There were many challengers to Nintendo's Game Boy throne in the 1990s. Sega struck with its Game Gear, Atari attempted the Lynx, and SNK's Neo Geo Pocket has its fans. One of the more intriguing competitors to Nintendo's dominance comes in the form of Bandai and its WonderSwan line of handheld game systems. Designed by the man who originally designed the Game Boy, the WonderSwan was created specifically to challenge Nintendo. The fact that you've probably never played one and may not have ever heard about it before now tells you how that worked out. Jeremy Parish at USgamer takes a look back at the system on its fifteenth anniversary. It's an interesting piece about a line of hardware that deserved better considering its pedigree.
The connections between WonderSwan and Game Boy ran deep. At its debut, Bandai's handheld felt like a genuine successor to Nintendo's handheld, which at that point was a decade old. Despite seeing a few hardware refinements over the years, including Game Boy Pocket's clearer, more energy-efficient screen, Game Boy still ran on the same old '70s-vintage Z80 variant processor that it always had.
The WonderSwan, on the other hand, employed a more powerful 16-bit NEC V20 chip. And while it incorporated a black-and-white screen, its monochrome display wasn't limited to four shades of grey; it could display twice as many tones, which allowed for much more detailed graphics. And it was an absolute beast in terms of efficiency; while the Game Boy Pocket could run for 20 hours on a pair of AAA batteries, WonderSwan could squeeze as much as 40 hours from a single AA. And all of this for the incredibly reasonable price of ¥4800 – about $42 at the time.
The system never made it out of Japan, but some of its better mainstream games ended up on competing hardware following Bandai's withdrawal from the hardware market. I've never had the opportunity to play a WonderSwan, but would like the chance just to be able to have some personal experience with one. Few games in the library look interesting at first glance although Capcom produced a Mega Man game that I've always wanted to try despite the fact that everything I've read about it says that it's terrible. What can I say? I'm a glutton for punishment.