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Monday, March 17, 2008

Handheld Games I Loved and Cherished

I like handheld games a lot better than TV plug in console ones because of the way I can not only cart them around with me, but they're also easier to use for my motor skills challenged hands. For years, I struggled with playing video games, until I discovered a little game for the Game Boy called Pokemon Red and Blue. Then my brother got a Game Boy Colour, and from there I loved handhelds.

Not just Game Boy handheld games either. Never forget that my youth in the 1990s heralded many handheld innovations. Like the Tamagotchi. (Or however you spell it).

Tamagotchis as well as the highly popular Digimon, as I remember it, were a highly enjoyable subgenre of handheld game called the "Virtual Pet" craze. Let me put this into context. Many kids I knew when I was in primary school were not allowed to have pets in their house, so they turned to virtual alternatives to prove they could at least keep something alive for more than a week. Parents missed the point of these things, and thus disregarded their offspring's attempts at responsible pet ownership through a video game, when they were denied a pet of their own in real life.

Also available was the Pocket Pikachu, which could interact with your Game Boy Pokemon games in some way I can't remember. Digimon virtual pets could battle each other, and successive versions of the Digimon were more powerful than the ones that came before it, so, a generation began to consume electronics like no other generation before.

But back to the Game Boy. When I was a kid these things were status symbols, and those who did not have one looked on as the lucky bastard who had enough money to own both versions of the original Pokemon played on a small screen. Not that we got teased if we didn't have one of course. Smarter, and more compassionate kids, realised that if he was going to trade Pokemon he would need more friends who had Game Boys to trade and battle with. So by letting other children watch him play the game, a chap could influence his friends to get one for their birthday or Christmas.

I didn't actually own a Pokemon game until Pokemon Crystal came out, because my parents didn't spoil me and my brother very much. This meant we appreciated our electronics more. Pokemon waned in popularity as kids like us grew older, turning to other non-computer game entertainments such as DragonBall Z for our morning cartoons. But that didn't mean handhelds went away with it. And those who have been following gaming will know that Pokemon is making a comeback (God forbid).

But what came next? What would fill the void of handheld gaming after the Game Boy Colour? In a gaming magazine one day I discovered it: The Game Boy Advanced. Now this was particularly interesting. The screen was bigger, and it had L and R buttons on it for some reason. It also had quite a few games which appealed to older gamers who had long since given up "catching them all" with Pokemon games. Stuff like Advance Wars, and Fire Emblem. The occasional RPG was made for it. Golden Sun remains one of my favorite RPGs, though I never finished it, I'm sad to say. And just before you thought you'd never see another Pokemon game again, they made more Pokemon games for the GBA, with more features than before. Really it was getting silly. But for some reason, even young men in their middle teens still played these new Pokemon offerings. They played those while I was busy farming on Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town.

And it got even more ridiculous. The Game Boy Advanced SP came out with a backlit screen, because people complained that the original Game Boy Advanced had a screen that was too dark, and you had to buy a light accessory to see the damned game you were playing. I never owned a SP for good reason. I liked the design of the original GBA and I wasn't going to shell out 200 bucks for a new system when I could easily buy more games for that much money.

This was long before DS Lites and PlayStation Portables and what have you. So back then, 2D graphics on a handheld was impressive. But my generation should always remember we came from the dark ages (in some cases literally, like the GBA Screen) of consumer electronics to see the innovations of the future. Kurt Cobain never saw a PSP, Alec Guinness never played a DS Lite. If you live longer than both these people and yet still see the wonders of technology advancing, you should be even more grateful for that.

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