Sony's PlayStation Portable may or may not be the height of handheld gaming, but most of its features originated with earlier devices in the history of handheld gaming consoles. If you missed earlier part in the series, you might want to go back and read them now. Part One sets the stage for the parts to follow, and Part Two looks at Milton Bradley's Microvision, the first handheld with interchangeable cartridges. Part Four looks at Nintendo's iconic Game Boy, Part Five is about Atari's Lynx, Part Six covers NEC's TurboExpress, Part Seven is about Sega's Game Gear, Part 8 covers Watara's Supervision and the Mega Duck/Cougar Boy, while Part 9 is all about Sega's Nomad.
Game Pocket Computer
The Game Pocket Computer was released by Epoch in Japan in 1984, making it the second handheld console ever released to feature interchangeable game cartridges. It was apparently ahead of its time, released five years before Nintendo's Game Boy, and didn't sell at all well. Like Milton Bradley's Microvision, lackluster sales led to very few game releases. In fact, aside from the paint and puzzle programs built into the device, only 5 games came out for the Game Pocket Computer. It is now a very rare collectible.
Despite its Japan-only release and poor sales, the Game Pocket Computer is an important step along the way to the PSP. It had a significantly better LCD screen than the Microvision (which had only 16 by 16 pixels), with a resolution of 75 by 64. In addition, the Pocket Game Computer, like some later handhelds (including the PSP) had user-adjustable screen brightness.
Though it's obviously bulkier than the PSP, the Game Pocket Computer already had a similar form factor. While Milton Bradley's Microvision had a vertical design, with a square screen arranged above a set of buttons, Epoch's device placed a landscape-oriented rectangular screen above--but also between two sets of controls. On one side was an 8-way d-pad (a step closer to the PSP's analog nub than the more familiar 4-way d-pad), and on the other side were four buttons, arranged in a square. One set of controls could thus easily be operated by each thumb while the device was held in the hands.
Interestingly, though this horizontal orientation of screen and controls is more common today, the next handheld gaming device after Epoch's Game Pocket Computer--the fantastically successful Nintendo Game Boy--would return to a vertical orientation.
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