In Defense of Dedicated Gaming Handhelds

The Vita was in my hands yesterday for a little bit of playtime at a Best Buy. That’s miles away from the experience at GameStop where the system was locked away behind plastic and unplayable, “until it’s released.” That’s what the clerk said at least, ignoring that the time to sell people on the unit is, well, right now.

It’s more important than ever honestly, with the rush of doom and gloom with the announcement of new portables. I’m not sure what happened; it’s was unfathomable a few years ago to announce hardware and not create a feverish excitement. Maybe we’ve become too cynical.

Portable gaming is a different breed these days. I don’t think anyone will question that given the impact of iOS and Android-based devices. Believing, however, that the market has shifted in its entirety is to ignore the vast breadth of the consumer base. Some people want a cheap, quick, $3 experience on the go. Some still want to curl up and get a piece of that console experience in the back of a car or while relaxing when multitasking with the TV.

There IS a market for dedicated portables. Maybe it’s smaller than it was, although the DS and its seemingly infinite number of iterations would like to say otherwise. Dropping $500 on an iPad seems a little asinine personally when higher functioning laptops can be had for less, but that also means I can see where some people see a $250 handheld just for gaming is a little off the wall too.

It’s just that, as a hardcore gamer, it’s difficult to understand how another creative outlet for developers is ever a negative simply because competing devices exist. New hardware means new opportunity, fresh games, and innovative experiences. To be perfectly honest, Little Deviants wasn’t a selling point on the Vita’s functionality during that brief hands on, but the potential for how it could be used? It’s mammoth.

The Vita simply astounds me with what it is capable of. The screen is a marvel, the control design makes sense (finally in Sony’s case), and that slightly scaled console experience is alive in my hands… with buttons! If you’ve ever fumbled with touch screen controls and cursed the day they were invented, you’re not alone. Just that the Vita has buttons seems like a sort of reverse revelation in today’s gaming market.

Shouting that portable gaming  -in its classic form at least- is dead seems awfully premature. People game on their phones for different reasons, seeking a quick moment of entertainment rather than the full-priced, “feature length” editions on dedicated units. I don’t take my smart phone gaming seriously. I do, however, love to snuggle up with my portables before I fall asleep at night for an hour or so.

Isn’t that an experience worth keeping alive?