I am a big fan of the Nintendo Switch. I was so taken by the idea of it that it became the first piece of gaming hardware I ever pre-ordered. The idea of a console that I can take on the go or plug into my TV was something right up my alley. However, the Switch is far from the first handheld you can play on your TV. It’s not even the first Nintendo handheld that you can play like a console. Let’s take a look at the history of playing handheld games on your TV.
The Watara Supervision (called the QuickShot Supervision in the UK) was a low cost competitor for the Game Boy that released in 1992. It was a Hong Kong original so there was no third party support, which is what killed it. If you’ve ever seen one of those “999 in 1” brick game handhelds you’ve essentially seen what this is capable of. Interestingly, the system had a processor of nearly the same speed as the Game Boy and only sold for $50.
The most unique peripheral for the system was the TV Link cable that allowed you to play Supervision games in an astounding FOUR COLORS on your TV. There were plans for a full color version, but the failure of the system destroyed those plans. The system worked fine for this, but it was a rather primitive system so it’s now just a footnote in gaming history.
Nintendo wasn’t going to let everyone else have all the fun. Five years after the Game Boy’s release Nintendo unveiled the Super Game Boy, which allowed playing of original Game Boy titles on the SNES, in full color. It not only colorized games and showed them on a TV, but it even allowed users to change the color palettes and design their own borders for the screen. There were even a few games that had special modes or colors that were only unlocked by playing them on Super Game Boy.
There were a few downsides, however. There was no link cable support, so no trading your Pokemon with a friend, or playing against them. The clock speed was just about 4% faster than the Game Boy, so this could be noticed if you were aware of it. It also only played original Game Boy games, so your Game Boy Color games wouldn’t work unless it worked on an original Game Boy, i.e the black cartridges. Japan saw the release of a Super Game Boy 2 that fixed most of the issues, but was never released elsewhere. Luckily, with just the help of your favorite needle nose pliers, a US SNES can play Japanese cartridges fine so if you want to pick up a Super Game Boy 2, it will work just fine.
This almost feels like cheating since the Nomad was already the inverse of today’s article – it let you play console games on the go. However, it was a handheld, and there was a way to play it on the TV. By use of a standard Genesis model 2 RF/AV adapter you could plug your Nomad into a TV and use it just like a standard Genesis.
The best part is that the Nomad had a second controller port so you could let a friend plug in and game just like it was a standard Genesis. I can’t think of any other handheld that allowed you to do this. You could even use the port and play two players on the Nomad screen. I am absolutely certain that this is unique in the handheld world.
As for Sega’s flagship handheld, the Game Gear, there was never a chance of any TV output. The Game Gear was a souped up Master System but it actually had more colors than the Sega Genesis could perform so any adapter was out of the question. Nowadays there are RGB mods that allow for TV output, but that’s beyond this article. Maybe I’ll cover that in the future.
Playstation Portable/PSP GO
I am a huge fan of the PSP, and I honestly consider it to be my favorite handheld of all time. There are so many fantastic games in its library, and it could play virtually every PS1 game as well. While the original 1000 model had no TV out capability, the later entries all had a way to play your PSP games on the big screen.
For the PSP 2000 and 3000 models there was a simple adapter cord that allowed output over composite video. It’s about the simplest form of handheld on a TV, as it’s just a plug in. The system works well, and the video output looks quite good. The handheld screen turns off when in TV mode, which makes it less confusing to play.
The PSP Go, on the other hand, had a system quite like the Nintendo Switch. A separate dock allowed you to plug in the PSP Go, which would output the signal to the TV as well as offer Bluetooth support, so you could play with a standard PS3 controller. This setup most closely resembles what the Switch does, and is a great way to enjoy PSP games. I don’t care much for the Go as the cramped hardware makes my hands hurt, but this is really interesting. The bad thing is that both the Go and the dock are getting rather expensive for PSP stuff, so this may not be a viable setup for some.
Game Boy Player
Here is perhaps the best way to play a handheld system on the TV. After the success of the Super Game Boy, Nintendo decided to finally make use of an expansion port on a system by releasing the Game Boy Player for the GameCube. This add on allowed you to play any Game Boy title on your GameCube with that sweet GameCube controller. It runs all games flawlessly, without the clock speed problems of the Super Game Boy. It allows the Super Game Boy functions on original Game Boy games as well as offering quite a few image tweaks for the display. It’s easily the best way to play any Game Boy lineup titles on a TV and well worth owning for any handheld or GameCube fan. Honestly, if you see captured GBA, GB, or GBC gameplay, it was likely captured from this if it wasn’t emulated.
There are two major downsides to the Player though. While the adapter itself is rather cheap – I got mine for just about $15 shipped – the required Launch Disc is getting quite expensive. It can usually be found upwards of $60. There are workarounds if you softmod your GameCube, as detailed in this video by the guys at My Life in Gaming. The other downside is the lack of a link cable or similar setup to play multiplayer, but honestly that’s a bit of a minor quibble.
As long as there have been handheld consoles, gamers have wanted to play their handheld games on their TV, so quite a few options were developed. I doubt anyone honestly thought the Switch wasn’t inspired by previous ideas, but it’s interesting to me how close the PSP Go dock got to the Switch concept. However, like many things in games, even if Nintendo didn’t invent it, they definitely perfected it.