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Mobile vs. Handheld; The Portable Battle



So unless you’re blind, deaf, and dumb you’ve most likely noticed that smartphone and tablet usage has increased dramatically over the last couple of years. If you read this blog then you more than likely own a smartphone and have probably experienced the type of gaming sessions possible thanks to Angry Birds, Cut the Rope, Fruit Ninja, and whatever other weird games exist on it. Angry Birds was my first mobile gaming experience and it really opened my eyes to the possibilities mobile gaming can bring. The Android operating system is probably the fastest, easiest, and cheapest way to get new games on the market for fledgling developer studios, but it begs the question of whether mobile gaming can replace traditional handheld systems like Nintendo’s 3DS and Sony’s PlayStation Vita. In order to understand the answer to which is better and why we’ll have to take a look at each platform’s pros and cons (and I love trashtalking) so let’s do this!


Hi, I’m an iPhone.

I’m a DSi.

And I’m a failure.

We’ll start with the dominant leader of on-the-go gaming; Nintendo. Ever since the original AA battery-draining Gameboy the Big N has been the ruler of handheld gaming and for good reason. Their dedication to quality and innovation is a big part of what helped them secure their place as king of the hill and every new handheld they put out was like a natural evolution of portable gaming. Even the failed Virtual Boy seemed like a logical misstep for them to take. They’ve never been afraid to gamble on “gimmicks” they think would drive a system and most of the time it paid off extremely well like when the original Nintendo DS first launched. I remember reading maybe a dozen or so articles from different reviewers who labeled it as nothing more than a cheap gimmick which wouldn’t catch on. Nintendo itself was playing it safe and said the DS wasn’t meant to replace the Gameboy Advance and was more of a third pillar in the grand scheme of things. Well… we know how that played out. Of course, the biggest downfall for ALL of their handhelds is one that I can easily overlook: the graphics and processing power. Every time someone else throws their hat into the ring their system always boasts better visuals than what Nintendo offered like Sega’s Game Gear which had a fully colored lit display (at the sake of eight AA batteries that died after hours of steady gameplay) while the Gameboy was still monochrome, Sony’s PSP which had a laundry list of advantages. Nintendo is stubborn to embrace change and has always been the last hardware manufacturer to adopt new ideas like compact discs and online multiplayer, but still no one can deny that even with its faults as a company nobody makes handhelds better than them. Not for lack of trying, though.


And here we can see Nintendo’s proud handheld lineage. *Virtual Boy not pictured due to embarrassment.

Sony’s first foray into portable gaming, the PlayStation Portable (PSP), was a media monster when it launched. I remember being excited like a lot of other people because their home console of the time, the PS2, was THE system to own with amazing exclusives you couldn’t get anywhere else. On top of that, as I mentioned before, it had the ability to play movies on Sony’s experimental UMD format, the web browser, the ability to store images and music, a big bright beautiful screen, and an analog nub! Sony pulled out all the stops and managed to cram an arsenal of features into a single handheld device. So what went wrong? Well, Sony’s PSP touted graphical capabilities akin to the PS2, but the games released for it felt more like watered down console ports instead of actual portable games like Nintendo’s system. The whole point of being able to pick up a handheld device is to play games for short bursts of time. Sony didn’t understand this and a lot of their games featured long loading times and save systems that made tiny gaming sessions difficult without losing your progress. They didn’t look as a handheld gaming system, they treated it like a home console you can take with you and didn’t realize that handhelds and home consoles are two different animals. They seemed to have learned their lesson a bit and the PS Vita shows it, but they still have a lot to learn especially about giving people options. I HATE using the touchscreen on the Vita because the system is so wide that I have to let go of one of the sides to click on something. Sure, it’s got insane visuals, but… didn’t we just cover that? The PS Vita is a future FAIL which Future Zero looks forward to discussing… in the future. For now, though, we’ll let it ride out and reach its inevitable death. Get ready to hear me say “I told you so” when Sony announces they won’t be making handheld systems anymore.


What’s it supposed to do again? Play games? You mean, those things that don’t exist for it?

So, we’ve come to the newbie in town; mobile gaming. What started out as an experiment on the iPhone has turned into a brand new marketplace worth billions that costs next to nothing for consumers right now (I’ll get to why I say “right now” in a bit). My introduction to mobile gaming happened during my trip to Washington D.C. for the big MLG event. I was sitting idly in someone else’s hotel room after we had just arrived and I think it was Jason (vVv Paradise) who started playing Angry Birds on his Android phone. I recognized the annoying little noises immediately (I HATED mobile games at the time and wrote them off) but I kept my thoughts to myself about it. When Jason told me about the addicting simplistic gameplay and said “It’s perfect when I’ve got a couple minutes to kill” I started thinking to myself it was worth checking out. I downloaded the game to my Droid and a whole new world of possibilities opened up to me. Mobile gaming actually CAN replace handhelds, but it won’t and here’s why:

#1: The battery

My latest phone (LG’s Lucid) had the worst battery life I had ever seen in ANYTHING. Even the Game Gear could outlive my phone until I ordered an extended battery. Playing games on smartphones drains the battery faster than drugs drained Lindsey Lohan’s career as the phones get thinner (like Lohan) they die faster which means full-fledged games aren’t ideal for the platform.

#2: Full-fledged games

The games that exist for smartphones are nowhere near as deep or as complicated as the offerings available on the 3DS or Vita. They can’t be. Not only would they require too much memory, but they’d also require buttons which are all but gone on today’s phones. I’ve seen really good attempts like Dead Space, but the unavoidably clunky controls and the strain on the battery kept from being a game I wanted to play all the way through.

#3: A killer app

Nintendo has Pokemon. You can’t play it on anything BUT a Nintendo handheld unless you download roms and emulators to play older games in the series. The Vita has… well, NOTHING. Androids and iPhones? They’ve got apps aplenty, but no game or app available has given me the desire to own either phone at any cost.



Wondering what advantages mobile gaming has on handhelds? Well, for starters, it doesn’t take a million dollars and a thousand people to create games for smartphones. This has led to a lot of clone games not worth the $1 asking price like the dozens of Super Mario Bros clones you can find on the Android marketplace. At the same time, it’s easy-to-use and open nature has led to the birth of a brand new home console which has all the potential it needs to force the big boys (Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft) to start thinking differently and at a price point they can’t beat; the Kickstarter-funded Ouya system. What I think will hold it back from achieving its full potential is plain and simple greed in the form of downloadable content. Eventually, the game that only cost you one measly dollar will cost you three, four, or more when developers start shoving DLC down our throats… again. If this can be avoided then the Ouya could become legendary, but it won’t.


Don’t try to justify the existence of this game. There only needs to be ONE Angry Birds title. God help them when they do a prequel trilogy themed version.

There we have it. Mobiles vs. handhelds. Both are great gaming platforms for different reasons and both have their fair share of strengths and weaknesses, but neither is capable of wiping out the other. For the time being, my phone will be the system I go to when I’m waiting to be seated at a restaurant, my 3DS will be where I’ll go when I want to play phenomenal portable games, and my Vita… wait, I forgot I don’t have the need or desire to own ever one. Does anybody reading this have one? Convince me to buy one. Make me a believer in the comments section below… if you dare.

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