The Game Boy was a stunning success for Nintendo. Released at a time when rival hardware was packing backlit colour screens, the monochrome handheld proved that sometimes having the most powerful tech doesn't always ensure commercial triumph. The Game Boy sold millions and established Nintendo's dominance of the dedicated portable arena - a dominance which continues to this very day.
We all know that the Game Boy was followed by the Game Boy Color and Game Boy Advance, but what is less well known is that Nintendo was working on another successor which would have been capable of delivering the same kind of power as the N64.
German site Nintendo Online - referencing an Engadget piece from seven years ago - has put together a report on the system, which was referred to within Nintendo as "Project Atlantis". Work began around 1995, with an expected release date of 1996 - that's before the Game Boy Color appeared on the market.
In terms of power, the system was rumoured to be 32-bit and would apparently capable of playing detailed 3D games, similar to the ones seen on the PlayStation, Saturn and N64. 30 hours was the supposed battery life of the console.
The system never went into production as Nintendo was apparently unhappy with its general performance, size and stamina, which suggests that the above "rumours" relating to its power should perhaps be taken with a pinch of salt.
While an image of the system was shown off back in 2009, much of its history is still shrouded in mystery. For Nintendo to scale back such ambitious plans and release the relatively crude Game Boy Color instead suggests that Project Atlantis was a non-starter, but perhaps there are other reasons for its cancellation.
Let us know what you think about this unreleased system by posting a comment below.
forget 16:9, lets go back to that form factor
One of the launch games for the DS was Super Mario 64. Isn't that pretty much the exact same thing as this?
Nice idea for its time but I'm happy with even the 2DS's capabilities.
It seems 2DS and 3DS are an off shoot to this prototype.
This device prototype has inspired me to think about what has been released since the mid 1990's.
Power equal to N64 with 30 hour battery life? Nintendo researched portable nuclear power in the 90s?
@BornInNorway81 This! LOL
If this was to actually exist 20 years ago, how much would this thing weigh? I imagine it would resemble a 3 kilogram 12-inch laptop.
So it was a DS 10 years before its time?
@BornInNorway81 Exactly. Reads like a pipe-dream in hindsight.
20 years later and we've finally got an N64-beating handheld in 3DS, but even that can only manage a sixth of the battery life that this rumour proposes.
@MarioFanatic64 Half a DS...
@MarioFanatic64 I'd argue that even the original DS wasn't exactly as powerful as an N64. It could barely handle 3D graphics. The only improvement I ever noticed was sharper textures.
3DS was Nintendo's first handheld to clearly best the N64 in terms of 3D graphics.
Im sure it was cheaper for nintendo to make make smaller jumps in tech.
@DWWM Then again, DS had to process graphics for 2 screens. I'd imagine touch screen -input and possible wireless connections also required some of the DS's power.
Sure, DS draws images in lower resolution, but overall the games look a bit nicer. Super Mario 64 DS and Diddy Kong Racing are good examples, as they both were also available for N64.
So many articles claiming that Nintendo was wayyyyyy ahead of time.....isn't time exciting?
@NinChocolate : There is a reason why 1:33:1 died. 1:78:1 is superior.
32-bit is not N64-like power. The '64' part stands for 64-bit. Also, 30 hours of battery life is laughably insane. And a release in 1996? Like, the year the N64 itself came out? The N64 was cutting edge back then.
It would be like saying Nintendo will release a 4DS this year that will have the same power as the rumored PS4K/PS4.5 and will have a 30hr battery life. X'D
@BornInNorway81 Ha ha, something I was thinking to.
30 hrs battery life alone makes this rumour total BS, but on the other hand it's the same site that believed that crappy fake NX controller was real, among other things.
Even nowadays 30hrs battery life is hardly possible, also that photo of the console is the same "quality" as NX controller was.
Of course, there is also a small chance that it was written as whatevs without even thinking if it's possible or not, but still would be wasting money on something that was impossible.
@CB85 Replace the word "4DS" with "NX Handheld", and then it'll make sense. Maybe.
@Dave24 That image has been officially shared by Nintendo. It was a "work in progress", although we don't know any actual details about the system.
Yeah right. They had just delayed plans for one capable of SNES power in 1995. The N64 itself released in 1996, expecting to make that portable the same year would be ridiculous. And only one year to develop the whole thing?
That battery life is a joke. No way that could ever have been true. And I doubt such a product could have been affordable in it's time.
"Lifting the lid on Project Atlantis" huh?
In the late 90's, Project Atlantis was known to the public as the development codename for the GameBoy Advance. There were even jokes in gaming magazines and on gaming boards at the time that Nintendo was doing an underwater theme for their new systems, since the new GameBoy was code named "Atlantis" and the new home system was code named "Dolphin".
I can't take it seriously that Nintendo would even begin preliminary conceptualization of a portable system with similar power to the PlayStation or N64 at the same time the Virtual Boy was allowed to be grossly underpowered for what it was marketed as, and when they were facing challenges with manufacturing a HOME CONSOLE of that power.
I'm not saying there can't be elements of truth to this, but as its presented here, I don't think it matches common sense or what was KNOWN about "Project Atlantis" at the time.
30 hours, that was quite the ambitious goal. Was the battery backpack included or was it optional accessory?
That is just so ridiculous. The N64 was, like, 26cm x 20cm (Or something like that) and weighed what, almost 2 pounds? Pure logic should tell that if a brand new home console with such specs has such dimensions, a handheld just has to have the same dimensions to have the same power. And can anyone imagine running around with an N64-proportioned handheld with a screen on top? I Mean, the thought is quite funny, but I can't believe that anyone could ever think something like that might even be close to reality....
I actually believe I own one of those.
I bought one last year and it's called a 'New 3DS'. Although it doesn't provide 30 hours of gameplay on a single charge, it does have graphics almost equal to the N64!
Looks like Project Atlantis was sunk.
Well to be fair the GBA may have had the power that they wanted on this. After all it was able to play videos as well as pretty dang good cutscenes from Kingdom Hearts rechain of memorys
@Boerewors If by almost equal, you mean clearly superior, than yeah, sure.
@STSH GBA's codename was actually "Advanced Game Boy", not Project Atlantis.
Hmm, detailed 3D games? 32-bit power, similar to PlayStation or Saturn? 30 hours battery life? All in such small brick of a game system? Well, isn't that amazing, considering most of the "portable" things from the mid 90's. I wonder how would they solve some of the problems, like cramming lots of advanced chips (stunning 3D!) into such a tiny console, the heat problem or the mentioned battery life. Do consider the technology they've used back in the day.
I even still have an old Toshiba notebook from the 2000, which was an absolute beast back in the day (700 MHz Pentium CPU, 8MB 3D card, 256 MB of RAM). Not only it weights a solid 3 kilograms, the battery life was not very exciting, something above two-and-a-half hours, even less if you played anything in 3D. And the bottom of the notebook was getting hot quite quickly, even on the highest fan speed (which was extremely noisy and annoying). Now imagine something like that underclocked, downsized and in your pocket. In 1996. Technology of the future, woo!
So yeah, I don't believe those rumours at all. They would be much, much more believable, if the handheld was similar to SNES in the terms of power (think of something like the GBA, just 6 years earlier), and had a 5-8 hours of battery life.
This would've been an extremely incredible machine and would've killed the Sega Nomad more than it already killed itself (I LOVE my Nomad though). At least we eventually got the 32-bit GBA, which is like the best portable console ever made by anyone. Sure its 3D isn't on par with the PS1, much less the N64, but it was still damn incredible seeing 3D graphics on it at all.
Too bad this never came to be, but it makes me appreciate Sony's portables even more. They took Nintendo and Sega's discarded mantle of power and made two amazing handhelds with it. Too bad they're quitting already at just two portables, kinda like Sega did.
That's freaking awesome, but pales in comparison to THIS.
My dream handheld. But it's unfortunately only that....a dream.
@Damo That's somewhat like saying the code name for DS was "CityBoy" rather than "Nitro". The fact is, the codename Atlantis was known in the late 90's to be associated with a next-gen GameBoy just as Dolphin was known to be associated with a next-gen home console.
I've always assumed it was the GBA.
Releasing the GBC afterwards was probably just a stopgap (you know, the new system wasn't ready so they whip out a smaller upgrade to hold off the competition).
I came here expecting a nice detailed article about this topic. Not a "What do you think" topic. Good grief.
30 hours of battery life? Now that would be quite amazing.
I think that disk spinning will left me without fingers.
@AlexSora89 Albeit it with the side note that my picture is real, and the one you posted is a Photoshopped one. It was never made into a real device.
The New 3DS is like 360 level. The 3DS like between GC to Wii.
This feels a bit like what some people are expecting from the future handheld (may it be the NX or something else).
I'm afraid the return to reality once the NX is unveiled will be painful for some of us. Just like expecting a portable N64 with 30h battery-life in the 90s
@dumedum Oh no, the difference between the two isn't THAT big. The N3DS is barely on Wii-level, but it's fine by me. Handheld should not be designed with raw power in mind.
@KoopaTheGamer wrong and wrong again.
@BornInNorway81 The N64 only uses 19 watts of power in game. I'd say it's plausible but would have been very pricey. If you look at the picture the device appears to be larger and maybe two or three times as thick (based on comparing their shadow) as the white DS Lite next to it.
@dumedum It actually goes like this when you compare the Nintendo handheld lines to the consoles in terms of raw powers:
Game Boy, Game Boy Pocket and Game Boy Light = Atari 7800, Colecovision, and NES in terms of powers but feature no color displays.
Game Boy Color = Atari 7800, Colecovision, and NES in terms of powers but with color displays.
Virtual Boy = Sega Genesis, Turbo Grafx-16, and Super NES in term of powers but feature no real color other than red and black display.
Game Boy Advance, GBA SP, and GB Micro = Sega Genesis, Turbo Grafx-16, Super NES, and a little touch of 3DO, PlayStation, and Sega Saturn in term of powers but had color displays unlike the Virtual Boy.
Nintendo DS, DS Lite, and DSi = Sega Saturn, PlayStation, and Nintendo 64 in terms of powers and spec but also feature a second screen which could do 16-Bit and 32-Bit games justice.
Nintendo 3DS, New 3DS = Dreamcast, GameCube, PlayStation 2, and Wii in terms of powers and spec but one runs slower than the other model.
The PSP is PSOne and PS2 quality in terms of powers whereas the PS Vita is about late PS2 to early PS3 in terms of power. To simply put it, the PSP should had compete against the Nintendo 3DS and the PS Vita shouldn't even be out yet then again it looks like Sony just went a bit ahead in raw power when it comes to their handhelds.
30 hours of battery life running 3D games? Yeah, and I'm Donald Trump, hahah.
"We are releasing a portable N64 with a 30h battery-life. And Mexico will pay for it!"
@liveswired Mind explaining what was wrong and wrong again?
I miss gameboy, only 1 screen and so much fun
"30 hours running 3D games with power equal to the Nintendo 64"
Wouldn't be a surprise if the battery exploded during testing due to how crazy that claim was. The 3DS can't even manage 20 hours if my memory serves me well, but 30 running that in the late 90s? If they actually released that during it's projected release date and it actually ran for that long people wouldn't believe that.
@TheRealThanos Ugh. how ugly. Why would you place the thumbstick so high up compared to the buttons?
@AlexSora89 There's nothing to keep the disc from getting all scratched. you would have to either stay very still, or play it only at home. Laaaaaame!!
the true Gameboy successor.
@Utena-mobile Whaaat? Begone with that blasphemous failure of a handheld...
As for the N64 handheld: ugly it may be, but the guy who made it is a whole lot handier than most of us. And I only posted it to show NeufNeuf that you could indeed put an N64 in a handheld, and obviously it was meant in jest.
@retro_player_22 The Vita is nowhere near PS3. Slightly stronger than Wii if anything with that 444MHz A9.
It's a little too bad, but we did get the Advance and the DS line in the end, so it's not that bad.
I remember an old Nintendo Power issue with the earliest rumors about the GBA, one of the things they said was that it would have online capabilities as well as some other ridiculous stuff. I wish I could remember the issue.
But Melee, Soul Calibur 2, the Dreamcast era Sonic games and all the GCN era goodness fitting in a pocket would be so worth it.
A man can dream.
Funnily enough, I own a PSP... and a PSP Go as well, the latter working as the Sony companion to my 3DS wherever I go.
Jokes like that are your trump card, I see.
@AlexSora89 He certainly can. What with all the doom and gloom lately it's a good option to keep at least a little optimism alive...
lol. I know. Even though it looks really clunky and heavy, if I had a chance to own one, I totally would. (^_^ )
USgamer recently talked about this too, I believe they concluded Nintendo went with the GBC because Pokemon took off in a big way and reinvigorated the flagging GameBoy market. Maybe if Pokemon hadn't taken off we would have seen this console!
N64's 64 bit is only for marketing, back in the 90s there's no 64 bit CPU. They put 2 x 32 bit chips together and called it 64 bit. The chief reason for using 64 bit is to use more than 4 gb of ram. PS2 that came later is still 32 bit but 10x faster.
@Nintendian Why are you helping to spread Sony fanboy lies? The Nintendo 64 has a 64BIT CPU with a 32BIT REALITY CO PROCESSOR GPU.
Seriously though, most of the garbage, including this detail you will find on the Internet that puts down the N64 has been circulated by PS1 fanboys for years - they won the sales war but have always had an inferiority complex. Unfortunately unwitting journalists today often regurgitate this Web of lies.
@KoopaTheGamer For a start the DS doesn't come close to the N64 in terms of graphical capabiliy and grunt. It was an in-between PS1/N64 system.
Yes I hear the old adage but look at Mario 64! Yes apart from the fact that Mario 64 was Nintendo's first in house 3D game that Miyamoto stated in 1997 only used 40% of its capability. Nintendo have also stated in past interviews that they simply used polygons more intelligently and less off them aswell in Super Mario 64 DS and it paid off, alot of the lighting and special effects got the cut or were downgraded.
Diddy Kong Racing DS lost alot of graphical detail, the lighting effects, wave physics, hovercraft physics and many other details got the chop on the transition.
Looking to all genres that require 3D world's the DS is vastly inferior to the N64. Hence why the likes of Ocarina of Time or any other large world N64 game made the port across.
Bare in mind that N64 games were a minimum of 320x240p, with games also sporting 640x240, 640x360, 640x400 and 640x480i...The DS runs at 256x192i max with many games such as Animal Crossing rendering lower than this...So on this aspect alone it is quite easy to see the difference!
The DS second screen also requires little resources!
Why would Nintendo put a 64 bit chip in a console when 4 gb ram is still a decade away? It has 64 bit instructions but no developers use it because it is pointless. You may as well said that the New 3DS is 128bit because it has 4 x 32bit cores.
@liveswired Also, if that 64 bit CPU is so good, why did Nintendo use a 32 bit CPU in the Gamecube?
I recall reading about a 32-bit ARM-based sequel to the Gameboy in Gamemaster magazine (January 1993 issue I think). Not sure if that is referring to the same machine or something else entirely?
(Actually, I think I read more recently that ARM approach Nintendo with a handheld proposal, perhaps that was the one GM reported on..)
Actually, you know what, with the NX possibly being a handheld/home hybrid and with the GCN discs being, well, small, a GCN disc reader doesn't sound like too much of a stretch...
@AlexSora89 Then they will certainly use cartridges. Flash memory nowadays can easily go up to the size of a dual layer Blu-ray, so capacity won't be an issue, and it's fast as well. And it has the added benefit of no moving parts. Spinning discs in handhelds are a definite no-no...
Dunno, they never gave me problems on my PSP. Of course, the comfort of not having to switch between UMDs all the time has a lot to do with me getting mostly digital versions of the games; a decision that proved a lot more helpful when I got a PSP Go.
@AlexSora89 Trust me, that's an era been and gone, especially since only Nintendo is now in the dedicated handheld market.
Fun fact: if it wasn't for the 3DS version of Smash, my desperation for some portable SSB gameplay would have been the primary reason I could have bought a Vita (because PSASBR). Still, I regret nothing - the possibility of handheld Sony goodness was way more explored with the PSP than it has been with its successor, which is why I went with a (used) PSP Go instead. A factor that helped a lot with my choice was the actual ownership over the games I bought digitally on the previous model, which (okay, I admit it - it's up to five Sony devices, but still ownership nonetheless) is something we'll hopefully see with Nintendo software in the future.
@AlexSora89 Well... knowing Nintendo's track record with VC and such, I'm not really going to hold my breath for that one...
I'm getting an Xbox One due to the fact players can share their own profile - complete with digital purchases - with each other, and it's 100% legal. Of course, first-party IPs are Nintendo's main source of appeal, but it wouldn't hurt if they started, you know, taking notes. There are many ways to give a userbase more rights without giving them the loopholes they need to abuse them.
@AlexSora89 Yeah, I'm thinking about getting one too. I haven't collected all these free Xbox One games for nothing with my Xbox Live Gold subscription...
I'm still stuck in the previous generation: Wii and Xbox 360, because of priorities (busy with starting up my own business) and because of that having next to no money to spare, and then consoles and the like (safe for a 3DS XL) aren't high on the priority list, but I will want to complete my Nintendo collection so I will still get me a Wii U and I will indeed go for the Xbox One sometime later this year as well, and the NX is definitely on the list as well. Unless it absolutely sucks, but I think it will be just fine.
I'm so glad it's almost June, because I'm really tired of waiting and not knowing...
News' droughts are never pleasant, and with the WiiU situation being as it is, it's turning out to be one of the hardest E3 waits ever.
@Nintendian A new generation of technology obviously - the N64 was a 1994 design. Also the GCN had a CPU capable of 128bit operations - so technically it is a 128bit CPU.
But in the grand scheme of things 'bits' have little impact, most processors today are 64bit.
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