Hop on a crowded Tokyo train, and you’re sure to see many with their eyes fixed upon a smartphone or modern handheld. The abundance of public transportation and the fast-paced city lifestyle resulted in portable gaming becoming a major industry within Japan. Before touch screens and game downloads, Japan had a multitude of interesting and exclusive products that populated the handheld gaming scene. Here are a few retro items you can fit in your pocket next time you catch the train.
Brighten Up Your Nights with Game Boy Light
The Game Boy completely dominated the portable gaming market for fifteen years until Nintendo retired the name and focused on their DS line of systems. While there were many different iterations, one that never left Japan was the Game Boy Light. Released in 1998, the screen could light up, giving players the ability to game in the dark. The Game Boy Color came out later that year, making the Game Boy Light’s day in the sun brief, but it still serves as an interesting collectible. Originally available in silver and gold, there are six color variations. The featured auction has the gold version, and it even comes with a game!
A Wonderful Find: Bandai’s WonderSwan
Few dared to challenge Nintendo’s Game Boy, but Bandai stepped up with the WonderSwan in 1999. The Japan exclusive handheld was unique in that it could be played horizontally or vertically. Although it only lasted a few years, the WonderSwan managed to build a large library of games, including many based on anime and manga. The original WonderSwan is black and white, but the selected auction features the WonderSwan Color which was released a year later. An enhanced version called SwanCrystal also exists for those who want the very best.
The Grandfather of Portable Gaming: Game & Watch
Game Boy’s older brother is 1980’s Game & Watch. Unlike the Game Boy, each system only came with one game. Almost 50 versions were released, meaning that collecting all of them is a daunting task. It’s common to find many of these portables kept in excellent condition in Japanese retro stores, and many even have the box! A few such as Ball have modern reprints, but there’s something special about owning the original. The highlighted auction showcases the Octopus game where you try to gather treasure while avoiding a giant sea creature.
Tiny Games, Big Fun: Game Boy Micro
The Game Boy era came to a close with the tiny Game Boy Micro. A smaller version of the Game Boy Advance, at 100mm wide it could fit almost anywhere and could play all Game Boy Advance titles. The red and gold Famicom version is one of the most popular variations, but Japan also had a few editions you won’t find overseas. The red Mother 3 Game Boy Micro and the black Pokemon Center edition never left the islands, but you’ll have to empty your wallet if you want either of those.
Carry an Arcade Anywhere with Neo Geo Pocket
Like Bandai, SNK also tried their hand at releasing their own portable gaming device with the Neo Geo Pocket. The 1998 release proved to be a disappointment, but the 1999 Color variation managed to gain popularity. The system’s most famous attribute is the unique clickable joystick that was unlike anything else on the market. Japan has numerous exclusive color variations including crystal blue, crystal yellow, and a rare Hanshin Tigers version.
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