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Handheld game console

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

 One of the first handheld game consoles, Ball was the first product in the Game & Watch series.
One of the first handheld game consoles, Ball was the first product in the Game & Watch series.

A handheld game console is a lightweight, portable electronic machine for playing video games. Unlike video game consoles, the controls, screen and speakers are all part of a single unit. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, several companies--including Coleco and Milton-Bradley--made lightweight table-top or handheld electronic game devices. Today, these machines are not considered strictly consoles, since they often would only play a single game. The first true handheld game console with interchangeable cartridges was the Milton Bradley Microvision in 1979. Nintendo has dominated the handheld market since the release of the Game Boy in 1989, and is often credited as popularizing the handheld console concept.



The first handheld game console to use interchangeable game cartridges was the Microvision, designed by Smith Engineering, and distributed and sold by Milton-Bradley in 1979. A small screen and a minuscule selection of games (only thirteen) led to its demise only two years later. Today, working Microvisions are quite rare. The keypad could be easily damaged and the LCD technology of the late 1970s was poor, leading to liquid crystal leaking and darkening. In 1983, Palmtex released the Home-Computer Software Super Micro Cartridge System. Only three games were made for it.

Early 1990s

The early 1990s saw the relaunch of the handheld game console pillar of the video game market after the demise of the Microvision. As backlit LCD game consoles with color graphics consume a lot of power, they were not battery friendly like the non-backlit original Game Boy with monochrome graphics which allowed more battery life. During this timeframe, rechargeable battery technology was not yet mature thereby rendering the advanced game consoles of the time such as the Game Gear and Atari Lynx marketing flops in the handheld video game market.

Even though third-party rechargeable batteries were available for the battery-hungry alternatives to the Game Boy, they had to be discharged before being recharged since they were in Nickel cadmium format. NiMH batteries, which do not require discharging before recharging, would not be released until the late 90's, well after the Game Gear, Atari Lynx, and the original Game Boy had been discontinued. During the time when technologically superior handhelds had strict technical limitations, batteries had a very low mAh rating since batteries with heavy power density were not yet available.

Since game systems of today have rechargeable Li-Ion batteries with proprietary shapes, such as the Nintendo DS and Sony PSP, handheld video game consoles of today are doing much better than the ones from the past. Unlike the aforementioned current-generation consoles, the GP2X uses standard alkaline batteries. Since the mAh rating of batteries has gone up to a high quantity, some lower end handhelds of today like the GP2X only need a couple of AA batteries for power.

Nintendo Game Boy

Main article: Game Boy
The original Game Boy's design set the standard for handheld gaming consoles.
The original Game Boy's design set the standard for handheld gaming consoles.

It was not until five years later that Nintendo released the Game Boy. The design team headed by Gumpei Yokoi had also been responsible for the Game & Watch system, as well as the Nintendo Entertainment System games Metroid and Kid Icarus. The Game Boy came under scrutiny by some industry critics, saying that the monochrome screen was too small, and the processing power was inadequate. The design team had felt that low initial cost and battery economy were more important concerns, and when compared to the Microvision, the Game Boy was a huge leap forward.

Yokoi recognized that the Game Boy needed a killer app – at least one game that would define the console, and persuade customers to buy it. In June 1988, Minoru Arakawa, CEO of Nintendo of America saw a demonstration of the game Tetris at a trade show. Nintendo purchased the rights for the game, and packaged it with the Game Boy system. It was almost an immediate hit. By the end of the year more than a million units were sold, and 25 million were sold by 1992. The original Game Boy (along with the Game Boy Pocket, Game Boy Color, and Game Boy Advance) is the best selling game console ever, having sold more than 190 million units.[citation needed] Some say that the Game Boy line had already reached more than 220 million units sold.[name a specific person/group]

Although the Game Boy is by far the most successful handheld game system, there were a number of other systems made throughout the 1990s.

Atari Lynx

Main article: Atari Lynx
Atari Lynx
Atari Lynx

In 1987, Epyx created the Handy; a device that would turn into the Atari Lynx in 1989. It was the first color portable ever made, as well as the first with a backlit screen. It featured a color LCD screen with backlight, networking support with up to 17 other players, and advanced hardware that allowed the zooming and scaling of sprites. The Lynx could also be turned upside down to accommodate left-handed players. However, all these features came at a very high price point, which drove consumers to seek cheaper alternatives. The Lynx was also very unwieldy (due to focus groups requesting the machine be bigger so it felt like they "got their money's worth"[citation needed]), consumed batteries very quickly and lacked the third-party support of the alternatives. Due to a high price, short battery life, production shortages, a dearth of compelling games, and Nintendo's aggressive marketing campaign, and despite a redesign in 1991, the Lynx became a commercial failure.

NEC TurboExpress

Main article: TurboExpress

The TurboExpress was a portable version of the TurboGrafx, released in 1990 for $249.99 (the price was briefly raised to $299.99, soon dropped back to $249.99, and by 1992 it was $199.99). Its Japanese equivalent was the PC Engine GT.

TurboExpress handheld, TV tuner, and games
TurboExpress handheld, TV tuner, and games

It was the most advanced handheld of its time and could play all the TurboGrafx-16's games(which were on a small, credit-card sized media called HuCards). It had a 66 mm (2.6 in.) screen, the same as the original Game Boy, and could display 64 sprites at once, 16 per scanline, in 512 (some say only 482?) colors. It had 64 kilobytes of RAM. The Turbo ran its two 6820 CPUs at 3.58 MHz in parallel.

The optional "TurboVision" TV tuner included RCA audio/video input, allowing you to use TurboExpress as a video monitor. The "TurboLink" allowed two-player play. Falcon, a flight simulator, included a "head-to-head" dogfight mode that could only be accessed via TurboLink. However, very few TG-16 games offered co-op play modes especially designed with the TurboExpress in mind.

Sega Game Gear

Main article: Sega Game Gear
Sega Game Gear
Sega Game Gear

The Sega Game Gear was the third colour handheld console, after the Lynx and the TurboExpress. Released in Japan in 1990 and in North America and Europe in 1991, it was based on the Sega Master System, which gave Sega the ability to quickly create Game Gear games from its large library of games for the Master System.

Like the Lynx and the TurboExpress, the Game Gear failed to make a significant impact on the Game Boy's lead in the handheld market. Nonetheless, it managed better sales than the Lynx and TurboExpress, with support from Sega until 1997 and Majesco making a reduced-price version in 2000. It remains the longest running handheld system not made by Nintendo, although the PlayStation Portable has achieved a larger market share.

Late 1990s

The Game Boy was nine years old before it got its first significant makeover. In 1998, the Game Boy Color was released. It used the smaller and lighter form-factor of the Game Boy Pocket, but featured a full color screen. It was also backwards-compatible, so that it could play not only games specifically made for the Game Boy Color, but standard Game Boy games as well. It did not have significantly more computing power than the Game Boy, however.

By this time, the lack of significant development in Nintendo's product line began allowing more advanced systems such as the Neo Geo Pocket Color and the Wonderswan Color to achieve moderate success.

Game Boy Color

Main article: Game Boy Color
The Game Boy Color was the first handheld by Nintendo featuring Colors.
The Game Boy Color was the first handheld by Nintendo featuring Colors.

The Game Boy Color (also referred to as GBC) is Nintendo's successor to the Game Boy and was released on October 21, 1998 in Japan and in November of the same year in the United States. It features a color screen, and is only slightly larger than the Game Boy Pocket. The processor is twice as fast as a Game Boy's, and has twice as much memory. It also had an infrared communications port for wireless linking which did not appear in later versions of the Game Boy, such as the Game Boy Advance.

The Game Boy Color was a response to pressure from game developers for a new system, as they felt that the Game Boy, even in its latest incarnation, the Game Boy Pocket, was insufficient. The resulting product was backward compatible, a first for a handheld console system, and leveraged the large library of games and great installed base of the predecessor system. This became a major feature of the Game Boy line, since it allowed each new launch to begin with a significantly larger library than any of its competitors.

The console was capable of showing up to 56 different colors simultaneously on screen from its palette of 32,768, and could add basic four-color shading to games that had been developed for the original Game Boy. It could also give the sprites and backgrounds separate colors, for a total of more than four colors. However, this resulted in graphic anomalies in certain games where a sprite that was supposed to meld into the background was now colored separate, giving it away.

Neo-Geo Pocket Color

Main article: Neo Geo Pocket Color
Neo Geo Pocket Color
Neo Geo Pocket Color

The Neo Geo Pocket Color (or NGPC) was released in 1998 in Japan. It was a 16-bit color handheld game console designed by SNK, the makers of the Neo Geo home console and arcade machine. It came after SNK's original Neo Geo Pocket monochrome handheld, which debuted in 1998 in Japan (and was released in the USA in 1999).

In 2000 following SNK's purchase by Japanese Pachinko manufacturer Aruze, the Neo Geo Pocket Color was dropped from both the United States and European markets, purportedly due to commercial failure. Remaining stock was bought back by SNK for repackaging in Asia. Before SNK was bought out, the Neo Geo Pocket Color was being advertised on US television and units were being sold nationally in Wal-Mart, Best Buy, Toys "R" Us, and other large retail chains. In June 2000 SNK of America (and Europe) tried recalling most of the backstock of systems and games to be flashed and re-sold in Asia where the system would continue to be sold and supported. Some of the backstock of US NGPC hardware and software started showing up back on the marketplace in the US and Asia in 2003. These units frequently appear bundled with six games, and are readily available online, and are sometimes available in video game stores. Neo Geo Pocket Colors have been seen in many Discovery Channel Stores as of the holiday season. They are retailing for $75 with 8 Games.

The system seemed well on its way to being a success in the US. Indeed, it enjoyed a greater success than any Game Boy competitor since Sega's Game Gear. However, it was hurt by several factors, such as the Neo Geo heads' infamous lack of communication with third-party developers, and anticipation of the Game Boy Advance. The decision to ship American games in cardboard boxes in a cost cutting move rather than the much loved hard plastic cases that Japanese and European releases were shipped in may have also hurt the American sales.

Wonderswan Color

Main article: Wonderswan Color
WonderSwan Color  It should be possible to replace this fair use image with a freely licensed one. If you can, please do so as soon as is practical.
WonderSwan Color  It should be possible to replace this fair use image with a freely licensed one. If you can, please do so as soon as is practical.

The WonderSwan Color is a handheld game console designed by Bandai. It was released on December 30, 2000 in Japan, and was a moderate success.

The original WonderSwan had only a black and white screen. Although the WonderSwan Color was slightly larger and heavier (7 mm and 2 g) compared to the original WonderSwan, the color version featured 64KB[verification needed] of RAM and a larger color LCD screen. In addition, the WonderSwan Color is compatible with the original WonderSwan library of games.

Prior to WonderSwan's release, Nintendo had virtually a monopoly in the Japanese video game handheld market. After the release of the WonderSwan Color, Bandai took approximately 8% of the market share in Japan partly due to its low price of 6800 yen (approximately $65 U.S. Dollars).

Another reason for the WonderSwan's success in Japan was the fact that Bandai managed to get a deal with Squaresoft to port over the original Famicom Final Fantasy games with improved graphics and controls. However, with the popularity of the Game Boy Advance and the reconciliation between Squaresoft and Nintendo, the WonderSwan Color and its successor, the Swan Crystal quickly lost its competitive advantage.



Game Boy Advance

The Game Boy Advance was a major upgrade to the Game Boy line
The Game Boy Advance was a major upgrade to the Game Boy line
Main article: Game Boy Advance

In 2001, Nintendo released the Game Boy Advance, which added two shoulder buttons, a larger screen, and more computing power to the Game Boy Color. If the Color could roughly be seen as a handheld NES, the GBA was akin to an SNES, with features like Mode 7 effects and improved sprite manipulation. The system even displayed crude 3D graphics in games like Sonic Battle.

The design was revised two years later when the Game Boy Advance SP, a more compact version, was released. The SP featured a "clamshell" design (folding open and closed, like a briefcase), as well as a frontlit color display and rechargeable battery. Despite the smaller form factor, the screen remained the same size as that of the original. Finally, in 2005, the Game Boy Micro was released. This revision sacrificed screen size and backwards compatibility with previous Game Boys for a dramatic reduction in total size and a brighter backlit screen. A new SP model with a backlit screen was released in some regions at the same time.

Along with the Nintendo GameCube, the GBA also introduced the concept of "connectivity": using a handheld system as a console controller. A handful of games use this feature, most notably Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles, Sonic Adventure 2: Battle and The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker.

As of June 30, 2006, The GBA, GBASP, and the Game Boy Micro had sold 75.81 million units worldwide.[1]

Game Park 32

Main article: GP32

The original GP32 was released in 2001 by the Korean company Game Park a few months after the launch of the Game Boy Advance. It featured a 32-bit CPU, 133 MHz processor, MP3 and Divx player, and e-book reader. The GP32 was redesigned in 2003. A front-lit screen was added and the new version was called GP32 FLU (Front Light Unit). In the summer of 2004 another redesign was made and this time a back-lit screen was added. It was called the GP32 BLU. This version of the handheld was planned for release outside Korea; in Europe, and it was released for example in Spain (VirginPlay was the distributor). While not a commercial success, it gained a cult following of developers and more technically-adept users. It was superseded by the GP2X.

Nokia N-Gage

N-gage QD
N-gage QD
Main article: N-gage

Nokia released the N-Gage in 2003. It was designed as a combination mp3 player, cellphone, PDA, radio, and gaming device. The system received a lot of criticism alleging defects in its physical design and layout, including its vertically oriented screen and requirement of removing the battery to change game cartridges. The most well known of these was "sidetalking", or the act of placing the phone speaker and receiver on an edge of the device instead of one of the flat sides, causing the user to appear as if they are speaking into a taco.

The N-Gage QD was later released to address the design flaws of the original. However, this practical redesign came at a cost: certain features available in the original N-Gage, including MP3 playback, FM radio reception, and USB connectivity were removed.

Tapwave Zodiac

Main article: Tapwave Zodiac

In 2004, Tapwave released the Zodiac. It was designed to be a PDA-handheld game console hybrid. It supported photos, movies, music, Internet, and documents. Palm OS 5 hardware is compatible with the Zodiac. Two versions are available, differing in memory and looks. The Tapwave Zodiac was killed off in July of 2005.

Nintendo DS

Main article: Nintendo DS
The Nintendo DS has two screens (one of which is a touchscreen), a microphone, and wireless networking.
The Nintendo DS has two screens (one of which is a touchscreen), a microphone, and wireless networking.

The Nintendo DS was released in November, 2004. Among its new features was the incorporation of two screens, as well as a touch screen, wireless connectivity, and a microphone port. As with the Game Boy SP, the DS features a clamshell design, with the two screens aligned vertically on either side of the hinge.

The DS's lower screen is touch sensitive, designed to be pressed with a stylus, a user's finger or a special "thumb pad" (a small plastic pad attached to the console's wrist strap, which can be affixed to the thumb to simulate an analog stick). More traditional controls include four face buttons, a D-pad, and "start" and "select" buttons. The console also features online capabilities via the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection and ad-hoc Wireless networking for multiplayer games with up to 16 players. Limited backwards compatibility with Game Boy Advance titles is provided. As of September 30, 2006 the Nintendo DS and Nintendo DS Lite has sold 26.82 million units in total[1], and currently has more worldwide sales than any other competitor.

In January 2006, Nintendo revealed an updated version of the DS: the Nintendo DS Lite (released on March 2, 2006 in Japan) with an updated, smaller form factor (42% smaller and 21% lighter than the original Nintendo DS), a cleaner design, and much brighter, higher-quality displays (with adjustable brightness).

Sony PSP

Main article: PlayStation Portable
The PlayStation Portable can play music, movies, games, view JPEG pictures and browse on the web wirelessly.
The PlayStation Portable can play music, movies, games, view JPEG pictures and browse on the web wirelessly.

Sony's PlayStation Portable was first revealed at Eł 2004, and was released in Japan and North America in late 2004 and early 2005, respectively. The PSP, as well as several other handhelds in this generation, is designed with an emphasis on convergence, with video and music playback functions in addition to game playing. With over 17.03 million units shipped worldwide[2], it is the most successful handheld console to date not made by Nintendo.

The PSP's features four face buttons with the distinctive PlayStation symbols, a directional pad, two shoulder buttons and several hardware control buttons along the bottom of the console's face. The PSP has a single analog control in the form of an "analog pad": a small plastic circle which can slide along the plane of the console's front panel. The PSP's screen is often considered one of its most obvious hardware advantages, an unusually large 4.3 inch widescreen (16:9 aspect ratio) LCD. Unusually, PSP games are stored on UMD discs rather than a solid-state medium. In terms of hardware connectivity, the PSP supports WiFi for multiplayer gaming both locally and over the internet, as well as a standard four-pin USB connector on the top edge of the console. The system is designed to connect to Sony's PlayStation 3 console.

Sony has emphasized the PSP's non-gaming functions. The machine can play movies and music from the system's UMD disks, or from a Memory Stick Duo memory card (Sony's form of writeable data storage). Some of the games for the PSP, such as Wipeout Pure, can use a wireless internet connection to download new content, and as of firmware version 2.0 the console has an integrated web browser. Later firmwares added more non-gaming functionality such as LocationFree Player support in firmware 2.50; RSS Channel audio which can be streamed or downloaded to the memory stick in 2.60, Video and Photo RSS Channel (Although you cannot stream videos or photo off the internet, you can only download) in 2.80; Full Playstation 3 connectivity in 3.00 and the ability to use the Chotto Shot (Quick Shot) camera accessory without the Chotto Shot Edit UMD software.

Tiger Telematics Gizmondo

Main article: Gizmondo

Tiger's Gizmondo came out in the UK during March 2005 and it was released in the U.S. during October 2005. It is designed to play music, movies, and games, have a camera for taking and storing photos, and have GPS functions. It also has Internet capabilities. It has a phone for sending text and multimedia messages. Email was promised at launch, but was never released before Gizmondo, and ultimately Tiger Telematics', downfall in early 2005. Users obtained a second service pack, unrelesed, hoping to find such functionality. Unfortunately, Service Pack B did not activate the e-mail functionality.

Game Park Holdings GP2X

Main article: GP2X
The GP2X plays games and homebrew apps and also suports a wide range of audio, video and picture formats.
The GP2X plays games and homebrew apps and also suports a wide range of audio, video and picture formats.

Released in November 2005, the GP2X is a handheld game console that uses the Linux operating system and is designed to support videos, music, photos, and games in an open architecture allowing any user to develop software for the device. Expandability for future upgrades (new media formats, features, operating system, etc) has been made possible by flash upgradable firmware.

The GP2X natively supports codecs and formats such as DivX, Xvid, MP3 and Ogg Vorbis, but because the player is based on the open-source media player named mplayer, it will be easily possible to add other codecs unsupported at the launch. It is also expected to be able to emulate games for many systems, including the NES, SMS, PC Engine, SNES, and Mega Drive/Genesis. Since GP2X units were sent to some developers before the official commercial launch, there are projects of some emulators, like a Neo Geo CD emulator ported to GP2X by a Korean developer.

List of notable facts

Main articles: Comparison of handheld gaming consoles
  • Milton Bradley Microvision (1979)
  • Epoch Game Pocket Computer - (1984) - Japanese only; not a success
  • Nintendo Game Boy (1989) - First international commercial success
  • Atari Lynx (1989) - First backlit/color screen, first hardware capable of accelerated 3d drawing
  • NEC TurboExpress (1990, Japan; 1991, North America) - Played huCard (PC Engine/TurboGrafx-16) games, first console/handheld intercompatibility
  • Sega Game Gear (1991) - Architecturally similar to Sega Master System, notable accessory firsts include a TV tuner
  • Watara Supervision (1992) - first handheld with TV-OUT support; although the Super Game Boy was only a compatibility layer for the preceding game boy.
  • Sega Mega Jet (1992) - no screen, made for Japan Air Lines (first handheld without a screen)
  • Nintendo Virtual Boy (1994) - Monochromatic (red only) 3D goggle set, only semi-portable; first 3D portable
  • Sega Nomad (1995) - Played normal Sega Genesis cartridges, albeit at lower resolution
  • SNK Neo Geo Pocket (1996) - Unrelated to Neo Geo consoles or arcade systems save for name
  • Nintendo Game Boy Pocket (1996) - Slimmer redesign of Game Boy
  • Nintendo Game Boy Pocket Light (1997) - Japanese only backlit version of the Game Boy Pocket
  • Tiger (1997) - First touch screen, first internet support (with use of sold-separately modem)
  • Nintendo Game Boy Color (1998)
  • Cybiko (Around 1998)
  • Sony PocketStation (1998) - Japanese only PS1 memory card / portable mini console in one.
  • SNK Neo Geo Pocket Color (1999)
  • Bandai WonderSwan (1999) - Developed by Gumpei Yokoi after leaving Nintendo
  • Bandai WonderSwan Color (2000)
  • Game Park GP32 (2001) - first with full homebrew support
  • Nintendo Game Boy Advance (2001) - First 32-bit handheld
  • Nintendo Pokémon Mini (2004) - Tiny interchangeable handheld with Pokémon themed games
  • Bandai Swan Crystal (2002) - Minor redesign of WonderSwan Color
  • Nokia N-Gage (2003) - Game system and GSM cell phone (first combination of the two); first included mp3 player and FM radio; used Bluetooth (first wireless multiplayer); first use of GPRS for online play
  • Nintendo Game Boy Advance SP (2003) - Redesign of GBA: slimmer, clamshell form factor; frontlit screen
  • Timetop Gameking (2003) - first handheld developed by a Chinese company.
  • Tapwave Zodiac (2004) - First PDA/game handheld hybrid; Palm OS PDA with game-focused form factor and features
  • Nokia N-Gage QD (2004) - Redesign of N-Gage, removed mp3 playback and radio
  • Nintendo DS (2004) - First inclusion of dual screens, built-in microphone, and Wi-Fi for wireless multiplayer; touchscreen
  • Sony PSP (2004/2005) - First use of optical media; uses Memory Sticks for saved data; plays movies and music and views JPEG pictures.
  • Tiger Gizmondo (2005) - Uses GPRS network; first inclusion of GPS for location-based games, first built-in camera
  • Game Boy Micro (2005) - Redesign of GBA; smallest Game Boy form factor to date, first transflective LCD screen in a handheld.
  • Game Park XGP (2005) and Game Park Holdings GP2X (2005) - Successor units to the GP32 handheld, each being developed by the two companies that split off from Game Park.
  • V-Smile Pocket (2005) - handheld version of the V-Smile console. Specifically designed for education purposes.
  • Ez MINI (2005) by Shanda
  • Nintendo DS Lite (2006) - Redesign of DS, including smaller size, brighter screen levels, and other subtle changes.
  • Pelican VG Pocket Caplet like a upgrated VG Pocket Max.

Homemade Handheld Consoles

In the past few years, many consumers and so-called "hackers" have started taking older video game consoles and making them into handheld games consoles. A notable example of this technique is Benjamin J Heckendorn's; he has not just made older systems portable, but, more recently the Xbox 360. He has a large following, who presumably also spend their time "hacking" game consoles.


  1. ^ CONSOLIDATED FINANCIAL HIGHLIGHTS (PDF) 9. Nintendo Co., Ltd. (2006-07-24). Retrieved on 2006-08-14.

See also

  • Video game console
  • Console emulator
  • Handheld electronic game
  • Handheld video game
  • Calculator gaming
  • PDA - a similar concept
  • Handheld television
  • Smartphone

External links

  • Guide to Game Boy - All things Game Boy: News, reviews, history, culture and development. Updated several times a week.
  • ByteSized Gaming - Multi-format handheld news, reviews, discussion forums and more.
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