There's not much we can say about the Game & Watch that we haven't <a href="http://nintendo.joystiq.com/2008/07/01/collecting-and-obsessing-game-and-watch/">already said</a> in our massive Game & Watch retrospective, but it's impossible to look back at Nintendo's portable history without considering Gunpei Yokoi's handheld series. The first Game & Watch unit, Ball, went on sale April, 1980. Now doesn't that make you feel old?
Nine years after the debut of the Game & Watch, the Game Boy debuted. Handheld genius Gunpei Yokoi strived to create a portable gaming experience that was light, relatively cheap, and durable, and that simple formula led to worldwide success. <br /><br />He certainly succeeded on one front -- to say the Game Boy is durable is an understatement. There are loads of Game Boys still kicking around today, nearly two decades later! <br /><br />The Play it Loud! campaign saw the release of several colored Game Boys, which set a precedent that rules the handheld scene even today.
Perhaps the most notorious of the Nintendo handhelds is the short-lived Virtual Boy. Perhaps the least portable of all the portable systems (it's not meant for use in a car, for instance), the Virtual Boy requires a flat surface, and has two major parts. <br /><br />The 3D portable was shown at the very first E3, in 1995, and went on sale that same year for $180. Despite several price drops after that, it never took off.
After the Virtual Boy failed to succeed, the Game Boy Pocket came along to remind everyone that Nintendo still had a handle on the handheld market. Shown at E3 1996, and released that same year, the Game Boy Pocket retained the overall design of the Game Boy, and ran on two AAA batteries instead of the Game Boy's required four. <br /><br />As with the Play it Loud! Game Boys, there were several special edition Pocket models in various colors.
After the Game Boy Pocket, the handhelds just kept getting better and better. 1997 saw the release of the Japan-exclusive Game Boy Light, which featured a backlight and even better battery life (from two AA batteries). The late nineties were thick with Game Boy models!
1998 -- another year, another Game Boy. But this time, the line jumped ahead with the Game Boy Color, which featured graphics (in color!) similar to the original Nintendo Entertainment System, and, even better, backwards compatibility. In fact, gamers could even experience old monochromatic Game Boy titles in a selectable color scheme. That led to spoilers in some games, however, as a change to the color palette revealed hidden secrets. <br /><br />The GBC represented a slight increase in size over the Game Boy Pocket, but it answered concerns about whether or not Nintendo could keep up with a changing gaming world.
Rumors about a system that might have been the Game Boy Advance stretch back as far as 1996, but the next generation of Nintendo's handheld systems didn't hit until 2001. The 32-bit system improved upon the Game Boy in all ways (just as its successors vastly improved on the original GBA) and kept backwards compatibility intact. Competitors (like the Nokia N-Gage) fell flat trying to knock Nintendo off the top of the heap. It seemed the Game Boy line was unstoppable.
The original GBA might have been a vast improvement, but that didn't mean it was without flaws. In 2003, Nintendo released the Game Boy Advance SP, a model that not only improved upon the GBA design, but also laid the groundwork for the one handheld that could take out the Game Boy juggernaut -- the DS. The GBA SP featured a slim clamshell design and a rechargeable battery, and in 2005, it gained a backlit screen.
Nintendo rocked E3 2004 with this Nintendo Dual Screen, a revolutionary model with a touchscreen and a design like no other handheld. Sony also showed off the PSP that year, kicking off a competition that has raged lightly over the years (with both systems emerging as winners at times). <br /><br />As we all know, the DS was packed with features, from its microphone to online play through the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection, and Nintendo even managed to pack in that backwards compatibility we all knew and loved. But it was as combination of design and software that led the DS to the heights of world domination a very short time after its late-2004 release.
The tiny Game Boy Micro was a good idea that was ill-timed. When it was released in 2005, the Nintendo DS was well on its way to filling the world with Nintendogs and Dr. Kawashima's Brain Training. Despite its small, sleek design, the system was doomed -- but only after selling several million units.
You know it. You love it. The redesigned DS was announced in 2006 and helped turn the DS into an unstoppable worldwide phenomenon. The system, which retains GBA compatibility, though the carts stick out, has been released in a variety of colors around the world. In just a few years, the sales have grown to outrageous proportions, and the sleek dualscreen handheld has helped break some of gaming's long-standing borders.
With Nintendo's E3 2008 conference less than a day away, and months of rumors of a possible redesign behind us, Nintendo fans all over the world are waiting with bated breath to see what, if anything, will be revealed on the handheld front. Many Nintendo fans have expressed hope for a redesigned DS that is smaller, yet has bigger screens, and they're willing to sacrifice the GBA slot -- and Nintendo's famous backwards compatibility -- for included memory. <br /><br />With reports that sales have peaked all over the world, the time seems ripe for a new handheld announcement of some sort, but with new DS colors debuting at a rapid pace, this is a race that's hard to call. Anything could happen, from a slight DS update to a completely new handheld... even a new Game Boy! <br /><br />Okay, probably not that.
But let's not get too serious here! While we wonder what the future will bring, we've got to take a look back at some of the wilder Nintendo portables. The teeny-tiny Pokemon mini, which debuted in 2001, was the ultimate companion for Pokemon fans. <br /><br />While hardly a resounding success, the Pokemon mini remains novel if only because it is so incredibly small, yet still had a tilt sensor and multiplayer features.
Though more wristheld than handheld, The Nelsonic/Nintendo LCD watches were just about the coolest things ever. They made school way more fun than it should have been back in the late 80s/early 90s. Worth every penny of their $20 price tag. Also available, among others, were Super Mario Bros, Super Mario Bros 2, and Super Mario Bros 3, as well as Donkey Kong, Tetris, and Star Fox. <br /><br />While these watches and the Pokemon mini aren't the only offbeat portable products Nintendo released over the years -- we didn't even get into the bevy of handheld accessories -- they are among some of the most well-remembered. <br /><br /> <a href="http://nintendo.joystiq.com/2008/07/14/you-can-take-it-with-you-nintendo-handheld-retrospective/">Return to DS Fanboy</a>.