Portable Pleasure: Three Decades of Nintendo Handhelds – Part Three: The 00’s
In the third part of our Nintendo handheld retrospective Lee looks at a massive shift in technology for portable systems.
At the turn of the new Millennium, Nintendo’s Game Boy Color was a steady success thanks to the continued popularity of Pokémon; the system’s first unique versions were released in various territories at the end of 1999 (Japan), 2000 (USA & Australia) and 2001 (Europe). Pokémon Gold and Silver brought the series into the colour realm for the first time, adding new features such as an internal clock that allowed for Day/Night cycles, masses of new Pokémon and breeding of said monsters. A Crystal version of the game would be released in 2000/2001.
Two other important releases for the system were the Capcom-developed additions to the long-running Legend of Zelda series. Originally envisioned as a remake of the original NES game, and then again as trio of games before being left as two titles, the Oracle series (Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons) were two brilliantly designed standalone titles in the vein of Link’s Awakening. However, the real stroke of genius was both games’ ability to link together to create a different adventure. By completing one of the Oracles games, you would be given a password which could be used to start an altered version of the other game, where it would reference your progress in the previous title, and some items would carry over to the next adventure.
This unique set of Legend of Zelda games would also have a few minor changes when played with Nintendo’s next handheld console…
In 2001, the console formally known as “Project Atlantis” was released. The Game Boy Advance skipped a technological generation with it’s 32-bit processor and 15-bit colour screen (although once again, no backlight). Compatible with both original Game Boy and Game Boy Color games, this new system added two shoulder buttons to the Game Boy button configuration, and graphics roughly on par with the SNES console. As such, the system was host to a large amount of SNES ports (no bad thing in this person’s opinion), as well as some quality Nintendo titles such as WarioWare, Metroid Fusion and the Super Mario Bros. Advance series. Some great things came from third-parties too, with the Castlevania series getting a revival thanks to several brilliant Game Boy Advance releases; plus SquareEnix brought remakes of Final Fantasies I, II, IV, V and VI to the system.
2003 would see Nintendo’s first revision to the system, in the form of the Game Boy Advance SP. This redesigned model had a flip-top front-lit screen and retained the backward compatibility of the original model. Some great limited edition variants were also available including a special NES version of the system (made to look like the classic 8-Bit system) and a second revision of the SP, featuring a brighter screen (which was only released in certain territories, and can be quite difficult to find).
The same year would also see the Game Boy Player, an awesome peripheral for the Nintendo Gamecube, that would allow you to play Game Boy, Game Boy Color and Game Boy Advance games on the Gamecube (Much like the Super Game Boy did for the SNES). Due to the fact that it fit on the bottom of the system, it also made the GameCube more of a cube shape.
While still a popular system, the Game Boy Advance had a very small lifespan compared to its predecessor, with the system already superseded by 2004; although one more revision of the Game Boy Advance hardware was released in 2005.
The Game Boy Micro was the last piece of Nintendo hardware to be branded with the Game Boy name. One of the smallest consoles Nintendo ever devised, the Micro offered a smaller, yet incredibly sharp and bright screen; but it did remove original Game Boy and Game Boy Color compatibility, plus the system’s headphone output was quite buzzy. However, this revision was a great way to play Game Boy Advance titles, although, because it was released a year after the Game Boy Advance’s successor, it didn’t do as well as the SP revision.
Originally conceived as a “third pillar” system for Nintendo (the other pillars being Nintendo’s GameCube console and the Game Boy Advance), the codenamed “Project Nitro” was released as the Nintendo DS in 2004 and featured two 32-bit ARM CPUs, offering a bit more power when compared to previous Nintendo handhelds. This two-screened, backlit, touch-screen and Wi-Fi enabled system was launched with Super Mario 64 DS, a brilliant port of the Nintendo 64’s phenomenal title. Thanks to a cartridge slot at the bottom of the system, it was also backward compatible with Game Boy Advance games (but not original or Game Boy Color games).
While the system’s block 3D visuals were well behind that of its rival, the Sony PlayStation Portable; the Nintendo DS easily trounced Sony’s machine in the department that counts; games. With over a thousand games released for the system over the last eight years, this system went from being a “third pillar” afterthought, to a system that overtook the Game Boy Advance as Nintendo’s main portable system. No doubt that was due to Nintendo adopting their “Blue Ocean” strategy of appealing to all demographics, that had been such a success with the Wii.
The Nintendo DS was also known for its various hardware revisions over the years. In 2006, the Nintendo DS Lite was released. Arguably the most popular of the DS’s hardware revisions, the Lite was lighter, brighter and smaller than the bulky silver-grey lump that was the original system. According to Wikipedia, it sold 93.84 million units worldwide (The Game Boy and Game Boy Color sold a combined total of 118.69 units).
The DS Lite managed to hold its own for a couple of years, before the Nintendo DSi model was released. Boasting a larger screen, two 0.3 megapixel digital cameras (internal and external), SD Card storage and the ability to purchase games over the internet, via a new DSi Shop, accessible via the DSi system itself. However, this revision removed the GBA cartridge slot from the system, waving goodbye to the Game Boy brand.
Released a year later was yet another revision, dubbed the DSi XL, this was the largest non-Virtual Boy portable that Nintendo released. It was simply a DSi with an incredibly large 4.2 inch screen, with up to a whopping 17 hours of battery life (on the lowest brightness setting). It is simply the best way to play DS games, without a shadow of a doubt.
Thanks to a steady stream of brilliant first-party releases, plus a large quantity of third-party titles, the Nintendo DS has had the longest lifespan of a Nintendo console, since the Game Boy. But it had to be replaced as some point…