Handheld gaming has been around for well over four decades, and in those forty years, we’ve seen quite the range of consoles. From resolution shifts to exclusive games; every product has made a name for itself in its own special way. Even the very worst devices have paved a legacy in one way or another. But what little consoles have managed to climb to the very apex of the portable world? What publishers have gone above and beyond to secure a spot in the best performing handheld consoles of all time? Well, you better charge your batteries and settle in — because we’re drawing things back to the early noughties.
10. Nokia N Gage (2003)
In a serious attempt to overthrow Nintendo from the handheld gaming throne, Nokia developed an idea that would hope to poach rival customers. By combining all the features of a mobile phone and adding various gaming components, the mobile company tried to establish itself as a force with the power of two major features. And, upon release, the Nokia N Gage proved to be a worthy hit. However, due to the slim buttons and awkward shape, the N Gage was deemed unsuitable for proper gaming, and therefore soon faded under the shadow of the Game Boy Advance.
Nokia discontinued the N Gage series in 2005 and shortly decided to drop the gaming venture. Although, in 2007 the journey continued with the release of a new model that included all the main gaming capabilities from the N Gage device. Sadly, due to the popularity spike in Apple’s App Store in 2009, the N Gage platform dissolved and has yet to be rebooted.
9. PlayStation Vita (2011)
When looking at Sony’s impressive career from a birds-eye view, we hardly notice the PS Vita basking amongst all the glory. Sadly, the second-born handheld console didn’t quite share the same success as its predecessor. With a sixteen million sales record since its 2011 release, the PS Vita sort of fell flat in comparison to many of today’s devices. However, that isn’t to say that the PS Vita didn’t hoard any success at all. If it didn’t — then it wouldn’t be ninth on this list, right?
The PS Vita offered a niche library of exclusive games and indie titles that couldn’t be found anywhere else. It also sat as an additional screen to reflect a PlayStation 3 or 4 console for any gamer on the move. But, due to the rather low memory and seriously expensive extras, the PS Vita struggled to convince consumers to stay on board, and this sadly led the Vita to its demise in 2019.
8. Sega Game Gear (1990)
Once rivalling the likes of the Nintendo Game Boy and the Atari Lynx, Sega’s Game Gear proved to be a worthy runner in the 1990’s generation of handheld gaming. With a dash of color thrown in and a bump in processing power, this chunky Sega kit managed to surpass the features of the Game Boy within months of its release. However, it was short-lived, seeing as Nintendo eventually released the Game Boy Colour, and stole the limelight once again.
Sega’s Game Gear lived a fairly short but promising life for the duration of the nineties, but due to home consoles becoming favoured, the world of the handheld soon declined. Nintendo bagged the gold, and Sega moved on to focus on their Genesis add-on, Sega CD.
7. Nintendo Game Boy Color (1998)
Instantly becoming everybody’s new favourite console in 1998, Nintendo’s Game Boy Color swept in and stole the hearts of every gamer from ocean to ocean. With its mouthwatering line-up of iconic franchise classics such as Pokémon, The Legend of Zelda and Resident Evil; the Game Boy Color was inevitably quick to divert all ambivalent players to the nearest store to pick up the newest release. And, even today as Nintendo dig deep into the barrel of their old hits, the Game Boy Color is the first platform to receive a second glance for its successful lifespan of golden games.
Nintendo struck gold with the Game Boy Color — even when home consoles had started driving a new generation forward. There was always room for the little device in everybody’s backpack, and even now as technology skyrockets, the days of the Game Boy Color are still well remembered and nostalgic as ever.
6. Nintendo Switch (2017)
It seems awfully strange seeing the highest-selling console of the year placing so low, doesn’t it? Well, seeing as the Nintendo Switch has only been smashing the industry for three short years — it just so happens that it hasn’t climbed to the highest marker yet. But, knowing Nintendo — it’ll get there. Just watch.
Nintendo opened up a whole new chapter in handheld gaming when it dropped the Switch and the Switch Lite, what with its crisp display and stunning exclusive titles. It even boasted a number of great launch titles that would no doubt snatch the money directly from the consumer’s wallets. With The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Bomberman, Skylanders and Just Dance backing the debut, the Nintendo Switch was guaranteed to become an instant hit in the eyes of all ages. And, as statistics have shown this year — it has been exactly that.
5. Nintendo Game Boy (1989)
In 1989, Nintendo made one of the smartest moves in the history of gaming. It ported Tetris. Yes — Tetris. Nintendo took the most-played arcade game of the generation and quite literally crammed it into a portable gaming device. And that may sound like a rather simple strategy, but for the time, all local gamers wanted to do was fork out endless quarters at the arcade on Tetris tournaments. But, the moment Nintendo dropped the most-played game on a convenient little cartridge for the Game Boy, players were quick to snatch the opportunity to play from anywhere in the world.
The Nintendo Game Boy amassed such an inspirational following after the launch of the platform, which later led to Nintendo releasing a whole line of products. And, if it weren’t for the global success of the Game Boy — we’d probably never have had the Switch. Now that’s a butterfly effect.
4. Nintendo 3DS (2011)
After a rather rocky launch with the Nintendo 3DS, the developer devised a plan that would bring back the crowd and the pennies cemented to their pockets. By slashing the retail price by almost half, as well as offering twenty free games from both the NES and the Game Boy Advance, Nintendo managed to sway the fans over to their side and pick up the next generation of handheld consoles. And, since the somewhat bold move, the 3DS went on to become one of Nintendo’s highest-selling consoles.
The 3DS packed in far more material than the previous DS console which released in 2004. With the introduction of applications, streaming services such as Netflix and YouTube, and even a Nintendo store for digital copies of games; the Nintendo 3DS became a showstopper at almost every gaming convention worldwide. Plus, it was 3D. What more could you want, right?
3. PlayStation Portable (2005)
Before the drastic rise and plummet of the PS Vita, there was, of course — the PlayStation Portable (PSP). Way back when Sony set out with a fresh idea of importing some of the most iconic faces onto the small screen, the PSP was the perfect platform to achieve such goals. With its neat layout and familiar PlayStation features, the PSP managed to build a homely platform and transform everything we love into a pocket-sized edition.
Following on from its successful launch, the PSP managed to release over one thousand unique games, as well as pack in its fair share of exclusives, too. This, in turn, led to the Sony device becoming the third highest-selling handheld console of all time, with over eighty-two million sales worldwide.
2. Game Boy Advance (2001)
Following on from the success of the Game Boy Color in 1998 came the enhanced Game Boy Advance after the turn of the new millennium. With a shift in display and a new button layout, Nintendo aimed to test the waters with landscape gaming. Of course, after the positive reception of the new model, Nintendo went on to produce further designs with similar styles. Say, the Nintendo Wii U, or the Switch for example.
The Game Boy Advance produced well over three thousand games in its lifespan, with many of them coming from the ex-gen Game Boy Color platform. So, players sure had a lot to hoard when the Nintendo empire started pouring out games by the motherload. Some gamers still hold a sly box or two of the cartridges today, no doubt.
1. Nintendo DS (2004)
Taking the crown for the best handheld console of all time is no other than the Nintendo DS, with its groundbreaking one hundred and fifty-four million sales worldwide. Even before the second and third editions to the DS range, the original model found its way into most players homes and travel bags due to its simplicity and lightweight gaming. Plus, by introducing various new elements such as the chat app, PictoChat, and backwards compatibility with Game Boy Advance games, the Nintendo DS didn’t fall flat at the first hurdle following launch day.
Nintendo has since upgraded the DS series with both the 2DS and 3DS models, as well as the XL editions; all of which feature the core elements of the DS but with additional content. However, the original model in the timeline has proven to be the standout platform of the gaming generation. So, you could say that Nintendo has done what Nintendo does best — and that is make outstanding handheld consoles that will never age.