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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
More from our gaming pages HERE.
9 Rarest And Most Valuable Pokémon Cards In Existence
If you’re one of the millions of people with a set of Pokémon cards stashed away somewhere, it might be time to dig-lett them out (sorry). Time to see if any of these babies are in your collection. Here’s our list of the top 9 rarest and most valuable Pokémon cards in existence.
Chances are you haven’t caught them all. But having even one of these could net you a large wad of cash.
Pokémon has been an on/off craze ever since it first started back in the mid-’90s. But despite releasing games, a cult anime series and several films, it’s those little cards that are making a profitable resurgence right now.
Even in just the last three years, rare Pokémon cards have been sold for thousands of dollars at auction. So now is definitely the time to check your collection. Time to see if you could be sitting on a small fortune.
9. 20th Anniversary 24-karat Gold Pikachu
Crafted in solid gold
Sold for 216,000 yen ($2,081) in October 2016.
You don’t get much more unique than a Pokémon card made from solid gold. Yep, you heard right. This insanely unique and incredibly rare Pokémon card was produced by Japanese jewellery maker, Ginza Tanaka. A limited number of solid gold cards were created as a replica of the original Japanese Pikachu card (affectionately nicknamed ‘Fat Pikachu’).
Made from 11 grams of pure 24-karat cold, the only way to get a copy of this ultra-rare Pokémon card was to enter a lottery held in 2016. If you won, you were given the chance to buy a copy of the limited-edition card for 216,000 yen (around $2,081/£1,700).
The solid gold card was shipped in its own unique box and housed in a plastic frame. And what makes this even more incredible is that, whilst most rare and unique Pokémon cards stem from early on in the game’s beginnings, this card appeared for the first time in just the last 5 years. Definitely one of the rarest (and coolest) Pokémon cards in existence.
8. Master’s Key
A more recent card – but no less rare
Sold for $21,000 in November 2019.
Like the 20th anniversary gold Pikachu, Master’s Key is another rare yet relatively new Pokémon card. It made its first appearance just over ten years ago when it was awarded to competitors in the 2010 Pokémon World Championships held in Hawaii.
Participants in both the TCG (Trading Card Game) and video game counterpart received a copy of Master’s Key. Only the trophy case differed depending on the category.
Only 36 copies of the card are estimated to exist – equal to the number of participants in all age divisions of the world championships. And to prove just how rare this Pokémon card is, one of them sold at auction in November 2019 for more than $21,000.
7. Espeon and Umbreon Gold Star POP Series 5
A pair of Gold Star Pokémon cards from one of the most valuable Pokémon sets of all time
Sold for $22,100 and $20,000 respectively between December 2020 and February 2021.
The Gold Star Pokémon cards are one of the most valuable Pokémon sets ever produced. At the time of writing, a near mint full set of 27 cards is for sale on eBay. The price tag? £35,000 ($49,717).
But it’s the Espeon and Umbreon which are the real moneymakers. Perhaps the rarest cards in the set, these two alone sold for over $20,000 in just the last few months.
The cards are named after the gold star that appears next to the Pokémon’s name at the top of the card. It signifies that the card features alternative colour artwork which is different from the common version.
Only 27 Gold Star cards were released from 2004 to 2007. Making them some of the rarest Pokémon cards in existence.
Whilst the Japanese versions of the cards remain the most valuable due to their limited availability, the English versions of the Espeon and Umbreon Gold Star cards still command a high price. PSA (Professional Sports Authenticator – the prestigious organisation that grades the quality, condition and value of trading cards) values the two cards at $194,209 and $187,277 respectively. Easily making them two of the rarest and most valuable Pokémon cards around.
6. 1999 Pokémon Japanese Promo Tropical Mega Battle Tropical Wind
An ultra-rare promo card – one of only 12 ever made
Sold for $65,100 in October 2020.
When it comes to availability, you don’t get much rarer than the Tropical Wind card.
With just 12 being given to the top players at the 1999 Tropical Mega Battle tournament, the Japanese Tropical Wind promo card is extremely rare.
This inaugural tournament – a precursor to the Pokémon World Championships – took place in 1999 at the Hilton Hawaiian Village in Honolulu, Hawaii. The event was invite-only and was a battle between the best 50 players from Canada, Latin America, Europe, the United States, and Japan. During the event, a handful of trophy cards could be obtained. One of these was this baby right here.
This particular Tropical Mega Battle promo card (the 1999 Japanese-language copy of Tropical Wind) has sold at auction for as much as $65,100 in PSA Gem Mint 10 condition, with the most recent sale taking place in October 2020. PSA estimates its value to be as high as $148,482. Making the ultra-rare card a contender for one of the most expensive and valuable Pokémon cards ever made.
5. No. 1 Trainer
Quite possibly the most unknown Pokémon card of all time
Sold for $90,000 in July 2020.
Most people won’t have ever heard of No. 1 Trainer, and it’s even more unlikely they’ll have seen a copy in person. When it comes to rare Pokémon cards, they don’t get much rarer than this.
With only seven copies believed to be in existence, No. 1 Trainer may well be the least known card in existence.
No.1 Trainer is a holographic promotional card awarded to finalists in the Secret Super Battle tournament held in Tokyo in 1999. To earn a place in the competition’s finals (which were held in a secret location) players had to first win a regional tournament. Their prize was the No. 1 Trainer card, which granted them access to the finals.
The text on the front of the card translates to: “The Pokémon Card Game Official Tournament’s champion is recognised here, and this honour is praised. By presenting this card, you may gain preferential entry into the Secret Super Battle.” It’s almost like a modern-day, real-life Golden Ticket to Willy Wonka’s factory.
As only seven regional tournaments were held, it’s believed that just seven copies of the No. 1 Trainer card were made – easily making it one of the rarest Pokémon cards in existence.
4. Pikachu Illustrator
Extremely expensive and extremely rare
Sold for $195,000 in October 2019.
The Pikachu Illustrator card is an incredibly rare Pokémon card. It still holds the Guinness World Record for the most expensive Pokémon trading card sold at auction (although, more about this later…).
Pikachu Illustrator was originally given to winners of promo contests held in 1997 and 1998 by Japanese magazine CoroCoro Comic. 39 copies were officially awarded to the winners. While two copies were reportedly later discovered by one of the creators of the card game, seemingly bringing the total number of Pikachu Illustrator copies to 41.
As well as being ridiculously rare, the card is unique in a number of ways. It’s the only Pokémon card to say “Illustrator” instead of “Trainer” at the top. And has a one-off pen icon in its bottom-right corner to acknowledge its creation for the design contest. The card’s artwork of Pikachu is by Atsuko Nishida, the original illustrator of the fan-favourite Pokémon.
Approximately 19 copies of the card are believed to still exist, with 10 having been certified by the PSA.
A near-flawless copy of the card graded at Mint 9 (one grade under perfect condition) sold at auction in 2019 for $195,000 and broke a Guinness World Record. But arguably, there are a couple of contenders to that crown.
3. Black Star Ishihara Signed GX Promo Card
A signed card to celebrate the Pokémon founder’s 60th birthday
Sold for $247,230 in April 2021.
Of all the cards featured on this list, this rare and incredibly valuable Pokémon card is definitely one-of-a-kind.
Just last month on April 26, 2021, a copy of the Black Star Ishihara Signed GX Promo Card made headlines when it sold for nearly a quarter of a million US dollars.
The card depicts the Pokémon company founder and current president, Tsunekazu Ishihara. It was given to staff as a celebration of his 60th birthday in 2017.
What makes this specific version even rarer is that Ishihara actually signed this near-mint card to boost its price even further.
The ability “Red Chanchanko” refers to the red vest which is traditionally worn on 60th birthdays in Japan and prevents the effect of any attack, ability or trainer card against Ishihara. Meanwhile, its GX move “60 Congratulations” tells you to flip 60 coins, and take a present for each one. A truly unique, legendary card.
2. Pokémon Blastoise #009/165R Commissioned Presentation Galaxy Star Hologram
Quite possibly the only card one in existence
Sold for $360,000 in January 2021.
This Blastoise card is probably the single rarest Pokémon card in existence. One of only two such Pokémon cards ever made, it sold for a whopping $360,000 (£266,000) in January 2021.
This Pokémon card was created in 1998 as a presentation piece by Magic: The Gathering maker Wizards of the Coast to convince Nintendo executives to allow it to handle the TCG’s English-language release. The game would eventually make its international debut one year later in 1999.
While two Blastoise ‘Presentation’ cards were produced, this is the only one that has been seen publicly. Even more impressively, it has been graded at a NM/Mint+ 8.5 level by certification website CGC, meaning that the 20-plus-year-old card is in near-perfect condition. The location and state of the other Presentation card remain unknown. This either means that this card is the sole one remaining, or someone somewhere is unknowingly sitting on a small fortune.
1. 1999 First Edition Shadowless Holographic Charizard #4
The card that every kid wanted
Sold for $369,000 in December 2020.
Charizard. The card that absolutely every kid (and adult too now, apparently) wanted. And while the shiny Charizard has always been a firm favourite, this particular variant is even rarer.
While a number of top quality, first-edition cards from the Pokémon TCG’s early days are worth some money, due to their limited availability and age, this specific version of the holographic Charizard absolutely stands out as one of the rarest and most valuable Pokémon cards ever released.
What sets the card apart is the lack of a shadow underneath the dragon graphic. This was a printing error which was corrected for most of the cards printed but the few that sneaked passed quality control are incredibly sought after.
According to auction house Iconic Auctions, the rare card is “the Holy Grail of Pokémon cards, the most iconic and important card to both the Pokémon franchise and its die-hard fans”.
A mint-condition first-edition shadowless holographic PSA 10 Charizard sold at auction in October 2020 for a staggering $220,574 to the retired rapper – and Pokémon fan – Logic. Then, just two months later in December, another one of the same quality sold for a mind-blowing £350,000.
But as if that wasn’t enough, just a few hours after that, yet another card broke all records, selling for a mind-numbing £369,000.
Although this hasn’t officially been recognised by Guinness World Records, this certainly knocks the Pikachu Illustrator off its perch, as well as the staggering sum held by the Blastoise Galaxy Star Hologram.
Either way, despite not being the rarest, this is definitely the most valuable Pokémon card sold to date. But with the desire for rare Pokémon cards showing no signs of slowing, the big question is: how much higher can their value go?
One thing’s for sure, if anyone out there truly has caught them all, that would make for one incredibly valuable collection.
And that’s our list of the 9 rarest and most valuable Pokémon cards in existence. Did you ever have any of these? Which is your favourite? Let us know in the comments below.
Are Team Rocket just misunderstood? Read our article HERE.
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