I’ve been meaning to do this for handheld game consoles since I posted my Top 5 Consoles in 2016. Admittedly that list kind of spoils the winner for this one, but I’m happy with my selections. I’m making no effort to be objective, because where’s the fun in that.
5) Neo Geo Pocket Color
The only one on this list I don’t currently own, mostly because the games are now super expensive and like the Game Boy Color and original GBA the screen is awful without a light mod. I loved it at the time though, getting one for Christmas 1999. I convinced my Mum to get it for me on the UK launch in October that year, and then had to wait till Christmas to play it.
The library for the NGPC is pretty small, but it did have some great games. The main reason this made it onto the list over other contenders, is how good the little thumb stick controller is. To this day it’s the only handheld game console that I’ve really enjoyed playing fighting games on, even more so than on the consoles higher up in this list.
- Capcom vs SNK: Match of the Millennium
- Neo Turf Masters
- Samurai Showdown! 2
- King of Fighters R-2
- Sonic the Hedgehog Pocket Adventure
- Metal Slug 1st & 2nd Mission
4) Nintendo Game Boy
This is largely earning it’s place among my favourite handheld game consoles based on nostalgia, but also because of how cool my custom modded one is. I picked it up at the NERG retro gaming event in Newcastle last year, where it already had the lovely orange shell and green buttons. I subsequently sent it of to Joe Bleeps who kindly fitted a backlight, bi-vert mod and replaced the two grey select & start buttons with green ones in-keeping with the theme.
While I’d still love a proper Game Boy Color with backlight mod, those remain very pricey. At least until I acquire one of those, my custom Original Game Boy will be my preferred way to play these games.
- Kirby Pinball
- Solar Striker
- Super Mario Land 1 & 2 (the only Mario games I really like)
3) Sony PSPgo
Part of the reason this list took me so long to finalise, the PSPgo’s place on it is dependent on custom firmware. Along with housing a digital library of some great PSP and PS1 games, some excellent emulators means I’ve also used it extensively for Mega Drive and PC Engine games (amongst others) on the go.
Of all the systems on the list, this machine (just marginally beating the DS Lite) is the most conveniently portable, actually fitting comfortably in a jeans pocket.
- Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles
- Outrun 2006: Coast 2 Coast
- Wipeout Pure & Pulse
- Numerous Retro Compilations
2) Nintendo DS Lite
This is where I cheat again, as for this system I’m including the Game Boy Advance library. A GBA EZ Flash IV Cart and DS R4 make this a monster of a portable machine for the library of games I can take on the go. My system currently has every GBA game and about 40 DS games on, without needing to carry any extra cartridges.
As with the PSPgo, the DS Lite is the most portable design for me, it’s size remains a worthy advantage over its XL versions. (I did have an original ‘phat’ DS, which served me well at the time but I have no business playing on one of those in 2019. For more on my favourite games in both the GBA & DS libraries, see the Video Pinball episode of the Maximum Power Up Podcast.
- Metroid Prime Pinball
- Elite Beat Agents
- 42 All Time Classics
- Animal Crossing
- Mario Kart DS
Game Boy Advance
- Pinball of the Dead
- Zoo Cube
- Sonic Advance 1-3
1) PlayStation Vita
No surprise this is number 1 given its position on the All-Time Games Consoles list. I still love my Vita and my sizable backlog means I’m in no danger of running out of things to play on there anytime soon.
I wrote more about it on that other post, but I can’t see anything taking the Vita’s place anytime soon.
- Wipeout 2048
- Everybody’s Golf
- More PS1 and PSP games that I bought digitally
- A whole bunch of “best on Vita” indies. Velocity 2X, Axiom Verge, Limbo, Stardew Valley etc.
Honourable Mentions and notable absences
To be fair to the Switch, in many ways it would deserve to be on this list, particularly as it has taken over from my Vita as my format of choice for 2D indie games. However, playing the Switch in handheld mode feels like a compromise to me, and I’m doing it for a convenience at home. I much prefer playing it docked when possible, and I find it too big to use for train journeys etc.
Nintendo Game Boy Advance
As mentioned, I’m including the GBA’s great library with the DS Lite on my list above. However the handheld itself doesn’t make it because I don’t really find any of the models, original GBA, GBA SP or the Micro to be comfortable. They all give me bad ‘claw hand’ pretty quickly. The original GBA is the best of a bad bunch, but also needs a good light mod to be playable.
Animal Crossing aside, I didn’t find too much in the 3DS library I wanted to play. Although the backwards compatibility means you also have access to the original DS library, I still think a DS Lite with access to the GBA library is the better option. As with the DS, I also found the XL model too big, and the 2DS too hideous.