Never heard of the WonderSwan? Well, I wouldn't blame you as this handheld was never released outside Japan, and unfortunately it has been shrouded in the impressive shadow that GameBoy left in its wake.
If anything could have taken Nintendo head to head in the portable console market, it would be this impressive piece of kit created by Bandai!
After all, it was the brainchild of Gumpei Yokoi, the long-time Nintendo employee and tech philosopher who is best known as creator of the Game Boy itself. This innovator also shaped modern gaming as a whole as he invented the D-pad, which is something that every gamer is familiar with!
As the original model's screen was only capable of monochrome. WonderSwan was, in fact, able to display up to eight shades of grey, in contrast to the four in the Game Boy. This may not sound mind-blowing but this development led to having much more detail in the games, it was the next best thing with the absence of colour. Also, the added buttons were used to allow gamers to play games in both portrait and landscape orientations, which is actually quite appealing, as I enjoy the feature of screen orientation when playing mobile games. This concept was clearly ahead of its time and if taken off, quite possibly a game changer for the industry, as well.
The wondrous little machine also boasted the ability to be powered by a single AA battery, having a battery life of 40 hours! Woah, that's pretty impressive, considering the handhelds power for its time. Most of my things have abysmal battery life.
In reference to the games, Squaresoft contributed remakes of Final Fantasy, Final Fantasy II, and Final Fantasy IV which later also came to the Game Boy Advance. Taito contributed well-received ports such as Space Invaders!
The main reasoning for the WonderSwan not being an immense commercial success is just the bad timing of its release. Even though it had a great library of games and an introductory price of JP ¥4,800 which is about £30!
Selling 3.5 million units, the WonderSwan only picked up 8% of the marketshare in Japan and was ultimately outperformed by Nintendo's Game Boy Advance
WS released just 5 months after the Game Boy Color, so it was too late in order to have a secure place in the market. Although the WonderSwan Color was developed, by that time Nintendo had already become the tycoons of handheld city.
It's always upsetting when an idea or a product that seems largely awesome doesn't quite catch on. Just like Betamax losing the videotape format war to VHS, we can only take the positives from this, at least the Game Boy will fill any holes in our hearts.