It seems totally normal now doesn’t it? Playing digital games on the move in the palm of your hand. There are so many ways you can do it these days. You might enjoy playing quick mobile games on your phone, a trend started by Candy Crush and Angry Birds a few years ago, maybe you like playing browser based puzzle games or even online casino games for a bit more excitement, for example here’s some more information about pokerstars, or maybe you are a more hardcore gamer and you have a Switch or a Steam Deck tucked away in your rucksack at all times. The fact remains that gaming is definitely not restricted to the sofa or the desk.

But years ago it was a huge novelty. When the first proper handheld devices came out, around 1989, the buzz was huge. It was so exciting to have the ability to play digital games on the go. Let’s take a look at some of my favourites along the way, from the early days of handheld gaming right up to the present day.

Game & Watch
For me, the first real handheld gaming was the Nintendo Game & Watch. These LCD screens were super mobile. The smaller ones like Parachute and Snoopy Tennis were very thin and could easily fit in your pocket. But even the more popular chunky two-screen ones like Mario Bros and Donkey Kong were very well designed and perfect for gaming on the go. These kept many a child occupied on a long car journey. The ‘Watch’ part of the device probably wasn’t used as much as the ‘Game’ part but it was a novelty having it. For me the gameplay still holds up to this day.

Tomytronic 3D
These things were super cool. A stereo 3D visor you hold up to your eyes to play an immersive version of a simple LCD style game. It was almost like an early version of VR! The only problem came when your friend or sibling would cover the light panel at the top whilst you were playing and block out all the light! I had the Thundering Turbo version, which I still have to this day, and I thought it was super cool, which I still think to this day. It was the first thing I would pack in my bag anytime we went on a family holiday. And what says ‘mobile gaming’ more than a neckstrap?

Game Boy
Now we’re on to the big boys of handheld gaming. Actual, proper video games, in your hand. Nintendo definitely led the way with the Game Boy, released in 1989. There were very cool competitors in the form of the Sega Game Gear and the Atari Lynx (which I also had a soft spot for), and these were in colour and had some great games, but they totally drained batteries like there was no tomorrow. The Game Boy was monochrome and lower quality in some ways but it’s battery life really made it the king of mobile gaming. Another aspect that made it so good was the form factor. The design of the Game Boy was superb and it still feels great in your hands now. Many people still play Game Boys today, often modded ones with improved screens and backlights, but it’s a testament to the quality of the design and the quality of the games available for it.

As companies gained experience designing and building mobile devices after the Game Boy, in my view it reached the pinnacle with the Sony PSP. This thing was gorgeous. So slick, so well made, and it really was like having a PlayStation in your hands. You could literally take your gaming anywhere. Since then the Nintendo Switch has taken over the mantle of the king of mobile gaming, but I think it was the PSP that led the way.

Anbernic RG351V
Today we are getting into lots of new ‘retro gaming’ handheld devices being made by smaller companies. There are a plethora of great devices such as the Evercade (which is spawning new games cartridges and collections being released physically), the Analogue Pocket (which plays original game cartridges from back in the day) and the Miyoo Mini which has a really nice big screen. But my personal favourite, which I own, is the Anbernic RG351V. It has the form factor of a classic Game Boy and the software on it plays really well. All your gaming needs on one little device. All you could want from handheld gaming.