Waypoint Weeklies: Handhelds We Love

Welcome to Waypoint Weeklies everyone! This week’s topic is…

HANDHELDS

With the recent announcements of the Steam Deck and a new Switch refresh, handheld consoles have been in the discourse. Handhelds have often occupied spaces neglected by the mainline consoles, and as such have games that you couldn’t find elsewhere. Whether you were playing visual novels, classics from previous generations, or even strange movie tie-ins you were experiencing things the big consoles of the time didn’t offer.

So, what handheld console holds a special place in your heart? What about it did you love? Was it the games you played? Was it the way it fit into your life?

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I’ll always have a soft spot for the Game Boy, which is a thing my parents got me before I even really registered what video games were. But lots of people know their Nintendo handhelds. Let’s talk about the PlayStation Portable for a minute.

The PSP felt like the best parts of the Game Boy Advance and the iPod in one fancy little package. Want to listen to this week’s episode of 1UP Yours? Done. Play Star Wars Battlefront II in the back seat on road trips? Done. Surf the Internet? It’s practically a laptop now. Despite the strange media (and the extraordinary expense of the memory cards - some things never change), I don’t think I’ll ever forget how the PSP at its best really did manage to marry a console-like experience with a handheld experience and fit the whole thing in my pocket. Also give me more Metal Gear Acid please and thank you.

I was a latecomer to the PlayStation Vita because the memory cards priced it out of reasonable territory (and I wasn’t really using a lot of handhelds at the time). Now that I can afford it, the Vita was ahead of its time in a lot of ways. Very often (though sadly not entirely) backwards compatible with the PSP if you buy stuff digitally. Touch screens on front and back (still an inexplicable decision). Two analog sticks. Digital-focused. Screen is gorgeous (and I don’t even have one of the OLED ones). Honestly my biggest problem with it so far is the number of games that feel obligated to use its extraneous features even though they don’t add much of anything.

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The GBA has some of the best pixel art I have ever seen. Look at this screenshot of Chain of Memories! It looks great!

Also, as mentioned on the podcast, I remember the SP being an amazing step up because of the clamshell case and backlighting.

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My old fat Nintendo DS has given me more joy than any other single object I own in this world. Never upgraded to a DSi.

Between Pokemon, Final Fantasy I-VI, Chrono Trigger, and Fire Emblem, that thing made me a JRPG gamer.

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My choice on this one is my 3DS for extremely personal reasons. When I finished grad school, I went about two and a half years without stable, full-time work. I taught as an adjunct professor, as well as worked a few temp jobs to fill in my income. We largely survived off of my wife’s paycheck. Anyone who has been in that situation knows how shitty job hunting can be. The highs and lows, countless interviews that go nowhere… how sick you get of filling out those stupid online applications.

Anyway, I finally got a full-time job, and it just so happened, that at the time, Legend of Zelda: Tri-Force Heroes was coming out. Nintendo then announced a special edition of the 3DS:

Anyway. This is the celebration gift I bought myself with my first paycheck from my full-time job. So, this system will always hold a special place in my heart due to the context surrounding how I got it, and what it represented to me.

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I am also going to vote for the only handheld I have had, the Nintendo DSi.*
I basically only played link games of Mario Kart DS on it, along with SMT Strange Journey, but I got it very cheap second hand, so that’s OK.

The irony is that my partner and I decided to get second-hand DSes to match so we could play games with each other on any long journeys we were on [having just returned from one]. We subsequently failed to go on many long journeys, although my SMT Strange Journey experience was entirely over repeated commutes to and from work. (I also got the Strange Journey cart in the USA in a weird second-hand games stall - I’ve never actually seen a copy in the UK in the wild.)

*technically, I also spent a lot of time playing the PocketPC port of XCOM (unofficial, just the Battlescape with randomly generated teams and aliens)

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I really loved my first-gen DS. Lots of great games on that thing, and the ability to jam GBA carts into it was just awesome.

Handhelds (loosely defined) were my only mode of gaming for a really long time. Got a GBA SP from my parents for Christmas 2003, and didn’t get my first proper TV console until the Switch (and later a PS4) in 2017. In that run I had a DS Lite, a 3DS XL, and, in high school, a laptop with integrated graphics that was just good enough for me to play Portal and Half-Life.

For what it’s worth, I think the GBA SP might be the best-designed handheld ever. It’s compact enough to fit in virtually any pocket but is still capable of some great visuals. It’s sturdy as hell (my original one still works to this day, having survived whatever abuses child me put it through) and the design was just so satisfying to use. As an adult it’s a bit small for my hands now, but it was perfect as a kid. (That all said, the others ruled too. Handhelds rock.)

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I loved my DS! They made a game called Nintendogs! What’s not to like?

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The DS because you get to do surgery and also if you say “OBJECTION” into the mic, Phoenix says “OBJECTION” and it rules

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DSi, baby. My friends and I played a ton of Mario Kart download play on the bus. Mario Party was another great download play title.

And it was also the first personal device I had that connected to the internet. With this power I was finally able to seek out… unscrupulous things. Thank you nintendo.

Hell I used it today to play The World Ends With You. It doesn’t break my hands like every Nintendo portable console that followed it. (Although maybe my bad for getting a 3DS XL instead of reg.) Still is a pleasant surprise every time re-discovering how small the DSi is. Basically the size of my phone when it’s closed.

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GBA is peak pixel art style.

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I never owned one but I drooled over the Game Gear as a kid. Bright colour screen, it played my Master System games with an adapter and that TV tuner! Seems quaint in the age of smart phones but portable TV was the dream in the early 90s. The battery chewing reality of the Game Gear wasn’t quite as great as what 6 year old me imagined.

I did love my OG Gameboy, but I haven’t enjoyed handheld gaming until the Switch. Briefly owned a GBA (couldn’t see the screen) and a 3DS (too small to play comfortably). Switch is king, enough power for a broad range of games, comfy enough to play for an hour or so.

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While I grew up with the grey brick that was the OG Gameboy, my first true love was the GBA. I even bought one of those dumb lights for it because it was nigh unusable other than in bright, indirect light.

Gotta pour one out for the 3DS though. I bought one in Singapore (not knowing that the thing was region-locked) when I finished high school (went to school overseas, it was a whole thing). I would then buy eshop gift cards from Play-Asia to be able buy Fire Emblem.

Honestly, I don’t think I got anything close to sufficient value out of the 3DS financially but it reminds me of a time in my life when I was moving to a new city, didn’t know anyone, and was just trying to figure stuff out.

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It’s tough, because every handheld has its charms and annoyances. I think the GBA has one of the best games libraries; Golden Sun, Mother 3, Advance Wars, Fire Emblem (7, in Japan), the objectively superior version of KH Chain of Memories, and to-this-day some of the best versions of a lot of SNES games. The PSP has a place in my heart for all the tactical RPGs, especially War of the Lions.

But I think my fave has to be the 3DS.

Call it bias, since Fantasy Life (my all-time favorite handheld game) is on it, but I think it had the right mix of a good library, a good hand feel, and aside from the weird nub on the New 3DS, mostly fairly pleasant to use controls. Animal Crossing New Leaf, LoZ Link Between Worlds, Kitby Planet Robobot, Bravely Default. Plus it’s a functional DS, so you get that whole library too.

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The one that runs Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan! which would be the DS. I imported so many games for it and it ran GBA games too. Small in size, good battery life, stylus action. My favorite console ever.

Edit: I wanted to add a few more details. The DS is also where I:

  • First loved a rogue-like: Shiren the Wanderer. Not the first I played but the first I got really into thanks to playing a session wherever I had a moment over instead of in front of a monitor.
  • Fell into the Ace Attorney series as it got an English release. Can’t wait for The Great Ace Attorney next week.
  • Played lots of fun arcade experiences like Meteos and Bangai-O
  • … and lots and lots of Advance Wars
  • … and Etrian Odyssey 1-3
  • … and the extremely charming Zelda: Spirit Tracks
  • … and some fun experiments like Electroplankton
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Shoutout to all the real ones that have permanently lost their battery covers on their Game Boys:

#cardboardandrubberbandlife

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I owned a bunch of handhelds over the years (GB Color, GBA, DS, DS lite, PSP, 3DS), and they all hold a special place in my heart, but the Vita’s gotta take top spot for me. I absolutely adored my PSP, so when I learned that Sony would be making a successor with my #1 requested feature (a 2nd analog stick), I knew I had to have it. I remember saving every scrap of money I could get my hands on for like a year leading up to its release so that I could get one at launch, and I believe it was the first console/handheld I paid for completely by myself, so it’s special to me for that reason too.

It pretty much improved on the PSP in every way imo (except maybe actually being commercially successful :sob:), and I was a big fan of all the added inputs, even though most of the time, they just served as gimmicks in the games that utilized them. (Sidenote: a very small thing, but the vita is like the only touch screen device I’ve come across so far that incorporated an auto-scroll gesture? Why is this not a thing on other devices???).

The game selection was not too shabby as well. There was some solid first party stuff on there ( :blue_heart: you Wipeout 2048, Gravity Rush, Soul Sacrifice!), and some good third party ports, but it’s because of the Vita that I was able to get into indie games (didn’t have a computer at the time), and I even discovered that I liked some genres, like visual novels, that I may not have otherwise ever checked out. Plus, through some…less-than-officially-supported means :innocent:, I’m able to play a bunch of games from other platforms from back in the day.

Also, because I haven’t seen it mentioned yet, bonus shout out to the Game Boy Micro–I never owned one, but always wanted one because it’s so gosh darn cute 'n tiny.

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This thread just made me realize I only ever owned two of the actual first-party handheld systems that have been released. I had an original, DMG-01 Gameboy when I was a kid, and it was a constant companion. I even had one of those clunky clip-on screen magnifier/light/etc. things, and I have a lot of memories playing Super Mario Land and Tetris on long car rides during summer vacations. I had it for ages and it still might be in some dusty shelf somewhere.

And my other handheld…was the Atari Lynx. Specifically, the second-gen model with the smaller case and backlight and all that. I loved that thing, even though now I realize how I was the weird kid in town for having it. I owned several things for the Lynx and chewed through many, many AAs on long gaming sessions with it. And actually…I still have it! It’s sitting in its original carrying case on my bookshelf right now.

Now, I’ve also recently acquired an RG351v as a handheld emulation toy and I actually really enjoy it a bunch. I’m using it to start exploring things I never played, like Valkyrie Profile.

I picked up an Atari Lynx at a garage sale a number of years ago, and I was surprised at how well the system worked. There were some really good games, and the system was remarkably responsive. I can definitely see how it would be impressive at the time.

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