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A treatise on establishing handheld console generations independent from home console generations
Of course, the great crash occurred during the first year of the third wave consoles, and the American console market shrank by 97 percent, and remained dormant until 1985 when Nintendo launched Famicom in America as the Nintendo Entertainment System.
It wasn’t until around the mid-1990s that authors and journalists began to write about the history of video games and started to frame consoles as being part of generations. A lot of the misconceptions about gaming history comes from these early “video game historians.” There are a lot of famous mistakes, like the role that E.T. played in the crash which has been corrected numerous times, and most recently by the fantastic documentary Atari: Game Over.
One of the more glaring errors that still endures is that the generation of “third wave” consoles was never accounted for and instead they are just lumped in with the second generation. It seems like common sense that the Atari 2600 and its successor, 5200, are not in the same generation, yet here we are. As such, the designations of the console generations are off by one number starting after the second generation, and every gaming historian knows it.
The idea of classifying handhelds in terms of console generations came even later, towards the end of the 1990s as competitors to Nintendo’s Game Boy began to emerge. Instead of recognizing that handhelds and consoles have had separate, distinct evolutionary paths, they were tied in with various console generations, which causes a few problems.
The following is a proposal on how handhelds can be uncoupled from console generations can be classified relative only to one and another.
The first task is to define what constitutes a video game console. The term “electronic games” is broad, and can include a lot of games and toys that only use lights or sounds, like Simon, for example. The term “video game” is much more specific and only includes “games that provide visual feedback on a video device, which is any device that can produce either two dimensional or three dimensional images.” Therefore, Rule 1 is that the handheld must play actual video games. Sorry, Atari. Touch Me is not a handheld video game!
The second task is to define what constitutes a generation. The criteria that I will use is, “A group of video game hardware that has similar capabilities and is able to play games in a similar style.” Basically, in order to determine if two handhelds are in the same generation we only need to ask if the two can play similar games and if they have the same basic capabilities. With that we have our Rule 2.
The third task is to define what constitutes a handheld. This may seem obvious, but is important because several table top video game systems have been produced. “A handheld is a device that is designed to be played while being held only in one’s hands.” That automatically excludes games like Coleco’s line of mini-arcades and Nintendo’s Virtual Boy, as they are designed to be played while sitting on a flat surface. This is Rule 3.
The fourth and final task is to define what constitutes a console. “A Console is a digital device with the primary purpose of playing video games that are developed specifically for its unique hardware.” This is important for a few reasons. First, there were a lot of mechanical handheld games in the 70s that resembled video games. There are also a number of portable emulation machines and computers that do play video games, but either are not primarily handheld video game consoles, like the Tapwave Zodiac, or were open source platforms used primarily for emulation, like the GP2X. Rule 4 is that a handheld device must be a console.
Now that we know the criteria to define what handheld consoles are and how they can be related to each other, we can begin to classify them in their appropriate generations.
First Generation: LED Era
Early handhelds used several different kinds of technology; LED, LCD, and VFD. Each of these kinds of tech will be discussed. By applying Rule 2 it is obvious that, like home consoles, it seems to be most appropriate to classify dedicated handhelds as being in the first generation. However, all technologies are not created equal. LED handhelds, which use light emitting diodes, cannot approach the kinds of games that later LCD and VFD based handhelds are able to play. Therefore the first generation of handhelds are consoles that played only simple LED games. These handhelds began to appear during the second generation of home consoles.
1977 - The very first handheld video game in history is Mattel Electronics’ Auto Race, released in 1977, which used an LED based display. Many may not have heard of it, but I bet people will remember the next game that Mattel Electronics released that year, Football.
Mattel wasn’t the only company producing games based on LED technology. Entex, which was a well-known name in gaming during the early 1980s, took LED technology about as far as it could possibly go with its 1980 release of Space Invader, a rudimentary version of Taito’s Space Invaders.
Second Generation: Dedicated LCD and VFD Consoles
Despite the fact that the technology was developed before LED, handheld consoles using VFD didn’t begin to arrive until 1979. VFD stands for “vacuum fluorescent display.” The technology is still in widespread use today. Hundreds of millions of these kinds of displays are manufactured every year. This is the kind of screen that is found on an alarm clock, car stereo, or Blu-ray player.
Several video game manufactures produced handheld games based on VFD technology well into the 1980s. The advantage that VFD has over older LCD style games is that it can be illuminated. The displays can be made into any shape, and they glow in bright and beautiful vivid colors. Most companies made tabletops utilizing VFD technology, most notably Coleco, but Entex incorporated it into true handhelds consoles, like Space Invader 2.
As LCD technology began to become cheaper and more affordable for consumers it was clear that liquid crystal displays would be the future of handheld gaming. Though the first active-matrix LCD was only produced in 1972, by 1979 it would be taking off in the world of video games. Every major handheld console developer began working with LCDs; Tomy, Atari, Milton Bradley, Casio, Bandai, Entex, and Nintendo. Because the sheer number of LCD handhelds ever released is staggering, I will only review some of the highlights.
1979 - Microvision is a handheld console that is often referred to as being the first ever made. If you’ve read this far then by now you know that isn’t true. What is true is that it was the first to accept interchangeable cartridges. Knowing that we need to check our Rule 2 to see if it belongs in the second generation with other non-LED dedicated consoles. The fact that it uses cartridges can de facto be a more advanced capability. However, in this case the microprocessor and the game are contained on the cartridge and the console is only a portable screen and controller. So Microvision is about as capable as other early LCD handhelds. This is similar to how the Coleco Telstar Arcade is a first generation console despite the fact that it uses cartridges; the games and processor are actually on the cartridge.
Between 1979 and 1982 only ten games were ever produced for Microvision. Despite the small library, it was a successful venture for Milton Bradley and designer Jay Smith, earning Smith over $15 million.
1980 - Nintendo’s first consumer product in the United States was their Game & Watch line of LCD handhelds. A total of 47 Game & Watch games were made and they sold over 40 million units. The first game in the line was released in 1980 and is called Ball. In the game players control a character who juggles balls. The character became the inspiration for Mr. Game & Watch in the Smash Bros. games.
1982 - This is the year that Nintendo would release Donkey Kong as part of its Multi Screen Game & Watch series. The game would be revolutionary in that it would introduce the d-pad for the first time, which has been a staple of gaming ever since.
1983 - Unbeknownst to most, sometime in 1983 a little know company called Palmtex released a little known console called Super Micro. Like Microvision, the cartridges contained the processing unit, so it wasn’t truly programmable. Unlike Microvision, the LCD screen was actually built into the cartridge. In fact, the games utilized different kinds of LCD screens. Most used predefined graphics similar to what’s seen in a Game & Watch unit. At least one game used a “dot matrix” type display more similar to what Microvision games used. Taking lefties into consideration, the console featured two directional pads in addition to eight membrane buttons. It could fold like a clamshell. It even had a backlight lamp accessory. Some refer to it as the first color console, but that’s not correct. Like Vectrex, Super Micro made use of screen overlays to simulate color graphics. Its display was monochromatic. The console was also sold as the PVS. A company called Home-Computer Software also manufactured it. It’s exceedingly rare and difficult to find.
Following Game & Watch, most LCD games would largely copy its general design. Beginning in 1992, Tiger Electronics would become the most prolific manufacturer of LCD games. Similar LCD games are still produced today. In 1995 Tiger released its first handheld console with interchangeable games called R-Zone.
Are newer dedicated LCD handhelds still second generation? Yes, because they’re using the same technology. For instance, the Atari Flashback 2 is a home console released during the sixth generation era, but it’s still a second generation gaming machine.
Third Generation: Reprogrammable Machines
The defining characteristic that breaks the third generation away from the second is the fact that third generation handhelds are reprogrammable consoles that can play ROMs on removable cartridges. They also contain their own CPU. This is the beginnings of the modern era of handheld.
1984 - Epoch was one of the several Japanese companies making standalone LCD games. In 1984 they became the first to release a cartridge based handheld called Game Pocket Computer. The console was not very successful which has resulted in a general lack of information about the console. It had a resolution of 75 x 64 pixels, featured four face buttons, and could play games similar to third generation home consoles. It’s capable of displaying three shades of gray simultaneously, which is one less than Game Boy, which wouldn’t be released for another five years.
1989 - The first mainstream handheld console, Nintendo’s Game Boy is released. It’s the first that most people remember. In many ways it defined what handheld gaming should be with its low price point, small size, low battery consumption, and high quality games. It would face off against several competitors with significantly technological edges, and it out sold every rival combined five times over. With its two buttons, a d-pad, a color pallet of four shades of gray, and a 160 x 144 dot matrix LCD screen over a pea soup green monochromatic background, it could not be stopped by anyone.
Game Boy would see three redesigns, first in 1996 with the introduction of the Game Boy Pocket, a smaller truly pocket-sized handheld that used only two AAA batteries instead of four AAs and replaced the green screen with a silver-gray background, making it truly black and white more like handheld consoles that came before it. The following year a new line called Game Boy Pocket Color would debut, the only difference being that the units would have multi colored shells. Finally, in 1998 Japan would see the release of the Game Boy Light, which is a Game Boy Pocket that is slightly larger, uses two AA batteries, and has a backlight. This version is highly sought after by collectors.
Atari Lynx also came along in 1989, shortly after the release of Game Boy. It was a 16-bit handheld with a full color backlit LCD screen capable of addressing 16,000 pixels. It was designed by Epyx which partnered with Atari to bring it to market. Though far more advanced than Game Boy, it had several problems. First among them was that Jack Tramiel’s Atari Corp. was a totally different company than Atari Inc., which had led the video game craze to astounding heights in the 70s and 80s. The company didn’t know how to sell consoles anymore. Lynx was too big, it took six AA batteries, had a short battery life of around four hours, and very few game developers supported it. Most games were either designed by Atari and Epyx themselves. In 1991 a redesigned and more compact version was released at a lower price point.
1990 - When Tom Kalinske took over the reins at Sega of America he was showed an amazing handheld which would become Game Gear. The console was a handheld version of Sega’s Master System hardware. It is the only one of Game Boy’s rivals in this generation to be considered a commercial success, despite only selling a fraction of what Game Boy sold. Like Lynx, Game Gear had a backlit color LCD screen. Sega even offered an add-on to allow it to display color television. Though smaller than Lynx, it also quickly ate through six AA batteries. Most Game Gear owners also bought power adaptors for the car or home in order to maintain game play beyond five hours. A year after its Japanese launch it would come out in the U.S. and Europe. In 1992 it would see release in Australia.
TurboExpress was also released in Japan in 1990 and the U.S. in 1991. It’s a portable version of NEC’s fourth generation TurboGrafx-16 home console. Though the TG-16’s Japanese counterpart, PC Engine, was successful in Japan, TurboGrafx-16 was dead in the water in the United States when it launched after Sega Genesis with little marketing. Even had the TG-16 saw greater success, the TurboExpress faced other challenges. It had the best screen of any console in its day with a resolution of 400 x 270. That came at a price. For a time the TurboExpress was priced at $299. That’s double the introductory price of Game Gear and triple the price of a Game Boy. Believe it or not, it also had worse battery life than Lynx or Game Gear. TurboExpress could consume six AA batteries in around three hours.
Gamate, sometimes called Super Boy, is a console designed by Bit Corporation, a Taiwanese company founded in 1982 to develop Atari 2600 games. They eventually got to making clone consoles and are best known for developing the DINA 2-in-One which plays both Sega SG-1000 and ColecoVision games. When Bit Corp. saw the success of Game Boy, they released this thing. It was sold in several regions, including the U.S. and Great Britain. Gamate looks a lot like a Game Boy clone, but it actually plays its own games. Bit Corp. developed around 70 of them. It’s among the least successful handhelds of its generation. Gamate disappeared in 1992 when Bit Corp. closed its doors.
Game Master is a handheld also developed in 1990 by the German company Hartung. With only a 64 x 64 black and white LCD display it’s a throwback to earlier times. In fact, like early home video game consoles, this handheld was licensed out to a lot of other companies. Therefore it’s known by several other names, such as Systema 2000, Game Tronic, Game Plus, and Super Game. It’s hard to know if this was even less successful than Gamate, but my gut tells me that it was. Due to its relative obscurity, little is known about it. The 1990 release date is a best estimate.
1992 - Another company in Taiwan decided they’d take a stab at the handheld console market. This time it’s Watara with their Supervision. It used a similar screen to the Game Boy and Gamate, but much larger. Of all of the handhelds that were launched during this generation by relatively unknown companies, this one is by far the most successful thanks to a pretty cool design that features a bendable screen angle and an introductory price of only $49.99. On top of that it came with headphones and a pretty good breakout clone called Crystal Ball. It also had a peripheral called TV Link which was a docking station that allowed the handheld to be played on a standard television. I wish every handheld could do that!
1993 - This era is truly the golden age of handheld gaming. It’s kind of like the home console market’s second generation with the number of companies attempting to compete and the variety of systems. Another Asian company, Welback Holdings, through its Timlex International division, launched Mega Duck. This is perhaps the funniest name for any console, handheld or otherwise. This is really a “me too” console, and it’s like a poor knock off of the Supervision. In some regions it was called Cougar Boy, which really isn’t a much better name.
1995 - Bandai is one of the pioneers of home video game consoles. During the first generation they were a market leader. From 1977 to 2002 they’ve released a total of 15 video game consoles and handhelds. Their first handheld was called Design Master. It was capable of displaying graphic similar to that of a Game Boy. The unit has no built-in controls using only a stylus, making it the first handheld console to have a touch screen. Games played similar to Nintendo DS games such as Drawn to Life. Bandai had access to Capcom licenses as well as their own, so franchises such as Mega Man, Street Fighter, and Dragon Ball appeared on the handheld. It’s extremely rare.
2003 - Hong Kong electronics company TimeTop released a third generation handheld console in 2003. GameKing comes in several flavors. The first model was designed to look like a Game Boy Advance. Upon playing the console it is immediately clear that it is not at all like a GBA. The 48 x 32 monochrome LCD display makes it more reminiscent of Epoch’s 1984 Game Pocket Computer. The system received a cosmetic redesign to make it resemble a PSP, and a later redesign added a color LCD.
Fourth Generation: Renaissance
It’s not easy to tell where the third generation ends and a new one begins. The defining characteristic here is the fact that these consoles are the first to attempt to blend the success of Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis level of quality with advances being made by games for fifth generation home consoles. Overall, the generation is marked by a gradual increase in hardware capabilities over the last. The era also sees a renaissance of sorts. After years of Nintendo domination, several alternative handhelds enter the market.
1995 - The Sega Nomad is a difficult system to place. There’s a lot to consider. Is it a real handheld? After all, it’s a portable Sega Genesis. Referencing Rule 3, yes it is really a handheld. The next question is even harder. Does it belong in the third generation? After all, TurboExpress is a handheld version of a fourth generation home console and it is included in the third generation of handhelds. However, the turboGrafx-16 is a lot closer to being a Master System than it is to being a Sega Genesis. In 1995, when compared to all other available handhelds, Nomad is clearly much more advanced, technically, than all others. It’s the first step forward, even if it was a short lived one. In reviewing Rule 2 Nomad clearly has a lot more in common with Neo Geo Pocket Color than it does with Game Boy, this it fits perfectly as the first in the fourth generation of handheld consoles.
1997 - The Tiger Game.com is truly “next generation” when compared to previous generations. The difference is completely unambiguous. Like Nomad it attempts to recreate the experience of forth generation home consoles with games like Sonic Jam, and it attempts to build a bridge to the future by incorporating 3D based games, like Duke Nukem 3D and Fighters MegaMix. It even had a 14.4 modem and was able to surf the internet with a text only web browser. It is the first handheld in the U.S. to have a touch screen, and it came with a stylus. It even had built-in PDA features. The only part of it stuck in the past was the black and white LCD display. Unfortunately, only Tiger (later Hasbro) ever produced games for it, and they did a downright terrible job, making Game.com one of the worst handhelds in history. Several variations of the console exist, including more compact ones with color shells called Game.com Pocket Pro, and a version with a built-in front light creatively named Game.com Pocket Pro Light.
1998 - I find it very frustrating that the Game Boy Color is usually lumped together with Game Boy. This is not simply a Game Boy with a color screen. In fact, it’s about twice as powerful as the original Game Boy. It was also backwards compatible with Game Boy games. It even had some cross compatibility where some Game Boy Color games could be played on the original Game Boy. This made the transition between the two consoles almost seamless. With GBC Nintendo continued their dominance of the handheld market. It is the first color handheld to have a significant battery life. Its two AA batteries could last up to 10 hours.
Neo Geo Pocket would be released in Japan in 1998. The 16-bit monochromatic handheld was considerably more powerful than Game Boy Color. But SNK soon realized that black and white portables were a thing of the past. Its lack of color was a significant barrier to consumer adoption. In response SNK released the Neo Geo Pocket Color in 1999, which eventually saw a worldwide release. Nearly all games for both versions of the console were cross compatible. The most striking feature of the Neo Geo Pocket Color is its use of a microswitch joystick rather than a d-pad. At the time of its release Sega had not supported a handheld console of its own in three years, and they developed Sonic Pocket Adventure for the NGPC, and even a link cable for it to connect with Dreamcast. Thigh high quality of games and low introductory price of $69.99 made the handheld very attractive to gamers. But not attractive enough to for it to have a major impact against Nintendo. In 2001 SNK was forced to close due to financial difficulties. The Neo Geo Pocket Color disappeared along with it.
WonderSwan was released by Bandai in 1999, which marks the first time in nine years that multiple new handheld consoles were seriously competing for market share. The console was designed for Bandai by Gunpei Yokoi, the man who invented Game & Watch, Game Boy, Virtual Boy, and the d-pad. Though never launched worldwide, the WonderSwan did see some success in Japan. The 16-bit black and white console was replaced with the WonderSwan Color just in time for the 2000 holiday season. The handheld notably saw a lot of support from Square, which ported a number of Final Fantasy games to the platform. In 2002 the console was redesigned yet again as the SwanCrystal which featured a higher quality LCD screen. Each version ran only a single AA battery and had considerable battery life of 15 to 20 hours. One interesting feature of the WonderSwan is its ability to play games in two orientations, vertical and horizontal. In 2003 Bandai discontinued the WonderSwan line after no longer being able to compete against Nintendo’s next generation handheld.
Fifth Generation: Transition
Game Boy Advance dominated the fifth generation. It had very little competition, and almost single handedly bridged the gap between the fourth and sixth generations.
2001 - When Nintendo launched the 32-bit Game Boy Advance it spelled the end for its fourth generation rivals. The original model lacked a backlight, but in 2003 the GBA would be replaced by the Game Boy Advanced SP which contained a front light and could close like a clamshell. It would be the first to include built-in rechargeable batteries, which would become the industry standard. In 2005 the front light would be replaced with a backlit model. In addition, another redesign of the Game Boy Advance, the Game Boy Micro, would be released the same year. Unlike the Game Boy Advance, the Micro would not be backwards compatible with Game Boy and Game Boy Color games. Nintendo remained largely unchallenged for the entirety of the fifth generation of handheld consoles.
2003 - Back in 2003 one company was dominate in the cell phone market. Nokia and their Symbian operating system were everywhere. I’d venture to guess that most people who owned a cell phone in the 90s and early 2000s at one point owned a Nokia phone. They were virtually indestructible and were very advanced. For the first time in history most people were now carrying cell phones, but mobile gaming was in its infancy. In a stroke of brilliance Nokia decided to combine a handheld video game console and a cell phone in a single device which became N-Gage. The capable system was clearly more powerful than Game Boy Advance, but the vertical screen orientation made it difficult to port properly, and the high price made it cost prohibitive due to the American scheme of tying the cost of handsets with carrier contracts. There were some considerable functionality issues as well, such as the fact that the first model had the speaker and receiver on the side of the unit, and the battery had to be removed in order to change games. The redesigned N-Gage QD, which came out in 2004, was more compact and solved the side talking issue, but Nokia’s hybrid handheld console never went mainstream.
Sixth Generation: Modern Era Begins
We may not still use our Nintendo DS and PSP very often. They are over fifteen years old at the time I am writing this. But we still play games in the same style, just on more powerful hardware. Before the sixth generation, games were very limited by their hardware; today those styles of games are now considered to be retro.
2004 - I found it surprising to learn that the next Nintendo handheld was not going to have the name “Game Boy.” There was some speculation that Nintendo has plans of supporting Game Boy Advance and their new platform at the same time. The Nintendo DS became the first in a line of dual screen handhelds that seems to draw inspiration from the Game & Watch. In addition to a second screen, it also reintroduced and popularized the concept of using a touch screen for handheld gaming. Following tradition, it included backwards compatibility with Game Boy Advance titles. In 2006 the DS Lite was released as a slimmer, lighter version with better lighting. In 2008 it was replaced with the DSi, which has a larger screen, adds cameras, and other hardware enhancements. A year later the larger DSi XL would be launched. The DS was the bestselling handheld in history, and it remains as such.
PlayStation Portable, better known as PSP, was Sony’s first foray into the handheld market. Their device featured a single, larger screen than the DS and it used optical media on proprietary technology called UMD, which were discs contained in cartridges. In addition to games, Sony also sold movies in this format. In 2007 a lighter and thinner version of the console was released. A version with an enhanced screen and built-in mic sold in 2008, and a budget version was retailed in 2011 only in PAL territories. A digital only version of the PSP called PSP Go was launched in 2009.
2005 - A company called Tiger Telmatics, which is totally different from Tiger Electronics, decided to launch a handheld. It would be one of the most bizarre stories in gaming history that includes ties to organized crime, sex, drugs, and other stuff. That’s a whole other story. Gizmondo is the handheld console that the company released. It had an extravagant U.K. launch in March 2005, which nearly bankrupted the company. Its October U.S. launch was considerably lower key. The system was only distributed at mall kiosks. Tiger Telematics couldn’t reach a deal with major retailers such a Game Stop or Best Buy. By February 2006 the company was bankrupt. Gizmondo had a unique pricing scheme in which the console was offered for $229, but gamers would have to put up with ads. A $400 ad-free version was also sold. Eight games in total were released.
Seventh Generation: Present Day
After decades of multiple companies attempting to enter handheld console market, only Nintendo and Sony, two giants in the gaming industry, remain.
2011 - The successor to the DS line of handhelds became the Nintendo 3DS. In addition to having more powerful hardware and higher resolution cameras, the 3DS is capable of displaying stereoscopic 3D effects with no need for special glasses. As is now the fashion, the 3DS has seen several upgrades and redesigns. In 2012 the 3DS XL was launched with a 90 percent larger screen; in 2013 a non-folding non-3D version called 2DS was introduced as a “starter” handheld. Finally, the New Nintendo 3DS and accompanying XL version saw release, featuring significant hardware upgrades and additional controls.
PlayStation Vita, often called PS Vita, was released in 2011 in Japan followed by an early 2012 launch in America and Europe. It features a camera, touchpad, incorporates Sony’s sixaxis motion sensing technology, and has connectivity with the PS3 and PS4. Games come on custom flash memory cards and can also be downloaded digitally to a memory card.
For quick reference, here is a list of the handheld console generations showing only major events and releases with years, models, manufacturers. (The year represents its initial release, not necessarily the North American release.)
· First Generation: LED Era
o 1977 – Autorace by Mattel Electronics becomes the first handheld video game console
· Second Generation: Dedicated LCD and VFD Consoles
o 1979 – Several manufacturers bring to market LCD and VFD based handhelds
o 1979 – Milton Bradley Microvision
o 1980 – Nintendo launches Game & Watch series
o 1982 – Nintendo releases the Donkey Kong Multiscreen Game & Watch title which introduces the d-pad for the first time
o 1983 – Palmtex Super Micro
o 1983 onwards – Other dedicated LCD handheld consoles
· Third Generation: Reprogrammable Machines
o 1984 – Epoch Game Pocket Computer (Japan Only)
o 1989 – Nintendo Game Boy
o 1989 – Atari Lynx
o 1990 – Sega Game Gear
o 1990 – NEC TurboExpress
o 1990 – Bit Corporation Gamate
o 1990 – Hartung Gamate
o 1992 – Watara Supervision
o 1993 – Timlex Mega Duck
o 1995 – Bandai Design Master
o 2003 – TimeTop Game King
· Fourth Generation: Renaissance
o 1995 – Sega Nomad
o 1997 – Tiger Game.com
o 1998 – Nintendo Game Boy Color
o 1998 – SNK Neo Geo Pocket (followed by Neo Geo Pocket Color in 1999)
o 1999 – Bandai WonderSwan (Followed by WonderSwan Color in 2000)
· Fifth Generation: Transition
o 2001 – Nintendo Game Boy Advance
o 2003 – Nokia N-Gage
· Sixth Generation: Modern Era
o 2004 – Nintendo DS (series)
o 2004 – Sony PlayStation Portable
o 2005 – Tiger Telmatics Gizmondo
· Seventh Generation – Present Day
o 2011 – Nintendo 3DS (series)
o 2011 – Sony PlayStation Vita
Criticisms There are a few possible criticisms to classifying handheld console generations separately from home console generations. It does alter the congruity between handhelds and consoles as a point of reference in time. The fourth generation of home consoles ran parallel to the third generation of handhelds, which makes them easy to connect in the mind. However, tying handhelds to home consoles makes little sense give the fact that handhelds evolved later and separately.
Some platforms that are considered to be handheld consoles by many sources, such as the DragonBox Pandora or Tapwave Zodiac, are not included in my classification of handheld generations. This is due to Rule 4. The primary function of the device should be to play video games that are unique to its hardware. In the case of Pandora, it’s an open source portable computer that runs Linux and emulators. A console should be its own world with its own games. For the same reason Android devices are not included either. Zodiac is a PDA that also plays games; it’s not a handheld console in the same way that a Windows PC is not a home console. Other platforms not include are table top consoles, like the Entex Select-A-Game and Entex Adventure Vision. This is because of Rule 3. A true handheld can be played “in the air” with both hands. A tabletop is another thing entirely which requires a flat surface in order to be played.
Another criticism is the fact that there are some instances where generations overlap. For instance, the GameKing is a third generation machine even though it was initially released in 2003, far after the 1989 Game Boy which defined the third generation of handheld consoles. This is not an uncommon phenomenon and is true of home consoles too. Many first generation home consoles, for example, were released well after the second generation began, such as Atari Stunt Cycle, Magnavox Odyssey 4000, and Coleco Telstar Arcade. A more recent example is the 2004 release of the XaviXPort by SSD Co., which is a fourth generation home console released during the sixth console generation era.
There are several discrepancies that have resulted from coupling handheld console generations with those of home consoles, the first of which is that the method doesn’t produce a ‘first generation’ of handhelds. It’s true. The first generation of handhelds arrived during the second home console generation, as a result the first handheld consoles are classified as “second generation.”
The worst issue with tying handheld generations to those of home consoles is the fact that the full picture of the evolution of handhelds and advancements in portable gaming technology cannot be seen. With home consoles it’s easy to look and see the big jumps forward; discretionary circuits to CPUs, joysticks to control pads, 2D to 3D, cartridges to optical media, offline to online gaming, and et cetera. Knowing the order of home console generations tells you that. It doesn’t inform handheld generations, though. LED to VFD and LCD, monochromatic displays to color, poor battery life to extended battery life, advancements in LCD technology, and so on.
By looking at handheld video games consoles in terms of generations that are only relative among themselves and not to home consoles, the picture of the history of handheld gaming becomes clear and its evolution can be easily seen. It eliminates inconsistencies.
It’s clear that history has seen seven distinct generations of handheld consoles which shows lots of interesting advances and offshoots in portable gaming technology along the way.
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