A History of Second Screen Gaming Consoles

2 Nov

For the basis of this project I’ll be concentrating on the Nintendo DS but also covering what was around before 2004’s release of the console with what happened after and more importantly, where second screen gaming is going in the future.

Back in 2004, Nintendo announced the concept of the Nintendo DS without revealing too much information. The company made mention that the new portable console would feature two screens (hence the letters DS for “dual screen”) but beyond that the public could only guess what the final product could be.

The Nintendo DS system launched in November 2004, and was later upgraded to the DS Lite  in June 2006. The system again and again evolved into newer and better versions of it’s predecessor, the original Nintendo DS console. These updates included the Nintendo DSi (2008), Nintendo DSiXL (2009), Nintendo 3DS (2011), Nintendo 3DSXL (2012) and the latest Nintendo 2DS only being released a few weeks ago.

What you might find surprising is the fact that the DS wasn’t the first time the company came up with the concept of two displays in a system. There’s been a lot of well known devices supporting such a concept which I’ll talk about now.

So, behold, the evolution of second screen gaming consoles.

Game & Watch (1982)

Back before Nintendo hit the consumer scene with the NES (Nintendo Entertainment System), the company was making profit not just in arcade titles, but also in individual portable games called the Game & Watch series. The games were limited in design due to the fact that developers had to use stencils for the character positions and animation, and the set screen could only hold so much action. So, the logical move being that the character(s) move from one screen to the other to give a bit more variety than limiting the action to the same old stencils.

There were several Game & Watch games that featured two screen action. The first dual-screen Game & Watch title was Oil Panic (which later was remade as a GameBoy Pocket game), a game where you controlled a character on the top screen catching drops of oil, then dumping the oil onto the bottom screen to score points. The Zelda game pictured here was released around the time the Game Boy original hit the scene in 1989.

Today, Nintendo honours the classic dual-screen series with a Club Nintendo premium: set up an account and register your Nintendo games to qualify for the Club Nintendo-exclusive Game & Watch Collection for Nintendo DS. This cartridge features conversions of the first three dual-screen Game & Watch handhelds: Oil Panic, Donkey Kong, and Greenhouse.

Punch-out!! (1984)

After the success of Donkey Kong, Nintendo couldn’t just stop right there. They continued to produce successful arcade games in the early 1980s prior to Americas release of the NES.

Punch-out!! was the first arcade system Nintendo released that utilised two monitors in its cabinet design. As the player boxed on the lower screen, the upper screen kept track of all the statistics, character data, as well as the time and score, as well as a constant update of the player’s health. The use of two screens admittedly was more for presentation than it was functional for gameplay purposes, and ultimately what was done on the secondary screen could have been done with a HUD overlay on the main screen. At the very least, gave the arcade machine a unique look in an arcade full of single monitor uprights.

Nintendo reused this cabinet for the later releases such as Arm Wrestling as well as Punch-out!’s sequel, Super Punch-Out!

Vs. System (1984)

The next few arcade games from Nintendo were in what’s known as the “Vs.” series, and were included in unique two monitor, multiple control cabinet that arcade owners could connect two monitors together to form one game – having them “networked” for multiplayer action.

Games like Baseball and Tennis had the ability to give players their own view of the action. Nintendo also made sit-down versions of the Vs. cabinets, offering two monitor, back-to-back configuration where players would face each other while playing.

PlayChoice-10 (1986)

By the time the NES hit the market in 1985, the company started weaning itself out of the arcade industry. But because of the inexpensive hardware, its familiar game brands and its expertise in the coin-op industry, it put Nintendo in a good position to do arcade gaming on the cheap.

The company simply took the Punch-Out!! cabinet design, and literally installed modified NES systems inside it. For a mere quarter, players could play a few minutes of whatever NES game arcade owners built into the unit. As many as ten could be selected from an on-screen menu, hence the “10” in the system’s “PlayChoice-10” name. The upper screen offered the list of games available in the cabinet, as well as kept track of how much time a player had left for his credit. The lower monitor, of course, had all of the action from whatever game was selected.

Nintendo revived the PlayChoice-10 idea in a Super Nintendo-theme coin-op. But the engineers used only one display for this cabinet, providing text overlays instead of shoving the data onto a second monitor.

Game Boy (1989)

 When Nintendo brought out its Game Boy system back in 1989, it included the classic game Tetris in everybox. Not only was Tetris a perfect game to sell the new handheld, Nintendo made sure that it also capitalized on one of the Game Boy’s features: system link. With two systems, players could compete against each other, sending lines removed from one system and putting them in the opposing player’s bin.

The two screens offered exactly what Nintendo’s Vs. Arcade units had previously done: Game Boy versions of titles such as Baseball and Tennis featured link-up connectivity and gave each player their own unique view of the action. Racing games benefited as well, letting players see the action from their own perspective.

Nintendo upped the number of connected systems to four players in some games, a feature that required an add-on and games that were programmed specifically for it.

This was also evident in future gameboy consoles such as the Gameboy Light, Gameboy Color, Gameboy Advance (Will bring back into discussion in a minute), Gameboy SP and the Gameboy Micro.

Virtual Boy (1995)

It’s a system that Nintendo probably wants to forget, but it, too was one of the company’s examples of dual screen gaming. The whole idea behind the release of the Virtual Boy was its ability to offer unique, 3D graphics…something that the normal “glasses” technology couldn’t quite offer.

The technology used in this system worked like a Viewmaster, but instead of two photos skewed slightly for each eye, the Virtual Boy gave each eye a different image of the game via two unique LCD screens, one for each eye.

There’s no denying that the 3D effect worked, but due to technology restrictions and the insistence of bringing the cost down, the visuals were very unattractive because of the cheaper red-colored LCD screens. It also didn’t help that the system was also very awkward to play, since gamers had to shove their face into a visor to get into the action.

GameCube/GBA Connectivity (2001)

The Gameboy makes a return in the evolution of secondary screen gamings timeline here with the ability of connecting a GBA console to a GameCube console.

“Connectivity” was Nintendo’s attempt to meld its two strong platforms by offering gameplay elements that wouldn’t be possible without the console and handheld systems working hand-in-hand. Some ideas were just designs that supplemented the gaming experience, while others were designed specifically to take advantage of both a huge, public monitor and a personal screen private to the gamer.

One of the earliest concepts of “connectivity” between the GameCube and Game Boy Advance was Pac-Man Vs., a unique design where as many as four players could compete in a multiplayer version of the arcade game: three players controlled the ghost on the monitor, with Pac-Man controlled on the Game Boy Advance in an old-school top-down view.

The Legend of Zelda: The Four Swords Adventure is a perfect example of connectivity done right, with players moving from GameCube to Game Boy Advance as they cooperate with and compete against each other.

Nintendo DS (2004)

And then we come to the evolution of the Nintendo DS which I’ve covered above.

Just to recap the different evolutions of the DS family:

  • Nintendo DS 2004
  • Nintendo Lite 2006
  • Nintendo DSi 2008
  • Nintendo DSiXL 2009
  • Nintendo 3DS 2011
  • Nintendo 3DSXL 2012
  • Nintendo 2DS 2013

Next, I’ll be covering from the evolution of the Nintendo DS to current day consoles which feature the secondary Screen gaming experience.


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