In the early 1980s, portable gaming was mainly limited to LCD-based games. Companies such as Casio, Grandstand and Tiger Electronics would all release various watches and devices to keep us entertained on those tiresome journeys. Nintendo wasn't really known here in the UK back then, but it stood out from the crowd with the excellent range of Game & Watch handhelds. The Japanese company showed just how skilful and creative it was when it came to creating great gameplay with limited hardware (a skill it arguably continues to exploit), releasing hits such as Mario Bros. and the multi-screen Donkey Kong.
Nintendo's Game Boy had taken everyone by surprise and it would be Sega which played catch-up
In April 1989 – 30 years ago this month – Nintendo took portable gaming to a whole new level with the release of the Game Boy, a cartridge-based handheld with a dot-matrix monochrome screen that had similar controls to the famous Game & Watch range. The Game Boy was an instant success and rival companies would race to get out their own handheld devices onto the market – one of those companies being Sega.
One year earlier, Sega had taken Nintendo by surprise in the console market when it released the 16-bit Mega Drive and it would be two years before Nintendo responded with the Super Famicom/SNES. In the nascent world of handhelds, however, things were the other way around. Nintendo's Game Boy had taken everyone by surprise and it would be Sega which played catch-up; on October 6th 1990 – 18 months after the Game Boy's release – Sega released the Game Gear in Japan. With a backlit colour screen and hardware based on the 8-bit Master System, it was technically superior to the Game Boy and Sega hoped this would be enough to steal some of Nintendo's rapidly-increasing market share.