In the early 90s, Nintendo’s Gameboy (which hit NA in ’89) and Sega’s Game Gear (which hit NA in ’91) were still going strong. As fun as those handhelds were to their fans (Terminator 2 on the Game Boy was a lot of fun), the tiny screens and speakers created a cottage industry of add-ons meant to super-size the experience with MacGyver-like gadgetry.
The “Handy” Joyplus, in the ad above, was released in 1992 by STD Entertainment for Nintendo’s Game Boy, expanding the monochrome screen with a magnifying lens, external mini-stereo speakers booming up the sound, and throwing a mini-stick set on top of the d-pad.
The chargers in the ad were vitally useful for either the Game Boy or Game Gear. They also underlined one of the more embarrassing problems for Sega’s color handheld — the miserable battery life in comparison to the Game Boy’s.
Sega’s handheld wasn’t alone with that problem. Atari’s Lynx (which had arrived in 1989, the same year that the Game Boy arrived in North America) and NEC’s TurboExpress (which came out in 1990) were also color handhelds boasting advanced hardware. And they also gorged themselves on batteries while Nintendo’s monochromatic Game Boy continued to play on for many, many hours more with its massive library.
Another company that got into the handheld craze with its own set of gadgets was Nuby as they showed in this advertisement from the early 90s for the Planet Kidz cable magazine show on CNBC. Unlike the wing speakers for the “Handy” Joyplus pack above, Nuby went for a more subtle approach with a speaker attachment directly on the bottom. The Sega Game Gear also gets to show off Nuby’s accessories in another shot below.
Battery issues aside, Nuby and STD Entertainment were only two of several other companies that came up with their own answers on how to make the most popular handhelds of the day more exciting. Today, handhelds have come a long, long way since those early years when accessories turned a perfectly fine Nintendo Game Boy into something seen on Star Trek. Technology advanced, screens have gotten better, and the tech underlying that cool red or black plastic has grown up alongside us.
We might not need kludgy solutions to enjoy Animal Crossing anymore, but back then, anything that could make the handheld experience more fun and exciting always had a place on store shelves. Maybe you or someone you know might have one of those giant magnifiers buried somewhere in a collection, just waiting for someone to try it out again.