Today, Nintendo announced the 2DS, a $130 new handheld that crams both screens from its 3DS system onto a single face and has no 3D capability. Fans and writers have predictably mixed opinions, with some calling the system a smart and cheap entry point into a deep game library, and others scoffing at the design.
The truth is, handheld designs tend to be teleologies: We remember them as attractive if they were successful. There’s nothing inherently pleasing about the design of the original Game Boy; we just played it until it was beautiful. The 11 handhelds on this list weren’t played by very many people, for a variety of reasons, but that doesn’t mean most of them didn’t have elegant or even revolutionary features.
So will the 2DS become the next Game Boy Advance SP, or or will it join the forgotten souls below? We’ll soon know.
1. The Milton Bradley Microvision
The Microvision, released in 1979, was the first handheld game system to use swap-in swap-out cartridges. Each game actually came with thin plastic button covers to denote functions. Yes, that’s right, this system predates A, B, X, and Y.
2. Bandai LCD Solarpower
In 1982, Bandai released this series of actual solar-powered handheld games. They are awesome and sort of look like something from Blade Runner, which came out in the same year. Check out that font!
3. The Atari Lynx
The 1989 Lynx was the first color handheld with an LCD screen. Its coolest feature? An ambidextrous design: Lefties could just flip it around. Also, it had this rad ad:
4. The NEC TurboExpress
This walkie-talkie-looking guy was basically a TurboGrafx-16 stuffed into a little black box. It had a sold-separately TV-tuner that could be used to turn the Express into a portable television, which is cool, but on the other hand, look at it.
5. The Bit Corporation Gamate
The Gamate, or “Super Child Prodigy” as it was known in China, was not a success when it was released in 1990. It did, however, featured a game called Nightmare of Santa Claus, and so it can’t be totally discounted.
6. The Watara Supervision
The Supervision, made by the Taiwanese company Watara, was incredibly cheap: It cost 50 bucks, and games only cost around $10. Also, the box is one of the best things I’ve ever seen.
7. The Tiger Game.Com
The Game.com, released in 1997, had a lot of features that would become commonplace in handhelds in the years to come: a stylus, a touchscreen, PDA functions, and internet connectivity. Unfortunately it was called Game.com. It did have a bad-bad-bad-ass home screen though:
8. The SNK Neo Geo Pocket Color
This 1999 system was actually a modest success, selling 2 million units. It also came in some far-out colors I think you will agree are totally neat, and had an honest-to-goodness joystick.
9. The Bandai WonderSwan Color
It’s hard to imagine that the WonderSwan would have been called the, um, WonderSwan if it had come out in America, which it did not. In Japan, however, owners could play the thing both vertically and horizontally, and say WonderSwan out loud without wondering too much what it meant.
10. The Nintendo Game Boy Micro
This delightful scamp, a tiny Game Boy Advance, weighs 2.8 ounces and fits in the palm. It sold poorly when it came out in 2005, however; gamers had moved on to Nintendo’s new handheld, the DS.
11. The Tiger Telematics Gizmondo
This one, released in 2005, had Bluetooth, a digital camera, SMS capability, and GPS tracking. It also launched in the U.K. with only one game. The result? It sold less than 25,000 copies.