In 2017, Nintendo claimed to have revolutionized the way we play video games with the release of the Switch. As we all know, the Switch allows you to play your favorite games on the go, then seamlessly connects to your TV at home so you can continue playing on the big screen. But is this as revolutionary an idea as Nintendo would have you believe?
The ability to play portable games on your TV at home has actually been possible, in a variety of different ways, throughout the history of portable gaming. While most of these options aren't as slickly implemented or as cost-effective as Nintendo's new kid on the block, they were all viable options before the dawn of the Switch; and some still are.
10 NEC Turbo Express (1990)
The Turbo Express is the portable version of the Turbo Grafx-16 home console released by NEC Home Electronics way back in 1990. It was primed as a competitor to Nintendo's Game Boy and SEGA's Game Gear, but it couldn't compete with the popularity of those systems due to poor battery life and a less recognizable brand image.
However, the Turbo Express allows you to play the same cartridges as used in the Turbo Grafx-16, so if you were lucky enough to own both consoles (at a total cost of around $800 in today's money) you could play Bonk's Adventure on the bus, then swap consoles at home to continue playing where you left off (so long as you remembered to write down the password).
9 Watara Supervision (1992)
Another failed attempt to compete with the Game Boy, the Supervision is a nifty looking handheld with a tilting screen, allowing the player to adjust it to their liking (a non-tilting version, looking suspiciously similar to Nintendo's portable champion, was released later).
Another unique aspect of the Supervision is the ability to connect it to a TV set through its TV link "dock" (sound familiar?) which cradles the console and transfers the display to the big screen. Despite being the first handheld console with this uniquely cool feature, the lack of support from big game developers, the poor quality screen and the simplicity of the games available, ultimately led to the downfall of the Supervision.
8 Nintendo Super Game Boy (1994)
The Super Game Boy is a cartridge adapter for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES). Original Game Boy - and some compatible Game Boy Color games - slot directly into the adapter and are then playable on your TV with various snazzy backgrounds. Some games even contain exclusive bonus features; for example, Space Invaders has a full-blown SNES version available to play.
With the Super Game Boy, there is no need to buy a separate Game Boy, unless of course, you want to play the games on the go, as originally intended. Having the flexibility of playing Game Boy games out and about or on your TV at home is a luxury that came at a hefty price, requiring two consoles and an adapter at an equivalent of around $700 in today's money. Ouch.
7 SEGA Nomad (1995)
The Nomad is a portable SEGA console, much like the Game Gear, that plays Genesis/Mega Drive cartridges. As a result, a Nomad allows you to play your favorite SEGA games anywhere you want (as long as you have plenty of batteries).
With a similar set-up to the TurboExpress, you’d expect to need a Genesis console to play the same games at home on your TV, right? Actually, no. The Nomad has both RF and composite outputs, meaning you can connect it straight to your TV (and includes an AC adapter port to save batteries). Unfortunately, SEGA was supporting 5 consoles and 2 add-ons for the Genesis at the time, thus the Nomad was left out in the cold.
6 Sony PocketStation (1999)
Somewhat of an oddity, released only in Japan, the PocketStation is an add-on for the original Sony PlayStation. This tiny handheld, similar in looks to a Tamagotchi, connects to the PS1 via the memory card port, allowing the transfer of data between consoles. Several games for the PS1 have minigames that can only be played on the PocketStation, many of which even unlock extra content for the full game.
The most fleshed-out experience available is Dokodemo Issho, featuring Sony's mascot Toro (no, Crash Bandicoot isn't the official mascot) who you can carry around like a little pocket pal to chat to and play word games with. Connecting to the PlayStation lets you check back on your diary and the stats of your experience with your new pal. Great if you live in Japan but only worth it in the West if you’re OK with the hassle and expense of importing a Japanese PocketStation, a Japanese PlayStation, and a bunch of Japanese games.
5 Nintendo Game Boy Player (2003)
The Game Boy Player is an adapter, similar in function to the Super Game Boy, that allows original Game Boy, Game Boy Color and Game Boy Advance games to be played on the Nintendo GameCube. The adapter plugs directly into the parallel port on the GameCube's base but also requires a boot disc to function (an item often missing from second-hand GameCubes with the adapter in place).
In conjunction with a Game Boy Advance SP, which can also play all types of Game Boy games (excluding the DS and beyond) this is a perfect set-up for anyone looking to transfer the fun from their classic Game Boy consoles over to their TV. Of course, you don't need the handheld to enjoy the games but if you do have one, it can also be used as a controller via a link cable.
4 Sony PSP Go (2009)
The PlayStation Portable (PSP) was Sony's first foray into portable gaming with the hope of capturing a share of a market dominated by Nintendo for decades. There were some variations on the PSP, not least the PSP Go with its nifty sliding screen. The PSP Go is also unique in that it has a video out for connection to a TV, either via a cable or using a docking "cradle". So you've got a portable console, perfect for travel, that seamlessly connects to your TV using a docking device...available for 8 years before the Switch.
With over 1,300 games, graphical fidelity somewhere between the PS2 and PS3, and available at a fraction of the cost of a Switch, the PSP Go should be a genuine consideration for gamers who want the flexibility of gaming both home and away in a single package.
3 Sony Experia Play (2011)
Not content with their attempts to conquer the dedicated gaming handheld market with the PSP, Sony branched out to mobile (phone) gaming with the Experia Play. With its sliding screen (very similar in form to the PSP Go), the Experia Play is a smartphone that can quickly turn into a proper games console and play all the latest (at the time at least) Android games. Funnily enough, most people weren't bothered about this feature and the idea didn't take off (much like Nokia's failed NGage).
However, for those interested in playing their Android games on the big screen (and willing to do a bit of digging) the Development Model of this phone has a micro HDMI out port, perfect for hooking up to modern TVs. The version released to the public does not include this port so you’ll need to be pretty dedicated to seek this one out.
2 Sony PlayStation Vita TV (2012)
The PS Vita, Sony's successor to the PSP, is hailed as one of the best handheld consoles ever made (it has fantastic graphics, brilliant games, and excellent battery life). Despite the clever connectivity options of the PSP Go before it, the Vita can’t connect directly to a TV. Instead, you can use the PlayStation TV (PS TV) which has a slot for Vita game cards and, when linked with your PlayStation account, you have access to all of your downloaded games and stats.
The PS TV also allows your Vita to be used as a controller and both PS3 and PS4 pads are compatible too (although there are some issues with games that make use of the Vita's gyroscope and touch features). A decent option for those looking for home console-quality graphics on the go.
1 SNK Neo Geo X (2012)
Retro gaming on original hardware has been at a premium in recent years and there aren't many more expensive options out there than the AES, the home console variant of SNK's Neo Geo arcade system. The Neo Geo X is a handheld variant of this system for a fraction of the price, featuring 20 built-in games and with more available on separate game cards. SNK are well known for their fighting games, so there aren't many better portable options for fans of classic tournament fighters like Fatal Fury or The King of Fighters.
But fighting games are best played on a proper arcade machine, right? Well, the Neo Geo X is the next best thing as it can be combined with the official docking station and arcade stick so you can embarrass your friends on the big screen from the comfort of your sofa.