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WonderSwan logo text.png
Manufacturer Bandai
Type Fifth generation handheld game console
Retail availability
  • JP March 4, 1999
Introductory price JP¥4,800
Discontinued 2003
Units sold 3.50 million[1]
Related articles Tamagotchi, Digimon virtual pet

The WonderSwan (ワンダースワン WandāSuwan?) is a line of handheld game consoles produced in Japan by Bandai. It was developed by Gunpei Yokoi's company Koto Laboratory and Bandai. The WonderSwan was made to compete with the Neo Geo Pocket Color and the market leader Nintendo's Game Boy Color (even though the developer for the WonderSwan, Gunpei Yokoi, developed the original Nintendo Game Boy).

The original WonderSwan was later replaced by the WonderSwan Color; although some WonderSwan Color games are compatible with the original WonderSwan, many are designed exclusively for the WonderSwan Color and show a message such as "This cartridge is for WonderSwan Color only" when run on the original WonderSwan.

The WonderSwan is playable both vertically and horizontally, and feature a fairly large library of games, including numerous first-party titles based on licensed anime properties, with significant third-party support from Square and Capcom. As it was a console designed essentially for the Japanese market, most of the games are in Japanese, with only a few featuring English text.


Founded in 1950 by Naoharu Yamashina, Bandai was originally a manufacturer of toy cars and plastic models, but had begun to manufacture LCD handheld game consoles based on television programs in the 1970s. They also became known in the video game industry for the development of Tamagotchi virtual pet games. Despite rumors of Bandai potentially merging with Sega, no such merger ever arose, and Bandai entered the market without outside support.[2]

At Nintendo, developer Gunpei Yokoi was known for creating the Game Boy and games such as Metroid and Kid Icarus. However, after the failure of the Virtual Boy, he left Nintendo in order to create his own company, Koto Laboratory, in 1996. It was then that Bandai approached Yokoi into creating a handheld system to compete with the Game Boy.[2] Yokoi was involved in development of the new handheld, but passed away in 1997 in a car accident before the new handheld, the WonderSwan, could be released.[3]

The WonderSwan launched on March 4, 1999. The Wonderswan uses monochrome screen despite that the Game Boy Color released five months prior. The reasoning was based on that the Gameboy had previously been more successful than the Game Gear and Atari Lynx, proving proof that consumer's were more concerned with battery-life and games over color screens. The WonderSwan's name was based on the features of the Swan; being recognized as an elegant bird on the surface, but underwater the Swan has powerful legs to help it swim. The WonderSwan was designed with that philosophy in mind, to have beautiful outward design coupled with powerful components inside.[4]

In 2000, Bandai signed an agreement with Mattel to bring the handheld to North America, but due to Nintendo's popularity in the west, Mattel decided not to. Later that year, the WonderSwan Color was announced after Nintendo Spaceworld, promising a 2.9” screen that could use up to 241 colours, implementing backwards-compatibility with all WonderSwan releases working on the handheld.[2]


The WonderSwan Color (ワンダースワンカラー Wandāsuwan Karā?) was released on December 9, 2000 in Japan, and was a moderate success. The original WonderSwan had only a black and white screen. Although the WonderSwan Color was slightly larger and heavier (7 mm and 2 g) compared to the original WonderSwan, the color version featured 512KB[5] of RAM and a larger color LCD screen.[6] In addition, the WonderSwan Color is compatible with the original WonderSwan library of games.

The SwanCrystal (スワンクリスタル SuwanKurisutaru?) is the third and final release in Bandai's WonderSwan handheld game console series, succeeding the WonderSwan and WonderSwan Color. It was released in Japan on July 12, 2002[7] One of the largest improvements to the SwanCrystal was the use of a TFT LCD monitor, which was superior in response time to the FSTN monitor used previously by the WonderSwan Color. This gave the screen a much crisper look during gameplay, due to sharper contrast and significantly reduced ghosting.


The WonderSwan was released in Pearl White, Skeleton Green, Silver Metallic, Skeleton Red/Pink, Blue Metallic, Skeleton Blue, Skeleton Black, Camouflage, and Gold. Three limited edition were released in Frozen Mint, Sherbet Melon and Soda Blue. special two tone models Frozen Mint, Sherbet Melon and Soda Blue. These colors were chosen as a result of an online poll at Bandai’s website, with the metallic models and Pearl White discontinued on 22 July to make room for the special tone models.[2] The WonderSwan Color was released in Pearl Blue, Pearl Pink, Crystal Black, Crystal Blue, and Crystal Orange.[5]

Several bundles for the WonderSwan and WonderSwan Color have been released. The Wonderswan Color was also available in limited edition Final Fantasy bundles. These bundles came with either Final Fantasy I or Final Fantasy II along with a Final Fantasy-themed Wonderswan Color.

The SwanCrystal was released in Skeleton Blue, Skeleton Black, Blue Violet and Red Wine.

Technical specifications[edit]

Technical specifications of WonderSwan consoles
Model Wonder Swan.jpg
Wonderswan color-JD.jpg
WonderSwan Color
Release date
  • JP July 12, 2002
CPU 16-bit NEC V30 MZ processor at 3.072 MHz SPGY-1002, a 3.072 MHz 16-bit NEC V30MZ Clone SPGY-1003, at 3.072 MHz 16-bit NEC V30MZ Clone
Internal memory Built-in EEPROM and 1Kbit RAM for backing up game data. 512 kB VRAM/WRAM (shared) [5]
Screen type FSTN reflective LCD TFT reflective LCD
Screen resolution (in pixels) 224 x 144
Screen size (diagonal) 63 mm (2.49 inch) 71 mm (2.8 inch)
Color 8-shade monochrome 241 (at once) out of 4096 possible colors
Power 1x AA battery / More options through accessories
Battery life ~30–40 hours playtime ~20 hours of game play ~15 hours of game play
Audio capabilities Four digital audio channels, each of which can play sequences of up to 32 4-bit samples, at different volumes and frequencies. Channels 2 to 4 include selectable "voice", "sweep" and "noise" functions respectively. Mixed channels are output via an 8 bit DAC.[9]
Sound output Mono built-in speaker / Stereo through optional 3.5mm phone connector (headphone jack) accessory
Sound levels Loud / medium / mute Loud / medium / soft / mute Loud / medium / soft / mute
Weight (with battery) 110 g (3.88 oz) 95 g (3.35 oz)
Cartridge capacity ROM and/or RAM - maximum 128 Mbit Maximum 1024 Mbit ROM and 256 Mbit RAM Maximum 1024 Mbit ROM and 512 Mbit RAM
Ports Link (accessory) port, cartridge port
Gameplay buttons X1, X2, X3, X4, Y1, Y2, Y3, Y4, A, B, START & SOUND
Additional inputs Side-mounted power switch, screen contrast dial Front-mounted power button, screen contrast dial Front-mounted power button
Physical dimensions 121 mm x 74.3 mm x 24.3 mm 128 mm x 74.3 mm x 24.3 mm 127.7 mm x 77.5 mm x 24.3 mm


  • Headphone adapter. Provides stereo output with volume dial, overriding the built-in mono speaker and volume button of the WonderSwan. Originally sold with WonderSwan-branded earbuds.
  • Link cable. Connects two WonderSwans together for games that support two players.
  • Rechargeable battery. A flat, form-fitting rechargeable battery that does not protrude from the WonderSwan body, unlike the standard AA battery case. Requires a special recharger.
  • A/C adapter. Mains adapter that plugs into a special battery case fitted to the WonderSwan.
  • WonderWave. Infrared communication adapter, used by some games to exchange data with a Sony PocketStation.
  • MobileWonderGate. NTT DoCoMo cellular phone interface and game cartridge containing web browsing and email software.
  • WonderBorg. Sold in two versions, WonderBorg is a robot kit that can be programmed and controlled from a WonderSwan with Robot Works game cartridge, or a Microsoft Windows PC with a serial port infrared adapter and application software.
  • WonderWitch. A game development kit including a reprogrammable WonderSwan game cartridge, Microsoft Windows application software for compiling C code, and a serial cable to connect a WonderSwan to a PC.
  • WonderCoin. A coin-shaped disc that can be fitted over a 4-directional button cluster of the WonderSwan to create the feel of a single directional pad.
  • Screen protector. Transparent sheets of film that can be applied to the face of the WonderSwan to reduce damage from scratching and fingerprints.
  • Case. Hard plastic carrying case with compartments for holding a WonderSwan, manuals, and six game cartridges, as well as room for other small accessories such as headphone adapter, batteries, etc.
  • Screen light. A small light powered by the WonderSwan itself that can be positioned over the screen to illuminate the display.
  • Bandai Digimon D3 Digivice, D-Terminal, and D-Arc Digivice. Can be used to interface with certain Digimon Games using the expansion port (only for the Wonderswan Color)
  • Handy Sonar. A fish-finder device, much like the Bandai Game Boy Pocket Sonar for the Nintendo portable console

Several of these accessories utilise the expansion port on the side of the WonderSwan, but with no accommodation for sharing that port with other accessories. For example, neither player connected via a link cable during a two-player game may use headphones. Neither headphones nor link cable may be used with the screen light.


The original WonderSwan model managed to sell 1.55 million units in Japan. Weekly sales from Magic Box at the time stated that the WonderSwan was second to the Game Boy Color, with the Neo Geo Pocket/Color and earlier Game Boy iterations lagging behind.[2] Prior to WonderSwan's release, Nintendo had a virtual monopoly in the Japanese video game handheld market. After the release of the WonderSwan Color, Bandai took approximately 8% of the market share in Japan partly due to its low price of ¥6800 Japanese yen (approximately $59 USD).[6] The Wonderswan Color reached 27,632 in under a month after its released.[10] Another reason for the WonderSwan's success in Japan was the fact that Bandai managed to get a deal with Square to port over the original Famicom Final Fantasy games with improved graphics and controls. However, with the popularity of the Game Boy Advance and the reconciliation between Square and Nintendo, the WonderSwan Color and its successor, the SwanCrystal, quickly lost its competitive advantage.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ http://www.koto.co.jp/english/products/device.html
  2. ^ a b c d e "Retroinspection: Wonderswan". Retro Gamer (36): 68–71. 2007. ISSN 1742-3155. 
  3. ^ Plunkett, Luke (April 8, 2011). "The Game Boy Creator's Last Handheld Was a Wonderful Thing". Kotaku. Retrieved April 17, 2014. 
  4. ^ "Swan Song: A WonderSwan Retrospective". Retro Gamer (126): 45–47. 2010. 
  5. ^ a b c "WonderSwan Color Revealed". 2000-08-30. Retrieved 2011-04-28. 
  6. ^ a b c "Bandai announces release of WonderSwan color". 2000-08-30. Retrieved 2011-04-28. 
  7. ^ "Japan Hardware Sales". GamePro. July 14, 2002. Archived from the original on December 1, 2011. 
  8. ^ "Bandai's WonderSwan". Destroy Tokyo. Retrieved September 15, 2008. 
  9. ^ http://cygne.emuunlim.com/files/wstech21.txt
  10. ^ "2000年のハード推定販売台数" (in Japanese). Famitsu. Retrieved March 21, 2014. 

External links[edit]