Three decades have passed since the debut of Milton Bradley's Microvision - the first handheld gaming console. We look back and chart the highs and lows of handheld video consoles.

The world's first handheld gaming system with interchangeable cartridges, the Milton Bradley Microvision, was released 30 years ago.

Prior to 1979, handheld electronic games were stuck with one predetermined game (or set of games) per unit.

After the Nintendo Game Boy debuted a decade later, the market for cartridge-based handheld devices exploded, inspiring hardware vendors both prominent and obscure to release gadgets for playing multiple games on.

In honour of the technology's pearl anniversary, let's take a look at some notable successes and notorious failures in the history of handheld gaming.

Milton Bradley Microvision (1979)

The Microvision may have been a pioneer, but its capabilities were primitive. Its 16x16 black-and-white LCD screen made the goal of producing truly involving games difficult for software engineers.

The Microvision shipped ready to play ball-and-paddle games with an analogue control knob.

It also contained a 12 button rubber key matrix on which the cartridge inserted into the system could configure different 'buttons'.

Overall, the Microvision sold poorly, and for the next decade few companies imitated its modular software design.

Entex Select-A-Game Machine (1981)

This obscure machine walks a fine line between handheld and tabletop.

Entex designed the SAG for potential two-player action on a table, but during single player matches, it was easy to hold somewhat upright.

The Select-A-Game included a "vacuum fluorescent display" with display elements arranged in a 7x16 grid.

Entex released only six game cartridges for this system, most notably versions of Pac-Man and Space Invaders.

Photo courtesy of Rik Morgan (handheldmuseum.com)

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NEXT PAGE: Epoch Game Pocket Computer and Nintendo Game Boy

  1. We look at 30 years and the flops and successes
  2. Epoch Game Pocket Computer and Nintendo Game Boy
  3. Atari Lynx and NEC TurboExpress
  4. Sega GameGear and Genesis Nomad
  5. Tiger Game.com and the Game Boy Colour
  6. SNK Geo Pocket Colour and the Bandai WonderSwan Colour
  7. Game Boy Advance and Game Park GP32
  8. Nokia N-Gage and Nintendo DS
  9. PSP portable and the future

Three decades have passed since the debut of Milton Bradley's Microvision - the first handheld gaming console. We look back and chart the highs and lows of handheld video consoles.

Epoch Game Pocket Computer (1984)

In some ways, the Epoch Game Pocket Computer was the spiritual precursor to the Nintendo Game Boy.

This Japan-only console incorporated a nonbacklit black-and-white LCD screen (with 75x64 resolution), worked with small interchangeable game cartridges, and was designed for gamepad-like handheld play, with a directional pad and action buttons.

It failed to take off in Japan, however, and Epoch made only five games for the system.

Photo courtesy of Chris Covell

Nintendo Game Boy (1989)

Nintendo launched its first portable game system, the Game Boy, 20 years ago.

Thanks to the device's long battery life and to hit titles like Tetris, Nintendo has sold more than 100 million units of the original Game Boy line (not including Game Boy Advance) worldwide to date, making it the longest-running dynasty in the video game business.

A few revisions (shown here) kept the line fresh over the years.

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NEXT PAGE: Atari Lynx and NEC TurboExpress

  1. We look at 30 years and the flops and successes
  2. Epoch Game Pocket Computer and Nintendo Game Boy
  3. Atari Lynx and NEC TurboExpress
  4. Sega GameGear and Genesis Nomad
  5. Tiger Game.com and the Game Boy Colour
  6. SNK Geo Pocket Colour and the Bandai WonderSwan Colour
  7. Game Boy Advance and Game Park GP32
  8. Nokia N-Gage and Nintendo DS
  9. PSP portable and the future


Three decades have passed since the debut of Milton Bradley's Microvision - the first handheld gaming console. We look back and chart the highs and lows of handheld video consoles.

Atari Lynx (1989)

Like the Game Boy, the Atari Lynx turned 20 this year.

The world's first handheld game console equipped with a colour LCD display, it originated as the Handy Boy - an engineering project at game developer Epyx - before Atari acquired and released it in 1989.

Though the Lynx never fared well in the marketplace, Atari in 1991 released a smaller, lighter version, the Lynx II.

Lynx II Photo courtesy of Greg George

NEC TurboExpress (1990)

The NEC TurboExpress was the first handheld console to play game cartridges designed for use in a home video-game console, in this case, the TurboGrafx-16.

The TurboExpress sold for a hefty price and it guzzled batteries like Mechagodzilla, limiting its appeal. Ultimately, it remained a capable-but-flawed rich person's toy.

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NEXT PAGE: Sega GameGear and Genesis Nomad

  1. We look at 30 years and the flops and successes
  2. Epoch Game Pocket Computer and Nintendo Game Boy
  3. Atari Lynx and NEC TurboExpress
  4. Sega GameGear and Genesis Nomad
  5. Tiger Game.com and the Game Boy Colour
  6. SNK Geo Pocket Colour and the Bandai WonderSwan Colour
  7. Game Boy Advance and Game Park GP32
  8. Nokia N-Gage and Nintendo DS
  9. PSP portable and the future

Three decades have passed since the debut of Milton Bradley's Microvision - the first handheld gaming console. We look back and chart the highs and lows of handheld video consoles.

Sega Game Gear (1990)

Based on technology used for the 8bit Sega Master System, the Game Gear was a capable and relatively inexpensive colour game machine.

It outsold its competitors (the TurboExpress and the Atari Lynx) due in part to its licences to run popular Sega games such as Sonic the Hedgehog and in part to the halo effect of Sega's wildly successful Genesis home console.

Sega Genesis Nomad (1995)

Sega released the bulky, battery-hungry Nomad at a bad time in the company's history.

It had already oversaturated the market with eight incompatible platforms: Genesis, Sega CD, 32X, 32X CD, Game Gear, Pico, Saturn, and Master System.

As a result, few consumers paid attention to the Nomad launch, and the system sold poorly. Still, the Nomad was novel in that it could play regular Sega Genesis cartridges.

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NEXT PAGE: Tiger Game.com and the Game Boy Colour

  1. We look at 30 years and the flops and successes
  2. Epoch Game Pocket Computer and Nintendo Game Boy
  3. Atari Lynx and NEC TurboExpress
  4. Sega GameGear and Genesis Nomad
  5. Tiger Game.com and the Game Boy Colour
  6. SNK Geo Pocket Colour and the Bandai WonderSwan Colour
  7. Game Boy Advance and Game Park GP32
  8. Nokia N-Gage and Nintendo DS
  9. PSP portable and the future

Three decades have passed since the debut of Milton Bradley's Microvision - the first handheld gaming console. We look back and chart the highs and lows of handheld video consoles.

Tiger Game.com (1997)

In 1997, Tiger Electronics was a well-established force in handheld LCD game devices, so it made sense for the company to compete with the Nintendo Game Boy juggernaut.

The challenger it sent into the fray was the Game.com, the first handheld game console to feature a touchscreen and internet connectivity.

The device's extremely primitive internet features fell flat, though, and almost all of the Game.com's games were terrible.

It received a bargain-bin redesign under the name 'Pocket Pro' a year later before quietly dropping off the map.

Nintendo Game Boy Colour (1998)

In 1998 - nine years after the first Game Boy - Nintendo released a Game Boy with a colour screen.

The new device still lacked a backlight, however, an omission that kept its price low and its battery life long.

The Game Boy Colour represented a significant extension of the Game Boy platform, since it possessed slightly better technical capabilities than its predecessor while maintaining backward compatibility with the earlier Game Boy.

It sold very well and extended Nintendo's dominance in the handheld market for another few years.

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NEXT PAGE: SNK Geo Pocket Colour and the Bandai WonderSwan Colour

  1. We look at 30 years and the flops and successes
  2. Epoch Game Pocket Computer and Nintendo Game Boy
  3. Atari Lynx and NEC TurboExpress
  4. Sega GameGear and Genesis Nomad
  5. Tiger Game.com and the Game Boy Colour
  6. SNK Geo Pocket Colour and the Bandai WonderSwan Colour
  7. Game Boy Advance and Game Park GP32
  8. Nokia N-Gage and Nintendo DS
  9. PSP portable and the future

Three decades have passed since the debut of Milton Bradley's Microvision - the first handheld gaming console. We look back and chart the highs and lows of handheld video consoles.

SNK Neo Geo Pocket Colour (1999)

In 1998, SNK released its first handheld game system, the Neo Geo Pocket, in Japan only.

This first console sported a monochrome screen and did not sell particularly well.

A year later, SNK introduced the Neo Geo Pocket Colour (NGPC) worldwide, and it became the most promising competitor to the Game Boy line in almost a decade.

The NGPC fared well at first, thanks to good software, long battery life, and low cost; but ultimately it could not compete with Nintendo's superior game.

Bandai WonderSwan Colour (2000)

The WonderSwan (1999), a monochrome system designed by the company headed by ex-Nintendo employee Gunpei Yokoi - the creator of the Game Boy - went head-to-head-to-head with Nintendo's handheld and the Neo Geo Pocket in Japan.

Though the challenger got off to a shaky start, it gained steam with the release of the WonderSwan Colour in 2000.

Soon afterward, translations of several early Final Fantasy titles were released for the WonderSwan and sold very well.

In 2002, it received a final update, the SwanCrystal, which sported a sharper colour screen.

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NEXT PAGE: Game Boy Advance and Game Park GP32

  1. We look at 30 years and the flops and successes
  2. Epoch Game Pocket Computer and Nintendo Game Boy
  3. Atari Lynx and NEC TurboExpress
  4. Sega GameGear and Genesis Nomad
  5. Tiger Game.com and the Game Boy Colour
  6. SNK Geo Pocket Colour and the Bandai WonderSwan Colour
  7. Game Boy Advance and Game Park GP32
  8. Nokia N-Gage and Nintendo DS
  9. PSP portable and the future

Three decades have passed since the debut of Milton Bradley's Microvision - the first handheld gaming console. We look back and chart the highs and lows of handheld video consoles.

Nintendo Game Boy Advance (2001)

By 2000, the models in Nintendo's original Game Boy line - with their limited colour capabilities - were showing their age.

In 2001, Nintendo released the Game Boy Advance, a 32bit colour handheld (still lacking a backlight) that could play more-complex, more-colourful games.

Like other Game Boys before it, the Advance sold very well.

It received two major updates: the backlit, clamshell-style Game Boy SP in 2003; and the ultrasmall Game Boy Micro in 2005.

Game Park GP32 (2001)

The GP32 from Korean company Game Park is notable for being the first handheld game console designed to allow amateurs to program and distribute software for the system with few restrictions.

Games were stored on standard SmartMedia flash cards, which made moving data between the console and a computer easy.

As a result, the GP32 quickly amassed a large array of applications that allowed users to play games from other (usually older) systems through emulation.

Few third-party developers chose to write games for the platform, however, probably because they were concerned that the relatively open platform would encourage piracy.

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NEXT PAGE: Nokia N-Gage and Nintendo DS

  1. We look at 30 years and the flops and successes
  2. Epoch Game Pocket Computer and Nintendo Game Boy
  3. Atari Lynx and NEC TurboExpress
  4. Sega GameGear and Genesis Nomad
  5. Tiger Game.com and the Game Boy Colour
  6. SNK Geo Pocket Colour and the Bandai WonderSwan Colour
  7. Game Boy Advance and Game Park GP32
  8. Nokia N-Gage and Nintendo DS
  9. PSP portable and the future

Three decades have passed since the debut of Milton Bradley's Microvision - the first handheld gaming console. We look back and chart the highs and lows of handheld video consoles.

Nokia N-Gage (2003) and Tiger Telematics Gizmondo (2005)

These two unfortunate (but unrelated) consoles have one thing in common. They were impressive flops.

The N-Gage combined a mobile phone and a handheld video game console in a single device that performed neither function very well.

The Gizmondo was an utter train wreck, complete with a terrible game library and an embarrassing marketing effort.

Nintendo DS (2004)

To follow up the multimillion-selling Game Boy Advance, Nintendo introduced a device with two screens, one of them touch-sensitive.

Many skeptics predicted that the extra screen would prove superfluous and that the new device, theNintendo DS, would flop.
But Nintendo has had the last laugh, moving 113.48 million Nintendo DS units worldwide to date.

Nintendo replaced its original, bulky DS model with the svelte and compact DS Lite in 2006, and it remains a major breadwinner for Nintendo.

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NEXT PAGE: PSP portable and the future

  1. We look at 30 years and the flops and successes
  2. Epoch Game Pocket Computer and Nintendo Game Boy
  3. Atari Lynx and NEC TurboExpress
  4. Sega GameGear and Genesis Nomad
  5. Tiger Game.com and the Game Boy Colour
  6. SNK Geo Pocket Colour and the Bandai WonderSwan Colour
  7. Game Boy Advance and Game Park GP32
  8. Nokia N-Gage and Nintendo DS
  9. PSP portable and the future


Three decades have passed since the debut of Milton Bradley's Microvision - the first handheld gaming console. We look back and chart the highs and lows of handheld video consoles.

Sony PlayStation Portable (2004)

The PlayStation brand had ruled the home console market for over a decade, so it seemed inevitable that Sony would challenge Nintendo's handheld dominance.

Early in the battle of PlayStation Portable vs Nintendo DS, many critics figured that the PSP would win handily because of its impressive graphical, multimedia, and networking capabilities.

But that's not the way things have turned out. Instead, the DS has outsold the PSP by a ratio of roughly 2:1.

The PSP has managed to do significantly better than past Nintendo competitors -mostly because the PSP and DS occupy different niches in the handheld console market.

Sony has introduced three major updates to the PSP since 2004: the slimmed-down PSP-2000 in 2007, the PSP-3000 in 2008, and most recently, the PSP Go.

Present and future

The current generation of handheld devices blurs the lines separating multimedia devices, pocket computers, and game devices, emphasising wireless internet networking and online distribution of games - notably pushed by Apple on the iPhone and the iPod Touch.

Since Apple's astounding success with the App Store, both Nintendo and Sony have stepped up their online distribution efforts with their Nintendo DSi and PSP Go consoles, respectively.

As we look to the future, the complete extinction of physical game media (cartridges, cards, and discs) seems imminent.
Also, expect handheld game consoles to merge further with multifunction pocket devices such as smartphones as they compete for limited pocket space.

See also: I've seen the future, and it's the Nintendo DS

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See also:The 20 best games that never were

  1. We look at 30 years and the flops and successes
  2. Epoch Game Pocket Computer and Nintendo Game Boy
  3. Atari Lynx and NEC TurboExpress
  4. Sega GameGear and Genesis Nomad
  5. Tiger Game.com and the Game Boy Colour
  6. SNK Geo Pocket Colour and the Bandai WonderSwan Colour
  7. Game Boy Advance and Game Park GP32
  8. Nokia N-Gage and Nintendo DS
  9. PSP portable and the future