On the Go in the House: The History of Playing Handheld Games on TV Screens

With the release of Nintendo Switch upon us, it’s due time for us to take a look back at some of the other ways gamers once played handheld games on their televisions.

(Note: This article does not include developer and press only devices, such as those in the Wonder Boy series, or unlicensed devices such as the GB Hunter)

It all started in 1994 when Nintendo released the Super Game Boy add-on for the Super Nintendo.The Super Game Boy was about the same size as a regular cartridge, but had a slot in the top for Game Boy games to be placed in, which were then played using Super Nintendo controllers. The Super Game Boy also provided colorful borders to help fill empty space on the TV screen, and could use the Super Nintendo’s hardware to add extra features to the game being played, such as expanded sound and a two player mode using Super Nintendo controllers, depending on which game. The lesser known, second iteration of this device, the Super Game Boy 2, was a Japan only release in 1998, and included a link port for players to access two-player mode using a link cable, a green game link LED, and a red power LED indicator.


In 1999, five years after the release of the original Super Game Boy, Nintendo created a device for their newest system at the time, the Nintendo 64, called the Transfer Pak. This time, instead of putting the add-on in the cartridge slot, it was connected to the controller. The Transfer Pak differed from the Super Game Boy in that it was not primarily used to play Game Boy games through the Nintendo 64, but instead to transfer save data between certain games. The transfer pak was mainly used for Pokémon, which was at the peak of it’s popularity (until Pokémon GO of course), and allowed players to transfer their Pokémon from Pokémon Red, Blue, and Yellow Versions to Pokémon Stadium, and from Gold, Silver, and Crystal Versions to Pokémon Stadium 2 in addition to the older Game Boy games. Through use of the Transfer Pak, Pokémon Stadium & Pokémon Stadium 2 also allowed the Game Boy games to be played on the Nintendo 64 through emulation. Due to Pokémon‘s popularity, most kids with a Nintendo 64 had Transfer Paks for these reasons, but a few other games used the Transfer Pak’s save transfer functionality as well, such as: Mario Golf, Mario Tennis,  and Mickey’s Speedway USA. Unlike Pokémon, however, the Game Boy versions of these games could not be played through the Nintendo 64.


In 2003, Nintendo created an add-on for their then current console, the GameCube, called the Game Boy Player. The Game Boy player could play most Game Boy, Game Boy Color, and Game Boy Advance games, and allowed use of a GameCube controller to play them. As another improvement from its predecessors, the Game Boy Player alternatively allowed use of Game Boy Advance and Game Boy Advance SP systems as controllers, which some GameCube games also allowed, both by using a GameCube-Game Boy link cable. The Game Boy Advance Player did have some limitations, however, and could only play Game Boy games as long as they were the standard cartridge shape, and not part of the Game Boy Advance Video series. In addition to this, the Game Boy Player could also not support the motion sensing feature of games such as Kirby: Tilt N’ Tumble and WarioWare: Twisted! but it was able utilize the wireless adapter and e-reader  Game Boy Advance accessories, as well as adding a rumble feature to certain Game Boy Advance games.


After the Game Boy Player, Nintendo decided to move away from the model of creating additional accessories to play handheld games through a home console. Nintendo’s biggest home console success, the Wii, was able to wirelessly connect to Nintendo DS systems through certain games (such as Pokémon: Battle Revolution and Pokémon Diamond & Pearl versions), but had no functionality with handheld games outside of this feature. Nintendo’s predecessor to the Switch, the Wii U, had use of two screens, one on the TV, and one on the controller itself. Because of this functionality, some games had the ability to be played in a pseudo handheld mode with the TV turned off, as long as the player wasn’t too far from the console itself. Use of two screens also allowed Nintendo to put some Nintendo DS games available to download on their virtual console (in addition to some Game Boy Advance games). It was an interesting choice, but similar to the Wii U itself, lacked popularity, and there weren’t that many games to choose from.


On the other side of the spectrum, Sony’s PlayStation Portable had purchasable cables which allowed play on the TV,  while the PlayStation Vita doesn’t have an HDMI port to connect to a bigger screen. Sony instead thought it would be better to sell a different iteration called the PlayStation Vita TV,  a home console version of the PlayStation Vita, and can be controlled using a DualShock 3 or DualShock 4 controller. The Vita TV sold well in some territories, and not so well in others, and the fact that only a small handful of PlayStation Vita games are playable on it without hacking doesn’t help much. On most occasions when the PlayStation Vita is brought up, it seems to be the handheld being discussed, with the PlayStation Vita TV being more of an afterthought, if brought up at all.

The new  Nintendo Switch will be like a long awaited dream for many of us who have wanted a handheld and home console hybrid for years. Despite a less than stellar launch lineup and a number of hurdles to get through, the Nintendo Switch still has the potential to become great gaming device over time, like the Nintendo 3DS already has, and can easily surpass the Wii U.

NP Optimism

What are your thoughts on handheld game consoles? Let me know in the comments, and don’t forget to like & follow!


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