Handheld gaming started long before Gunpei Yokoi’s Game Boy system launched. The first handheld video games can be traced back back to Milton Bradley’s Microvision, that clunky retro gem of a system with the tiny screen. It was innovative on its own and launched with a variety of titles, but it was also highly impractical. The screen broke too easily, and it was so tiny.
Around the same time, Yokoi headed development of the old handheld Game & Watch devices for Nintendo, most of which featured the silhouette man many now know thanks to Smash Bros..
Others were miniaturized versions of arcade classics, though, like Mario Bros. (the un-super variety) and the Donkey Kong line of games (before the Kongs established their own country).
That fact itself is remarkable in an industry built around games only being played on massive computers, arcade cabinets you couldn’t take home, or units you could take home like Atari that tied you to a TV.
These were mostly short games and very arcade-like in scope and structure, or just copies of what you could get elsewhere, plus even Microvision was able to swap out multiple (expensive) cartridges on one system — something Game & Watch couldn’t do.
That’s why the Game Boy itself was an even bigger innovation. You had the bigger, for its time, screen, plus a decent launch library with tons more games to follow, games that carved their own path completely separate from their console counterparts.
From Metroid II sending Samus into the depths of the bleepy monochrome Metroid home planet to Link exploring the island of his dreams in Link’s Awakening, the Game Boy offered a completely new handheld experience — so long as you had the batteries and just the right light for it.
From there, Nintendo has continued innovating in handheld gaming, improving systems, offering experiences that are sometimes arguably better than console games, and now, of course, coming close to making handheld gaming itself a thing of the past by blurring the console boundaries.