Bandai have had a less-than-successful track record with regard to releasing videogame consoles. Every time, their efforts (often being rebranded versions of already sucessful machines) have flopped, and their original systems (such as the Pippin) were... not exactly topping the charts, to put it one way. It seemed that the company popular for its toys and action figures was going to find the market permanently tough to crack.

But they managed to strike gold with a series of Japan-only handheld devices, which started with the venerable WonderSwan. Launched in March 1999, it was a powerful, good-looking, and well-supported handheld that, while only supporting monochrome graphics, took the markets by storm, providing actual competition for Nintendo and finally setting Bandai on the road to success.

The notable thing about the 'Swan is that it has two D-pads. Why is this? For some games, it may be better to view them with a portrait orientation, instead of the more traditional landscape. The Wonderswan's rectangular screen emphasises the difference, being wider than taller. But the Swan can be orientated so that it is portrait, a nifty feature not seen since the Atari Lynx supported fully rotating the unit. While not supporting upside-down play, this is quite a useful feature nonetheless.

The original Wonderswan came in a number of cool-looking colours (seven, to be precise), with additional colours available for the colour version (which will be covered in a seperate article). For the original, none were cooler than Skeleton Black (shown below). All shared the same design, with the two directional pads, and two buttons in the traditional lower-right-hand position.

Looks pretty groovy, doesn't it? For it's time, there wasn't a smaller handheld, and it easily looked better than the competing Game Boy systems from Nintendo.

Technical Specifications
CPU: An unknown 16-bit processor running at 3Mhz
RAM: 512 kilobytes of total system RAM
Power: A single AA battery provides between 30-40 hours' play
Sound: Digital sound source, 4 channels.
Spites: Maximum of 128 on-screen.
Graphics: 8 shades of grey available.

The ubiquitous link-up cable was available, supporting multiplayer gaming in supported games - always a firm favourite. Also available were a rechargable battery pack, and a battery charger, which are certainly handy if you're travelling or want to cut down on battery usage. Branded headphones were made available, and coolest of the cool was a slip-on cover.

Perhaps the most notable accessory - and most unique - is the Wonder Gate. This plugs into the cartridge slot, and itself plugs into a mobile telephone. Bingo - a mobile network adaptor! A very groovy device, which allows users to browse the Internet with supported software, and more than likely play games against other users.