If you can still believe it, there was a time when we didn't all have smart phones and tablets to play dozens of games on. Some of our favorite handheld systems only had one ultra basic game to play, involving no more than a couple of buttons. And rechargeable batteries? Pfft. Those were for babies.
Handhelds have certainly come a long way in the past 30 years, and as much as we adore our PlayStation Vitas and Nintendo 3DSes, there is something special about our very first handheld. Join the GamesRadar staff as we reminisce an important part of our childhood.
Matt Cundy: Donkey Kong Jr. | Nintendo Game & Watch | 1982
Having been restricted by olden times technology to playing handhelds constructed of moving parts and ball-bearings through the tail-end of the 70s, upgrading to electronic LCD games was a genuine revolution in hand-based distractions. And while Donkey Kong Jr. definitely wasnt the first electronic LCD handheld I ever played (that would be Nintendos inspirationally titled Ball) it was the first one I owned and could therefore enjoy exercising all the benefits afforded by exclusive ownership rights i.e. never letting anyone else play it ever.
The aim was to safely navigate little DK to big DK, who was all locked up and sad in a cage. Succeed four times and big DK would be freed, his painted-on sad face replaced with a big electronic smile. Then he was cruelly incarcerated all over again and the whole pattern would have to be repeated. And it would go on like that until I fell asleep with happy dreams.
Lucas Sullivan: Game Boy Advance SP
All I ever really wanted out of a handheld was a portable Super Nintendo. That was what made it all the stranger when my gut told me not to buy the original Game Boy on day one--something about the shape, the screen orientation, Im really not sure what. But thank goodness I waited, because the Game Boy Advance SP was everything I couldve hoped for in a handheld system.
The backlit screen alone blew my mind, after years of tilting my Game Boy Color to catch the overhead light just right. Plus, having the screen at the top and the buttons at the bottom just felt so right, and the folding hinge let it slip right into my pocket with ease. What followed were hours upon hours of enjoyment with Advance Wars, Metroid Fusion, Wario Land 4, and the incredible GBA Castlevanias. All my homies who had the original Cobalt (aka purple) colorway, REPRESENT! Either in the comments or by shouting out loud in your home, whichever works.
Sophia Tong: Game Boy
So many AA batteries were lost thanks to this system. The Game Boy was my first handheld, and it was a hand-me-down from some cousin who had parents with more money to burn than mine. Ill admit, it wasnt much to look at and it was clunky and heavy. Plus, it was tough to keep asking for batteries (it took 4 back in the day!) and I can only remember owning three games: Tetris, Super Mario Land, and The Legend of Zelda: Links Awakening. At least they were solid games with high replayabilityand I had no other choice, really.
Even though it may have been a big deal when color was introduced, but what I loved about the Game Boy was that it was simple and it was portable, meaning I could play at the dinner table until I got yelled at. But the Game Boy was the beginning of handheld systems for me. Since then I always carry at least a Nintendo handheld on me wherever I go, and other random gadgets and devices to keep me entertained on the road.
Henry Gilbert: Game Boy Advance
I've played pretty much every portable in my time as a gamer, with a special fondness for Nintendo's many handhelds. All of them have their strong points, from the original Game Boy's deep library to the DS's diverse collection of games for so many types of people. But out of all of the Game Boy Advance is my favorite, mostly because it has so much in common with the SNES, my favorite console.
Games like Advance Wars, Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap, and Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow were all made in the mold of 16-bit classics of yesteryear, including crisp graphics, tight gameplay, and unique style. The GBA was also home to a number of faithfully recreated SNES games that gave a whole new generation a chance to enjoy titles like Final Fantasy IV and Yoshis Island. The GBA was one last chance to truly appreciate the qualities of that era of gaming, and Ill always love it for that.
Lorenzo Veloria: Game Boy Color
My gaming system of choice has never been one of the carry-around-in-your-pocket handhelds. Id always been a home console kind of guy. But, I did spend a considerable amount of effort obtaining the one portable I'd ever owned, the Game Boy Color--which turned out to be absolutely amazing. It was the days when Pokemon Red and Blue were in their prime. Pokemon battles erupted all over my junior high school yard, and the only way I could get the clear purple console was to earn 48 clean teeth tokens from my orthodontist (which took forever).
Somehow, putting all that effort into my healthy gum line made me appreciate the system immensely. Also, being able to destroy my friends with my awesome Blastoise and having the chance to dive into my favorite series in portable form (The Legend of Zelda: Links Awakening) was pure gaming bliss. Even today my Game Boy Color holds a special place in my heart. Its still loaded up with Pokemon Blue, and it gets a fresh set of batteries from time to time so I could fire it up on road trips.
Justin Towell: Desert Race
Before Game Gear became my first proper games console, I had a different handheld love: Desert Race by TOMY. It's a wind-up toy, but works just like a videogame. Analogue steering from that brown plastic wheel moves a physical car (well, a clear plastic ribbon with a car painted on it) left and right, giving you the impression of weaving between enemy cars that came round on two discs at varying speeds.
If you collided with one, you could hit the Pit button and chop straight off the discs and out of harms way but you didnt score anything while you were off the discs, because somehow it knew. So before I was speed-running Sonic and beating records on Sega Rally (on the Desert track... coincidence?), I was caning this. Learning the size of the collision boxes, getting high scores. Brilliant, brilliant stuff. And now I want one off eBay.
Tom Magrino: Tigers Sub Wars
In 1989, Tiger's Sub Wars handheld came into my possession. How is not important. Which is to say, I stole it from my brother. What's important is that it dominated my life for many several months, as I sought out and destroyed wolves of the Pacific (read: black pixels on a sky blue background). It was happiness... until one fated school day, when Ms. Williams, my first grade teacher, confiscated the device as I sat absorbed in its screen, and not The BFG. She said it would be returned to me at the end of the school year; that was a dirty lie.
It wouldn't surprise me to learn that Tiger Sub Wars is absolutely terrible. However, because it was unceremoniously ripped from my small, impressionable self, I'll never be able to reconcile myself to its true value. Instead, I have consecrated it in my memory. I will forever view it through my six-year-old eyes. Damage was done, Ms. Williams. Damage was done. I want my handheld back.
Ryan Taljonick: Tamagotchi
My middle school playground was host to a number of parasitic fads. First there was the yo-yo phase (Yomega Firestorm, baby!) where kids were walking the dog like it was nobody's business. Then we started making lizard keychains out of beads and pipe cleaners. Then there was Tamagotchi. It was vicious. It crept into our lives unexpectedly--first, just one kid had one. A few days later, anybody who was somebody had one. I had three.
Owning one of these digital pets was addicting because you never knew what kind of freakish pixelated creature you'd end up raising. It could be cute; it could be badass--but always, it was a testament to your responsibility. Many of my peers fell by the wayside as they neglected their pocket monsters (before Pokemon was a thing!). Me? I was cleaning poop for one Tamagotchi while feeding another. I was addicted. And I played with these things for a long, long time, well after the fad passed. Tamagotchi, I shall never forget thee.
David Houghton: Tomytronic 3D | Shy Attack | 1983
Forget the 3DS. Theres only one 3D handheld that matters and it came out in 1983. Takara Tomys Tomytronic 3D range were the absolute future in a box when they were released, and they still feel damnably badass today. Basically the Virtual Boy with a far better design concept 12 years earlier than Nintendos machine, the magic stereoscopic LCD visors (smartly lit by a sunroof anel in the top) were the most immersive and atmospheric virtual worlds ever to be hung around the neck of a child.
With amazing, vector-style glowing graphics (the antithesis of the usual black sprites of most LCD handhelds) sticking your eyes in one of these was like stepping into Tron. I often didnt come back for hours, and frequently had to navigate my way around the world via naught but auditory clues and parental tugging. But they understood. One morning I came downstairs and found that my mum had smashed my high-score overnight. Best handheld ever.
Hollander Cooper: Nintendo DS Lite
Really? Im the first one picking the DS Lite? Whatever, you guys say what you want, Im going to stick to the handheld that had two original Zelda games, the best Tetris ever released, one of the best Mario Kart games ever released, and a huge supply of amazing, AAA third-party releases. Henry Hatsworth? Chinatown Wars? Ghost Trick? PROFESSOR LAYTON? PHOENIX WRIGHT?! The system is bursting with great games, and more are released every month.
But I cant talk about how amazing the DS Lite is without talking about the actual hardware itself. The original DS was a clunky mess, but the Lite fixed every problem, slimming it down and improving the screens dramatically. The battery life was perfect, it felt great in your hands, and... man. DS Lite. What a system.
Now that was an interesting mix of handheld gaming. It's your turn! Let us know what were some of your favorite handheld systems and why.
For more handheld-related content, be sure to see who won our Handheld of the year award for 2012.