Handheld gaming systems and accessories go hand-in-hand. That relationship originally started out of necessity, when early portable systems had various issues—dark screens, low battery life, easily-damaged parts—that required the purchase of add-ons to try and rectify. Unfortunately, in a world before social media and Amazon customer reviews, all we could really do was buy things and try them for ourselves. And when they didn't work—which was often the case—then we had to buy the next thing and hope our luck improved.
Even as the craftsmanship quality of handheld systems improved, we still craved accessories. Sometimes it was purely for cosmetics and personalization, and other times it was to add functionality we thought we wanted or to solve problems that didn't really exist. Very few of us who have gotten really into a particular handheld console didn't end up putting way more money into add-ons for it than we spent on the system itself, which wouldn't be so bad if so many of those add-ons weren't complete garbage.
It's not all bad news, though. Some handheld gaming accessories are not only great, but are a true necessity for anyone who owns a given system. Whether they bring significant quality-of-life improvements to a handheld, or just make them cooler in some way, there are definitely a fair amount of handheld accessories that were worth buying at the time and are worth tracking down to this day.
This list explores the best and the worst of the accessories from much of handheld gaming's history, from the original Game Boy all the way through the 3DS and Vita.
30 Shouldn't Exist: Game Boy Belt Clips
If you weren't old enough to have your own handheld devices in the 1990s and early-2000s, you probably don't remember a time when people seemed to want to have those devices clipped to their pants/belt/pocket/etc. It started with Walkmans, then carried over to pagers and cellphones.
For whatever reason, we wanted to display our devices on our waists during those years.
With that in mind, we can't completely blame Nyko for thinking we'd want to do the same with our Game Boys—but we didn't. We really, truly didn't.
29 Actually Useful: Circle Pad Pro (3DS)
The PSP got a lot of flack for only having one analog stick, and Nintendo apparently didn't take those complaints to heart as they went ahead and introduced the 3DS without a second stick.
While subsequent 3DS models eventually rectified this problem with built-in second sticks, it was of little consolation to the people who already invested in the one-stick model. Enter the Circle Pad Pro, an add-on to the 3DS that gave it a second analog stick—something that developers started to officially support almost immediately.
28 Shouldn't Exist: TV Tuners
These days, anyone with a smartphone has access to HD TV shows and movies literally on demand. We definitely take for granted how easy it is to "watch TV" on the go these days.
Both the Game Gear and the Game Boy Advance had TV tuners—and they worked about as well as you'd assume.
It wasn't just hard to get a decent signal on a road trip, either—people in major urban areas struggled to get clear pictures on either tuner. And now that TV signals have all gone digital, both devices have basically been rendered completely non-functional.
27 Shouldn't Exist: e-Reader (Game Boy Advance)
For as much as we complain about DLC, we have it pretty good compared to the hoops we used to have to jump through in order to add content to games. And perhaps the most notorious example of this is Nintendo's extremely misguided e-Reader for the Game Boy Advance.
The device attached to the GBA and would read cards that would both add content to existing games and "download" new games. A neat idea, but the limited availability of the cards combined with how many it took to accomplish anything of substance quickly soured what little potential the device had.
26 Actually Useful: Game Boy Camera
With the many fun things we can do with pictures of ourselves on today's smartphones, the extremely limited capabilities and quality of the Game Boy Camera are quaint, to put it mildly.
But we don't subscribe to the theory that stuff becomes bad once it becomes dated.
For its time, the Game Boy Camera was a cool, versatile device that not only let you take and store digital pictures on a handheld device—in and of itself a novelty in the 1990s—but use them in rudimentary movies and games. Forget the retroactive haters, the GB Camera was awesome.
25 Shouldn't Exist: Game Boy Printer
All the gushing in the previous entry aside, not everything about the Game Boy Camera was great—and one particular aspect of it deserves to be ragged on.
It was a nice idea to allow people to print out the pictures they took on the GB Camera, but the high cost of the thermal paper that the Game Boy Printer required—coupled with the pictures just losing a lot of their charm once they were on paper and off of the GB screen—made it an accessory to an accessory that was best to not bother with.
24 Shouldn't Exist: Solid Eye (PSP)
The Solid Eye, an accessory that slipped over the PSP in order to create 3D images, should've been seen as a bad idea to anyone who was aware of a little device called the Virtual Boy.
One thing people hated about the Virtual Boy is that you had to put your face into it to play it—which is exactly what the Solid Eye required.
The Solid Eye only worked with a single game—Metal Gear Ac!d 2—which made it all the more pointless. It's game that isn't worth the trouble to play it in such an uncomfortable way.
23 Actually Useful: Cheat Devices
Who says cheating has to be restricted to consoles? Game Genie, the first mainstream cheat device, quickly expanded its reach beyond consoles by creating versions for both the Game Boy and Game Gear—which was nice, since those platforms had some tough-as-nails titles.
And when Game Genie was unable to find a code to give it infinite life, devices like GameShark, Action Replay, and Code Breaker took up the mantle and expanded the world of handheld cheat devices to pretty much every handheld console of the last 30 years.
22 Shouldn't Exist: Kid Icarus Uprising Stand (3DS)
Look, we're all for developers of games for handheld systems aspiring to create experiences that go beyond that of the "typical" handheld games. But that ambition also shouldn't be such that a game can't even be comfortably played on its original hardware without altering it in some way.
Kid Icarus: Uprising was a divisive game already, but the fact that Nintendo expected us to nestle our 3DSs onto a stand made specifically for that game in order to play it properly just turned people off all the more. That said, something like this might've saved Metroid Prime: Hunters...
21 Shouldn't Exist: Super Wide Gear (Game Gear)
One of the biggest things that Sega's Game Gear had over Nintendo's Game Boy was its big, bright, backlit screen. Gone were the days of having to squint at the screen or hold the device at just the right angle in order to see what you were playing.
Magnifying Game Gear's already excellent screen was completely unnecessary.
Not only that, but the Super Wide Gear actually made the image look worse by blowing it up bigger than was intended and making everything look disproportionate and washed out, not to mention making the system too heavy.
20 Actually Useful: Worm Light (Game Boy Color)
We spent a decade trying to figure out the ideal option for making our Game Boys visible beyond sitting directly underneath a table lamp while playing. We bought one overpriced accessory after another in the hopes of being able to play Tetris under the covers at night, but to no avail.
Then the Worm Light came along and finally solved all of our Game Boy lighting problems.
The double-whammy of being fully adjustable to virtually any angle and also running directly off of the GB Color's batteries made the Worm Light the the long-overdue answer to our prayers.
19 Shouldn't Exist: PulsePak (Game Boy)
We've lived with controller vibration as a standard for so long that we forget it's there most of the time, except when a game happens to make particularly creative use of it—which doesn't happen very often anymore.
The individual Game Boy games with built-in rumble weren't a perfect option—especially since they required their own battery to run—but it was better than this clunker. The PulsePak gets no specific "vibration" information from games and instead just takes a stab at it based on the games' music and sound effects. In other words, it doesn't really work.
18 Shouldn't Exist: PS Vita Memory Cards
There are a lot of reasons that the PS Vita failed and wasn't able to recapture the surprising success and longevity of its predecessor, the PSP. But the high cost of entry was definitely one of the biggest, not only for the unit itself but its costly memory cards.
Sony deciding that PS Vita would only use expensive proprietary memory cards and not a universal format was one of the biggest nails in the platform's coffin.
Sony's gaming division obviously does a lot of things right, but it also frequently lets its hubris lead to bad decisions like this.
17 Actually Useful: Internal Battery Packs
It's ironic that we live in a world that is more "wireless" than ever since we still seem to spend most of our time tethered to the nearest outlet to charge our devices anyway.
Battery life has been an issue for as long as handheld game systems have existed—but thankfully, we've always had options.
The benefit of internal battery packs are twofold. First, it takes systems that still run on traditional batteries and does away with them completely. And second, it often extends the battery life of a system's default battery.
16 Shouldn't Exist: External Battery Packs
Take everything we said in the previous entry about internal battery packs and apply them here, and it all remains true. However, there is one important distinction that completely transforms that great idea into an awful one.
Just look at that monstrosity in the picture above. What are you supposed to do with the beast while you're playing your Game Gear? Just sit it in your lap? It's hardly an elegant solution to battery problems. We realize battery pack technology wasn't always as compact as it later became, but external battery packs like that were just never very practical.
15 Shouldn't Exist: Novelty Styluses (DS/3DS)
Gamers love to be able to customize their hardware, and this seems to be especially true for handheld consoles. It makes sense, as we take our portable gaming systems out in public and what to show off our creativity to the world.
Novelty styluses—and yes, that is an acceptable plural of the word stylus—are one of the most popular ways to decorate DSs and 3DSs.
There's just one small problem—any stylus bigger than the default one isn't going to fit into the system's slot, and just becomes something else to keep track of. No thanks.
14 Actually Useful: Hard Flip-Top Cases For PSP
There had always been cases for handheld systems, but the majority of them were designed for transporting the system and assumed you would just take it out of its case to play it. With the PSP, that didn't seem like the best solution for protecting your device on the go.
Enter the hard-shell, flip-open cases made by Logitech and other companies. They not only offered sufficient protection for your PSP, but their design allowed you to easily flip them open and play your PSP with ease without actually removing it from the case. No PSP owner should be without one.
13 Shouldn't Exist: Radio Tuners
It's hard to deny the appeal of having an all-in-one device in your pocket that plays video games and allows you to listen to music. And back in the days of handhelds like Game Boy that were the size and weight of a small brick, it wasn't exactly convenient to have a bulky Walkman in your other pocket.
Radio tuners for handheld gaming systems are the kind of idea that is good on paper, but just doesn't work out that well in execution.
The sound was never great, the signal was always weak, and they were typically too pricey.
12 Shouldn't Exist: Guitar Hero On Tour Grip Controller (DS)
At the height of music-games-with-plastic-instruments mania, it seemed like anything with the words Guitar Hero slapped across it was a licensed to print money. But not everything that came from that trend was good—in fact, a lot of it wasn't.
One of the big misses of the music game explosion of the mid-2000s was when someone thought the DS should have a Guitar Hero game with a controller that plugs into the cartridge slot and has buttons like the neck of a guitar. It was a lot of work to play terribly tinny renditions of rock songs.
11 Actually Useful: Master Gear Converter
There are devices that let us play handheld games on the TV, which we certainly appreciate. But what about the flip side—being able to play home games on the go? Unfortunately, there have been far too few such devices throughout gaming history, at least not officially.
Following the Power Base Converter, Sega made yet another device in an effort to keep the memory of its Master System alive: the Master Gear Converter.
While it wasn't a perfect device and didn't offer 100% compatibility, being able to play some Master System games on the go was definitely a neat concept.
10 Shouldn't Exist: Game Boy Advance-To-GameCube Cable
Nintendo has a lot of crazy ideas. Sometimes they work out, like with the hugely successful Switch—other times, not so much, as with the whole "connectivity" fiasco.
To be fair, Nintendo was ahead of its time in having a console and a handheld that communicated back and forth and could be used in conjunction with each other.
The problem is that this didn't happen wirelessly with the GameCube and GBA, the result of which was a ridiculous mess of wires that was only ever worth the effort for playing Zelda: Four Swords and Pac-Man Vs.
9 Shouldn't Exist: Nyko PSP Theater Experience
Sony really, really tried to make the PSP into a multimedia device that we would use to play music and movies as well as games. Obviously, that didn't work out—putting music on the thing was a pain, and UMDs were way too expensive and had a bizarre selection of titles.
Even if music and movies on the PSP took off, people still would've enjoyed those things privately, with headphones—nobody was ever going to set up the PSP and connect a miniature theater system to it to put it on a table and watch movies loud and proud.
8 Actually Useful: Touchscreen Protectors (DS/3DS)
It's generally a good idea to put screen protectors on portable devices anyway, but you should especially do so with screens that you're constantly going to be poking at and swiping a plastic tip across—such as the lower screen of a DS or 3DS.
Nobody enjoys applying screen protectors—and you deserve a medal if you can do it without leaving bubbles—but it's worth it for touchscreen game systems.
All it takes is that one well-placed scratch to ruin an otherwise perfect 3DS, so don't think you're too cool for screen protectors or you might regret it.
7 Shouldn't Exist: Game Boy Advance SP Headphone Adapter
Apple got a lot of flack when it started releasing iPhone models in the last few years that didn't let you just plug in any standard headphones without an adapter of some kind.
In another example of Nintendo being ahead of the curve, it was pulling those same shenanigans with the Game Boy Advance SP way back in 2003.
The SP wouldn't accept any headphones natively, forcing you to buy a jack—sold separately, of course. Fortunately, GameStop released specially-made headphones specifically for the SP that plugged directly into the system—but it shouldn't have had to come to that.
6 Shouldn't Exist: Motion Pack For Tony Hawk's Motion (DS)
At one time, Tony Hawk was a name that was just as synonymous with quality video games as being a skateboarding legend. Sadly, things eventually soured, and it became a name that you learned to avoid at all costs in the world of video games—especially once stupid peripherals started getting evolved.
Beyond the board peripherals for consoles, there was the "motion pack" that came bundled with Tony Hawk's Motion for DS and turned your system into a motion controller by putting the pack into the GBA slot. And, yep, it was as awful as it sounds.
5 Actually Useful: PSP AV Cables
When we think of PSPs interacting with televisions, our minds first go to Remote Play, which was a great idea but a complete failure in execution. We couldn't actually play PS3 games with it or watch movies on it, and could mostly only use it to play PSone Classics—only with a bad picture and horrible input lag.
While Sony was so busy pushing that failed experiment, they didn't bother making a bigger deal about PSP AV cables that let us play PSP games on our TVs—which was the much cooler way our PSP could connect to our televisions.
4 Shouldn't Exist: Workboy (Game Boy)
Technically, since the Workboy was never released, it doesn't actually "exist." But we still included it because the theme of this list is things that shouldn't exist, and Workboy definitely did the right thing by deciding not to exist.
Okay fine, Workboy was pretty ahead of its time in giving the Game Boy office-like functions that would later become standard with PDAs and smartphones.
But the GB just wasn't powerful enough to do anything useful, and needing to connect and use a completely separate keyboard kind of robs the whole endeavor of its "portable" functionality anyway.
3 Shouldn't Exist: PSP Camera
The PSP was released right at the cusp of smartphone explosion, and it exists in a weird spot between two eras. In some ways, it was ahead of its time by introducing various functions before smartphones did—and in other ways, it was trying to catch up to the smartphones that were soon leaving it behind.
Sony should've just let it go when they didn't have a PSP camera out before we were all using smartphone cameras, but they still tried to make it a thing—and nobody bothered, since why they already had a "free" camera on their phone.
2 Actually Useful: Game Link Cable (Game Boy)
It seems like such an archaic notion now, to have to be tethered together by a cord in order to play a multiplayer game together—and have a second copy of the game to boot. But tons of people did just that, and loved it.
It's no big secret that Pokémon extended the life of the Game Boy by several years—and much of that is owed to the Game Link Cable that let players battle each other and trade creatures.
Who knows if Pokemon would've hit quite as big without the multiplayer aspect that the Link Cable made possible.
1 Shouldn't Exist: Handy Boy And Booster Boy (Game Boy)
In the entry on the Worm Light, we alluded to all the money we spent on trying to just make our Game Boys functional—and two of the most notorious accessories that desperate GB owners wasted their lawn mowing and dog walking money on were the Booster Boy and the Handy Boy.
These two devices tried to do all of the things—but ended up not doing any of the things particularly well. All they really ended up doing was making our GBs too heavy, too hard too hold, and somehow even worse to play.