A Look at Handheld Game Consoles from 1976 to 2009
It was in 1976 when Mattel first introduced a handheld gaming console with Auto Race. However, it was in 1989 that this device reached mainstream popularity with Nintendo’s release of the Game Boy. Since then, manufacturers have released a wide variety of handheld game consoles which have captured the attention of gamers and the interest of non-gamers.
Twenty Five years ago, Tetris was finished by Alexey Pajitnov. A widely-respected and adored game that is also credited to have had catapulted the popularity of handheld game consoles. With this celebration, let us take a comprehensive look at handheld game consoles since they were first release.
- Mattel Auto Race, Football
Mattel Electronics released the Auto Race in 1976. It is credited as the first handheld game manufactured and made available to the public. The console used about 512 bytes in memory. A smaller version for this console was also manufactured later. This was followed by Mattel Football, which was a huge success in the market and thus thought of by the public as the first Mattel game. Mattel Auto Race and Football are now sought after by gaming enthusiasts and are considered as collectors’ items.
- Epoch Game Pocket Computer
This handheld game console was released in Japan by Epoch in 1984. Epoch has released a total of 5 games for its Game Pocket Computer: Astro Bomber, Block Maze, Mahjong, Reversi and Store Keepers. It also has a puzzle game and a paint program built into the system. It had a 75 x 64 resolution for its LCD screen and powered by 4 AA batteries. The screen’s brightness could be dimmed and adjusted accordingly by the user. But Epoch Game Pocket Computer was not a success in Japan and due to this failure, it was never released for the North America market. Also, no other successors were release afterwards.
- Milton Bradley Microvision
Introduced in 1979 by Milton Bradley Company, Microvision included cartridge interchangeability into handheld game consoles. It was designed by Jay Smith who later will design the Vectrex gaming console. It has enjoyed moderate success in its first year, with sales grossing $8 million in the first year of release. However, poor support for the handheld console by the manufacturer has rendered this a not so successful game as no more successors were manufactured. Microvison met its demise in 1981.
- Atari Lynx, Lynx II
The world’s first handheld game console to have color LCD! Atari Lynx was originally design by engineers at Epyx in 1987 with the name Handy. But Epyx had some financial trouble at that time and had to find a manufacturing partner. Nintendo did not accept the invitation (they were busy with the manufacturing of another handheld console….) from Epyx while Atari hopped on into the wagon. In 1989, at the Summer CES, Portable Color Entertainment System, or what would later be called Atari Lynx.
Sold for $199, Lynx also enjoyed some moderate success in its release, with Atari manufacturing it in limited quantities. Later, Atari Lynx was relaunched with an aggressive marketing campaign, redesigned console, and improved packaging. This release is referred to as Lynx II. Atari also dropped the price for the new package, without accessories, to $99.
- Nintendo Game & Watch, Game Boy, Pocket, Light, Color, Advance, Advance SP, Micro
Definitely the most popular and most successful handheld game console ever manufactured, the Game Boy was introduced concurrently with Atari Lynx in 1989. Prior to the Game Boy, creator Gunpei Yoko and his team at Nintendo, released the Game & Watch series throughout the 1980s. The Game Boy is the first in line to a long series of successors namely: Game Boy Pocket, Light, Advance, Advance SP, and Micro. Although released with a monochrome LCD, its price of $109 and power efficiency (rechargeable battery pack), together with retail availability and portability catapulted Game Boy into a major market contender in the industry.
The Game Boy is also credited as the console which popularized Tetris, selling close to $33 million worldwide. Another super-popular game release by Nintendo for the Game Boy is the Pokemon Series with combined sales reaching to $20 million.
- Dimensions: 90 mm (W) x 148 mm (H) x 32 mm (D) / 3.5″ x 5.8″ 1.3″ (in)
- NEC TurboExpress
Also refereed to as PC Engine or Game Tank, Turbo Express was introduced into the market in 1990 as the companies version on TurboGrafx-16/Pc Engine. The most technically-advanced handheld game console of its time, TurboExpress has a TV Tuner and a colored LCD with RCA audio/video input which allowed it to be used as a video monitor. It was first sold at the price of $399.99 (later went down to $249) and was put into the platform of competition against Game Boy, Lynx, and Microvision. However, due to the poor marketing management of NEC concerning pricing and poor battery performance (a problem with color LCDs at that time), TurboExpress was considered too expensive of a handheld game console.
- Sega Game Gear, Nomad
Sega’s response to Game Boy, Game Gear was another color handheld console first released in 1990 at a price of $150. This 8-bit portable from Sega sold 11 million units worldwide. Games which were sold for the Game Gear include popular titles such as Sonic the Hedgehog, Shining Force and other Disney titles. Sega also release Nomad as a handheld console for its Genesis gaming system. In 1997, Sega announced its discontinuation for support of this handheld console.
- Watara Supervision
Introduced as a low-cost alternative to Game Boy, this handheld game console was released in 1992. It had a monochrome screen with a television link cable. Also, it had a communication port that could link two players. Not much is written about this game other than the fact that it did not entice third party developers to design games for Supervision. Crystball is the game which came packaged with the handheld device.
- Mega Duck/Cougar Boy
Another handheld which tried to ride onto the success of Game Boy is Mega Duck or Cougar Boy. It was released in 1993. It has qualities very much similar to Watara Supervision and it came with a 4-in-one game cartridge. To only main differentiation between these two handheld consoles is that Mega Duck was released by Creatronic, Videojet, and Timlex in Germany and France while Cougar Electronic Organization released Cougar Boy in Brazil and other parts of South America.
- Bitcorp Gamate
Known as “Super Boy” in Chinese speaking countries, Gamate was also positioned to take part in the handheld game console market widely owned by Game Boy. Bit Corp. is a Taiwanese game hardware and software manufacture which released Gamate. It was introduced in 1994 to a market who did not consider it as a quality choice over Game Boy or even Watara Supervision.
- Tiger Game.com, Gizmondo
In 1997, Tiger Electronics released Game.com. The featured that separated it from the pact is its introduction of the touch screen and stylus. It was positioned to be a strong player carrying game titles such as Indy 500, Duke Nukem 3D, Mortal Kombat Trilogy, Resident Evil, and its best-seling game, Lights Out. A modem was also introduced for this console enabling it to connect to the internet, although web access was limited to text-only with fairly expensive connection. Fewer than 300,000 units have been sold by Tiger, who later also manufactured Gizmondo in 2005.
- Bandai WonderSwan, WonderSwan Color, WonderSwan Crystal
After developing the Game Boy Color, Gunpei Yokoi worked in his company Koto and Badai to develop WonderSwan. This handheld game console was introduced in 1999. It was made available in ten case colors and featured a vertical and horizontal playability. However, although it found a good backing in Japan, this console sold poorly and was followed by WonderSwan Color. This next generation of the handheld console from Bandai became a success with the company’s deal with Squaresoft. This enabled Bandai to release popular titles for WonderSwan such as Final Fantasy. Unfortunately for Bandai, Squaresoft worked back with Nintendo and Game Boy Advance was way more popular. Bandai tried to hang in the market with its release of WonderSwan Crystal but all were discontinued in 2003. Bandai was also the one which released the pop-culture phenom, Tamagotchi.
- SNK Nat Geo Pocket, Pocket Color
This handheld gaming console is one of the shortest in terms of life span. It was introduced by SNK in late 1998 and immediately discontinued in 1999. Nat Geo Pocket was made available to Japan and Hong Kong consumers for the price of $69. Afterwards, SNK Released Nat Geo Pocket Color, a 16-bit colored handheld. Game titles included Sonic the Hedgehog Pocket Adventure and SNK vs. Capcom: Match of the Millenium for this handheld console.
- GamePark GP32, GP2X WizGame Park is a South Korean company founded in 1996 which entered the industry using government money. In November of 2001, the company introduced GP32. The aim of the company for this console to differentiate it is homebrew development, or giving the owner the capability to register into the official site and get a free suite of development tools to be able to create own games and applications. GP32 managed to sell only 300,000 units. It was succeeded by GP2X, GP2X Wiz and the never-release XGP. Game Park, the manufacturing company, has declared bankruptcy in 2007.Specifications:
- Nokia N-Gage, N-Gage QD
Based on the Nokia Series 60 platform, this is the first handheld to include a cellphone functionality. The first generation N-Gage was released in 2003 and has sold close to 3 million units. Nokia primarily wanted to get the interest of Game Boy Advance gamers but it failed in doing so due to design functionality as the buttons were not really designed for gaming. To answer this concern, Nokia release the second generation N-Gage QD in 2008.
This handheld gaming and cellphone console included game franchise titles such as Tomb Raider, Sonic, Rayman, and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, among others. Today, Nokia N-Gage is still made available to Indian and Chinese markets while the company is continuously manufacturing N-Gage smartphones.
- Tapwave Zodiac
Originally named Helix, Zodiac is the handheld game console introduced by Tapwave of Mountain View, California. It ran on a Palm Operating System platform and was designed as a high performance mobile entertainment system. Initially priced at $299, Tapwave targeted a mature audience with game titles such as Madden NFL 2005, DOOM II, Duke Nukem Mobile, and Mototrax, among others.
In its life span, the Zodiac has received industry awards such as Stuff Magazine’s Top 10 Gadgets of the Year, Wired Magazine – Fetish Award, CNET – Editor’s Choice, Business Week – 2004 Design Excellence Award, and Time Magazine – Best Gear 2003.
- Timetop GameKing, GameKing II, GameKing III
In 2003, another 8-bit handheld game console was introduced by Chinese manufacturing company, TimeTop. Only supporting four shades of grey with a very low screen resolution, this device has not reached mainstream success. However, retrogamers and enthusiasts alike have shown interest with the GameKing for its nostalgic characteristics.
Since its initial introduction, Timetop has also released colored hardware in GameKing II and a 64-color LCD or TFT screen through GameKing III.
- Sony Playstation Portable, PSP Slim and Lite, PSP-2000, PSP-3000, PSP Go
During the E3 of 2003, Sony Computer Entertainment announced to both tech lovers and the world that it will release a handheld gaming console names PlayStation Portable or aptly abbreviated to PSP. This device is the first of handhelds to use an optical disc format as its primary storage medium, called Universal Media Disc (UMD). Ken Kutagari, former CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment, gave the monicker to PSP as the “Walkman of the 21st Century.” Just in its first day of release, at a price of around $180 to $226, over 200,000 units were sold. This raised the Sony PSP as the only handheld game console among all others to gain an ample share and become a worthy competitor to Nintendo.
Sony has since upgraded the handheld game console with the releases of PSP Slim and Lite, PSP-2000, PSP-3000, and the just recently announced PSP Go (the first slider from Sony). PSP has enjoyed good sales reaching up to 50 million units sold as of February of 2009.
- Nintendo DS, DS Lite, DSiWith the goal of providing a different concept and a unique experience for players, the dual screen, one touch screen, Nintendo DS was made available to retail markets in 2004, with a market price of $149.99. It quickly became a favorite among gamers and have sold up to 100 million units (including DS Lite and DSi). This gaming device was aggressively marketed with its touch screen functionality. In 2006, a redesign of the DS was introduced, named DS Lite. Then in 2008, DSi was made availble to the market. The most popular title for the Nintendo DS is Nintendogs, which used the functionality of the device’s microphone, sold up to 22 million as of 2008. This is followed by New Super Mario Bros. at 17.63 million.Specifications:
- Apple iPod Touch and iPhone
With the innovation in technology and the genius of Apple, the company has managed to enter into the handheld gaming market through the Apple iPod Touch and iPhone. While people may argue that the iPod Touch and iPhone are not in the category of handheld gaming devices, these two have proven to be very much used by amateur to game enthusiasts alike. The introduction of the Apple App Store even pushed these devices to have better applications, games, and functions. Apple is even marketing the iPod Touch as a gaming device.
To improve on the GP32 and GP2X handhelds, Pandora is under development by Craig Rothwell and his team under the manufacturing company, OpenPandora. This upcoming handheld game console is positioned to be more powerful than any other existing competitors’ device. It will feature PDA capabilities and may also run as a low-power full-feature Linux desktop. According to the official website, Pandora will be “the ultimate open source handheld device.” At the price of $330, the team has closed pre-orders for now for this clamshell.
I surely may have missed some of the handheld game consoles that may arguably fit into this category. If so, please hit the comments and share them with us. Also, let me ask you, what is your favorite gadget on the list?