The Next Evolution of Nintendo Handhelds

Tom Awesome
Tom Awesome

When news broke a couple weeks ago that Nintendo was releasing a new 3DS with improved hardware, I leapt in the air and did a fist pump.  My excitement was enhanced by the news that Xenoblade Chronicles is coming to the new handheld, I immediately had visions of my girlfriend and I sitting side –by-side with his and hers 3DSs. It looks like the system will have a stupid name (New Nintendo 3DS? For reals, bro?), but Nintendo is making a bold move to cater to hardcore gamers. As we wait for more news on the system to emerge, I thought it would be interesting to review Nintendo’s handheld history.

The Game Boy Era

Nintendo currently churns out an advanced version of their reigning handheld every couple years. The Nintendo Game Boy debuted in 1989, and it was the handheld video game I ever played. It was four colors of gray, and Nintendo claims the system sold 150 million units worldwide. I can only imagine what kids who grew up tablets and smartphones would think of the pioneer of handheld gaming.

In 1996, Nintendo released the Game Boy Pocket, a smaller Game Boy that came in multiple colors. Two years later, the Game Boy Color provided color graphics, twice the processing power and backwards compatibility. In 2001 the system took another leap forward with the Game Boy Advance. Sporting better graphics and a sweet 32-bit processor, the GBA played new shorter cartridges but remained backwards compatible.  In 2003, the Game Boy Advance SP introduced a backlit screen, rechargeable battery and a fancy new clamshell design.

The final entry in the Game Boy lineage was the Game Boy Micro in September of 2005. This little bad boy was all of four and a half inches across and two inches tall. This tiny machine was the only console in the line that was not backwards compatible.  The last of its line, the Micro was the sixth version of the Game Boy over 16 years.

The DS Days

The next line of Nintendo handhelds is still evolving to this day. The original DS launched in North America on Nov. 21, 2004. The system had two screens including a touchscreen, a microphone and built in wireless. While not fully backwards compatible, the system did play Game Boy Advance games, including the original Fire Emblem. The DS was followed by the DS Lite in early 2006. The Lite was smaller, lighter and featured brighter screens than its predecessor, and it also played GBA games.

The Lite ruled the handheld roost until the Nintendo DSi released in April 2009. The new model featured slightly larger screens and two cameras. In an unusual step for Nintendo, the DSi removed the Game Boy Advance game port, stripping the system of backwards compatibility. The next year, the DSi XL debuted with two 4.2 inch screens.

In 2011, the 3DS arrived on the scene. The system is capable of producing stereoscopic 3D effects without needing 3D glasses. It played all DS games, but the original DS and DS Lite systems are not capable of playing 3DS games. After disappointing launch sales, Nintendo slashed the price of the system from $249 to $169. To appease consumers that had already purchased the system, Nintendo also introduced the Nintendo 3DS Ambassador Program, allowing existing 3DS owners to download 10 Nintendo Entertainment System and 10 Game Boy Advance games for free. In 2012, the 3DS XL launched in North America with larger screens than the original and is the most recent step on the DS timeline.

When the New 3DS debuts, it will become the seventh DS model in 11 years. With its new technology, it will be able to play games previously unavailable on the system. It was will still play all DS and 3DS games, but you will not be able to play on New 3DS games on 3DS XL or DSi, DS lite or DS.

I am all for Nintendo using enhanced hardware and catering to hardcore gamers, and I hope the handheld market finally provides third party developers with an incentive to work with Nintendo. Maybe a successful new IP on the New 3DS can spark a follow-up title on the Wii U that moves some consoles.  Nintendo has some great franchises, and I really enjoy my 3DS, and I am very excited to see where this advancement leads the company in the future.

Feel free to share your thoughts via twitter at @GameOnGOONS or @GOONgamerTom or via email at Your thoughts could make it on a future episode of the Game On, Oblivious Noobs gamecast.

Tom Awesome

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