What’s Next? Handheld Game Consoles Through the Years

By on May 28, 2013
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While home game consoles get the lion’s share of the spotlight, handheld gaming has been around for a while now with a few ups and many downs. Its biggest challenge to date has come in the form of smartphones, which have now completely cornered the portable gaming market.

The most recent high-profile handheld game console, the Sony PlayStation Vita, was released in early 2012 and has really struggled to find an audience.

With the latest handheld gaming device, the NVIDIA Shield, set to release next month, we take a look back at handheld game consoles through the years.

1979: Milton Bradley Microvision

The first handheld gaming console as we know it, with interchangeable game cartridges. Not exactly a world-beater in its day—13 total games over 3 years, screen rot and 16 x 16 resolution didn’t exactly help things.


1989: Nintendo Game Boy

When we think of modern handheld gaming, the words “Game Boy” come to mind. Once again, Nintendo revived a flagging or non-existent industry with an über-successful product. A little game by the name of Tetris helped this modest 8-bit monochrome device set records.


1989: Atari Lynx

Despite it being the first color handheld and the first to have online networking (ComLynx), the 16-bit Lynx could not compete with the runaway success of the Game Boy or competitive offerings from Sega and NEC (see below). However, independent developers continued to make games for the Lynx years after its demise.


 1990: NEC TurboExpress

While its battery life was weak, the TurboExpress was the most powerful handheld of its day and could play games directly from the TurboGrafx-16. Unfortunately for NEC, nobody cared.


1991: Sega Game Gear

With 11 million units sold, the Game Gear was the most successful handheld outside of the Game Boy for its time. Even though it only had an 8-bit processor, the Game Gear had a fairly long life due to the popularity of its titles like Sonic the Hedgehog.


1998: Nintendo Game Boy Color

Years after the release of the original Game Boy, Nintendo released the official followup called simply Game Boy Color. In addition to the color screen, the sequel was twice as fast and could play the old Game Boy games. Nintendo has sold  almost 120 million Game Boy and Game Boy Color handhelds combined, a number which would only be surpassed years later by the Nintendo DS.


1999: SNK Neo Geo Pocket Color

Pretty much forgotten in an era when Nintendo dominated handheld gaming, the 16-bit NGPC carved out a small but brief niche in the market with a wide release in major American retailers.


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About Joe Warner

I'm the senior editor of The CheckOut. I am an aficionado of shiny gadgets and classic Hollywood movies and can also tell you the names of the late '80s Swedish Davis Cup team members.

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