People play their games on the go more than ever nowadays. If they aren’t jamming away to Fortnite on their mobile devices, no doubt they’re lugging around their Nintendo Switch somewhere. That said, there’s more to handheld gaming than just these platforms.
Over the years, we’ve been introduced to a variety of handheld systems that have been absolutely stellar. These days, they’re a bit on the pricey side, but all the more worthwhile when it comes to enjoying favorites and unlikely titles.
So, while we’re making our recommendations here, keep something in mind. We love our Nintendo Switch. Mobile games rock our world. These recommendations are based solely on the fact that most of these systems are uncommon and deserve much more love than they’ve been given. In fact, we mention another Nintendo favorite on this list that deserves a pick-up – and we’re happy to explain why.
Without further ado, here are the top five must-own retro gaming handheld systems!
Here we go. There are probably a few of you out there already complaining about this juggernaut’s ability to suck battery power. Yes, it can destroy six AAs in a matter of hours. It’s true. However, Sega built a technical marvel that, to this day, still astounds.
The Sega Nomad can pretty much play any Sega Genesis game you want on the go. Virtua Racing? Yup. Those obscure EA titles? Absolutely. Of course, any Sonic the Hedgehog game you want and more. The fact that it does so with a beautiful LCD screen and a solid control set-up is icing on the cake.
We’re not done, though. The system can also be connected to a TV, with a second controller able to be plugged in. That makes this one of the first systems to be enjoyed both on the go and at home on television. The Switch has innovated that greatly many years later, but let’s not forget how the Nomad left its mark.
Also, did we mention this thing plays a lot of homebrew games without a sweat? I can’t stop playing Zero Wing…
Like the Sega Nomad, the Turbo-Express from NEC was a tour-de-force when it first came out. It could play any Turbo-Grafx games that you could imagine, save for the CD ones, all with a convenient control set-up and a nice-looking screen. To boot, it also had no trouble with battery life, as it could last a little bit longer than the Nomad.
However, Turbo-Express also excelled in other ways. There was a TV tuner that allowed you to utilize it as a portable TV, so you could watch sports or Family Ties (look it up, kids) on the go.
Also, like the Nomad, it features a backlit, full-color screen. At the time, this was a hard feature to find, thanks to the Game Boy’s lime green, unlit screen. So to play something like this…well, let’s just say you were hard-pressed to return to Nintendo land.
The catch with this system is that it’s so damn hard to find. Even if you do come across one in decent shape, you’ll be paying out the nose for it. That said, it’s still a terrific little system, and any die-hard collectors shouldn’t be without it. True, the games will probably cost you a bit of money. That said, wouldn’t it be worth it to play Splatterhouse during a boring meet-up with your in-laws? “What are you doing, honey?” “Oh, just slaughtering some demons.” “What?” “What?”
Game Boy Advance SP (NES Edition)
We said we would give Nintendo some love on this list, and indeed we are. The Game Boy Advance SP is a modernized version of the classic handheld system. It plays all the Game Boy games that you’d expect. However, it does so with a convenient “folding” model so that it’s easy to carry in your pocket. Plus, it carries power like a champ and is fairly easy to charge.
Perhaps the best thing we like about this system, however, is the design. Nintendo released a long line of SP systems for players to enjoy (there’s even a Pokémon one!). However, our personal favorite for the money has to be the NES-designed system.
Looking like something out of the 80s, this system features a practical design that reminds us of gaming’s older days. To further drive home its retro theme, Nintendo even released a number of “classic NES games” for the Game Boy Advance. These included Excitebike, Dr. Mario, Castlevania, and Zelda II: The Adventures of Link, among others.
Some may argue that the Nintendo DS and 3DS innovated further with their features and game line-ups. It’s true. Yet we’ll argue that the Game Boy Advance SP NES edition really homed in on that “feeling” of retro goodness, with convenience in design and, at the time price. Nowadays, finding one is tough. However, for the die-hard portable players, it’s well worth owning. Oh, and we mentioned you can carry it in your pocket, yeah?
Wait, the new Analogue Pocket is…retro? While that may sound like a cheat, hear us out. This little wonder just might change the way you look at old-school games forever. Like, literally.
This small but sweet little system is astounding. It takes many of the older games that you grew up with and makes them look exciting and new. It’s not every day you run across gaming hardware that can do that.
The Analogue is capable of playing the entire Game Boy, Game Boy Color, and Game Boy Advance library, all with a gorgeous-looking screen, a conveniently built frame with strong charging power, and a lovely control set-up. However, we’re not done. The system also has a set of cartridge adapters to support other systems. These include obscure favorites like the Game Gear, Neo Geo Pocket Color, and the Atari Lynx. That just makes the Pocket the ultimately accessible handheld console. You know, if you can afford the games.
The only downside to this system is its availability. It’s such a hot commodity right now that it’s hard to get a hold of, lest you pay top-dollar over on eBay. However, by keeping tabs on its official page, you should be able to see when the next round is ready for release.
Trust us, this is a handheld well worth owning.
We don’t understand Sony’s way of thinking with the PlayStation Vita. Like the PlayStation Portable, it had a huge following in the industry. Indie developers loved making games for it. Players flocked to stores to get their hands on particular games. Yet…Sony killed it off officially last year, without even so much as any fanfare.
That said, the Vita continues to flourish with hardcore players. Games like God of War Collection and Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 get a huge amount of attention from the community. Indie hits like Horizon Chase Turbo and Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana remain in high demand on Play-Asia. Downloadable favorites are still available for download, despite limitations to the PlayStation Store.
We just don’t get it. The PlayStation Portable got support like a champ, but the Vita was just left to die. It’s a wondrously designed system with twin analog sticks, a nice control set-up (with touch sensors!), and an OLED screen that holds up just as well as Nintendo’s. Not to mention that there are a lot of games that look really good on it. Looking at you, Uncharted.
Alas, it’s been forgotten by corporate forces. However, that shouldn’t stop you from loving it. There’s a lot to enjoy with this system, even if you have to hunt down particular titles in its library. They’re worth it, especially if you’re down for something truly fundamental with handheld gaming. Don’t miss this gem.
Need more top 5 in your life? Come check out our top five favorite Grand Theft Auto clones!
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