Handheld Consoles: A Retrospective Look

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PC Mag

Handheld gaming has been going strong for decades.

Luke Culver, Columnist

Handheld consoles are a staple in gaming history. Chances are, you or one of your friends own one. When it comes to handhelds, a major name in the handheld gaming community is Nintendo, the creators of the Mario games, Legend of Zelda, and Animal Crossing.

It all dates back to 1989, the year the first Gameboy came out. At the time, Nintendo bought the rights to Tetris, a block-based puzzle game, and packaged it with the Gameboy as one of the first handheld games. This took gaming to a whole new level. Being able to play video games anywhere (as long as you had enough batteries) enabled anyone to play these games.

The next version of the Gameboy was the Gameboy Pocket. The 1996 release was a smaller and lighter version of the original Gameboy. This edition had a true black-and-white screen compared to the first Gameboy’s green and black color scheme.

Nintendo’s Gameboy needed to add a splash of color, so they introduced the Gameboy Color in 1998. This release is one of the biggest steps for gaming on the go, because for the first time you could actually see color on your mobile screen.

Nintendo’s next step was the GBA, or Gameboy Advance, the most popular option so far when it comes to handhelds. In 2001, the console released alongside a large quantity of games with smaller cartridges. The GBA even got an upgrade with a folding model.

A little further into the 2000s, Nintendo announced the Nintendo DS. At the time, Nintendo promised support for the GBA in case the DS failed because of how far of a leap the DS was. The DS included 2 screens, a foldable design, and 4 buttons. It was backwards-compatible, meaning users could play their older GBA games on your brand new DS. This all made the DS one of the definitive ways to play Gameboy games.

PlayStation saw Nintendo’s success with handhelds and decided to give it a shot with the PlayStation Portable in 2005. The PSP game library was decent, but the popularity of its competitor, the DS, impeded its success.

In 2006, the DS got an upgrade with the DS Lite, the most common version of the DS, with a sleek shell and smooth finish on the inside. This was considered the best original DS console.

2008 rolled along with the DSi, a version of the DS that removed the GBA game slot in place of a camera. This wasn’t a popular decision because the backwards capability of the DS and DS Lite was popular.

In 2011, Nintendo released the 3DS, a highly superior console to the DS. It had improved graphics, a joystick, and even 3D capability. The 3D was amazing; users didn’t need red and blue glasses to enjoy its effects as it was built right into the console. The 3DS was backwards compatible with the DS console and featured some of the best handheld games to this date. One of the biggest releases for the 3DS was Animal Crossing: New Leaf, which many fans still regard as the best Animal Crossing game.  Also in 2011, the PlayStation Vita released. It was the successor to the PSP and included better graphics, 2 joysticks, and backwards compatibility.

After many renditions of the 3DS, including a bigger screen, 2D only, and different designs, the biggest and best handheld was released. In 2017, Nintendo released the Nintendo Switch, a handheld that can also display video on the television. The Switch was revolutionary, with detachable remotes, the ability to play on your television, and the capability to pick it up and go. The Switch is rightfully considered the greatest handheld console. 

Evolving from a clunky brick in 1989, to a sleek system in 2017, handhelds have always been a staple of video gaming. With the recent release of the Switch Lite, and rumors of a Switch Pro releasing soon, technology can only drive handhelds further.