Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Potent Portables: The Rise of Handheld Gaming

The Nintendo DS is a bona fide juggernaut at this point, having sold something like 85 million units worldwide as of this writing. That’s 85 million in just over four years – by comparison, the PlayStation 2 has sold about 140 million units in eight years, and the Game Boy Advance sold a little over 81 million during its five-to-six year lifetime.

In case you can’t tell, that is pretty phenomenally successful. A Google search reveals that it is one DS for every person in Vietnam, if you're into random-ass facts.

Of course, hardware numbers are insignificant without software to back it up. While it does lack support in some areas – namely in things like God/Gears of War style action and FPS games that require more graphical power and freedom of control than it can comfortably deliver – it has a game library that approaches the SNES and PS2 in terms of depth, variety and third-party support.

While it plays second fiddle to the DS in terms of support and sales, the PlayStation Portable should not be written off. It has succeeded where Atari, Sega, Bandai, Nokia and countless others have failed – it has managed to carve an impressive niche for itself in the face of Nintendo’s unquestioned dominance of the handheld market. Its game library isn’t as deep as that of the DS, but stylish innovators like Loco Roco and Patapon mesh well with more cinematic, console-esque fare like God of War: Chains of Olympus and Jeanne d’Arc. Furthermore, unlike its competitor, it is a device that recognizes the existence of the Internet – recent firmware updates have added the PlayStation Network to the device, which could pave the way for an Xbox Live Arcade-type experience in a handheld, if Sony and third parties are willing to explore this avenue.

For the first time, if one were so inclined, one could skip home consoles entirely this generation and get a satisfying, well-rounded gaming experience exclusively on handheld platforms. This is the first in a series of posts I’ll be making about the rise of portable gaming, from its humble origins to its current state, perhaps even offering up theories for what is to come. Done before? Maybe. But don’t be such a Duke of Doubt! You might learn something, if you squint hard enough.