Category Archives: Handhelds

Sony PS Vita

The PS Vita is probably my favorite handheld system of all time. And that’s saying something, because when it comes to handhelds, I’ve been a loyal Nintendo fanboy for many years. But the PS Vita really is about all you can ask for from a handheld, and I actually feel a bit sad for Sony that it didn’t catch on a little better.

It actually did pretty well in Japan, and mine is a Japanese system, bought on one of my trips there. At the time, there were rows and rows of PSP games and accessories at every electronics store (I bought mine at a BIC Camera), which was completely opposite of the situation in the US. Even game stores in the US only had maybe one shelf devoted to PS Vita games, and you were lucky if an electronics store or department store carried it at all.

But what’s not to like here? It’s small, it’s insanely powerful (basically a pocket PS2), it has a beautiful and high-resolution touchscreen, excellent physical controls, built-in wifi with online play, and it gets pretty incredible battery life. It is all the things every Nintendo handheld ever was and a lot more. It is everything every competitor to Nintendo always tried to be and failed. It makes me want to take America by the collar, shake it and say “What more do you want?!”

The game library’s actually pretty incredible too, especially when you add in all the PSP and PS1 games you can play on it. But even its own library includes stuff like Persona 4: Golden, Virtua Tennis 4, Uncharted: Golden Abyss, Dead or Alive 5: Ultimate, and the amazing Puyo Puyo Tetris, to name just a few of my favorites. The cross-console ports look and play just like the real thing, with basically no loss of fidelity (none you’d notice, anyway).

It’s just a fantastic little system, and one I can see myself still playing many years down the line. With mobile phone gaming really cannibalizing handheld gaming sales these days, I have my doubts that anyone’s really going to top the PS Vita anytime soon. I’d love to be proven wrong, but at the moment the PS Vita really is the ultimate handheld.

Neo Geo Pocket Color

I can guarantee you that almost nobody else in the world has this color variant of the NGPC. That’s simply because it’s so nasty; it’s probably the only true piss-colored game machine anywhere. I’m amazed that SNK ever offered such a color variant, and they only did so in Japan. But this is actually one reason why I wanted it – I knew nobody else would have a system that looked like this, and I like systems that are so ugly, you can’t help but look at them.

It actually looked better when I first got it a few years ago. The color has dulled over time – it was originally the way it’s pictured on the box. But it was never attractive. Distinctive, yes; attractive, no. And it’s still as distinctive as ever, dull or not. (I actually get a lot of looks when I play this thing on the NYC subway – looks that say “what the hell is that thing??”)

This is one of the later revisions of the NGPC, which were all only ever offered in Japan, even while the older model continued to sell in the United States. The major differences were the size and colors offered – the second generation NGPC’s were slightly smaller and were produced in a variety of solid and clear colors – the clear blue model looks particularly nice. Clear (or “crystal” as SNK called them) models were never sold in the United States, except for plain (uncolored).

I actually love this system. It’s fantastic; it’s everything you could want a handheld to be, at least at the time it was available. Its only competition at that time was the Game Boy Color, and it totally destroys that system in every way. It’s got better graphics (it’s got a 16 bit CPU vs. the GBC’s 8 bit), it’s got the best controller ever put into a handheld, it’s got nice, snappy buttons, it’s very small and it’s very comfortable to hold. The screen is extremely sharp, and SNK took a cue from Nintendo in not including a backlight in order to save battery life. As a result, battery life blows the doors off the GBC – 40 hours!

There are some great games available for the system, including a nice rendition of Sonic the Hedgehog, a couple of versions of the classic Metal Slug, and “pocket” versions of SNK’s fighting games with super-deformed characters. And of course, my favorite puzzle game series, Puyo Puyo:

This was the most serious competition Nintendo had ever faced in handheld gaming to that point – this is the one system that has ever seriously bested the Game Boy at its own game, literally. Unlike previous failed systems like the Game Gear and Lynx, the NGPC was designed with the same philosophy as the Game Boy, and it beats it in all areas. Unfortunately, SNK just did not have the resources to pour into the marketing and development of this system, and it disappeared from the market after about three years. SNK itself would go under soon after, though they’ve now been resurrected under the guise of SNK Playmore.

Atari Lynx II

This is Atari’s second version of their Lynx handheld, which I purchased new in around 1999 or 2000. I don’t actually know what the deal is with this Lynx – I’ve seen some with black boxes, some with white boxes (like mine), and I think the white box models were probably either the last ones produced, or they’re European models. Feel free to comment with the correct info – I’m kinda curious myself.

Anyway, my Lynx has barely ever been played and so is in as perfect condition as a “used” system can get. I just don’t have very many games for it, and the ones I do have aren’t very good.

The Lynx is a huge system for a handheld and it’s easy to see why it failed in the marketplace (the Lynx I was even bigger). It also required six AA batteries. Still, despite its size and heft it is surprisingly comfortable (if not very portable), especially for someone with big hands like myself:

One of the annoying things about the Lynx, which you can tell a bit from this picture, is that the screen scratches ridiculously easily. I have done little more than take my system out of the box and insert/remove it from its carrying case a few times and still my screen is almost entirely covered with micro-scratches. Not very noticeable when playing but ugly with the system turned off.

Here’s the carrying case, btw – it’s huge!

Probably the best and worst thing about the system is the LCD screen itself. Now, bearing in mind the Lynx was released at the same time we were all dealing with the non-backlit, pea-green screen of the original Game Boy, this is still just plain nasty:

No, nothing is wrong with my Lynx. In its defense, I will say that those vertical lines are probably due to the screen refresh being picked up by my camera because of a long exposure time (you don’t see them during actual play), but in terms of the brightness, contrast and color, that’s about right. Unlike the Sega Game Gear, there is no brightness or contrast control (not that it helps much on the Game Gear).

I will say that Lynx carts are pretty darn cool. They’re like the Turbo Grafx HuCards – they’re not like carts, more like a chip. Very thin and sleek:

btw, Hard Drivin’ is unplayable on the Lynx. Don’t even bother.

Sega Game Gear

I own two Game Gears, and I’m showing them both on this page. I really regret not having one of these when it was a current system, as I became a big fan once I purchased my first used model off Ebay. Sega had this on the market at about the same time as the Atari Lynx and the original Game Boy, and while it fails in some of the same areas as the Lynx (short battery life, too much heft), I think it’s a much more successful system overall and a worthy alternative to the Game Boy. If you wanted portability and low cost, the Game Boy was your system – if you wanted power at any price, the Game Gear was perfect in its day.

The Game Gear was basically a portable Sega Master System, which allowed Sega to quickly port some really high-quality games. Just look at some of the titles shown on the back of the box:

On the other hand, you can tell this is an old handheld system because they actually expected you to carry it around in its very own briefcase. (Yes, I know there was a “holster case” available for it as well – meant to be slung over your shoulder!)

Despite its large size, it actually is not nearly as ergonomic as the Lynx II, and it feels heavier. It also has just a nasty, ugly screen, which really hurt its reputation among gamers and only served to justify Nintendo’s approach of eschewing both color and backlighting in favor of sharpness and contrast, at a reasonable cost. Here’s the screen in action:

This is my second Game Gear, and it’s pretty beat up – it’s the one I use to actually play rather than keep sitting in a box. Yes, just like the similar pic on the Lynx page, this is pretty close to what playing games on this thing really looks like. (The moire effect is a camera artifact, but the color, brightness and contrast are pretty close.) Your eyes adjust to a certain extent, but not completely. One of the real problems is the screen’s viewing angle – you need to hold the system at about a 30 degree angle away from your eyes (in other words, so the system is not straight) to see any picture at all. To their credit, Sega did include a brightness knob (unlike Atari), but it doesn’t really help.

But what saves the system for me is just its internal hardware, which directly affects the quality of the games. There are just some great games on this system, including the one shown above – Puyo Puyo 2.

I also just have a thing for games that come with clamshell cases, like this:

Nintendo Game Boy Color

You may notice a theme here if you’ve looked around a bit already – I like to see the innards of my systems. If there’s a “clear”, “crystal” or “skeleton” color variant, I’ll usually buy it.

This was my second Game Boy and the first one I really wanted. I got it for Christmas shortly after it was first released; the addition of color made it a bit more acceptable to me than the original Game Boy, and by this time there were some games I actually wanted.

I probably couldn’t add anything about the GBC that you wouldn’t already know, so I don’t have much to say about this system. It did get a fair amount of play from me and the screen is pretty scratched up (battle scars!), but these days it sits in its box, relegated to a drawer in favor of its newer incarnations.

I’m doing gameplay shots for all my handhelds so you can see the quality of the screens on each – the GBC actually does very well in this regard:

If it looks backlit, it’s just a trick of the light. It’s not. It’s a good screen, though.

Nintendo Game Boy Advance

Man, for some reason the fact that my backdrop is a dirty pink tablecloth is really obvious in the above pic.

Anyway, this is a Japanese GBA, functionally identical to the US model with the only difference being the sticker on the back. This is also a launch system – purchased from an import store here in New York. The case came direct from Nintendo (I had some contacts with them at the time). I was really excited about this launch – I was working in the game industry so I got sort of caught up in the hype, and by that time I’d completely gotten over my anti-handheld bias. Plus, it was the first true upgrade of the Game Boy’s internal hardware since the system’s launch in 1989 (color screens don’t count).

At the time I bought this, the only colors available for the system were white with grey trim, clear purple with orange trim, and purple with white trim. I thought white was the most tasteful looking. Now that the SP (and DS) are on the market, though, this thing looks a little clunky – and it’s also yellowing around the edges (why oh why do Nintendo products always have this problem?).

In keeping with all my handheld pages, I’ve taken a pic of the screen in action. It’s a little blurred because of the motion in the game itself vs. my exposure time, but just compare it to the screens on the Lynx and Game Gear (obviously older systems, but the GB line has always had sharper, higher-contrast screens than the competition):

Nintendo Game Boy

The original Nintendo Game Boy (and yes, “Game Boy” is officially two words), given to me as a gift in 1989. Like the NES, it was another gift I didn’t ask for and didn’t really want all that much – at that point I was just getting over my mid-80’s home console skepticism but I still believed handheld gaming was just pure stupidity. The graphics were poor, battery life was always a problem, and that ugly, pea-green screen – yuck!

Anyway, I kept my Game Boy and partly through the fact that I rarely ever played it except for the odd game of Tetris, it still looks pretty good, right?

Unfortunately, there’s this:

Apparently this is a common problem in original Game Boy screens, and I’ve been told it’s really not all that difficult to fix. Something about the back of the LCD screen actually coming unglued through simple age, and all you really need to do is glue it back. Still, I’ve just never bothered, as I eventually got over my anti-handheld-ness and now own both a perfectly good Game Boy Color and a Game Boy Advance.