Handheld Gaming Consoles: Their History and Future February 14 2019

Handheld consoles and their games may not elicit the buzz today that they received back in the nineties, but their legacy remains strong. People are still playing the same cartridges that they put on their Christmas lists nearly 30 years ago, and they’re starting to pass them down to the next generation as well.

The Sega Nomad. (Photo: Staffan Vilcans via flickr)

These retro handhelds are proving to be great for kids even decades after their original incarnation. They’re easy to pack up and travel with, the challenges or adventures are still compelling, and they don’t have internet access. (Have you ever given a kid your phone? It's amazing what they can get into online in just a few minutes!)


Below is a list of handheld consoles that still pack a punch today. These consoles were each groundbreaking at their creation for different reasons.


The original Game Boy was created in 1989 by Gunpei Yokoi, creator of the NES. Running on AA batteries, this brick of a handheld console had an unlit green and black display. It introduced portable longtime favorites like Tetris and Pokemon. Even though it wasn’t the most advanced system at the time it was released, it was the most successful because of the number of popular games that Nintendo offered. Nintendo sold over 8 million Game Boys over the next three years[1].


Game Gear was created in 1989. Unlike the Game Boy, it had a color screen. It also had a lot of games in all kinds of genres as an attempt to appeal to a larger audience[2]. It was one of the only consoles to actually be able to compete with Game Boy for any amount of time. One major downside is that it runs on AA batteries and goes through them pretty quickly.


The Nomad was created in 1995 with a feature that is very popular today in retro gaming. This console plays cartridges made for the Sega Genesis (which released about 5 years prior). This allows gamers to play games that they already know and love and play them anywhere. It also allows the developers to release a console with over 500 games ready to play. While this is a trend that has come back around in the last ten years or so, this console was not as popular as Nintendo handheld systems because of its bulky design[3].


Game Boy Color, created in 1998, was named as such for the colored screen and brightly colored outer shell. It was the first handheld system on the market to be backwards compatible. This was a huge deal because the original Game Boy games were so popular. This updated system also offered a larger memory and was faster than the original console.

Game Boy Color



The Game Boy Advance was released in 2001 with updated graphics and sound capabilities. It was still backwards compatible with all Game Boy games but had additional features like shoulder buttons, a larger screen, and multiplayer gameplay between multiple consoles using only one cartridge. The biggest complaint about this system was that the screen was not lit, which caused Nintendo to redesign the console in 2003 and rerelease it as the Game Boy Advance SP with a front-lit screen3. 


Supaboy is a popular retro gaming handheld console that was released in 2011 and was designed to play original NES and SNES cartridges. It is designed to look like an SNES controller, but with a 3.5-inch screen embedded in the middle. The rechargeable battery allows you about 2.5 hours of portable gameplay. The system can be plugged into the TV and SNES controllers can be plugged into the front of the Supaboy for multiplayer games[4].

There are some flaws with this console. First, Supaboy is not able to play all SNES games. So, you may receive a message on start-up that the system is not able to run the game. (Some models do allow you to toggle between PAL and NTSC games) Also, there is no battery life indicator, so you may be kicked out of the game abruptly if you aren’t being mindful about the amount of time you’ve been playing[5].


The RetroDuo Portable is similar to the Supaboy, but with a few upgrades. This handheld released in 2012 and plays NES and SNES cartridges as well as Sega Genesis cartridges. SNES cartridges can be inserted as they are, but NES and Sega Genesis cartridges do require an adapter (which can make the console to feel large and awkward). It has a rechargeable battery which allows about 8-10 hours of gaming[6].


Handheld consoles and their small gaming cartridges are very convenient for kids who play games on the go, whether that’s on vacation, at a friend’s house, or running errands with mom and dad. Everything can be tucked into bags or boxes, even pockets. These consoles also do not have internet capability. If your kids are interested in video gaming but too young to be exposed to the freedom of online gaming, this could be a great option for them. You’ll have peace of mind knowing that they don’t have access to adult content without having to check in on them every few minutes. 

The issue with all of this travel and adventure is that the game cartridges will get grimy. Dirt, lint, dust, a gummy worm, all kinds of things can get wedged up in there when your kid is running around with a cartridge in their pocket. This build-up can cause the cartridge to run poorly or not at all. In a previous post, we discussed how blowing into a cartridge can be damaging, and other methods, like q-tips with isopropyl alcohol, just won’t cut it.


1UPcard  is the most convenient and effective option for cleaning handheld game cartridges. The card is shaped specifically to cover more area while cleaning. It takes only takes a couple of swipes on each side of the contacts to get the entire area clean.

1UPcards come in multiple sizes so that they can be used on many different types of gaming cartridges. They can be used 100+ times with more than enough cleaning solution in each bottle to get you through the life of the card. 

The cleaning pads are durable but soft so that they will clean the cartridge without damaging it. However, they are not so soft that they will tear apart or leave fluff behind like a q-tip would. There are two pads per card, one to clean the contacts with the solution and one to dry the contacts off before inserting the cartridge into the console.


The cleaning solution that can be bundled with the 1UPcard is in a small, easy to use, easy to store container. This will save you from the process of pouring isopropyl alcohol into a bowl to dip the q-tip in to clean the cartridge then throwing out the q-tips and washing the bowl. That’s just too many steps! 

The cleaning solution bottle is especially beneficial for clumsy kids. More DIY-esque cleaning methods, like q-tips with isopropyl alcohol, are just begging for a major spill. To minimize the possibility of rusting contacts, most blogs and articles suggest using a very strong isopropyl alcohol with very little water content. This means it’s a very flammable solution with the power to damage the finish on wooden furniture. Can’t you just hear them calling, “Daaaddd!”


The 1UPcard cleaning solution is nearly impossible to spill. The dropper on the end dispenses the solution very slowly, which will also help to prevent kids from using too much.


1UPcards are very intuitive and easy to use. The card has clearly marked “fluid” and “dry” pads at each end. The cleaning solution bottle is easy for kids to use without making a mess. They can simply put 2 or 3 drops of cleaning solution on the “fluid” pad, wipe the cartridge contacts, dry off the contacts with the “dry” pad, and continue gaming.

(Close up of 1UPcard showing wet and dry labels)

The 1UPcard and cleaning solution are compact and easy to store. They’re a great addition to a kid’s travel bag or gaming cabinet. These easy to use items will help kids protect their expensive consoles and cartridges (especially those cartridges of older systems that may be difficult to get a hold of today).


It’s likely that your kids are playing these older games because you loved them. Some of these games have been immortalized and are going to be talked about for years and years to come. Passing your cherished items down to your kids is one of the greatest gifts you can give them. Preserve the magic. Take care of your game cartridges by cleaning them with the 1UPcard so that they can continue to be passed down.

1UPcard shop

Shop for game and console cleaners


[1] https://web.archive.org/web/20110123202930/http://firstarkansasnews.net/2011/01/game-boy-nintendo-dominates-the-portable-market/

[2] https://gamicus.gamepedia.com/History_of_handheld_game_consoles

[3] Don Melanson, https://www.engadget.com/2006/03/03/a-brief-history-of-handheld-video-games/

[4] https://magixbuttons.com/article/re-review-supaboy-portable-snes

[5] https://magixbuttons.com/article/re-review-supaboy-portable-snes

[6] Todd Friedman, https://www.oldschoolgamermagazine.com/rdp-retroduo-portable-v-2-0/