Is Handheld Gaming Really That Great

August 17, 2009

The majority of us who grew up with gaming as our hobby of choice can easily remember the excitement we felt when we first heard and saw Nintendo’s over-sized handheld, the Game Boy. Back in those days, the thing looked extremely high-tech and surpassed the expectations of many of its first buyers. Let’s forget that it looked like a brick with a screen the size of a saltine cracker at the time – it was acceptable then. It was 1990, tech-toys were bulky as is, and people wore purple pants, orange shirts, and neon green cigarette-branded hats. The Game Boy was your “carry me around” toy that all your friends wanted to kill you for.  The black pixels would impregnate the green-tinted screen with the sights of memorable titles like Tetris as we held the 15 pound gaming device while smiling to ourselves.  I had man hands at the age of ten because of its exaggerated size.

About a year later, Sega decided to enter the realm of handheld gaming and released the Sega Game Gear – a monstrous device, larger than the Game Boy, which consumed more batteries than powered wheelchairs.  But the Game Gear had one advantage over the Game Boy – it had color.  But the competing mass was no competition for the Game Boy.  As years passed, the Game Boy went through a couple of iterations and held it’s throne as the king of handhelds.  Color would soon embody the cumbrous gaming device – called Game Boy Color – as well as the welcoming of a game which featured a bunch of underage kids fiddling with tons of little balls and an unhealthy outlook at the possibilities of putting random creatures to beat the crap out of another for the sheer cause of competition and personal enjoyment – Pokémon – a game that sold extremely well on the Game Boy (and Michael Vick was a bad role model).  Sony would later enter the market by releasing their modernized handheld game console – the PlayStation Portable (PSP) – while, at the same time, introducing their new optical disc format, Universal Media Disc (UMD), which became as useful as screen-doors on a submarine.

At the dawn of the inception of the handheld gaming console, gaming seemed extravagant.  It was a new means of enjoying your avocation on the move.  But as the market developed onto matching technologies, handheld gaming seemed to fuse with the technological cravings that congested the world of media augmentation.  It became more of applying non-gaming features to justify its pricing and to lure non-gamers into the MP3 and DivX playing alternatives to whatever the competition was at the time.  Extra features only means one thing – extra consumers.  It isn’t a bad thing, of course, for us who do like both.  Then again, a lot of gamers who buy these concoctions barely use these features.  Although graphical improvements soared beyond imagination, the quality of games began to deteriorate slightly.  Games that we would label “good” would spawn once or twice a year, imprinting the question “What the hell is this thing good for?”

But as one sits there and begins to speculate handheld gaming, we can honestly ask ourselves whether or not handheld gaming is, or ever was, as great as it was meant to be. How useful is handheld gaming if not for a momentary deliverance of entertainment?  The PSP’s and the DS’s of today only cater to a handful of gamers that, even then, grope their handhelds temporarily.  These devices have become more competing toys of the technological trends that promote happy-go-lucky features like cameras, popular social networks and media viewers/players.  Of course, one could argue that the current consoles of today (PS3, 360, Wii) spew the same substances that handhelds do.  The difference, however, is that consoles deliver a richer experience in these fields along with a far bigger ratio of entertaining games as compared to handheld consoles which father top-notch games far less than they should.  The PSP serves as an excellent media outlet to listen to your favorite songs, watch your prized How Stella Got Her Tubes Packed porn, and the thing can be hacked to serve your emulation needs to the fullest extent.  However, titles such as Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII, Resistance: Retribution, Metal Gear: Portable Ops and God of War: Chains of Olympus are a rare breed.  The majority of the other “good” games are either re-makes that have been ported to the PSP, or already existing franchises that are spin-offs to give you the feeling that it’s as good as its predecessor.

The DS isn’t that far from the tree.  Although the handheld does produce some fun games, ridiculous crap that are released kind of makes me question whether or not the thing is a HOWTO for idiots who aren’t Internet savvy, or children below the age of twelve.  Understood that the thing is adorable, innovative and is meant to cater to the younger crowd, but seeing titles like Personal Trainer – which guides you through cooking the outright most anti-taste foods ever, or the Gardening Guide which serves as… well, a gardening guide, kind of makes me question society’s stagnant level of mediocre genius.  Granted, there are quality titles that have sold millions on the DS: New Super Mario Bros. (awesome game, by the way), Brain Age 1 and 2, Mario Kart DS, Nintendogs, Animal Crossing: Wild World, The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass, and, of course, everyone’s favorite fictional creature-torturing game, Pokémon.  The additions of the camera on the DSi and the Facebook feature recently added serves as a great way to take daring pictures of women in change-rooms at my local mall, or as a definitive way to humor myself and my Facebook friends with pictures of sporadic hobos doing the most obscene oddities for a nickel and a bag of Goobers.  Although the DS/DSi has produced excellent titles such as Hannah Montana, the perpetuating releases it once had of celebrated titles have slowly began to deteriorate to a quarterly commodity.  We can all give our thanks to the social acceptance the gaming industry is trying to conform to.

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So has handheld gaming really evolved to a great means of entertainment?  No. I believe that most of us give our handhelds the little tinkering it needs to convey our great past-times (i.e. emulators) and distract us from the mediocrity that this generation of handhelds has brought forth.  Yes, occasionally we are presented with mind-blowing titles (Dissidia: Final Fantasy) every now and then.  But I’m pretty sure that we’ve forgotten about that because of the distractions that reside inside in our dwarfed consoles.  We can sit there and blatantly lie to ourselves and argue that handheld gaming is good, but for the price I’m paying for them and their games, they should be great.  Though this year’s releases of Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days, Little Big Planet, The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks and Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story looks impressive, one still has to question whether or not we’re okay with plodding games that capture us because of the names they carry and the legacy they have of being great games.

Some of us will argue that handheld gaming is as entertaining as consoles.  But as ponder on the thought of that, I’d have to say that the only advantage that handheld gaming has over traditional console gaming is that you can carry your PSP around.  Carrying a PS3 in your backpack, which is connected to a car battery latched on to your fanny pack, whilst holding the DualShocker 3/Sixaxis and a twenty-something inch flat-screen latched on to a neck brace isn’t as comfortable.  I’m not saying that handheld gaming sucks or that it’s a waste of time.  It’s good. It’s just not great.

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Yaris Gutierrez

Born and raised in New York City, Yaris is one of three co-founders at DualShockers. Gaming since the inception of Nintendo in the 80's, he has grown to avidly appreciate games of every genre, maturing his preference specifically now to third-person action games, first-person shooters and JRPGs. He's a software engineer, father and husband during the day, and mildly attempts to hold onto his "hardcore gamer" title during the evenings. An attempt that he tends to fail miserably at.

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