Handheld Consoles Must Step Up

Blair Hanley Frank

Portable gaming is in crisis. Dedicated handheld consoles like the Nintendo 3DS and PS Vita are primarily designed to do one thing: play games. When dedicated handheld consoles were the only game in town, console makers didn’t have a problem. But now, thanks to smartphone platforms like iOS and Android providing rich gaming experiences in their own right, Nintendo and Sony have to rise to meet that challenge.

Therein lies the problem: The handheld market has long been focused on providing an acceptable gaming experience, and has relied on being the only game in town for any sort of handheld video gaming in order to make sales. With the rise in mobile gaming that we’re seeing now, though, that sort of mentality seems increasingly outmoded. I’m catching up on much of Square Enix’s back catalog right now on my iPhone. Square’s ports of classic titles like Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy Tactics are proof that it’s possible to provide a rich gaming experience on an iOS device.

As a college student with limited income, paying $300 or $400 for a device that does not perform multiple tasks like a smartphone or a laptop seems really steep. New games for those systems cost $40. That kind of an expenditure is just hard to swallow as a cash-strapped student, especially for a handheld experience that seems to be up to par, but nothing incredibly special.

I don’t want to see handheld consoles disappear, though. Complex gameplay, especially when it comes to certain genres like shooters, is incredibly difficult to execute on a device with no physical buttons. I firmly believe that handhelds can continue to be a driver of innovation in portable gaming, but Nintendo and Sony have to step up their execution, and prove that their consoles are worth the extra money.