The Top 7... failingest handhelds

After nearly a year of anticipation, Nintendo finally launched the 3DS in the US yesterday, garnering what we’re sure were blockbuster sales. Not every handheld is so lucky, of course – and in fact, nearly every portable system to try and step to Nintendo since 1989 has ended up stomped into a greasy mudhole by the various Game Boy and DS iterations.

Amid all the twisted wreckage of handhelds past, some stick out a little more noticeably than others. Maybe they were great ideas that never had a chance to grow, or maybe they were terribly misguided, marketing-driven abominations that were doomed from the start. In either case, they were something special, and today we’ll recognize their quixotic efforts to knock Nintendo off its comfortable throne.

7. N-Gage

Picking on the N-Gage is like picking on an orphan with half a face and no limbs: it’s easy, sure, but life’s already dealt him such a bad hand that anything you do is just going to look like one more idiot jumping on the dogpile. Even so, the N-Gage was such a thoroughly messed-up proposition that to leave it out just wouldn’t be right.

The product of misguided design and marketing, the N-Gage was a game-centric cellphone that, in 2003 at least, was miles ahead of every other phone in terms of graphical capability and controls. Unfortunately, the minds at Nokia didn’t want to pit it against other cell phones – they wanted to unseat the Game Boy Advance, then the dominant force in handheld gaming. On paper, N-Gage certainly seemed up to the task. It was capable of pumping out 3D polygons that the GBA could only hint at, and enabled multiplayer not only locally through Bluetooth, but online as well. And on top of all that, it was a smartphone, capable of functioning as an MP3 player or a PDA.

Above: Also, its early ads demonstrated a clear understanding of gamers and how anyone at all played handheld games, ever 

Of course, it Nintendo’s years of handheld dominance have taught us anything, it’s that flashy bells and whistles don’t count for squat against a lower price point and more recognizable games. Besides, anyone who’s actually played an N-Gage can tell you that said bells and whistles weren’t really all that flashy to begin with. Again, N-Gage was impressive next to other phones of the day, but its 3D games suffered from extremely choppy animation, and its cellphone-style buttons felt sticky and unresponsive for gaming, and were laid out so close to each other that pushing several at a time wasn’t uncommon.

Swapping out game cards meant removing the N-Gage’s battery (something that Nokia actually had the gall to defend as being commonplace for European cellphone users), and the screen was tiny and uncomfortably vertical. And its $300 launch price – which didn’t include monthly phone-service fees – was hardly competitive with the $99 GBA SP. Possibly worst of all, the first N-Gage’s design forced users to hold it sideways in order to talk on it, something that felt awkward, looked even more awkward, and eventually spawned the “sidetalkin’” meme, thanks largely to this photo:

Above: Thank you once again, former GR Senior Editor Christian Nutt, for demonstrating proper N-Gage form 

The N-Gage’s Oct. 2003 launch was disastrous enough that retailers began chopping $100 off its price just weeks afterward. In May 2004, Nokia shipped a smaller, slightly improved version of the hardware, the N-Gage QD, which sported a less-awkward cartridge slot, a front-mounted microphone and speaker, and a lower price point (about $99) that was subsidized by a service contract.

Above: At least some of the ads were good

Sadly, it didn’t improve the crummy buttons or crummier internal hardware, and while the handheld did eventually get a thimbleful of decent games, they were too little, too late. By the time Nokia ceased production of the N-Gage in 2005 (only to later relaunch it as a short-lived gaming service for smartphones in 2008), about two million of the phones had been sold. Not a great performance overall, but good enough to keep it above the next six handhelds on this list.


Top 7


  • sexyman500 - August 9, 2011 6:34 a.m.

    shash. This whole article is humorous due to the 3ds failing as well. lawls
  • Acteon - June 1, 2011 9:40 a.m.

    I had an Atari Lynx (still have one actually) and loved it. I fondly remember nights spent playing Electro-Cop and Scrapyard Dog. I only recently started collecting old handheld consoles - love the NGP and Game Boy Pocket, but its the Turbo Express that remains the holy grail at the moment. And for those of you hating on the PSP, shaddup :) It might be fashionable to knock it, but it still has a great games library. I'm still working my way through Persona 3, Dissidia 012, Prinny 2, Ys Seven and Parasite Eve. Not enough hours in the day...
  • PanaMusica - April 3, 2011 7:54 a.m.

    must..sidetalk... with my Sony VGN-UX280P.. itz laugh or cry
  • GamesRadarMikelReparaz - March 31, 2011 4:43 a.m.

    @v8ninety Of course it's not a real word. But you knew what it meant, didn't you? It's succinct.
  • JBizFoShiz - March 31, 2011 4:24 a.m.

    I had an NGPC. Silver. Played the hell out of Sonic, both SNK vs. Capcom games, and Metal Slug. Also, some robot RPG or something that I cannot remember. Those games robbed me of so many hours, and they deserved to. That was NOT a bad system. It just could not compete with the GBC and the eventual GBA. Now, I don't own a 3DS, but the NGPC still, to this day, has the best thumbstick on a portable system. In fact, this and the GBA are my personal top two handhelds ever. RIP Neo-Geo. There's always eBay.
  • Transmatrix - March 30, 2011 11:19 p.m.

    Awesome article, thanks Mikel. For a more comprehensive list: I'm surprised that at least one of the Linux-based handhelds didn't make the list...
  • e1337prodigy - March 30, 2011 11:01 p.m.

    I have the NeoGeo pocket colour. With a lot of games - i still play it more than the DS... Are you saying it's rare? am I finally rich?
  • revrock - March 30, 2011 7:46 p.m.

    Sega Nomad? Where's it @?
  • Agent79 - March 30, 2011 5:30 p.m.

    I haven't seen so many horrible things since my GPA.
  • kiraisjustice - March 30, 2011 1:02 a.m.

    im reading this article with an N-Gage QD in front of me, something i never thought i would say
  • Yeager1122 - March 29, 2011 11:16 p.m.

    Ive never heard of ant of these and after reading this i know why.
  • Memph - March 29, 2011 11:01 p.m.

    I still have my cobalt blue NGPC :D 16-bit graphics it was certainly not, but still Sonic Pocket Adventure, SNK vs Capcom: Match of the Millenium and Cardfighters Clash were all fantastic games. The clickety-stick was also the greatest method of control ever to grace a handheld. I also bought Gals Fighters (a mash-up of many SNK fighter female characters) and Puzzle Bobble, which were both great too.
  • SpaceOdysseus - March 29, 2011 10:54 p.m.

    I was wondering if maybe someone remembers the cybiko. I do. i found mine in a box in my parents house the other day and spent an hour playing the games i had loaded on there, i wish there was still a way to find them.
  • zymn - March 29, 2011 10:12 p.m.

    This reminds me of an article that I wrote for a website i used to have. But it was the Top 5 Worst Game Boy Rip-Offs. Mine certainly wasn't as creative as this one though.
  • Deders14 - March 29, 2011 8:48 p.m.

    I loved my Ngage its a shame every1 else slags it off! I had it for about 5 years in various forms. Infact it still in the draw!!!
  • onewingedantista - March 29, 2011 8:47 p.m.

    Where PSPgo?
  • therawski - March 29, 2011 6:23 p.m.

    The momma can I mow the lawn video had me loling and asking myself wtf about every 2 seconds, that photo of the crazy enzo never get's old, where's the rest of it?!
  • MrWeaselTips - March 29, 2011 6:20 p.m.

    I had a Lynx in 1992 (pretty sure it was bargain basement by then) the cartridges were similar in size to a game boy one so - being a kid - I stuck a Lynx one in a Game boy. Didn't work (obviously) so I put it back in my Lynx and my god did it mess up my Lynx! So literally, the Game boy killed my Lynx
  • philipshaw - March 29, 2011 1:28 p.m.

    I remember all of these, lucky I didn't pay money for any of them
  • morbiusdog - March 29, 2011 12:26 p.m.

    OK,so the PSP wasn't really a fail, but what about the PSP GO! Surely that should be at number 1.

Showing 1-20 of 66 comments

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