That’s what the world has been telling me since 2013 (actually much earlier but it’s much more apparent now). Let’s take a look at this shall we?!
Nintendo, Grandaddy of portable gaming.
Nintendo has just announced a special edition 3DS bundle to celebrate the stateside release of Fire Emblem Awakening. The picture below shows us how beautiful this bundle is and how well the Fire Emblem aesthetic is represented. This would normally be something to shout out to the heavens about as a gamer that was planning to buy this game and a handheld console to play it. It should have demanded parades and all types of joyous noises from the fans of Fire Emblem and tabletop gamers everywhere but it fails to do much more than to dig deeper into an open wound. That bundle is a coupling of a special themed 3DS (original) with a digital copy of the game.
1. It’s the original 3Ds which is an abomination of a handheld. It has atrocious battery life (3-5 hours), ridiculous charging time (3 hours), dpad is not placed high enough, it’s the first Nintendo handheld actually based around a gimmick and the system has a half-baked focus on non-gaming that is very unsettling for a gamer to have to contend with. The 3DS XL at least has longer battery life, better dpad placement (just because of the proportions), better backwards compatibility (better aspect ratios for DS games) and the screen is so much more beautiful in use. Imagine trying to use a tv with a washed out screen, poor scaling of SD content to HD and that it tried to give some sort of priority to displaying books instead of streaming broadcast waves. That’s what the 3DS is, who the heck wants to be stuck with 3 hours of battery life for a strategy game? That would be like being a businessman having a cell phone with only 3 hours of battery life.
2. The game is included digitally. This provides less value than actually providing a physical copy of the game, the only benefit is being able to carry two games at once. With it being installed digitally you can’t sell the game without selling the system, an eventual proposition for someone that may not want to keep a game that no longer has value to them. Nintendo’s universal account system doesn’t allow for the redownloading/reprovisioning of games. If this handheld is lost, stolen, damaged, given away or is no longer in your possession then you will no longer own this game. It may be arguable that you’d lose whatever physical game is inserted in the system when it’s lost but it’s a moot point since there’s no guarantee that a gamer would have the Fire Emblem cart inserted when the system is lost.
Sony, Challenger to the handheld gaming crown.
They released the Playstation Vita, a portable console with an identity crisis. Here’s the thing, it looks very beautiful and is supposed to be the equivalent of a portable Playstation 3 (with tiny buttons). That may sound awesome but it’s very horrible. Modern console gaming is a poor match for gaming on the go because modern console gaming is all about the cinematics. I hate cinematic gaming’s prominence in the modern world, it has usurped the crown of traditional gaming at the behest of publishers, technophiles and a subset of hardcore gamers. That’s not to say that it can’t be fun or that I don’t enjoy cinematic titles (ironically enough, Metal Gear Solid and Xenosaga are two of my most favorite gaming series) but that it’s a bad match for portable gaming.
People that own handhelds are usually the sort of people that like more focused, more intense gaming sessions. Pokemon, Infinite Space, Mario Kart, Final Fantasy, Half-Minute Hero, Metal Slug, etc are much better propositions for this type of gamer than the latest release of Uncharted and Resistance. The type of spatial 3D focus that PS3 gaming has can cause motion sickness and be a true enemy of the actual game and enjoying it. These titles can work in the portable gaming arena but to be the focus of an entire system is ludicrous. Even owners of the PS Vita feel the same way, you can tell by game sales and system usage. Persona 4 is one of the highest selling games for the platform (a PS2 port) and many people use the system as a way to play original PSP and PS1 games. The PSP was littered with ports and console style games too but it has a more appropriate library for handheld gaming when compared to its’ successor. It may not be fair to compare the PSP and PS Vita at different points in their lives but gamers don’t care about fairness. If they did then they would be buying more PS Vita games instead of taking refuge in old games via the digital store.
Nvidia, bored engineering and technology company with money to waste.
Take a look at their entry in this war on our portable gaming.
Look at it again. Please, look above at this. I really hope that this is an attempt to co-op whatever small traction the Wii U has but for the PC crowd. It’s very nice that this can double as a real pc controller and that it will map 360 style controls automatically. It’s cool that it’s running Tegra 4 and that it’s portable but Nvidia intends for it to be a serious contender in the handheld gaming fray. Smart phones and tablets are already gunning for pc style gaming on the go (as well as laptops…). The Razer Edge is so much more elegant, beautiful and better built for this purpose. The Xbox and Playstation are already pc’s designed for your tv. The Steam box is going to be a major pc designed for your tv with the full support of Valve. This thing is supposed to become the extension of the TegraZone store for Android with a focus for people who really need a controller on the go.
I don’t mean to trash other peoples work but there is not one single game available in TegraZone or all of Android that would make owning this thing worth whatever the obscene cost of entry will be. Not only that but you know the battery life on this thing is going to blow. A 5 inch screen and the mighty Tegra 4 all in one tiny device? Really, this thing is going to be comparable to mid-range laptops at best while away from a charging source. It’s a clown of a device that would have been a really neat thing to have in the past but I doubt that the content that a such a device would need will come in time. Nvidia does have the money to burn on this initiative, hopefully enough until it’s successful. It took Microsoft the better part of a decade to do that with its’ Xbox, can Nvidia afford the same expense?
Only the niche, fringe crowds and easily persuaded people buy things for potential that isn’t close to being realized yet. These people are burned much more often than they are rewarded, where is the content that makes owning hardware supposed to really come from? Will straight ports from the Ouya and bones from publishers like Sega and Rockstar be enough for such an endeavor? I don’t know but handheld gaming is downright depressing in its’ current state. I’m only looking at the 3DS XL because it’s the least depressing option, it’s the closest to being a respectable entry in the market at the moment.