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The 10 Greatest Portable Consoles To Sit In Your Hands

David Rothwell

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Nintendo Game Boy box image
Nintendo

We’re looking at the 10 greatest handheld consoles in the history of gaming. Portable gaming has come a long way from the days of basic LCD handhelds. Today we have technology that was only a pipe dream back in the 1980s.

Here we’re counting down the 10 best handhelds of all time. To make the list a console’s sales figures, its impact at launch and its legacy will be taken into account.

THE RULES: Systems with no interchangeable cartridges such as Tiger Electronics or Game & Watch lines won’t be included. The Nintendo Switch isn’t on the list either as it competes in the main home console market.

10. Bandai Wonderswan/Color/Crystal

Released: 1999, 2000 & 2002

Introductory price: 50 USD

Units sold 3M (Combined with original Wonderswan)

First up on our list of greatest handheld consoles is a machine many won’t have heard of. Released only in Japan, the Bandai Wonderswan line launched for a low price. One of the unique aspects was games could be played in landscape or portrait. The console’s controls laid out to cater to both orientations. The Wonderswan Color and Crystal were later models and a selection of games could only be played on the newer versions.

The 16-Bit system was created by former Nintendo employee and Co-Game Boy creator Gunpei Yokoi. Alas, Yokoi was killed in a traffic accident in 1997. The puzzle game Gunpey released on the Wonderswan was named after him.

The main issue of a Japanese only system, for anyone looking to import one, is that most of the games are in Japanese. Final Fantasy and RPGs are a no-go unless you can read Japanese of course.

The Wonderswan was a moderate success and held around a 10% market share. Not bad considering a certain red plumber’s company dominated the handheld market.

9. Turbo Express/PC Engine GT

Released: 1990

Introductory price: 249.99 USD

Units sold: 1.5M

The NEC Corporation were the third wheel in the console war that erupted between Sega & Nintendo. With their own 16 Bit console, the PC Engine in Japan, known as the TurboGrafx 16 in North America. The system enjoyed moderate success in Japan but struggled in North America due to poor marketing. Keith Courage in Alpha Zones didn’t exactly set the world on fire.

So in 1990, some clever people, at NEC decided to make a handheld that played TurboGrafx games. The result, the most powerful handheld in existence at the time.

The system sold poorly and suffered some issues. It required six double-A batteries that lasted barely three hours. The LCD screens suffered from dead pixels and cheap capacitors meant the volume could stop working entirely.

8. The Neo Geo Pocket Colour

Released: 1999

Introductory price: 69.95 USD

Units sold: Under 2M

The successor to the monochrome Neo Geo Pocket released a year earlier, the Neo Geo Pocket Color was a portal swan song by SNK.

The handheld was 16 bit, affordable, and could run for 40 hours off of two double-A batteries.

D-pads weren’t good enough for SNK who fitted one of the best micro switched thumbsticks (clicky sticks) ever seen on a handheld. The control and response were perfect for the large roster of fighting games on the system.

An article on Nintendo Life spoke highly of this calling “The microswitched control stick seen on the Neo Geo CD joypad, a gloriously clicky interface which was as accurate as it was noisy.”

King of Fighters R2, Fatal Fury, Gals Fighters and the content loaded SNK Vs Capcom Match of the Millennium all being fantastic additions. Powerhouse run and guns Metal Slug 1st & 2nd Mission and the phenomenal Sonic Pocket Adventure being standout titles.

So what went wrong? SNK, already in a tough financial position were bought by Aruze and all stock was recalled to Japan. The Pokémon craze and Nintendo’s dominance of the hand held market also proved too much for the Neo Geo Pocket Color to compete with.

Some of the games such as Cotton Fantastic Night Dreams were only on store shelves briefly. Today some games will set you back three figures if you can find them.

7. SEGA Game Gear

Released: 1990/91

Introductory price: 149.99 USD

Units sold: 11M

The Game Gear, Sega’s first attempt to compete with Nintendo in the handheld market. Boasting a full colour and backlit display. This beast of an 8-bit unit outperformed the Game Boy technically in every way.

Sega’s Golden Axe, Streets of Rage, Shinobi and Sonic franchises all had releases on the Game Gear. Sonic’s sidekick Tails even got his own platforming game, Tails Adventure.

Yet, with great power, comes… well… a great drain on batteries. The Game Gear required six double-A batteries and chewed through them in as little as three hours.

The system was more expensive than Game Boy. While having a respectable library of over 300 games, a lack of long-term support from Sega and poor battery performance let this system down as one of the greatest handheld consoles.

6. PS Vita

Released: 2012

Introductory price: 249.99 USD

Units sold: 10M (rumoured)

Sony released the PS Vita amongst a wave of optimism in 2012, and why not, they were riding high at the time. The unit was sleek, with a vibrant display, dual analogue controls, and a touch screen. An additional touchpad was located on the back of the system.

On launch, the PS Vita garnered positive reviews. Sam Byford from the Verge gave the system an 8.5/10. Declaring “The PlayStation Vita is quite simply the most desirable handheld gaming device yet released. From the beautiful display to the horsepower behind it, from the well-executed traditional controls to the new touch inputs. Sony has thought of almost everything”

Then Sony seemed to forget about the Vita. Even with its connectivity to the PS3 and PS4, Sony showed little interest in the system only a couple of years into its lifecycle.

Indie developers embraced the Vita, with titles such as Shovel Knight, Super Meat Boy, and Bastion all-seeing releases. RPGs were plenty on the Vita with series such as Final Fantasy, Ys and Shin Megani Tensei all getting remasters or new titles.

The Vita only went on to sell around 10M units, which was a massive shame for a handheld that deserved more.

5. PSP

Release: 2004/05

Introductory price: 249.99 USD

Units sold: 80M

Sony’s first major handheld effort was the most powerful portable console of its time. The graphics were unlike anything seen on a handheld before and it deserves a place on a list of the greatest handheld consoles. The PSP was technically superior to the DS, giving Nintendo its strongest competition in the handheld market to date.

Cnet’s David Carnoy writing in his 2005 review gave the PSP A 8.1/10 praising the screen and recognisable controls. “The centrepiece of the handheld is its especially impressive 4.3-inch wide-screen display (480×272 pixels, 16.77 million colours). The screen is flanked by controls that will be immediately recognizable to fans of past PlayStations”

The drawbacks were a stiff D-Pad, an uncomfortable, thumbstick and the lack of dual analogue control, a staple of PlayStation’s dual shock controllers. Games came on UMDs (Universal Media Discs) an odd rounded minidisc like design. At one point Sony had to issue guidance that the discs plastic shell wasn’t to be removed.

The UMDs for games worked across any region, while the UMDs for movies (yeah, that was a thing) only worked in the region they were made for. UMDs were often slow loading, a PSP that only played digital games was released, and it was a move too ahead of its time.

The PSP had an impressive line of games from Grand Theft Auto, Twisted Metal, Burnout and four excellent Metal Gear titles.

4. 3DS

Release: 2011

Introductory price: 249.99 USD

Units sold: 76M

In at number four on the list of greatest handheld consoles is the 3DS. The 3DS had a bit of a rocky start with the price slashed early into the console’s lifespan. The move paid off and the 3DS would have a long lifespan being discontinued this year (2020).

Ryan Fleming of Digital Trends gave the 3DS 4/5 stars.“The Nintendo 3DS is a powerful and unique gaming device that will enthral gamers, despite its poor battery life and weak camera.” The 3DS battery could run out in under three hours and its camera had a lower resolution of 640 x 480. Smartphones were capable of snapping far superior photos by comparison.

A big selling point of the 3DS was the ability of a 3D effect without the need for glasses, something even the cinema industry still relies on.

The 3DS featured games from Nintendo’s biggest franchises. Mario, Zelda, Metroid, Pokemon, and Animal Crossing were as popular as ever. Luigi even got in on the party with Luigi’s Mansion Dark Moon, the long-awaited sequel to the Gamecube classic.

A major downside to the 3DS was the decision by Nintendo to apply region locking to the system. This move hadn’t been undertaken with the Game Boy or DS lines before and limited players to games from their region.

3. Game Boy Advance

Released: 2001

Introductory price: 99.99 USD

Units sold: 82M

The follow up to The Game Boy Colour packed a punch right out of the box. The GBA was often compared to the SNES, though it was a 32-bit system.

The GBA hosted a strong line up of games, Advance Wars, Fire Emblem, Metroid Fusion, Pokémon Sapphire and Ruby and a plethora of remakes and enhanced ports.

The SP revision added a front-lit screen (a backlit version also in some regions) which made playing without direct light a lot easier.

At launch, IGN praised the number of games available and the backwards compatibility. “The system has launched with more than 17 games, and more than 60 are expected to ship by Christmas 2001. That’s a big library, and that’s not even the system’s first full year. Plus, if a decent Game Boy Color game hits the scene, you’re guaranteed to be able to play it on the Game Boy Advance.”

All versions of the GBA except for the Micro were retro compatible with nearly every Game Boy game from every region. The scope spanned a library 18 years wide totalling more than 3,200 games. This backward compatibility is unrivalled and will likely never happen again.

2. Nintendo DS

Released: 2004

Introductory price: 249.99 USD

Units sold: 154M

The DS, Nintendo’s best-selling handheld to date. Inspired by the dual-screen and hinged design of Nintendo Game & Watch line from the 1980s.

Nintendo struck gold with this device. The stylus and touch screen provided new gameplay functionality to games such as Brain Training. They were even utilised as the final pattern killer hit to defeat bosses in Castlevania Dawn of Sorrow.

Reviewers on launch praised the systems 3D graphical capabilities with Ben Kuchera of Arts Technica stating “The graphics are very impressive for a handheld, with full 3D with a very smooth framerate. Mario 64 looks better than the N64”

New games featured Pokémon White & Black, Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney, Mario & Luigi Bowser’s Inside Story, Zelda The Phantom Hourglass, Mario Kart DS and Elite Beat Agents. There’s even more than enough to write one hell of a long list.

The DS also saw plenty of remakes and ports of older games. Pokémon Soul Silver & Heart Gold are considered some of the best games in the whole Pokémon franchise. Squaresoft’s acclaimed SNES masterpiece Chrono Trigger also received a highly praised DS release.

If that wasn’t enough the DS and DS Lite also were backwards compatibility with GBA games.

This Nintendo console was a handheld powerhouse selling nearly double the number of units than Sony’s PSP in its lifespan.

1. Nintendo Game Boy

Released: 1989/90

Introductory price: 89.99 USD

Units sold: 119M (Including Game Boy Colour)

At the top of the list of greatest handheld consoles is, of course, the granddaddy of them all. The Nintendo Game Boy, upon arrival in 1989 this monochrome brick of an 8-bit handheld was outdated even at launch. It had no backlight screen, no colour, yet crushed every other handheld out there in the market.

In an interview in 1997, Game Boy Co-creator Gunpei Yokoi said the following on the systems lack of colour “The technology was there to do colour. But I wanted us to do black and white anyway. If you draw two circles on a blackboard, and say “that’s a snowman”, everyone who sees it will sense the white colour of the snow, and everyone will intuitively recognise it’s a snowman. Once you start playing the game, the colours aren’t important. You get drawn, mentally, into the world of the game.”

The Game Boy came bundled with Tetris, a game so addictive that even Nintendo’s own accounts department were hooked playing it. As revealed by Shigeru Miyamoto when asked by then Nintendo President Hiroshi Yamauchi “Is Tetris a good game?” Judging by the sales figures Yokoi was correct.

Stellar titles such as Super Mario Land, Link’s Awakening and Kirby’s Dream Land sold systems in their millions.

Later in the 90s, Pokémon Red & Blue breathed new life into the aging system becoming the bestselling games for the Game Boy. (Tetris being the only exception being a pack in game)

Nintendo discontinued the system in March 2003 along with the Game Boy Colour, making a run of almost 14 years. The Game Boy, the smaller Game Boy Pocket and the Game Boy Colour sold over 118 million units and cemented Nintendo’s dominance in the handheld market.

Wrapping up

It’s no surprise that the top 4 positions on this list are dominated by Nintendo. The company has been the market leader in handheld gaming since the introduction on of the Game Boy.

The console sales numbers reflect the positions on this list. With the notable exception of the DS placed second behind the Game Boy, despite selling more units in its lifetime.

The Game Boy tops the list of greatest handheld consoles not only for high sales but due to its undeniable impact on handheld gaming that is still felt today.

Nintendo has remade Metroid Return of Samus and Zelda Link’s Awakening in recent years for the 3DS and the Switch. The Commercial for Link’s Awakening even drew heavily on nostalgia with a Game Boy being rediscovered in an attic.

A quick search on eBay not only brings up Game Boys for sale but a whole host of new parts from shells, buttons and new screens. Giving most of the range fully backlit displays for the first time. YouTube channels are devoted with tutorials on how to create modded Game Boys (Game Gear Neo Geo Pocket also to a lesser extent) to a whole list of designs. Some examples being glow in the dark, woodgrain and metal shelled systems.

All these reasons are why Nintendo’s Game Boy is the greatest hand held system of all time.


And that’s our list of the greatest handheld consoles, did we miss any? Do you agree with the order? Leave your thoughts in the comment box below.


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Gaming News

7 Xbox Games To Be Excited About

Polly Drumm

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Halo Infinite image
Xbox Game Studios

Here’s your guide to 2021’s most anticipated Xbox games. Games ranging from horror to survival and first-person shooters to be excited about on Xbox.

With the PlayStation 5 hitting stores in November 2020, Xbox released their advanced console, Series X and there are plenty of games to get excited about. With its updated, sleek new design, the X console allows high definition experiences. Having the ability to produce up to 120 frames ps, 8K HDR and Velocity architecture. It’s faster, superior and more powerful than any previous design. Alongside word of series X, Xbox has announced exciting, challenging and captivating games. But new releases are worth your time and money? We take a look.

1. 12 minutes

Featuring the voices of Daisy Ridley, James McAvoy and Willem Dafoe, 12 minutes is set in the apartment of a married couple. We focus on the husband and his ability to overcome a range of different obstacles.

Publisher Annapurna Interactive has gone with a retro click-to-step player mode. All to simulate organic transitions throughout the emotionally difficult yet enticing distortion of time. This unique and underrated style of gameplay allows for an encompassing experience. One that radiates emotional and practical outcomes over combat style games. And permits for an enjoyable break from more well-known survival and RPG games. With the release date yet to be announced, 12 Minutes, has the potential to become one of 2021’s most waited on games yet.

2. Psychonauts 2

The long-awaited sequel of the 2005 original game Psychonauts is finally launching. But is looking as if it will be closer to the end of 2021. With its obscure character style, humorous scripting, and easily playable combat and navigational skills. It’s understandable why fans have donated $3.8 billion to its development. Picking up from the original plotline, the sequel will follow Raz on his journey with the Titular team, overcoming new styles of combat, dangers and threats.

Set in the 1980s, Raz achieves his dream of reaching Psychonauts headquarter, helping the psychic spies with their missions. This multiplatform game has been long-awaited. It has the potential to not only bring you back to a childhood classic but launch you into a world of thrilling new adventures.

3. Hitman 3

With the official tagline for the release of Hitman 3 being ” A dramatic conclusion to the world of assignation trilogy” there are high expectations of the game.

But with both previous Hitman games being the quality and experience they are, there’s little doubt that the third game will be anything less than an amazing and surreal escapade.

This multiplatform game incorporates all the best locations and characters from the previous two games (as long as you already own them). As well as exotic new locations from around the world.

With the ability to play with VR headsets, this advanced version of the Hitman trilogy has the prospective to be the best of the three. With IO interactive releasing a limited description of the plotline, there is lots to hope for with this stealth game launched in late January 2021.

4. Chernobylite

With no official release date, Chernobylite looks like one of 2021’s most gripping survival games to come. Playing as a scientist from the 1986 catastrophe, this science-fiction game follows the conspiracy’s surrounding the danger zone of the aftermath of the nuclear explosion at Chernobyl.

The multiplatform game allows for free exploration of the map, challenging combat situations with various villains and an intertwining plotline. With the developer being that of “Get even” and “NecroVisioN” Farm 51 is known for the enticing, sombre visual graphics that enhance gameplay.

Delving into a profound personal story, with intense character and graphics, Chernobylite is a game that, by the seems of it, will keep you interested for hours on end.

5. Chorus

Benefiting from the impressive power the Xbox series X can be seen to have, the adventure game Chorus utilises amazing graphics, with 60 frames per second, as well as acute detail to lighting and terrain.

Optimised for the new console, this game follows cult member Nora and her mission to defeat her evil creators.

Despite sounding like a game set in ancient times with cults, Chorus focuses on a futuristic world with AI technology, space battles and a thrilling next-level plotline. aiming to send this style of game into the future, Chorus is rumoured to experiment with the powers of mental abilities as well as physical skills.

Developed for the new series X, Chorus can be found on multiple platforms. With such a strong and alluring plot, we can only hope that the release date is sometime soon.

6. Resident Evil: Village

With the eighth game in the series being announced, Resident Evil: Village, follows suit from game 7, Biohazard. Using reliable old characters as well as introducing new villains, heroes and locations.

With ultra-realistic graphics powered by the RE engine, we get a more advanced class of weaponry, combat styles and resources to use throughout the rescue and side missions. This classic style of jump-scare horror embodies the original games whilst allows adapting to modern technologies and demands.

Launching in May, this game can be found on nearly all platforms. But will be enhanced with the usage of Xbox’s new powerful console, ideal for such horror games.

7. Halo Infinite

Creative Director Joseph Staten stated, “this was the Halo we imagined back in 2000, finally coming to life, after 20 years of technical and creative innovation”.

Exclusive to Xbox consoles and other Microsoft devices this is one of the biggest games to be excited about. Halo Infinite has been adapted especially for the new Xbox series X for the best playable experience, flawless visuals and rapid load times.

Reusing original artwork to simulate older versions of the game and the reappearance of a more humanistic Master Chief, Halo Infinite will be a throwback of nostalgia for many fans.

But, graphics should be better than ever. With improved illustrations on global illumination, ambient occlusion and shadowing. All for better atmospheric quality and advancement in craftsmanship of lighting, weaponry and adjustments to terrain visibility.

Halo Infinite should be a next-level, first-person shooter game, with immense and microscopic detail throughout the playable world.


And that’s our list of seven Xbox games to be excited about this year. Which one are you looking forward to most of all? Did we miss any? Let us know in the comments section below.


Read about the worst console launches of all time HERE.

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