Many of us in the gaming community remember our first system, our first handheld, our first games with a certain nostalgia. We long to capture the magic of our initial play-through of a favorite ’90s platformer or ’80s RPG. Luckily, modern technology has made accessing and playing our favorite games in the best way possible relatively simple. We have the ability to turn on our gaming PC, fire up our IPS modded GBC, or reach for one of our many trusty retro handhelds and play damn near any game from the past with added perks. Save-states, rewind, sleep functionality, filters, up-scaling – the list goes on. Gone are the days of needing a worm light for your Gameboy or being tethered to the wall thanks to the home console. However, I think it is important to remind ourselves that it has not always been this easy.
My very first gaming device was the OG DMG. That’s right, the big boy. It was thick before thicc meant thick. Not only was it large, but it also had a tiny screen with a color hue that resembled swamp moss; and of course it was not even close to being backlit. It took four AA batteries that seemed to last the length of one episode of the Ninja Turtles. The experience was rough…and I LOVED it. So much in fact, that when I got a kiwi Gameboy Color for Christmas a few years later, I cried with joy. It was the only present I got that year, and it was one of the best holidays I can remember. I mean, the screen was in COLOR! Having only worn out copies of Tetris and Golf got a bit stale, and so I saved up some chore money and bought myself a copy of Pokemon Blue and a worm light, and my life changed forever. It was the beginning of a love affair with handheld devices and the games they run; an affair that still permeates my life to this day.
The evolution of handheld gaming seemed a bit slow, looking back. I mean sure, the Sega GameGear had a screen that lit up…but the device itself was huge and cumbersome, as well as battery-hungry. The Gameboy Advance had made huge leaps in the quality and size of games it could run…but still required AA’s and a light. The SP came along and changed that, luckily, but we are talking 2003 at that point. So gaming up until the 2000’s was mostly on dark screens, or big heavy TV’s, or running on battery after battery, or some combination of all of that. Once backlit screens and rechargeable batteries became the norm, handheld gaming was forever changed – in a very positive way. But still, there are times when the sun is out and I have some batteries on hand, and I just want to sit outside with my stock GBP and reminisce about “the good ol’ days”.
One thing that almost every console or handheld had in common up until the Xbox360/PS3 era was the fact that you could only have 1 game loaded at a time. Whether it be a cartridge or a disc, whatever game was in was the one you could play. Internal game storage again revolutionized console gaming by reducing the need for physical media and the changing of the game by hand. It then became possible to keep a library of games on your device rather than in a big carrying case along with all your magnifying lenses and other accessories.
Fast-forward to today, and console gaming is vastly different than the time of Atari and the NES. The same can be said for handhelds. Not only do modern handhelds feature crisp, bright, beautiful LCD screens, but they are also rechargeable, have internal storage, and even the ability to run different operating systems. I compare it a bit to being an Xbox360 gamer vs. a PC gamer circa 2008. Sure, the 360 was great for what it was, but the PC could do infinitely more by way of being a fully functioning computer. A modern handheld outclasses something like a PSP in so many ways, and yet when we had the PSP, it seemed far ahead of its time. Throughout gaming history, hardware and software evolve and grow, they improve and exceed expectations. But without certain stepping-stones along the way, who knows exactly where we would be.
Appreciation is obviously the theme around this time of year, and I think it applies to our love of retro handhelds as much as it applies to many other aspects of life. If you truly love gaming, whether you’re 8 years old or 80, you have a lot to be thankful for. Not only during this era, but for the memories of the bygone eras. Having played countless hours of Dragon Warrior Monsters on my GBC only to see the save wiped away by a dead internal battery is a pain I thought I would never get over, but now have come to embrace it. The fact that some things cannot be preserved forever helps build gratefulness for the things we are able to. Without the eye strain, the battery money, the trade cable mix-ups, the missing battery doors, I do not think I would have the profound appreciation for the devices of today. When I reach for my 405V with a loaded SD card and launch Game Pass, load up Retroarch, or browse YouTube, I do my best to feel the way I did when I was a kid – in wonder at how so much fun could be contained within one little box. This holiday season, I implore you to do the same.
All of us here at RH are thankful for your time, your attention, your support. Our Discord community and everyone who visits our website, our YouTube channel, our Patreon; all of you have our gratitude. We truly enjoy our time spent writing about, making videos for, setting up, and just playing with handhelds. We hope you enjoy your time with us just as much!
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