console->handheld cycle

I don‘t know if there’s much of a discussion to be had about this, really, but I miss what I perceive as the console to handheld cycle that we got from the 90s through the mid-2000s. In essence, it felt like last generation‘s console became this generation’s handheld. Usually it could do more colors, had a better sound chip, more ram (or less ram in one case), or something to differentiate it, but had that “dna” of the prior gen baked into it.

So in my estimation you had:

Famicom->GBC. Similar soundchip, similar structure and colors (though a few more as I recall) etc.

SMS->Game Gear. Pretty straightforward one with some back conversions even. Loads more colors for Game Gear though.

SNES->GBA. Similar ways of dealing with transparencies, sound chip, etc, though obviously everything was more advanced.

N64->DS. Way more texture memory, but these had similar vibes for sure.

PS2->PSP. Even Japanese devs I'd interview would make this comparison.

Gamecube/Wii->3DS. At this point we're getting into convergence territory but powerwise they weren't dissimilar.

PS3->Vita. Though unfortunately with less RAM, sony totally tanked the Vita.

After that the handheld era kind of died out. But for a while we had that back-and-forth rhythm of console hardware innovations getting cheaper and smaller, and putting that into a handheld. This left a good place for the developers who had a hard time transitioning to new generations to show their stuff. And in a way it felt like as devs got really good at maximizing the handheld platform, they would sometimes graduate to the next gen as a result, taking things from the small screen to the big one. Is there some DNA going from the 3DS to the Switch? I kind of think so.

In general now I think folks are more accepting of a wider range of visual experiences now that PCs and consoles have kind of reached something of a plateau and near parity between them. And handhelds are basically extinct - there's smartphones, and there's the switch, which is both console and handheld. Visual fidelity becomes more of an artistic choice now. But that back and forth was pretty neat to see for quire a while there. I would've loved to see that Saturn or Dreamcast handheld! Or the console evolution of the Wonderswan.

Well, it's a different era now, but I have a nice time thinking about this stuff.

I am nostalgia for when handheld games had their own vibe to them as opposed to the “1080p on the TV, 720p in your hands”…which I suppose we were always going to end up at one way or the other.

I don't think any aesthetic has aged better than the GBA, with the exception of some of the hideous digitised 3D stuff (some of which is still impressive!) it's shocking how charming even mediocre tie-in movie games can be on that pup.

This was always a topic I liked to think about, It was fun spotting the comparisons between handhelds and older game systems. I feel like this feeling is going to come back fairly soon. I feel like it'll be a while until we can see stuff like raytracing and SSDs in a handheld. I think the switch might look quite outdated when the ps5 and new xbox release.


@beets#3738 until we can see stuff like raytracing and SSDs in a handheld.

Kweh? Switch uses NAND memory. The open question for the future of handheld devices (such as your smartphone or your Switch) is whether each manufacturer will follow [NVMe or UFS.](

With this in mind I wonder what a Dreamcast portable or Xbox portable would look like.

I think in the case of the Dreamcast you'd have very forward thinking features like real-time net play, being able to interface with other consoles/arcade cabinets, maybe even touch controls before the NDS. Maybe even being able to buy games over the net and download them directly to the device.

In the case of the Xbox portable, I think Microsoft would probably buy some kind of cellphone maker that created a very innovative portable device, then line up a bunch of exclusives and put a ton of money on it, but it would ultimately flop due to a nonsensical marketing campaign. They would have also tried really really hard to get Halo working on it.

Around this time too you had stuff like the Zodiac Tapwave and the... Nokia NGage. Things that sort of doubled as a PDA/Game device. I'm sure if MSFT tried to make a handheld game device they'd go for that.

Yeah… Zune games!!!

I guess the Gizmondo was not unlike an xbox handheld, since it ran on a powerpc and like what was it, windows mobile operating system? something like that!

One interesting aspect of this is that even though handhelds were using previous generation hardware, their games weren‘t necessarily previous generation games in terms of design philosophy. For example, the Gameboy Color was on par with the NES power-wise, but for much of the NES’s lifespan making a game was a new thing and there wasn‘t a very broad range of good examples to learn from. By the time the Gameboy color came out in Japan the Dreamcast was only a month away! It was a completely different world. This resulted in developer’s trying to make much bigger and richer games than were ever available for the NES, e.g. Wario Land 3 (I‘m not a Gameboy expert, so I imagine there’s probably some cool-guy picks I've never heard of that are better examples). In the same way, when the N64 came out no one had any idea how to make a good game in 3D. By the time the DS came around best practices had emerged, the tools developers used were better, and DS games for the most part feel nothing at all like N64 games.

To me, this ends up making handhelds feel like parallel dimensions.

I suspect that the one-to-two generations behind hardware forced some of the larger companies to engage in some creativity that they wouldn't have otherwise. The definitive handheld game, imo, is some kind of side story of a popular series, often based on a minor character no one cared about, creating an entire alternate universe for them with a huge cast of characters that later on get treated as apocryphal. The first example that comes to mind is Dragon Quest Monsters. By the time the Gameboy Color came out it's not like home console releases could be directly downsized into handheld versions the way it might have been possible in the past. Most big home console games were in 3D, which obviously wouldn't work on a handheld. It seems like in a lot of these companies they didn't want to waste money on smaller releases, so IPs were handed over to some B-team group of developers who were given full reign to reimagine the game however they saw fit.

It sure seems like in recent years with the decline of handhelds that there have been a lot less tiny weird side story games than there were before. One might expect these sorts of games to come out on phones, but I guess the popular design trends for mobile games right now don't really seem encourage single player story games, so we don't see that many? Or maybe I just don't know about them.

@saddleblasters#3777 I would say the Mario Golf and Mario Tennis on GBC are actually great example of what you are talking about when it comes to the mashing of generations. While having the simple arcade-y sports action like you would do on the NES, they are also fleshed out RPGs. A very early example of the progression and stat-ification of all genres of games.

Ah yeah @saddleblasters, that‘s the kind of back and forth I enjoy - not only are the design ideas more modern, the old techniques have advanced, so a GBC game winds up looking much better than an NES game toward the end. So at best, you wind up getting the best looking and playing games of the last generation, today, in a smaller format. It’s cool!

I guess in addition to handheld successors often churning out remakes of the previous generation’s best console games, there also comes a notion of continuing the essence of the previous gen’s console.

& for that, the psp will always hold a special place in my heart for giving the spirit of the ps2 a life extension. so many good franchises were given accessible ports and alt versions in a ps3/360 era where they were otherwise absent or had lost their magic (tony hawk, dynasty warriors, battlefront, SSX, crazy taxi, god of war, ape escape, I could go on & on & on)

not to mention there were a few worthwhile quality spin-offs of franchises that were still relevant or popping off at the time.

but in true ps2 fashion, the psp was just full of wierd RPGs: remakes, spin-offs, & some wild stand-alone games. it was a bargain bin gold mine of endless fantastic & quirky universes to get lost in.

like just look at dissidia, that game needed a space like the psp to exist. this wildly absurd final fantasy brawler, that is deeper than it has any right to be, took the best collection-esque features of ps2 fighting games and coupled it with the most well-known jrpg aesthetic.

gosh, I just love that weird flat little brick so much.

[edit] conjunctions be tricky

So many rpgs on that thing! The psp came along at a perfect time in my life when I was commuting on the train, so I wound up playing (and often beating) valkyria chronicles 2, crisis core, Jeanne d'arc, fft lion war, R-type command (talk about a Ps2 holdover), brave story, etc, not to mention all the ps1 games that became available. Amazing how bad they messed it up with the vita just by cutting the ram in half.

@exodus#3765 This has been stuck in my brain for a week because I did not know about any mobile or handheld devices with a PowerPC chip. I finally looked it up and while the Gizmondo DID run Windows CE but it did not have a PowerPC processor. Just a regular old ARM chip.

oops, my mistake!! I think what happened there is I remembered the dreamcast and gizmondo ran windows CE and then just threw the powerPC thing in there too since the dreamcast had that CPU.

But of course the dreamcast didn't actually run windows CE, we were all sort of confusingly led to believe that in 1999 - there was just a good Windows CE->Dreamcast development pipeline.

Anyway: I was confused! is the answer

Saturn/Dreamcast handheld, I see the VMU as a baby step toward something. Not to derail, but I actually wish the VMU idea had stuck, because it had a “the future is gonna be so cool” vibe that was charming. Playing mini-games based off game saves on a device I actually want to (but don't have to) carry around with me? Yes please!

Versus our more dystopian present of: play games while riding BART that happen to be on this device I am forever handcuffed to 24/7. I guess this is aite.

The VMU had something of a legacy in that the pocketstation existed, and the DS is sort of an evolution of that two-screen gaming idea. but yeah, I wish there were more proper VMU games… a thread of actually interesting VMU games would be pretty nice I think.


@saddleblasters#3777 One interesting aspect of this is that even though handhelds were using previous generation hardware, their games weren’t necessarily previous generation games in terms of design philosophy

I’ll jump on this interesting point as a flimsy excuse to share this series of videos which I only discovered a few hours ago but does a great job of contextualising the Wonderswan catalogue in under five minutes per title.

Unfortunately, the author seems to have given up on the series at the 68th game, posted on Youtube around 2018, but he makes a point for each game to explain from which era and which game they are taking inspiration from. It’s especially important for the Wonderswan as many of its early games were improved ports from the Game Boy catalogue while many others were downports of more recent PlayStation titles.

Interesting - the first video misses that you can manually introduce a new line with a button though, which makes me slightly skeptical! Seems good though mostly!

I wish I lived in the timeline where the Nomad was better and more successful and ended up extending the Genesis's life as a handheld system into the 2000s