R-Type, Battletoads, Mercenary Force and Super Mario Land were my first four Game Boy games. Bought in a bundle deal, it was a pretty good call from my parents. Often they would try to swerve a corner, get a cheap deal or a bargain replica. I probably came so close to ending up with one of these retro handheld console for that very reason. All pretenders to the throne of the Game Boy, some terrible, some pretty good or just misunderstood. We present our favourite five obscure retro handheld console.
For Bandai, the nineties had been swept up in a Tamagotchi tidal wave and a very near merger with Sega (someone at Bandai made a good call there). The Bandai Wonderswan came in quite late, releasing in 1999 in Japan in direct competition with the Game Boy Colour and Neo Geo Pocket. The machine was designed by a Mr Gunpei Yokoi, one of the original designers of the Game Boy. After leaving Nintendo he set up his own company and was approached by Bandai to create a rival handheld.
Unfortunately, Yokoi died in a car crash and did not get to see the release of his console. Favouring battery life and durability over hardware, graphics and a colour screen, the Wonderswan put up a brave fight. It had two remakes, including a colour version, before being discontinued in 2003.
Turbographx-16 is my favourite of the unsuccessful consoles and I am still yet to get my hands on it’s portable version, the Turbo Express.
A handheld that was probably a little ahead of its time. The Turbo had a colour LCD screen with a TV tuner. You could also use gamecards from the bigger console on your Express, making it an attractive pull for people who already owned a Turbographx-16. It also meant that the choice and quality of games was high upon release.
However, the Turbo ate batteries, was huge for a handheld and could not really be used without the AC adaptor. In essence, it was not that portable. It also came in at a whopping $250 on release. Renowned for having a recurring speaker fault, many of them no longer fully work today. All these factors contributed to it selling less than 1.5 million units in its lifetime.
Also known as the Quickshot Supervision in the UK, this console is probably the most famous of the original Game Boy contenders. And also probably the ugliest retro handheld console on the list.
On release the Supervision went straight for the jugular, undercutting the price of the Game Boy console and games. On top of that, the Supervision had a nifty cable that allowed you to play it on a TV screen in four colours. It’s two button control with monochrome screen did not look that different to a Game Boy right? So how bad can it be?
Well, pretty bad. Supervision games were poor quality and lacked the big licensing and mascots available to Nintendo. It came packaged with a version of Breakout, a game that had been around since the seventies and had been ripped off in a thousand ways already. The screen was poor, meaning what games were available were really hard to see.
Alas, it was not to be.
I actually had a gamate. No one knew about it, he just went to work in London one day then when he came back he had a boyfriend (Thank you, I am here all week).
Seriously though, this is an elusive handheld with very little known about it. It (apparently) sold even less than the Supervision, which is no mean feat. Manufactured by Bit Corporation in the early nineties, the company would go bust in 1992 giving the Gamate a very short shelf life. Games production was carried on by third parties up until 1994.
The Gamate looks more like a Game Gear than Game Boy but uses a monochrome screen. It was distributed by a different company in every country, of which there were a lot.
My favourite Gamate game title? It has to be ‘Nightmare of Santa’. Please let me know if you actually ever played this!
The Game.com could certainly be described as ahead of it’s time. From a company more well known for LCD handhelds, Tiger Electronics suddenly came out with a full hand held console in 1997.
As well as gaming, it offered a personal organisation feature and internet connectivity. Not only was it the first handheld to allow internet access, it also had a touch screen. Essentially a massive nineties iPhone.
It also had a pretty impressive licensed game collection, featuring Mortal Kombat and Duke Nukem. Despite the release of a smaller pocket version, sales were poor and it was discontinued in 2000.
It is worth noting that Tiger Electronics had a previous foray into the world of gaming with the head worn R Zone, a competitor to Nintendo’s Virtua Boy.
Got any fun handheld consoles that we missed? Let us know in the comments below.
Photos – By yoppy – https://www.flickr.com/photos/spilt-milk/6991984598/, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=62914424
Gamate – Miguel Durán [CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)]