Nintendo Game Boy Advance Video (2004 – 2007)

Game Boy Advance Video was a means of watching video on the Nintendo Game Boy Advance handheld game console and was first introduced in 2004. The video came on ROM cartridges that looked similar to standard Game Paks, except they were always light grey and had a film perforation design on the label.

The Video Paks offered digital video with a resolution of 240 x 160 and full colour, but due to the low capacity of the cartridges the video was very compressed and of poor quality. The cartridges could also be used in the Game Boy Advance SP, Game Boy Micro, Nintendo DS, and Nintendo DS Lite systems. They could not be played on the Game Boy Player add-on for the Nintendo Game Cube (the low resolution would have become even more apparent on a television screen) because the Game Boy Player could be attached to a VCR or DVD recorder, so the ability to play video was disabled to prevent illegal copying of Game Boy Video material.

Content was mostly in the form of cartoons from Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, Disney, and also by Nintendo themselves with the Pokemon cartoons. Some full-length animated feature films were released by DreamWorks Animation, namely Shark Tale, Shrek, and Shrek 2. Around 25 cartridges were released, with the last ones released in 2007.

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Nintendo 3DS (2011 – )

The Nintendo 3DS is a handheld game console launched in 2011 as a successor to the Nintendo DS. Its main feature was the ability to display stereoscopic 3D effects on the upper screen without the need for special glasses. Nintendo’s previous attempt at a 3D handheld game console (the Nintendo Virtual Boy) was a commercial failure, and required a special headset to view monochrome 3D effects.

The Nintendo 3DS competes with Sony’s PlayStation Vita handheld console.

Several versions of the 3DS have been introduced since its launch, including the 3DS XL with a much larger screen, an entry level 2DS (without the clamshell form factor or 3D facility), and the ‘new’ 3DS and 3DS XL with a faster processor and other upgrades.

It is backward compatible with the Nintendo DS and DSi, and Game Cards for these consoles will fit into the 3DS. Games for the 3DS are prevented from being inserted into the older DS/DSi by a small lug on the card. 3DS Game Cards can hold between 1 and 4 GB of game data (compared to the DS card which held between 8 and 512 MB).

As well as loading games from ROM cards, the 3DS can connect to the Nintendo eShop to download games. Games, audio and picture files can be stored on a Secure Digital or SDHC card (or microSD on the new 3DS/DS XL)

Despite disappointing early sales, the 3DS family become very successful and as of September 2016 had sold over 61 million units.

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Tapwave Zodiac (2004 – 2005)

The Tapwave Zodiac was a handheld game and entertainment console. It was launched in 2003 by Tapwave, reaching the UK in 2004, and ran a version of the Palm Operating System (which meant it also had PDA functionality).

Two models were available, the Tapwave 1 with 32MB, and the Tapwave 2 with 128MB. The Zodiac had two memory card slots, and could take either MultiMediaCards or Secure Digital cards. Games, music or photos could be loaded on either type, but SD cards were faster. The console had a built-in MP3 player, e-book reader, rumble pack and Bluetooth.

Despite good reviews and some noteworthy games titles, it suffered from strong competition from Nintendo’s DS system and Sony’s PlayStation Portable (PSP); this along with insufficient funding meant it was discontinued in 2005.

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Pokémon mini (2002)

The Pokémon mini was a handheld game console, and the smallest game system to use cartridges weighing in at just 70g. It was introduced by Nintendo in 2001 (reaching Europe in 2002).

Only 10 cartridges (up to 512 KB in capacity, and a similar size to a Nintendo DS card) were released for the console, each themed around the Pokémon brand, with the last being released in Japan in December 2002 (Pokémon Breeder). It was sold in toy shops, and was seen as a children’s toy rather than a serious game system.

The Pokémon mini offered features such as force feedback, a shock detector and an infrared port for multiplayer gaming but had a small monochrome screen and monophonic sound. It was available in three colours, Wooper Blue, Smoochum Purple and Chikorita Green.

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Gizmondo card (2005 – 2006)

The Gizmondo was a seventh generation handheld video game console released by Tiger Telematics in 2005 in the UK, Sweden and the US.

It had advanced features not found on other handhelds at the time, such as a camera, Bluetooth and GPS. It ran on Windows CE 4.2.

It could be bought with ‘Smart Adds’ (which meant adverts were shown on the device at random intervals on the home screen) or for a higher price it could be supplied advert-free. In practice, the ‘Smart Adds’ system was never used and no adverts were ever shown.

Games were sold on Secure Digital cards, and standard SD cards could also used to load music and movies to play on the device. Just 14 games were released for the system during its short life, eight in the US and six in Europe.

It was expected to be successful, but there were early technical issues, and difficulties in financing manufacture. In the end less than 25,000 were ever sold and it is considered the worst selling handheld console of all time. In 2006, Tiger Telematics was forced into bankrupcy and the Gizmondo was discontinued.

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Nokia N-Gage card (2003 – 2006)

The Nokia N-Gage was a combined phone and handheld game console, launched in 2003.

To compete with Nintendo’s Game Boy Advance, Nokia included a phone in the N-Gage. Unfortunately, this meant the buttons were not suited to gaming, and the phone’s speaker and microphone were built into the side of the device meaning users had to hold the device at right angles to their head, leading to the nickname of the ‘Taco phone’ (due to its shape). Some of its core features were impressive for its time, like Bluetooth connectivity and an on-board MP3 and video player.

Games for the N-Gage were distributed on MultiMediaCards, but to put the card into the device meant removing the back of the N-Gage along with the battery. A re-design in 2004 as the N-Gage QD moved the card slot to the outside of the device, but sales continued to be poor and only around 3 million were sold over its lifetime. Over 50 games were made available for the N-Gage range, but there were no ‘must-have’ titles (there were some big titles such as Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, Call of Duty, and Pandemonium, but these were also available on other consoles).

Games continued to be released until 2006, but the device had already been withdrawn from Western markets in 2005 by which time the Sony PlayStation Portable and the Nintendo DS were on the market.

The N-Gage name lived on until 2010 as the name of a platform for online distribution of games to later Nokia smartphones.

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Nintendo Game Boy dual-mode cartridge (1998 – 2003)

When the Game Boy Color was launched by Nintendo in 1998, it had the ability to use cartridges (‘Game Paks’) from the original Game Boy, albeit in monochrome. Its own cartridges, usually translucent, were not backward compatible with the Game Boy but there was a third type of cartridge introduced at the same time as the Game Boy Color, and this was compatible with both models.

These ‘dual mode’ (also known as class B) Game Paks were usually black, and were the same shape as the original Game Boy cartridges (that were usually grey) including the notch that allowed the power switch to be moved across. They were programmed to play in colour when used on the Game Boy Color.

The dual mode Game Paks were compatible with all Game Boy models, except for the Game Boy Micro.

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UMD Video (2004 – 2011)

Universal Media Disk (UMD) was an optical disc format introduced by Sony in 2004 for use on the PlayStation Portable (PSP) handheld gaming and multimedia device, the only device that UMD was ever implemented on.

As well as video games for the PSP, discs were available containing full-length movies, television shows (including a number by the BBC in the United Kingdom) and music videos. DVD region coding was applied to movies and music videos, but not for video games.

The discs themselves had a capacity of up to 1.8 GB for the dual-layer version on a 64 mm read-only optical disc. Although the discs were housed in a protective casing, there was no shutter to prevent direct contact with the disc. While similar in appearance to the Sony MiniDisc, the two formats are incompatible and there was never a recordable version of UMD.

Disappointing sales of movies on UMD meant that by 2006, retailers and studios began to withdraw support for movies on UMD, and no more movies were released on UMD after 2011. New games continued to be distributed on UMD until 2014, when the PlayStation Portable was discontinued.

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Nintendo Game Boy Color (1998 – 2003)

The Game Boy Color was a handheld video game console released by Nintendo in 1998 as a successor to the original monochrome Game Boy.

The Game Boy Color had double the processor speed, three times as much memory, and an infrared communications port as well as a colour display. Its main competitors were the SNK Neo Geo Pocket and the Bandai WonderSwan, but the Game Boy Color had much greater commercial success. The Game Boy and Game Boy Color combined sold nearly 119 million units worldwide.

Cartridges (called ‘Game Paks’ by Nintendo) for the original Game Boy could be used in the Game Boy Color, which was a major selling point.

There were also cartridges that could be used in either console (class B or dual mode). These are the same shape as the original Game Boy cartridges, but are usually black instead of grey. Cartridges that are designed specifically for the Game Boy Color (class C) are clear-coloured and are shaped slightly differently from the original Game Boy cartridges. They lack the notch that allows the original Game Boy power switch to be moved across, to ensure they could not be used in the original Game Boy by mistake.

The Game Boy Color was eventually discontinued in 2003, when the Game Boy Advance SP was launched (it had sold alongside the first version of the Game Boy Advance that was launched in 2001).

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Sega Visual Memory Unit (VMU) (1999 – 2001)

The Sega Visual Memory Unit or VMU was used in the Sega Dreamcast. The Dreamcast was the first sixth-generation video game console, preceding the PlayStation 2, Xbox and GameCube, and was initially successful in the US. However, interest declined as hype around the launch of the PlayStation 2 increased, and Sega suffered significant losses, discontinuing the Dreamcast in 2001 and withdrawing from the video game console market.

The Visual Memory Unit was a 128 KB memory card that plugged into the controller. Unlike other memory cards for game consoles, the Visual Memory Unit contained a small LCD screen, speaker and control buttons so it could be used as a minimal handheld console separately from the Dreamcast. It could also convey secret gameplay information to the player via the controller.

The Visual Memory Unit also had file manager capabilities, a clock and calendar. They could be connected to another Visual Memory Unit for multiplayer gaming or transfer of files.

The standard Visual Memory Unit colour was white, but many other colours were released, and some branded Visual Memory Units were released in Japan, such as Sonic Team and Hello Kitty.

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