The best handheld conversions of all time

Handheld gaming systems have traditionally been crappy next to home consoles. GBA was a SNES compared to GameCube, GameGear was a Master System compared to a Mega Drive/Genesis, and PSP is a PS2 compared to PS3.

But every once in a while, someone manages to do the impossible and convert a game between the two tiers. Sounds dangerous in a 'crossing the streams' kind of way. Imagine every crappy port you ever knew, simultaneously exploding at the speed of light. That kind of thing.

We're not talking about handheld 'versions' of games like GTA Chinatown Wars on DS or MotorStorm: Arctic Edge on PSP. Those are new offerings, built with the handheld platform in mind. No, these are the real deal, converted so well we have to check the back of the console to make sure it doesn't have a tiny wizard stuck in the cartridge slot.

Above: Sometimes it pays to check - it was Gamedalf all along 

So here they are: the greatest handheld conversions of all time:


Street Fighter Alpha 3

Converted from: Arcade (1998)
Converted to: Game Boy Advance (2002)

2D fighting games may look simple to make. They're just hand-drawn pictures after all. And PSP has an arcade-perfect version of Street Fighter Alpha 3, so surely that's the point proven. But it wasn't the first handheld conversion. No - Game Boy Advance was doing it a mere four years after the arcade game's release, back in 2002. In style.

Above: Street Fighter Alpha 3 in tiny-vision. Aw, ain't they cute?

Unlike PSP, it's not an arcade-perfect conversion. That would have been an impossibility. But how close is 'damn close'? Well, there are some shortcuts like some omitted backgrounds and music. Then there's the way Ken's voice is put through a pitch-shifter to make Sakura's higher battlecries. It's a small price to pay for a roster of thirty-seven beautifully animated characters. For a 64meg game, that's just insane.

The 60fps movement, beautiful hand-drawn art and classic Street Fighter gameplay are a revelation on GBA. Especially if you stick the cart in a GBA Micro - you've got an entire arcade cabinet that fits in your shoe. It's cut down, yes, but never scuppered.

Above: GBA's conversion is so good, Ryu and Gouki are dancing with joy


Gunstar Heroes

Converted from:
Mega Drive/Genesis (1993)
Converted to: Game Gear (1993)

Treasure is perhaps known more than any other developer for squeezing more performance out of consoles than was previously believed possible. The Mega Drive version of Gunstar Heroes (available now on all three consoles' download stores) is still one of the most technically impressive games of all time. To attempt it on a Mega Drive was ambitious enough. But to convert it to the 8-bit Game Gear? Exactly - that's what we thought... 

Above: There it is. Sure, Red has a helipack now, but look at Seven Force!

Treasure overcome the limitations of low-tech hardware by running lots of tiny sprites in familiar formations, such as the running man form of the boss 'Seven Force' above. Moving the foot sprite beneath the knee sprite, for example, creates a convincing illusion of 3D animation. The CPU's happy because it's moving tiny things, the gamer's happy because he's seeing massive things. See?

Somehow, conversion team M2 managed to get the Game Gear to produce this advanced effect. Observe:

Above: Even Bravoo Man makes an appearance with only 2 fewer boxes 

Of course, the Game Gear can't do everything. Mega Drive Gunstar Heroes features full-screen rotation, which Game Gear can do... but only if you move your hands in a steering wheel kind of motion.

That's a bit low-rent, so some of the more technically complex scenes are adapted instead. But considering it's more faithful to the original than the GBA remake, including that revolutionary weapon system making it across intact, Gunstar Future Heroes on Game Gear is an outstanding achievement.


  • Imgema - January 13, 2011 8:27 p.m.

    i really enjoyed Doom on GBA. It was kinda slow at times (faster than SNES but slower than 32X), but it was the first time i ever saw a proper FPS engine on a handheld. You could also make the game smoother and less dark by setting the lighting to "static". You couldn't see lights flicker this way, but the game looked overall better on the tiny screen, especially on the original, purple GBA. I also played road rush on a game-gear emulator. I can say i'm really impressed by it. I can only imagine how awesome this could look back then on the GG screen.
  • Xplosive59 - October 6, 2009 5:35 p.m.

    the final fantasy remakes should be on here for the GBA
  • Tomsta666 - September 30, 2009 2:15 p.m.

    I never played the GBA version of Street Fighter Alpha 3, but I do have Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo Revival for GBA. That's pretty tight!!
  • TheWebSwinger - September 30, 2009 5:07 a.m.

    Huzzah! The PSP finally gets some love. Also, one up for the shout out to Road Rash on the Game Gear. Between that and Dynamite Headdy, those were literally the only good Game Gear games I had. And I had quite a few.
  • Spybreak8 - September 29, 2009 11:06 p.m.

    You gotta love that Game Gear, weighed a ton with that bulky battery pack haha.
  • DirkSteele1 - September 29, 2009 9:22 p.m.

    Gunstar Heroes...The single greatest game ever to grace the Megadrive. Did things the console was never meant to be able to do. To see at such a high quality on the Game Gear leaves me speechless.
  • coolbeans - September 29, 2009 2:45 a.m.

    tony hawk pro skater... good times...
  • Weasel - September 29, 2009 1:48 a.m.

    Aw come on, no SNK vs. Capcom for the Neo-Geo pocket color? That was awesome! Though that and Metal Slug were pretty much the only games worth playing on it...
  • doomdoomdoom - September 28, 2009 11:55 p.m.

    @Cyberninja4 Is a shit of a retard "I like pressing buttons" that is the smartest thing he has said He should rename his profile to "Special" or "Fucktard"
  • SgtPoppenfresh - September 28, 2009 11:50 p.m.

    GTA Chinatown Wars should be in there... but then again thats modern. Although they did make a GTA on gba sooo that back-ups my point.
  • Dalibor - September 28, 2009 11:50 p.m.

    "Sometimes it pays to check - it was Gamedalf all along." I don't know why but that made me crack up, the culprit has been found lol.
  • phoenix_wings - September 28, 2009 11:41 p.m.

    lol @ destroyerofall. For sure, man. I personally thought that Legend of Zelda A Link to the Past was pretty awesome. Same with Super Mario 64 DS edition. Awesome list though.
  • GamesRadarBrettElston - September 28, 2009 11:23 p.m.

    Great list! I would also like to add Metroid Prime Hunters, which manages to convert he robust ideas of Prime into a DS FPS... in early 2006. It's a true technical marvel.
  • Cyberninja - September 28, 2009 11:22 p.m.

    can someone tell me why there is a cyberninja4 that doesnt like games does it exist only to mock me and make me look bad?
  • destroyerofall - September 28, 2009 8:48 p.m.

    @ xboxrulez Are u retarded or what? Every single comment u post is a bastardization of the english language.
  • iKOemos - September 28, 2009 8:33 p.m.

    Why am I only finding out about GBA Doom now!? It looks superb.
  • cubeenigma - September 28, 2009 8:28 p.m.

    does mario 64 DS count? lttp for gba ? :[
  • WonsAuto - September 28, 2009 7:44 p.m.

    Great article. I loved THPS2 on GBA, it was great when I couldn't get my fix on my PSX. I still have it lying around somewhere...
  • Cyberninja4 - September 28, 2009 7:23 p.m.

    the only game here i like is tekken its easy to mash the buttons and win
  • AA95mp - September 28, 2009 6:47 p.m.

    people are going to disagree with me but..... i think the lord of the rings the two towers is much better than the ps2 version as in it's more of an rpg.

Showing 1-20 of 29 comments

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