It's no question that Nintendo is one of the largest gaming companies in the world. Along with Sony and Xbox, it's staying in the gaming competition. However, Nintendo is well known for their domination of the handheld market. With great devices like Game Boy, the Nintendo DS, and now the Nintendo Switch, it was almost impossible for other companies to enter.
While Sony and Sega tried competing against Nintendo, they were eventually defeated. Sony's PSP had a great run, but it proved meager compared to Nintendo's DS. Currently, Nintendo's DS is the highest selling handheld, with the Game Boy not far behind it. After Nintendo's Game Boy, Sony's PSP comes next. The PSP is only a hair ahead of Nintendo's Game Boy Advance line, so it's safe to say Nintendo's got it covered.
Nintendo's pocket consoles are considered a symbol of 90s and early 2000s nostalgia. People all over the world recognize the names Game Boy and DS, and many still own them.
16 Virtual Boy
Nintendo has a track record of commercial failures. Among the duds is the Virtual Boy, one of Nintendo’s earliest portable consoles. While the system sounded like a decent idea, the endless problems probably caused more rage quits than glitching noobs in Call of Duty.
Nintendo invented the Virtual boy in 1989 to try their hand at 3D interactive technology. None of Nintendo’s competitors achieved anything similar, so why not try? Maybe the invention was best left in the closet, because it caused more irritation than satisfaction. Not only did critics pan the Virtual Boy, but gamers didn’t enjoy it either. For starters, the price was high for a portable at the time, $179.99. Stack that on top of the unimpressive 3D appearance, health concerning side effects, lack of games, and you’ve got a recipe for failure.
Nintendo’s DS and 3DS were traditional handhelds. The 3DS took handheld graphics to the next level with its stereoscopic 3D effects without glasses. The 2DS was later introduced to provide an “entry-level” experience for handheld gamers who weren’t used to it.
The 2DS had similar features to the 3DS. However, there were unnecessary eliminations. The 2DS dropped the 3D capabilities and clamshell design of its parent handheld. It also had worst sound quality due to its mono speaker and microphone. On top of all those regressions was a lower battery life. Why would someone want to take a step backward?
While the 2DS received praise for its lower price and somewhat easier to hold design, its diminished aesthetics (and lack of 3D capabilities) makes it rank low on Nintendo’s list of handhelds.
14 Game & Watch
The Game & Watch started everything for Nintendo in the video gaming industry. Before the Game & Watch, Nintendo explored many products like playing cards and questionable hotels.
Gunpei Yokoi, the creator of Nintendo's Game & Watch, saw a bored Nintendo employee playing with a calculator. The calculator punching coworker inspired Yokoi to create something that doubles as both a clock and a time passing gaming machine. The design was simple and featured a left and right button with several game options. The graphics were simple and the character, known as Mr. Game & Watch, was in every game for the handheld. While the graphics aren’t ideal, nor the design, the Game & Watch was the catalyst to Nintendo’s success in gaming.
The Game & Watch led to the invention of the Game Boy, one of Nintendo’s flagship handhelds.
13 Game Boy
The Game Boy made Nintendo’s handhelds legendary. The Game Boy brand would live through Nintendo for a while, morphing into the Advance and the SP respectively.
The first Game Boy was huge. Being Nintendo’s second handheld, it didn’t easily fit into your pocket like its successors. The Game Boy was released in 1989 and easily beat its competitors at the time, Sega’s Game Gear and NEC’s TurboExpress. The design was simple like the Game & Watch, except the directional pad was used for movement.
Although the Game Boy saw tremendous success, there are design flaws that Nintendo has corrected today. That’s why it ranks so low on this list. It’s big, clunky, has no backlight, and the graphics look cheap compared to today’s handhelds.
12 Game Boy Pocket
Nintendo’s Game Boy was wildly successful. While it was endlessly entertaining, it was rather large and required 4 AA batteries. It also had a weird display. The pocket was created to fix the oddities in the original Game Boy.
The Game Boy Pocket played all the same games as Game Boy. The pocket, however, displayed games in Black and White as opposed to the monochromatic Game Boy display. The Game Boy Pocket showed battery levels, only required two AAA batteries, and fit into pockets.
While the Game Boy Pocket was an improvement on the original Game Boy, it still doesn’t compare to some of Nintendo’s later portable consoles. It’s got amazing classic games, but the black and white graphics and limited button options were only viable for so long.
Nintendo’s success with the Game Boys continued with other handhelds, including the Game Boy Advance. The Game Boy Advance was one of Nintendo’s best selling consoles. It spawned two other versions of the original — the SP and the Micro. The Micro was received successfully but had awkward timing.
The Game Boy Micro is the tiniest handheld Nintendo ever released. The portability and strong backlight were praised by critics since Nintendo handhelds weren’t bright before. The little size of the screen improved the sharpness of display and allowed for an evenly lit screen. The micro awkwardly came out after the DS, a superior handheld with backward compatibility. The screen was only an inch, meaning some people had to squint to see the screen.
While the micro had great new features, the tiny screen and slow release made it inconvenient for buying purposes. Why purchase a Micro when you could have the new DS?
The DS was Nintendo’s first non-Game Boy handheld. The DS was wildly successful, passing the original Game Boy/Game Boy Color in gross. The DS echoed the SP’s clamshell design with a wider display.
Initially, Nintendo marketed the DS as the third portion to Nintendo’s consoles. It was meant to be an additional component to the Game Boy and GameCube consoles, however, it’s backward compatibility and success made it Game Boy’s successor. The DS came with technical upgrades new at the time, including a built-in microphone, touch screen (on the bottom screen only), and Wi-Fi capabilities. It was also Nintendo’s second handheld with a rechargeable battery after the SP.
The original DS was impressive, but the console doesn’t compare to its later re-designed counterparts and the successor, the 3DS.
9 DS Lite
With the success of the DS, it was easy for Nintendo to release variants of the handheld. One of the later versions of the Nintendo DS was the DS Lite.
The demand for the DS was so large that Nintendo announced the DS Lite months ahead of release. The DS Lite was a slimmer, brighter version of Nintendo’s original handheld. It had a longer battery life on its most dim setting. The sleek, better-looking version of the DS also had a wider screen and adjustable levels of brightness.
The DS lite was so popular that Nintendo originally planned a DS Lite XL. The plan was so far along that Nintendo prepared it for mass production. Due to the DS Lite’s success, however, Nintendo backed off and allowed the DS Lite to continue. The XL morphed into the DSi.
8 DSi +XL
Nintendo wanted to follow up the DS and Ds Lite with another model. It wouldn’t be the gaming giant’s first remodel for its handhelds, as the Game Boy and Game Boy Advance both had multiple versions. After planning to create a DS Lite XL, Nintendo scrapped it to release the DSi and DSi XL.
The DSi was Nintendo’s third DS model. While it appeared to be similar to the DS Lite, the DSi had numerous differences. The screen was bigger on the DSi, and it featured five brightness levels as opposed to the DS Lite’s four. The most significant difference in the DSi is its camera and lack of Game Boy Advance slot.
While critics picked at Nintendo for removing backward compatibility, the DSi was still wildly popular and sold millions of copies.
Nintendo’s popular Game Boy Advance came out in 2001 and it marked a new generation of handheld consoles. Nintendo abandoned its usual portrait-style models and replaced it with the landscape design, a technique they’ve used for most handhelds after. The cartridges for the software were much thinner compared to Game Boy cartridges and the new shape allowed for better mobility. Without much competition, the Game Boy Advance was able to sweep up sales with over 81 million units sold.
Although the Game Boy Advance was an “advance” in Nintendo’s handhelds, it lacked a backlight. Nintendo faced heavy criticism for lacking a backlight until the SP came out in 2003.
6 New 3DS +XL
Nintendo continues to release new handhelds. With the success the company’s had, it’d be a shocker if they stopped. Recently, in 2014 (2015 in the west), the New Nintendo 3DS and XL hit the market.
Not counting the Switch, the New 3DS is Nintendo’s latest handheld. It has many new features the 3DS didn’t; a new C-analog stick, face detection, two new side triggers (ZR and ZL), interchangeable faceplates for the smaller model and increased memory. The best upgrade is its image quality, which is superior to the original 3DS. The New 3DS also features minor aesthetic changes — the colored buttons and off-white look give it a Super Nintendo look. The XL is a slightly bigger version.
There comes a certain point when companies do such a great job on consoles, and that’s Nintendo with its 3DS. The 3DS is clean, sleek, and the graphics were stunning for its time. IGN called it a “natural evolution” of the DSi. Nintendo released the 3DS in March 2011, and the 3D effect was sharp.
The 3DS is almost like a second phone, with the ability to access services like Netflix, Hulu, and YouTube. It also offered several augmented reality applications like Face Raiders, where you use pictures of friends or other players, and they come after you in a survival style shooter.
The 3DS reinvented the handheld console wheel, giving Nintendo handhelds access to tons of applications and creating a clean 3D interface for handheld gamers.
4 Nintendo Switch
The Nintendo Switch is Nintendo’s latest console. Not only is the Switch a home console, but it’s also a convertible handheld. The player can remove both ends of Joy Con controller and attach it to the included screen. It creates a handheld just as powerful as the home console position.
Nintendo released the Switch worldwide on March 3, 2017. Many reports published about problems and glitches initially, but most agree that the Switch is a pretty good console. Nintendo seems to have another out of stock situation on its hands, however. The Switch continues to fly off of shelves, only to hit shelves for no longer than a few days months later.
While there’s plenty of potential for the Nintendo Switch, the small stock and lack of game situations give it a mixed reception.
3 Game Boy Color
While the Game Boy Color has outdated graphics, it started a revolution in Nintendo’s handheld market. It added color to the Game Boy and Game Boy Pocket handhelds. It’s also slightly bigger than the Pocket, making it appear as one of Nintendo’s earliest “XL” consoles.
Combined, Game Boy and Game Boy Color sold a little over 118 million, making them Nintendo’s second best selling handheld ever. The Pokemon games were wildly popular on the Game Boy Color. Each version’s game was shaded a different color: Red, Blue, or Yellow.
While the Game Boy Color may not be the most up to date handheld, it certainly helped Nintendo’s Game Boy line evolve and become famous.
The SP didn’t receive nearly as much praise as it should have. The Game Boy Advance SP was Nintendo’s first handheld, with the clamshell design and a backlight. The Game Boy Advance SP would inspire Nintendo’s later DS models and expand the success of the Game Boy Advance.
Released in February 2003, Nintendo created the Game Boy Advance SP to upgrade its Game Boy line. Many critics complained about the lack of a backlight on Game Boy Advance, and its wide design was the most ideal. The SP solved the backlight and portability issues, as well as incorporating a rechargeable battery.
While the SP may not be held high, it was the domino effect for Nintendo’s next line of success and therefore gets a top spot on the list. However, it doesn’t top its successor.
1 3DS XL
Like Nintendo’s other handhelds, it followed up its 3DS with a 3DS XL model. The 3DS’ popularity was so widespread that rumors of the XL appeared. Nintendo initially denied the rumors but proceeded with producing an XL version of the 3DS behind closed doors. Eventually, the gaming company confirmed the news and launched the XL version July 28, 2012.
Unlike the DSi, where Nintendo’s generic and XL designs looked similar, the 3DS XL had different hardware. Not only was the screen larger, but the buttons received a complete redesign. Nintendo changed the select, home, and start buttons to reflect the wider size of the handheld.
Gamers were more thrilled with the XL when it came out. It’s never a bad idea for a handheld to get bigger and better. The new look for the 3DS XL propelled the 3DS to new heights, and many recommended it over the regular 3DS.
Nintendo is the king of handhelds. The company made names like Game Boy and DS familiar. Did you own a Game Boy? Do you have a DS or 3DS? Which is your favorite handheld?