Today’s mobile devices are largely an extension of handheld consoles from yesteryear. Nintendo’s improbable Game Boy and Sega’s Game Gear led the charge through the ‘90s, paving the way for successors such as Nintendo’s DS and Sony’s PlayStation Portable.

The one thing that most classic handhelds had in common was physical media.

Sure, it was a bit of a hassle to haul around your collection of games and there’s always the risk of loss / theft / damage but there was just something satisfying / rewarding about popping in your favorite cartridge (yes, I know, the PSP used optical discs as its primary medium) and firing up a game.

Fast-forward to present-day where the popularity of smartphones, advances in wireless networking technology, the freemium business model and our addiction to constant stimulation / instant gratification have created an incubator in which mobile games are thriving like never before.

All of this is great for the industry as a whole but for some, digital delivery has taken away some of the mystique associated with gaming. Japanese startup Beatrobo agrees and they’ve decided to do something about it.

The company has created a video game cartridge for generation smartphone. Pico Cassette is a video game cartridge that plugs directly into your phone’s headphone jack. Unfortunately, the carts don’t actually have any game software on them meaning you’ll still have to download the associated game from an app store.

So, what’s the purpose behind a cartridge that doesn’t have a game on it?

As Beatrobo founder and CEO Hiroshi Asaeda told The Verge at the Tokyo Game Show, Pico Cassette acts as an authentication key that can interact with Beatrobo’s servers to store game saves in the cloud. This means you’ll be able to play your game across multiple devices without having to start fresh each time.

Asaeda believes the cartridge affords a sense of ownership that you don’t get with a traditional app icon on a home screen. There’s also the nostalgic factor as some will no doubt appreciate the throwback to pioneering portable consoles.

Pico Cassette is still in the early days of development. The startup had just one game demo on hand at the trade show, a Flappy Bird rip-off. Even still, its small booth drew quite the crowd – far more than any other startup the publication saw at the show.

Beatrobo is working with some content partners, its chief said, and once its upcoming crowdfunding campaign wraps up, the team plans to bring the product to market. No word yet on how much individual cartridges will cost, what games will initially be supported or exactly when we can expect to see them hit the market.

Images courtesy GameBiz