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From the Game and Watch to the Nintendo 3DS: A History of Nintendo Handhelds

by: MatthewA ; edited by: Aaron R. ; updated: 5/25/2012 • Leave a comment

Nintendo's handheld consoles date back three decades. The Game and Watch was the first, and since then there have been a number of great Nintendo handhelds. Here the history of Nintendo's handhelds is covered in more detail.

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    When it comes to handheld game consoles, Nintendo has always had the best of them. In fact, Nintendo’s first handheld even predated the NES, dating back to the early 1980s. Since then, Nintendo handheld game consoles have remained at the forefront of handheld gaming, despite alternative handheld consoles from the likes of SEGA, Atari and Sony. The arrival of the Nintendo 3DS looks set to continue the great legacy of previous Nintendo handhelds for years to come.

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    The First Nintendo Handheld

    It was in 1980 that Nintendo's first handheld game console arrived. The Game and Watch was a series of game consoles which included just one game on each. As such, a number of Game and Watches came out during the 1980s, each with different games. Among the most noteworthy were Donkey Kong games and early Mario Bros games. In addition to this, the series of handheld game consoles also included a clock so that the handhelds were also handy watches (hence the name). The Game and Watch handheld game consoles lasted approximately ten years until they were discontinued in the early ‘90s.

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    The Arrival of the Game Boy

    Despite the Game and Watch series, handheld game consoles did not really take-off until 1989. The Game Boy was the first handheld game console that was a notable alternative to non-handheld consoles, largely because it was the first that had a multiple game library thanks to its use of cartridges.

    As such, a number of great games emerged for the Game Boy, but for many Tetris was the best game on the console and indeed any other for that matter. Nintendo won the rights to distribute this Russian game with their Game Boy console, and it was one of the big factors behind the Game Boy's popularity. Combined with a number of great Nintendo games from the Mario, Metroid and Zelda series, the Game Boy remained the biggest handheld game console until it was replaced by new Nintendo handhelds.

    Of course, the Game Boy’s hardware soon became eclipsed by other alternative handheld game consoles such as the Lynx. Unlike the Lynx, the Game Boy could not support color games. However, despite this the Game Boy remained the most portable handheld game console. It was smaller than the Lynx, but perhaps more importantly, the Game Boy’s battery support lasted longer.

    By 1998, the Game Boy was evidently somewhat outdated, and so a new Game Boy Color console arrived to replace it. This had a larger display than the original Game Boy, upped its speed, and of course, was the first Nintendo handheld to have colorful graphics. Another innovation of the Game Boy Color was that it could also play all the games from the previous generation of Game Boys as well. As such, it was one of the first Nintendo consoles that provided backward compatibility for previous Nintendo games.

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    The Game Boy Advance

    The Game Boy Advance 

    In 2001, Nintendo introduced the Game Boy Advance. The Game Boy Advance was a big enhancement on the previous Game Boy Color, and was more comparable to non-handheld game consoles such as the Super NES. As such, the Game Boy Advance had a boosted resolution and was one of the first Nintendo handhelds to include widescreen. The Game Boy Advance also had smaller cartridges than the previous Game Boy consoles.

    The Game Boy Advance’s flagship game titles were probably the Pokémon games, such as Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire, which were the console’s biggest hits. Other great games on the Game Boy Advance included the Super Mario Advance series, which was a series of remakes of classic Mario games such as Super Mario World, Super Mario Bros 2 and Super Mario Bros 3 with some additional features. Super Mario Kart Advance and Zelda Minish Cap were also big titles.

    The Game Boy Advance had a couple of redesigns before the next Nintendo handheld game console arrived. The Game Boy Advance SPGame Boy Advance SP  had a design more like the Game and Watch handhelds, but its biggest enhancement was its rechargeable ion battery so that battery replacements were no longer required. Then the final redesign, which came in 2005, was the Game Boy Micro that remains as one of the smallest Nintendo handhelds to date.

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    The Nintendo DS

    The Nintendo DS 

    In 2004, the Nintendo DS arrived as the first Nintendo handheld not to include Game Boy in its title since the Game and Watch series. As such, the Nintendo DS began a new era of Nintendo handheld game consoles. The Nintendo DS boasted some great innovations, such as its touchscreen and stylus pen, wi-fi connectivity, microphone and the backward compatibility with the Game Boy Advance thanks to its Game Boy Advance slot. And so it emerged as Nintendo’s highest grossing game console to date.

    Of its games library, New Super Mario Bros was the console’s flagship game title. Although there were plenty of other good ones, such as Mario Kart DS, Nintendogs and Zelda games like Spirit Tracks. Sources from Nintendo of America have suggested that there have been over 1000 Nintendo DS games.

    Like previous Nintendo handhelds, the Nintendo DS also had some additional models. The DS Lite was the first of these in 2006, which was essentially a smaller Nintendo DS with an extended display. In 2009, the Nintendo DSi arrived and boosted the handheld's multimedia options with a camera that came equipped with the console, as well as a new SD storage card slot. The Nintendo DSi XL of 2010 was fairly similar, except that it had larger screens and was slightly larger than the Nintendo DSi.

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    The New Generation

    Nintendo 3DS 

    This brings us to the new generation of Nintendo handheld consoles. The arrival of the Nintendo 3DS has begun a new era of 3D handheld gaming. The Nintendo 3DS does not seem that much different from the Nintendo DS design, retaining the stylus pen, but it has cutting edge 3D hardware.Ocarina of Time 3D 

    A number of exciting 3D games such as Super Mario 3D Land, Super Street Fighter IV 3D Edition, Star Fox 64 3D and the Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D, which is a remake of the great N64 Zelda game, are coming out on the console. So, it should be another great Nintendo handheld.

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