The 10 Greatest Portable Consoles To Sit In Your Hands
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.
Animal Crossing 2.0 – Review
On November 5th, Animal Crossing 2.0 alongside the DLC Happy Home Paradise was released. It was the last major free update to hit the latest game in the franchise and added a host of new features to the game. After almost a month of playing it, here’s our review and everything new in Animal Crossing 2.0 from Nintendo.
Animal Crossing has been around for 20 years, with its first release on 14th April 2001. Since then it’s released several versions of the game for the DS, Wii, and so on.
The latest version, New Horizons, came to the Nintendo Switch at just the right time; at the very beginning of Quarantine. It was easily the most popular Nintendo game last year. But it had a fatal flaw; rather than including everything upfront, Nintendo would release periodic updates where they would add to the game. The goal was to keep the game feeling fresh, but the result was that New Horizons felt unfinished. The game was bare-bones compared to past versions of Animal Crossing and didn’t have half as much to do. With the release of the last free update, New Horizons finally feels like a complete game. So what’s new? While there were a lot of things added and small things fixed, we’re just going to focus on the major gameplay changes and additions.
The beloved pigeon, Brewster, has been in Animal Crossing since 2005. He runs a cosy coffee shop, The Roost, usually located in the Museum. But he has been missing from New Horizons. A fan favourite, his absence has definitely been felt. Brewster is one of the most demanded additions to New Horizons. With the update, you can find him gyroid hunting on one of Kapp’n’s Islands and invite him to your island, where he will set up the Roost once more. You will also find some of your residents and NPCs there and can invite current and past Animal Crossing characters to the Roost via Amiibo card.
Speaking of Kapp’n, the turtle is back. In past versions of the game, Kapp’n is usually the one taking you to your new village at the start of every game. Whether it be by taxi, bus, or train, Animal Crossing typically kicks off with the retired seafarer. But New Horizons didn’t feature Kapp’n at all; until now. Now you can have him take you on island tours via his little boat off your dock. Some of these islands are extremely rare and feature exclusive items. He also sings you a little song while you make the journey..
Gyroids have, once again, been a part of every Animal Crossing game until New Horizons. They are little singing things that can be placed like furniture. In New Horizons, you can find a fragment on Kapp’n’s islands, bury it, water it, and a gyroid will grow the next day. Or some may be buried on your island after a rainy day. While past versions of gyroids have been annoying, the New Horizon’s gyroids are adorable and delightful. In New Horizons, Brewster is an avid collector. You’ll even get a Brewster gyroid after drinking enough coffee.
Cooking / Farming
Cooking has also been added to the game, something entirely unique to New Horizons. You can purchase crop starts from Leif, start a farm, and then cook the produce you grow. This opens up a whole host of fun recipes, and you can gift your creations to your residents. Eating a meal will make your villager stronger for longer, the same effect eating fruit previously had.
You can also host a group stretching event in the plaza. Random villagers and NPCs will join you. You can use your controllers to actually stretch with them, or use the joysticks if you’re stuck with a Lite or don’t feel like standing up.
Harv’s Island was previously… pretty useless. There was really nothing to do there aside from taking pictures, which is fun once. Now you can help him build an open-air Farmers Market/Commune. For 100,000 bells each, you can invite NPCs to set up a permanent shop. Among these are Leif, Redd, Kicks, Saharah, Reese, and Cyrus, who have all been seen in New Horizons. But it also introduces the return of Tortimer, the mayor from past games. (Who some fans theorized was dead until now). Harriet, a hairdresser who introduces a ton of new hairstyles to the game. And the fortune-teller Katrina. This expansion to Harv’s island is a huge resource.
You no longer have to wait for these NPCs to come to your island to purchase goods from them. It also opens up more customization for previously uncustomisable items. And it’s another goal to work towards after you pay off your home loans.
You can now issue Ordinances through Isabelle in the town hall. These include things like adding a Bell Boom so that you find more bells and goods are worth more, but things also cost more. Or the Beautiful Island ordinance, which will have your villagers pick up weeds and trash and will cause your flowers to grow faster. You can also issue that your villagers wake up earlier or go to bed later.
Happy Home Paradise
In addition to 2.0, a DLC was added to the Nintendo Store. Happy Home Paradise allows you to “get a job” building vacation homes. You report to your boss Lottie for work, alongside your coworkers Niko and Wardell. From there, you choose a character and build a home for them. They will give you a theme and some items they want to see in their home. You can also design facilities, like a cafe or school and assign characters to work in them. Using an amiibo card, you can also design homes for NPCs like Isabelle or Tom Nook, where you will have free reign over the design.
Happy Home Paradise also introduces partition walls which allow for more design options in your house. It also includes a lot of new furniture. When you’ve designed enough vacation homes, you are able to then redesign the houses on your island.
HHP adds a lot to the game. Animal Crossing’s flaw has always been that it gets too repetitive. HHP adds some flavour and a lot more to do. So even long after you’ve paid off your home loan and made your island pretty, you can still really engage with the game. It adds to and boosts life on the island, but also extends the world a bit. You can interact with more characters beyond just your residents and have more interaction with NPCs beyond purchasing goods from them.
All in all, the 2.0 update and Happy Home Paradise have elevated New Horizons. It makes the game feel new and adds what many fans have been asking for. While they are both great, it’s hard to shake the feeling that this all should have been included from the get-go like past versions of the game. After playing a skeleton of a game for a year, we now truly have a new Animal Crossing game.
Do you like Animal Crossing 2.0? Do you agree with our Animal Crossing review? Let us know in the comments below.
We compare Animal Crossing with Stardew Valley HERE.
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