Top 10 VIDEO GAME Handhelds YOU'VE NEVER HEARD OF
Yeah, we know: Nintendo defined the handheld. Sure, there was the Game Gear and the PSP, but they all came and went. Turns out they weren’t the only ones. In this list, we count down the Top 10 Handheld Game Consoles You Never Knew Existed.
The Gizmondo was a flashy handheld released back in 2005 amid a lot of hype. The system’s hook was its multimedia features, including music, Bluetooth connectivity, video, and of course, games. The problem was that, for all the big launch festivities and equally big executive salaries, there wasn’t much to the Gizmondo – no big exclusives, no outstanding content, and no long-term strategy. The Gizmondo is perhaps the most spectacular failure in the handheld market, crumbling with its company less than a year after its launch. Less than 25,000 units were ever sold, despite huge promotions in Las Vegas, the UK, and France.
The Microvision is the long-forgotten ancestor of gaming handhelds. Released by Milton-Bradley in 1979, the Microvision sported a one-inch monochrome screen, a multi-button keypad, and interchangeable cartridges. While those were landmark features, they weren’t enough to overcome serious technical problems. Screens were prone to corrosion, batteries overheated, and the CPU was vulnerable to shorting out. However, the Microvision’s fatal weakness was its miniscule library of games. Milton-Bradley released eight titles in the Microvision’s first year, but releases dropped off thereafter. In all, only around a dozen games appeared on the Microvision from 1979 to 1982 – evidence of how little faith Milton-Bradley had in the tiny handheld.
In 1990, NEC did what Nintendo and Sega wouldn’t; create a portable version of its home console. The TurboExpress was a handheld variant of the beloved TurboGrafx-16. Sure It was big and chunky, but it was awesome being able to play Ninja Spirit and Castlevania: Rondo of Blood anywhere on the go; what wasn’t cool was power-suckage and the $250 price. It was a given that the TurboExpress was a doomed prospect, made worse by the fact that the TurboGrafx-16 was too small a player in the gaming market to begin with. NEC’s wonderful achievement just didn’t make a difference in the overall spectrum of the things.
The Atari Lynx was the first serious competitor to the Game Boy, being released the same year as Nintendo’s venerable handheld. The Lynx, to its credit, was a well-conceived piece of work, using a full-color display and decent battery life. But the $180 price tag and the lack of a blockbuster property hurt the Lynx in the long run. Sales were reasonably good in the first two years, but the onset of the Sega Game Gear–and Sonic the Hedgehog with it–soon killed the Lynx’s market niche. Surprisingly, Atari continued to manufacture the Lynx all the way into the mid 1990s.
In 1995, Sega fulfilled the long-awaited dream of millions of gamers; It released a portable Genesis. The system, called the Nomad, featured a six-button layout–a big deal in handheld terms–and could be hooked up to a television set. With a few exceptions, the Nomad had access to an unlimited library of Genesis titles. Sounds perfect, right? Not on closer examination. The Nomad arrived at the end of the Genesis’s production life, which led to very little marketing. It was also expensive at $180–well above what a Game Boy or even a Genesis retailed for. Lastly, it was a battery hog–the worst of any kind; six AA batteries with a total life of 2 hours – two and a half if you were lucky. Not much value there.
Tiger Electronics Game.com (GameCom)
Tiger was well-known for its cheap electronic games; but, in 1997, the company went all in and developed its own portable system, conveniently called the Game Com. Tiger learned a key lesson from failed precursors, retailing the Game Com for a very low price of $70. Also notable, the Game Com featured a touch screen and Internet connectivity. So, why haven’t you heard of this pretty advanced handheld? Well, Tiger barely marketed the Game Com and failed to develop a real library of games. The few games on the system were, by and large, crappy, despite some big names to them.
The Finns have a reputation for creating things of practical ingenuity. This is not one of them. The N-Gage was a phone/gaming hybrid, which was a bad idea for the time. The numeric keypad wasn’t suitable for gaming, and early models required users to disassemble the system just to replace game cards. Then there was the odd, taco-shaped appearance and terrible ports of well-known titles like Spider-Man 2, Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, and Tomb Raider. With a $300 asking price and a lack of any killer apps, the N-Gage became a hilarious and, for Nokia, a very expensive joke.
SNK Neo-Geo Pocket
Back in the 1990s, the brand “Neo-Geo” was synonymous with arcade gaming, enough so that parent company SNK adapted its arcade technology into a home console. Trouble was that said console was unbelievably expensive. SNK’s solution was to foolishly challenge Nintendo and go portable. Seems like SNK didn’t learn from Atari, NEC, or Sega, rushing into the market with few third-party titles or even outstanding first-party ones. No surprise, the Neo-Geo Pocket and its kin, the Neo Geo Pocket Color, struggled to find an audience in the West and, by 2001, both had received the axe. The Neo Geo name survived a miserable 3 years on the handheld market.
For a brief moment in the early 2000s, the Tapwave Zodiac appeared to be a credible step forward in handheld gaming. Conceived by a California startup and using the proven Palm Operating System, the Zodiac combined the versatility of a PDA with the fun factor of a handheld game system. The screen was large, the CPU strong for its time, and the body nice and slim. For an indie handheld, the Zodiac was a superbly designed machine. There were even a few great ports of hit titles, including Duke Nukem and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. The Zodiac hit stores in 2003 with a ton of praise by the industry press, but the onset of Sony’s PSP and Nintendo’s DS, as well as Tapwave’s limited library, diminished consumer interest in the Zodiac.
Nintendo Pokemon Mini
Game & Watch, Game Boy, Game Boy Advance, DS, 3DS…wait, we’re missing something. No, we’re not talking about the Virtual Boy–we’re talking about 2001’s Pokemon Mini. That’s right, Nintendo created a handheld system based entirely around one franchise. Think of it as a more eclectic Tamagotchi, but with interchangeable, Poke-centric cartridges. Nintendo should’ve known better than to tie any hardware to a single property. Needless to say, the Pokemon Mini didn’t have a long shelf life nor much of a library, with only 10 games released within about a 12-month span. That’s probably why you’ve never heard of it.