases used for Japanese and European versions may have harmed US sales.
Game Consoles of the Early 2000s
The second half of the 200s saw a significant increase in innovation, particularly with the advent of the DS and PSP.
Game Boy Advance (2001)
The Game Boy Advance (GBA) was introduced in 2001 by Nintendo, and it features:
- Two shoulder buttons
- Larger screen
- High computing power than the Game Boy Color
- The SP has a clamshell shape that folds open and close like a laptop.
- A front-lit color display
- Rechargeable battery
Around the same time, a new SP variant with a backlit screen was released in some markets. The GBA, like the Nintendo GameCube, pioneered the concept of connectivity using a handheld system as a console controller.
Among the title available for this console include:
- Animal Crossing,
- Pac-Man Vs.
- Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles
- The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures,
- The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker,
- Metroid Prime
- Sonic Adventure 2: Battle
Other notable handheld game consoles of the early 2000s include:
- Game Park 32
- Tapwave Zodiac
In 2004, Nintendo DS was unveiled. Its new features included:
- Two screens
- A touch screen
- Wireless networking
- Microphone port
The system also supports online play via the Nintendo Wi-Fi connection, as well as ad-hoc wireless networking for multiplayer games with up to sixteen people. It is backward compatible with all Game Boy Advance titles, but like the Game Boy Micro, it is not backward compatible with Game Boy or Game Boy Color games.
In 2006, Nintendo revealed an updated version of the DS: the Nintendo DS Lite that featured:
- An updated, smaller form factor
- A cleaner design
- Longer battery life
- Brighter and long battery life
- Higher-quality display with adjustable brightness.
- It can communicate wirelessly with Nintendo’s Wii console
Other Handheld game consoles released in the Mid-200s include:
- Game King (2004)
- PlayStation Portable (2003)
- Gizmondo (2005)
- GP2X Series
Handheld Game Consoles of the later 2000s
The most common handheld consoles of this era included:
- PSP Go (2009)
- Pandora (2008)
- FC-16 Go (2009)
- Nintendo 3DS (2011)
- Xperia Play (2011)
- PlayStation Vita (2012)
- Razer Switchblade (2011)
- Nvidia Shield (2013)
- Nintendo Switch (2019)
- Evercade (2020)
While on-the-go gaming is well suited to the busy lives of millennials, gaming on mobile devices has its limitations. Phone screens are small and the bulk of smartphone processor speeds and internal memory limit gameplay possibilities.
The Handheld game consoles are with us to stay. Hey will only get smarter!
What was your experience with Handheld Game consoles back in the days?