Palm OS [OT] where handheld gaming is serious business

Palm OS Gaming

“where handheld gaming is serious business”
“a brief moment between Game Boy and iPhone”

(promo shot; screens are pretty good at normal viewing angles)

The Operating System

Palm OS originally ran on low-power variants of the Motorola 68000 (the full-sized version of which powered the Atari ST, Amiga, Mega Drive, Macintosh, Sharp X68000, etc). From OS 5.0 onwards Palm OS ran on ARM hardware with older M68K apps running under emulation that was invisible to the user.

The Hardware

Palm were the original and main manufacturer of Palm OS-based devices. Later, due to business pressures/difficulties, they allowed hardware to be produced by licencees.

Sony were the biggest additional hardware producer, and they went all-in for quite a few years with their Clié product line. Sony were the first to offer Palm devices with high (2x) resolution displays, and they also featured Sony’s then “omnipresent” jog dial navigator (as seen on portable MiniDisc players), as well as more esoteric add-ons such as physical keyboards (from blackberry-size to full-size) and even a gamepad accessory (GC10).

Other well known hardware manufacturers included Garmin, Handspring (owned by ousted Palm founders), IBM, Kyocera, Samsung and Tapwave (whose Zodiac was a bonafide gaming platform running an custom version of Palm OS 5).

Remember, these devices are old - there were released after GBC but before DS and PSP - so their screens are much worse than we have today. Be sure to set your expectations accordingly.

Wireless Connectivity

A few later Palm OS devices had Wi-Fi, some Bluetooth and others only IrDA. If you had no WiFi you might be lucky to have a Memory Stick Wi-Fi adapter that was able to be used in some Sony Clié models. Some other models had WiFi adapters of different form factors. Palm OS-based phones have better wireless options. Wiimote may be supported on Bluetooth capable devices.

Hardware Considerations

  • Colour or Monochrome?
  • Palm OS 4.x or 5.x?
  • Clié or not?
  • Clié GC10 gamepad compatibility?
  • 5-way or Jog dial?
  • Speaker or beeper?
  • Stereo or mono?
  • Headphone output or not?
  • Memory card or not?
  • Bluetooth or not?
  • Wi-Fi or not?
  • Sync cradle or cable?
  • PDA or phone?

Hardware Gotchas

  • Flip covers (gets in the way)
  • Clamshell hardware (ditto, cumbersome)
  • Flat/recessed/pointy buttons (uncomfortable)
  • Proprietary connectors (awkward)
  • Lifedrive (spinning drive that is prone to failure)

The Software

Games were distributed mostly digitally and are installed by downloading to a computer and then either syncing (over wire or wireless) to the Palm OS device or copying them from memory card to internal storage. Paid apps were mostly unlocked using registration codes (serial numbers) that were sometimes locked to your username (HotSync ID). A select few games received physical boxed releases with files included on a CD, and the Tapwave Zodiac even had games released on SD cards. There were many compilation CD-ROMs featuring free and trial software. Magazine cover CDs frequently distributed Palm software.

OS Milestones

  • 3.5 (Handera): added non-standard QVGA hi-res greyscale support
  • 3.5: added colour support
  • 4.0 (Sony): added hi-res colour support
  • 5.0: added hi-res colour support for non-Sony devices

Software Compatibility

Some games/apps require certain versions of Palm OS (usually 3.5, 4.0 or 5.0). A few apps are optimised for specific hardware (eg. Clié). Few apps require specific hardware.


  • Little John Palm “LJP” (NES/SNES/GB/GBC/MD/SMS/GG/WS/NGPC/2600)
  • GuineaPig (MD/SMS/GG/TG16/2600)
  • Dream Engine (PCE/TG16)
  • GBulator (GB/GBC)
  • Gizmo Ultra (SMS/GG)
  • Liberty (GB)
  • NesEm (NES)

Retro Collections

  • Activision Anthology
  • Atari Retro
  • Midway Arcade Classics

Retro Ports

  • Bejeweled 1&2
  • Bomberman
  • Chessmaster
  • Columns (bundled with Sony Clié GC10 gamepad)
  • Daleks
  • Dig Dug
  • Doom
  • Donkey Kong Jr (as DKungJr)
  • Dr Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine (Game Gear)
  • Galaga
  • Galaxian
  • Hexen
  • The Incredible Machine
  • Joust
  • Karateka
  • Krypton Egg
  • Lode Runner
  • Line Rider
  • Mabwar (as Star Attack and PalmWars)
  • Madden NFL
  • Mappy
  • Monopoly
  • Ms Pac-Man
  • Nicky Boom
  • Pac-Man
  • Platypus
  • Puyo Pop Fever
  • Puzzle Bobble
  • Quake
  • Rayman
  • Scrabble
  • Sega Classics
  • Sega Swirl
  • Serious Sam
  • Shanghai
  • Shining Force: The Sword of Hajya (Game Gear)
  • Shinobi (Game Gear)
  • SimCity
  • Sinistar
  • Sonic The Hedgehog (Game Gear)
  • Spy Hunter
  • Star Soldier
  • Stargate
  • Super Columns (Game Gear)
  • Super Pac-Man
  • Tapper
  • Worms (as Snails
  • Zanac (reimplementation using NES version graphics)
  • Zuma

Original games

Further Reading

1 Like

Cool topic and one I never expected. Well done on the thread title, too. :slight_smile:
The only thing I can contribute, though, is that I loved my Palm III and V, but never attempted any games on the PalmOS. Wish I could find them in my house, but fear they’ve gone to the great recycling bin in the sky…

1 Like

I’ll write a mini review for one or two of my favourite Palm OS games.

Let’s not kid ourselves - this isn’t going to be anywhere near the busiest thread, but I hope it spreads a little enlightenment!

Great read ! I had no idea any of this existed !

1 Like

Wait, that Shining Force game was one of the “Gaiden” games that got combined onto Shining Force CD right?

You’re correct, it’s a port of the 1993 Game Gear game. I’ll move it to the ports section. It came to 3DS VC in 2013.

Though it’s horrible, I feel like posting this baffling port of Serious Sam native to the platform as it’s an awesome and hilarious curiosity for a big fan of the series like me

1 Like

Wow, that was a much more in-depth review than I expected and it didn’t hold back anything as it ripped into the game. I kinda felt bad for that poor Palm by the end. :cry:

The piezo beeper on early Palm devices is rather unfortunate.

Most Clié models, and some later Palm models, had much better sound output: an actual speaker in most cases, and some even had headphone out. I’ve not played Serious Sam, but I’ll try to find a demo to try it on my Clié to see if it sounds better.

It’s interesting that at the time, in 2001/2002, Serious Sam for Palm received an 8/10 review from Softonic. Serious Sam Advance was released in 2004 and I think it’s not much better than the Palm OS version, if at all, receiving 5/10 reviews at best.

Wimbledon PDAce (free)

Official Wimbledon tennis game in conjunction with IBM

Released: June 2001

scrn0001 scrn0002 scrn0004 scrn0005

Playing somewhat like a Nintendo DS game, but released a few years earlier, this is a simple but elegant tennis game versus either the computer or another player (over infrared). Controls by stylus/touch, device button or gamepad attachment. You can even beam the game (send over infrared) to another device, which will be familiar to anybody who did that with DS Download Play some years later.

Currently playing Hanafuda on a Sony Clié

1 Like

I’ve never seen one of those controllers before… Cool!

The original joycon d-pad.

(Well… other than the C-buttons on N64)

They’re all one bit of plastic so they all move when you press one, but it’s actually not bad at all. Good enough to play Columns, Mean Bean, Mazera, etc.

More mini-reviews coming soon.

Very interesting topic, had no idea there was a fairly robust emulation scene on the old Palm devices.

Columns for CLIÉ

This is a unique port of the game as the title suggests.

Reprogrammed by SEGA’s Smilebit division (of Jet Set Radio fame) and bundled with a Sony game controller accessory for a Sony handheld computer and not available to purchase separately. What a crazy little thing.

There’s also Super Columns (all the SEGA Classics games are Game Gear emulations) but they only run on specific Palm devices (Zire?) which I don’t have.

Anyway, Columns for CLIÉ plays well enough with the controller accessory. No configuration needed within the game. I’m not a huge fan of Columns so it’s a bit wasted on me. It can also be played using hardware buttons, how well that works depends on whether your device has a sensible layout. It can’t be played with the stylus/touch.

It looks lovely though, running at CLIÉ “high resolution” of 320x320 in 8-bit colour (some games support 16-bit colour). The image in the OP doesn’t lie, on all three of my CLIÉ devices (SJ22, TJ35, TH55) it looks gorgeous.

The only odd thing is I can’t get any sound out of it, despite it having sound volume settings. Weird.


1 Like

Using smilebit to make emulations or ports of classic games is like using a sledge hammer to open a paper door.

I wish they were still around. Amusement Vision too. Those were some top quality studios that showed how good Sega was before last gen even after the DC was discontinued.

I assume it must have been the Smilebit guys flailing around looking for “what’s next” after Dreamcast as SEGA were abandoning console at this point. Seems to fit, time wise.

Makes sense.

Two trial/prototype/concept games released by SEGA Smilebit division at the PalmSource Japan Forum 2002, and simultaneously on their website:

As far as I know these were completely forgotten about until now! Feels great to unearth some forgotten gems for the world to enjoy once more.


Use the hardware buttons, or stylus, to make an overweight red-haired man eat chunks of chocolate to match the goal shape.

It’s reminiscent of COMPILE’s magnificent GBA game “Guru Logi Champ”, in that you rotate the play field and “suck” blocks from the middle. Pretty cool.

borkov26 borkov28 borkov29 borkov30

Triangle Magic

Use the stylus to position triangles on a grid, the aim is to deflect a ball to the goal and collect coins on the way. Seems quite familiar in a way.

trimagic34 trimagic37 trimagic39 trimagic41