For the most part, traditional video game consoles and handhelds have come in clearly defined “generations”. For the most part, the core hardware would remain mostly unchanged through the lifecycle of the console, though the form factor may change styles and/or get smaller. The console itself would stay essentially the same on a processing power level, and all versions of the consoles would play all the same games, even if newer revisions had some quality-of-life upgrades. However, there are a few outliers that bent or broke this trend through the years. These “Mid-Generation” upgrades would have new features and some kind of objective superiority over the original version, sometimes even having their own exclusive games.
Game Boy Color
An early example of a Mid-Gen upgrade is the Game Boy Color. The previous upgrade, the Game Boy Pocket, was just a basic Game Boy in a smaller package. The Game Boy Color was a more extensive revision; it retained the more compact form factor of the Pocket, but also had the ability to display its graphics in color. In a strange decision, Nintendo released the backlit Game Boy Light exclusively in Japan just over half a year prior to the Game Boy Color’s launch. Perhaps as a cost-cutting or battery-saving measure, the backlit screen that was the flagship feature on the Light was not included on the Color.
Even for 1998, the Game Boy Color was considered underpowered. All previously released Game Boy cartridges were fully compatible, with the ability to add simple color palettes to some older games. The Game Boy Color also had a comparatively large library of exclusive games that could not be used with any previous Game Boy models. Some of these were re-releases of original Game Boy games with full color support and extra features added, but many more were full original, exclusive games. Despite the large divide in software compatibility, Nintendo still groups all versions of the Game Boy and Game Boy Color as one generation of hardware, with the Game Boy Advance being seen as the official successor to the Game Boy. A selection of Game Boy and Game Boy Color games are currently available to play on Nintendo Switch with a Nintendo Switch Online subscription, but the selection at the time of writing is only a tiny fraction of the library. Check out Retro Gaming of Denver’s storefront for a selection of some of the catalog that Nintendo has not yet provided access to.
Nintendo DSi / New Nintendo 3DS
Both the Nintendo DS and its full successor, the 3DS, had multiple revisions and, eventually, Mid-Gen upgrades. After the DS Lite, the DSi came along. The 2009 handheld was compatible with most of the original DS’s library. But it ditched the Game Boy Advance backwards compatibility (along with compatibility with games that used the slot for other peripherals, such as Guitar Hero) and added a pair of cameras and a refreshed operating system. The cameras were the big new feature, and most of the games that were exclusive to the DSi heavily used them in some way. Additionally, the DSi had access to the DSiWare service, which allowed users to download smaller games and applications.
In 2014 (for some territories), the Nintendo 3DS saw a revision that not only added new hardware features, but a significant increase in RAM and processing power as well. The New Nintendo 3DS (and its larger XL version) touted a more stable 3D experience through infrared face-tracking, better specs to play around with, and the extra inputs from the Circle Pad Pro peripheral fully integrated into the base system. Some games that could run on the base 3DS ran much better on the New version, and multiple exclusive games that would not have been possible on the original 3DS relied on the extra power to run at all. The smaller, non-XL version also had different faceplates that could be easily swapped out to change the style of the system. Many consider the New Nintendo 3DS to be the definitive Nintendo handheld.
PS4 Pro / Xbox One X
Arguably the most publicized upgrades of the bunch are the PlayStation 4 Pro and Xbox One X. Both of these were simply more powerful versions of their base consoles. They were both released alongside smaller, cheaper revisions of the base hardware. The Pro and X were marketed as more expensive premium options for those who wanted more performance. The main features were options for increased frame rates and higher resolutions in games that supported them. One of the strict requirements that both Microsoft and Sony enforced was that all games released would have to be fully compatible with the base systems. Any upgrades in performance or resolution would be scalable bonuses for those with the high-end versions. As such, no games were ever exclusive to the PS4 Pro or Xbox One X. It just made certain games look and run better.