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Every Nintendo Handheld Device, Ranked

Every Nintendo Handheld

With the upcoming release of the Nintendo Switch Lite and what it could mean for future Nintendo handhelds, we thought we’d take a look back at every Nintendo Handheld released until this point to see which are the best and which is the worst.

Just note that we have grouped together similar releases in instances where the two devices offered roughly the same experience plus or minus a few improvements. Generally speaking, though, yes, the XL models are better.

With that out of the way, here are the best and worst Nintendo handheld devices ever:

14. Nintendo 2DS (2013)

Best Nintendo Handhelds

It feels pretty easy to call this the worst Nintendo handheld ever, even if it’s actually not all bad.

Still, with its awful slate design, bad battery life, and awful sound quality, this almost felt like a middle-finger from Nintendo to everyone who didn’t buy a 3DS. They said it was for kids, but we’re willing to bet 100% of kids would have taken a 3DS instead.

13. Game Boy Micro (2005)

To its credit, the Game Boy Micro had a brilliant backlit screen and many praise its interchangeable faceplates to this day. Good ideas went into the design of this device.

Unfortunately, not nearly enough good ideas went into the design of this device. It feels too small in most hands, was incompatible with the Nintendo e-Reader and other accessories, and (worst of all) didn’t feature backward compatibility options. Ultimately, it felt like a cash grab.

12. Nintendo Game and Watch Series (1980)

Nintendo’s Game and Watch series was a collection of handheld gaming devices that could only play single games. They’re important to the history of Nintendo and gaming. They even pioneered the modern D-Pad.

However, there’s really only so high we can put the Game and Watch devices considering just how woefully outdated they are. Still, they’re a significant piece of Nintendo’s hardware puzzle.

11. New Nintendo 2DS XL (2017)

You could certainly make the argument that this should be a spot or two higher on the list, but the fact is that the 2DS XL is what the 2DS should have been and it took Nintendo 4 years to get around to fixing the 2DS problem.

Still, the 2DS XL offered a slightly cheaper alternative to the 3DS for those who never cared about its 3D abilities. It doesn’t feature that terrible slate design and is comparable (if not equal) to the general quality of the 3DS.

10. Game Boy Advance SP (2003)

Nintendo Handhelds

This is a tough system to rank. On the one hand, you’ve got to love the SP’s backlit screen, rechargeable battery, and Nintendo’s attempt at a smaller design.

On the other hand, the device’s lack of a traditional headphone jack (hello, Apple) is a killer, the SP’s shoulder buttons are awkward, and the overall design of the device just never felt quite right.

9. Nintendo 3DS (2011)/Nintendo 3DS XL (2012)

Nintendo Handhelds

At the end of the day, expectations were high for the 3DS, and the console’s 3D capabilities proved to be a questionable gimmick that few companies really took advantage of. The original models’ battery life was also pretty bad.

Still, there were quite a few things to love about the 3DS design, and the device rarely suffered from a lack of good games.

8. Game Boy Pocket (1996)


Nowadays, it’s hard to imagine Nintendo taking seven years to release a new version of one of their devices only for that new version’s biggest feature to be “it’s smaller than the original.”

Of course, its size made the Pocket a near essential upgrade for Game Boy owners while the fact that the device only required two batteries instead of four was a blessing to parents (and kids) everywhere.

7. New Nintendo 3DS (2014)/3DS XL (2015)

Best Nintendo Handhelds

Your feelings towards these handhelds are going to depend largely on your feelings towards the Nintendo 3DS. If you just don’t like the 3DS, these upgrades probably didn’t change your mind.

It’s hard to argue that Nintendo could have released a better 3DS than this, though. Its additional controls, better overall design, and increased power addressed many of the 3DS’ biggest issues aside from questions concerning the 3D feature itself.

6. Nintendo DSi (2008)/Nintendo DSi XL (2009)

Best Nintendo Handhelds

We’re going to gush about our love of the DS here in a bit, but generally speaking, the DSi line was a better version of a great device that even featured the revolutionary addition of the DSi Shop.

Sadly, these handhelds lacked the DS’ GBA slot (which restricted some backward compatibility) and their included cameras were nice, but incredibly weak.

5. Game Boy Color (1998)

Best Nintendo Handhelds

Again, we’re not sure if it should have taken Nintendo almost a decade to release a color variant of the Game Boy, but the industry was different back then.

The Game Boy Color quickly became a must-have, especially as Pokemon took over the world. While Nintendo maybe could have done more with it, this was an essential purchase in its day.

4. Game Boy Advance (2001)

The Game Boy Advance was an incredible leap forward for the Game Boy brand with its SNES-like games, great design, and backward compatibility. It was the true successor to the Game Boy.

Unfortunately, it also had some infamously bad lighting problems which became something of a running joke. That brings us to…

3. Game Boy Light (1998)

Released only in Japan for reasons that remain somewhat mysterious, the Game Boy Light is considered by many to be the best Game Boy of its era and one of the best ever made.

Why? Well, the answer is in the name. The Game Boy Light featured a built-in backlight that worked incredibly well, barely affected the battery life, and made the device only slightly larger than the Pocket. It makes it all the more curious why the Game Boy Advance didn’t have a built-in light.

2. Game Boy (1989)

Best Nintendo Handhelds

As the most legendary handheld ever made, you knew the Game Boy was going to be somewhere high on this list.

The Game Boy’s absurdly long shelf life and stunning collection of games defy all modern expectations of how long a device can stay on top.

1. Nintendo DS (2004)/Nintendo DS Lite (2006)

Let’s just be quick about this.

The Nintendo DS sported a beautiful design, the best library of any handheld ever, brilliant touch screen functionality, and was even backward compatible. It’s no surprise that this is the best-selling video game device ever made.

Matthew Byrd

Matthew Byrd covers the gaming industry including indies, consoles, PCs, iOS and Android apps, as well as topics related to entertainment and technology.