With Sony announcing the PSP2 NGP BNT (Boringly Named Thing) and Nintendo now releasing the 3DS to goggle-less third dimension lovers the world over, it’s high time someone wrote a list detailing ten of the best handheld consoles ever. Which is lucky, because here’s one. Let the comment section decrying commence.
The Sega Nomad never made it to PAL territories, mainly because it was ugly, too expensive and quite often didn’t work properly. The idea behind the console was great: a portable Mega Drive/Genesis that could play any Mega Drive games you owned, but on the go.
Unfortunately, it was a bulky, battery eating brute that tottered onto the market just as the 16-bit era was sliding away into obscurity. Still, it deserves its place on the list for two reasons. Firstly, the sheer temerity of the design team in thinking it would work, and secondly, because it’s not a Game Gear.
A big, ugly slab of black plastic that hardly anybody in the world actually bought. It was the first handheld to offer a full colour screen, it had an ambidextrous layout, it allowed you to network up to 16 of the consoles and, even now, a dedicated band of players and coders are making games for it. Doomed to failure by the availability of the much cheaper Game Boy and the better-supported Sega Game Gear, the Lynx lasted for six years and two iterations before drifting off into obscurity.
Nintendo Game & Watch
The daddy of them all, the Nintendo Game & Watch set the whole handheld ball rolling in the early 80s. A simple piece of technology by the standards of today, each unit shipped with a single pre-installed game, ranging from such Nintendo classics as Donkey Kong, to sports games and long forgotten alien-avoiding titles. Eventually superseded by the original Game Boy, with its cartridge slot and faster internal gubbins, the Game & Watch remains a design classic and a fondly remembered first step into the world of gaming.
Back in the day when mobile phones weren’t smart, couldn’t access the Internet and only just fit in your pocket, there was little to choose between the various ugly models. Apart from Snake. It may have been a ridiculously simple game, but its inclusion on Nokia handsets was a stroke of genius.
Bored on the bus? Whip out your phone and try and stop a rapidly growing serpent from crashing into a wall or itself. Each generation of phones since those first affordable lumps of plastic has come with games pre-installed, or readily available on an app store. We have Nokia to thank for that.
Yes, they were annoying. Yes, if you dropped your sister’s in a pint of water, you got in trouble. Yes, they did tiny digital poops. Tamagotchis were videogaming by stealth, luring unsuspecting young girls into the murky world of keeping digital things “alive”. They set the scene for any number of Nintendogs-style games, and for a remarkably brief time conquered most of the world. They might have been rubbish, but they sneakily indoctrinated a generation into the dark ways of gaming, and subterfuge is a winner in my book.Neo Geo Pocket Color
It does exactly what it says on the tin. It plays Neo Geo games, it’s in colour, and it fits in your pocket. Accurate name aside, the Neo Geo was an enduringly brilliant little console, mixing the charm of the Game Boy with an analogue stick and a better roster of hardcore games. It even had an eminently playable version of SNK Vs Capcom, which for a handheld is frankly ridiculous. Especially when you consider it only had two buttons. All but ignored in the West, it shifted a respectable two million units worldwide and was discontinued in 2001.Nintendo DS
The DS did for videogaming what Velcro did for shoe tying – opened it up to everyone. A wonderfully innovative and intuitive piece of kit, it may have been dwarfed in terms of power by Sony’s PSP, but the DS glowed with a casual, comforting simplicity, that meant mums, grans and celebrities flocked to its side. Titles like the Brain Training series and Professor Layton reflected the console’s reliance on grey matter rather than brawn. Plus, it sold by the truckload, and is about to move into its fifth iteration. If only they hadn’t roped Jedward into doing adverts for them, it’d be the perfect console.
It’s a memory card! It’s a little screen in your controller giving you extra information about your game! It’s a tiny portable game system that lets you play silly little games and show off to your friends. Fine, console hard drives came along and made the VMU obsolete, but it was still a nifty piece of tech, until the batteries ran out and it got confused and the screen broke. That’s not the point, though – the VMU was a clever idea that made the Dreamcast stand out from the crowd. Which was entirely ignored. Shame on you all.iPhone
Everyone who owns an iPhone owns a ridiculously powerful gaming machine. Just look at Infinity Blade, or Dead Space, or any number of the other, hugely impressive titles available in the morass of the App Store. Love it or hate it, the iPhone is easily one of the most important systems out there at the moment, with a huge user base ready to be courted by sensible developers. No cartridges or discs, no fuss and a whole universe of games literally at your fingertips. Say what you want about Apple’s policies, they’re sitting on a gaming goldmine with the iPhone.Game Boy
You can’t have a handheld gaming list without including the Game Boy. A masterpiece of the gaming age, this grey, brick-like block of plastic is still iconic, more than 20 years after it was first released onto an unsuspecting world. The Game Boy, like the iPod and the PlayStation, became more than just a brand, it was a noun.
Even now, people who don’t know any better will describe any standalone, handheld gaming device as a Game Boy. That’s how ubiquitous the gadget became, and remains today. Nintendo fought off a swathe of imitators and competitors with its little handheld, and that’s why it sits atop the pile.
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