10 Retro Handheld Consoles From The 90s You Probably Never Knew Existed

10 Retro Handheld Consoles From The 90s You Probably Never Knew Existed

The video game industry boomed in the 90s. After Nintendo’s monopoly on the market in the late 80s, SEGA had come in and proved that there was room for more than one successful gaming company. Before long, new consoles – like the 3DO and CD-I – were popping up every year. Most, however, quickly faded into obscurity.

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The handheld market also heated up during the 90s, with every company trying to capitalize on the success of Nintendo’s breakout hit, the Game Boy. Sadly, it turned out the handheld market was even more challenging than selling consoles, and numerous handheld devices were quickly forgotten about and lost to history.


PC Engine GT / TurboExpress (1990)

The box for the TurboExpress features the massive Game Boy-looking handheld device

One of the first attempts at competing with the Game Boy came from NEC, who also made the TurboGrafx-16 console. The concept for the PC Engine GT (also released at the TurboExpress in certain countries) was to essentially make a handheld version of the TurboGrafx console.

At the time, it was actually an impressive handheld, even coming with a color screen…something the Game Boy wouldn’t get for another eight years. However, its immense power also meant it was immensely power-hungry, often sucking batteries dry in a few short hours.

Gamate (1990)

A French ad for the Gamate praises the handheld's features while displaying the product

Bit Corp, a Taiwanese-based electronics company, rushed a cheap Game Boy alternative to the market called the Gamate. It was universally despised and quickly fell into absolute obscurity. With terrible sound quality, horrendous visuals, and cheap hardware, the Gamate was a true disaster.

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In fact, a feature from NintendoLife even states that the graphical abilities of the Gamate were so bad that any game with lots of motion became almost unplayable since movement appeared as a distorted image on the screen. The faster the movement, the more blurry the object would become, which, at times, would result in a screen filled with virtually unrecognizable moving blurs.

Lynx II (1991)

The Atari Lynx sits in alongside various game cards

In 1989, Atari released its Lynx handheld console. It became the first handheld device with a color screen and was set to compete against the Game Boy. Sales were moderately successful, but its steep price ($179.99, which was very expensive for the day) scared off many consumers.

To help reinvigorate interest, Atari revamped the handheld in 1991 with what was internally known as the “Lynx II”, but simply sold as the Lynx with a new design. It had improved battery life, better hardware, and most importantly, a cheaper price. However, by this point, the Game Boy had skyrocketed in popularity and Atari’s reputation had been tarnished, leading to unimpressive sales.

Watara Supervision (1992)

The Supervision was like a game boy with a flip screen, similar to the newer Game Boy Advances

In 1992, the Supervision was released to offer a cheaper alternative to the Game Boy. And while it was a great idea to release a Game Boy-style handheld for the discount market, the Supervision’s cheap quality quickly showed, most notably in its game library.

Most were like the kind of games students used to download onto their calculators. Maze games, solitaire, and knock-off Tetris clones made the Supervision incredibly boring and useless, causing the handheld to last only a few short years.

SEGA Nomad (1995)

The box for the SEGA Nomad displays the console which was basically a portable genesis

By 1995, SEGA was in trouble. Their desperate attempt to rush the much-hated SEGA 32X peripheral console to market made gamers distrust the company, and the recent release of their new console, the Saturn, was going horribly. SEGA was desperate to extend the life of their only successful console to date: the Genesis/Mega Drive.

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To do this, they devised the Nomad. It was a portable version of the Genesis/Mega Drive that even used their game cartridges, meaning anyone who already owned the console could simply insert their cartridges into the Nomad. Despite some positive reviews for the Nomad, SEGA was simply spread too thin, now trying to support a handful of consoles and peripherals…none of which it could give its full attention to.

Game.com (1997)

A screenshot of a rare Resident Evil 2 port for the Game.com

Tiger Electronic’s Game.com device is easily one of the most unique and curious handheld consoles ever made. Though the screen was still black and white, the Game.com featured tons of unique features, such as its ability for internet connectivity (hence the device’s name) a touchscreen display, and games that couldn’t be found on any other handheld device, like Duke Nukem 3D and even a version of Resident Evil 2.

With its internet abilities and mature-focused game library, the Game.com became seen as a Game Boy for adults. Sadly, sales never took off and the Game.com faded into obscurity.

Game Boy Light (1998)

The box for the Game Boy Light sits next to a collection of Game Boy games

In 1998, as the world received the Game Boy Color, Japan also got an exclusive new version of the original Game Boy, the Game Boy Light.

The Game Boy Light was an improvement upon the Game Boy Pocket, keeping its smaller, slimmer casing, but adding in a backlight… something players had been wanting for years. Not only was it the first Game Boy to feature a backlight, but it remained Nintendo’s only handheld to be backlit until 2005’s Game Boy Advance SP.

Neo Geo Pocket (1998)

A Neo Geo Pocket device sits next to the cover for its exclusive Metal Slug game

Neo Geo was never the size of Nintendo or SEGA, but it was still considered a big player in the video game world, especially when it came to arcade games. Neo Geo is responsible for franchises like Fatal Fury, and most famously, Metal Slug.  On top of their arcade games, Neo Geo entered living rooms in 1990 with their first home console and continued in 1994 with the Neo Geo CD.

In 1998, Neo Geo wanted to enter the handheld market as well with their monochrome Neo Geo Pocket device. However, news that Nintendo was about to launch a new, color-version of the Game Boy quickly ruined Neo Geo’s hopes. The Neo Geo Pocket only lasted one year… and only received 10 games.

Neo Geo Pocket Color (1999)

The Neo Geo Pocket Color handheld against a black screen

After just one year, Neo Geo released another handheld device, essentially killing off its own predecessor. The Neo Geo Color was a 16-bit handheld that displayed 146 colors. One of its most interesting features is that it could be hooked up with SEGA’s contentious and ill-fated Dreamcast console as part of a bizarre deal between the two companies (which also led to the Neo Geo Pocket getting its own exclusive Sonic game, Sonic Pocket Adventure).

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On top of that, the Pocket also had its own exclusive Metal Slug games and even a handheld version of the popular snowboarding franchise, Cool Boarders. Sadly, the Game Boy was just too dominant, especially with the popularity of Pokémon. After two years, the console was discontinued.

WonderSwan (1999)

A WonderSwan console sits next to a Digimon from one of its games

Released solely in Japan, the WonderSwan was the closest thing to competition Nintendo’s Game Boy ever had.

According to Retro Gamer, the WonderSwan managed to sell 1.55 million units, which, while that might sound small, is actually impressive considering it was launched only in one country. This is doubly impressive since the WonderSwan was black and white, and was released a year after the Game Boy Color. The handheld found success thanks to a cheap price point and exclusive games including Digimon.

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