179: Portable Soup for the Soul

Portable Soup for the Soul

The Nintendo DS's touchscreen interface may have helped push the industry in a new direction, but its real innovation is a bit more subliminal. Tom Endo explains how portable gaming has gotten a little more cozy lately.

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Having been mostly limited to a handheld in my younger years, I'm the other way around and find handhelds more satisfying than home consoles.

When I made the transition to home consoles I felt like it was a secondary experience to my handheld and it didn't give me the enjoyment factor short bursts battling on Pokemon Blue or hacking and slashing in Link's Awakening did.

I've always felt the familiarity of sitting in a cozy chair with a handheld.

(I'm annoyed by this articles introduction though, for a second it looked like it was going to get raunchy, what an anti-climax.)

I can totally relate to this.

The console games are usually played with friends but I play my DS most of the time when I am alone.

One of my most memorable gaming sessions was a six-hour game of Pokemon Pinball. That was one game, just three lives and one table. I ended up spending about five of those hours on a single ball and there was much frustration when it went donw the drain.

I ended up scoring 5 billion points in that game, compared to my previous best of one billion. (Just so you know, the top score is set at 500 million to start off with and is a fair challenge to beat if you are not good)

I've always enjoyed the way a handheld game is designed for brief spurts of attention over the console design model. If you fire up something like Pursuit Force or Chibi Robo it becomes apparent that you play for about 5 minutes before the game cycles, saves, or puts you in another position.

It's a much more fluid and engaging experience than the sometimes long, 70 minute stretches of gaming I'm expected to do by a console game.

I'm also a diehard handheld gamer rather than a console/PC gamer. Although a lot of this has to do with not really liking TV/most of my family not having a TV, it's also because of the pick up and play atmosphere you find with most handheld gaming.

You're not going to find too many ultra-deep storylines and full voice acting games on the DS: people would be bored silly if they had to wait and watch cutscene after cutscene. But in return, you're not going to find many games that need more than a few minutes to get to the heart of gameplay. Even most RPGs on the DS allow you to skip cutscenes/fast forward through dialogue/etc. Gameplay, not anything else, is at the heart of most handheld ventures (after all, who's going to place graphics/sound at the top of a handheld's priorities vs. a console?).

"The hilarious failings of the Lynx"

Ah yes, I remember years ago, my brother had a piece of junk and I had a Lynx. His piece of junk was called a "Gameboy" and it was ridiculous. A brick with a monocolored screen that I was supposed to take seriously? Please.

The Lynx had Gates of Zendicon, Gauntlet, Xenophobe, Chips Challenge... all in full color with hardware scaling and rotation... what Nintendo would later dub "Mode 7" when they included it in the Super Nintendo.

Comparing it to the Virtua Boy is basically ludicrous, the Virtua Boy was not a bad thing, and Gunpei Yoko should've gotten more respect from Nintendo even though it failed... but it was never destined to be a mainstream video game system.

The Lynx on the other hand had a full library of real arcade style games, which admittedly meant there were gaps in it's library where RPGs and Strategy were concerned. (It also suffered from a lack of Japanese games, not unexpectedly.) Still, I'll still fire up Zarlor Mercenary every now and then.

Flaws, sure, it was too big. However, in another part of this magazine you'll find an article expressing that people mostly play their DSs at home. I bought the Lynx to play at Rutgers... only to find out that I was paranoid of it being stolen, and that bringing a stack of quarters for the well stocked student arcade (i became an expert at Beast Busters) caused me to fret less. So, yeah, it saw more play at my parents house in my bedroom or the basement, but hey, it was fun!

Batteries? Well, yeah, the best portable solution was a battery pack, D batteries in plastic case almost as big as the Lynx itself and much heavier. That came in handy when my clumsy brother tripped over the cord to the AC adapter.

So, I'll end this by saying the same thing I said to my younger brother years ago, "Atari for-e-ver, Nintendo ne-ver! Enjoy your loser system for losers, loser!"

I think the biggest failing of the PSP (for me) is that it treats portables as a lesser console and not as it's own unique platform. It takes mere seconds for me to turn on my DS and get into the game. I turn on the PSP, and I have to wait for the console to load. Then I have to navigate through the home interface to start the game. Then I have to wait for that to load. By the time my PSP game starts, I've slaughtered a dozen monsters in a Castlevania game or have trudged through a level of Contra 4.

The PSP attempts to recreate the console experience, while the DS attempts to create a new experience altogether.

A great article but personally I have to disagree with your conclusion. I think handheld gaming can both exceed the level of raw emotion gained from console gaming, and demand a great deal of the player's attention.

While it is true that a handheld is the perfect platform for 'have a quick shot' gaming, i have to agree with randommaster that some of my longest gaming sessions have been logged on a handheld, with the levels of joy and frustration (usually not in equal measure) often driving me to physical outbursts greater than any experienced on a console. I don't have any broken console peripherals despite missing out on Tonk Hawks' school level SICK score by 5 points time after time, but my discarded handhelds with broken buttons and smashed screens after dracula laughed in my face one too many times speak for themselves. And while the epic sessions I put into Ocarina of Time were rewarded with a lump in my throat at the end credits, it in no way compares to the ecstasy i felt pipping my pal to the finish line after a 4-hour neck and neck Mario-kart DS tournament in the college break-room.

At the end of the day, i don't believe I've ever done a victory dance like that one in the comfort of my own home, where it would actually be socially acceptable and not lead to threats of beatings and expulsion. I simply couldn't help myself...

I think the great thing about handhelds now is that not only can they be the a sort of "comfort gaming" experience, but they can also have some pretty "hardcore" games such as Legend of Zelda or Chrono Trigger. They've got the best of both worlds.

In some respects, the Xbox 360 and the PS3 can also have both emotionally intensive games and less involving ones, especially with Xbox Live Arcade and the PSN store. They can never match a handheld, though, in terms of its ability to be such a pick-up-and-play device.

I wonder if the idea, in the far reaches of our game obsessed brains, that the first images of gaming to an avid gamer or a novice, is something big. Consoles and PCs give us this immediate gratification for such an image, while hand-helds do not. I think Tom, here, is correct in his creative metaphor for "scrapbooks". Personally, I have yet to buy a hand-held because the rows and columns of PSP and DS games that wallpaper the shelves making the decision of what to buy so daunting. Each game is a piece of the scrapbook, it's game after game that can give someone such a grand experience, but now, where does one start? It seems, with PCs and Consoles one can be a might pickier, so one buys a game at a time, one follows which games they favor and buys the sequels if needed or waits for the next in the genre to blow away the first experience (Half-Life to Half Life 2). Can we look at how we view games to see where hand-helds fit when compared to the larger game experience of consoles or PCs? And "big" is literal. In other words, where else is our affection for hand-helds coming from, and is Sony or Nintendo missing the market (of guys like me) that just doesn't know where the hell to start?

To me, the success of the Nintendo DS lies more in the uniqueness of the experience than in the fact that it is portable. When it comes to games with touch sensitive controls, the DS has no competition. Sure there are ultra expensive tablet PCs out there with touch screens but the percentage of people who have one will probably be far lower than the percentage of people who can easily afford a portable system like the DS for years to come. There are games for the DS that hardly make use of the stylus and ones that control only by stylus and every shade in between. Some DS games even give you the option of using touch controls or not. This flexibility and variety in game control is virtually unprecedented. In a way, the Wii is a response to the success of the DS with it's innovative motion control schemes. I doubt the Wii would have been green lit if the DS had failed.

I do agree with the article's take on the appeal of portable consoles though. I have played just about every console ever made from the Commodore 64 all the way up to the PS3 (skipping some of the really obscure stuff like the Colecovision of course), and currently have an Xbox 360, Wii and my beloved Atari 2600 (same one I got for Christmas way back when the system first came out); yet I find that I play my DS and Gameboy Micro more often than I do the other systems. I even have more games for the DS and Gameboy than I do for the others. Its partly because I can take my DS (and especially my tiny Gameboy Micro) anywhere I go. I play it while waiting at the laundromat, doctors' offices, my grandma's house while she and my wife and sister are watching some chick flick, during breaks at work, while listening to the radio or internet pod casts (with the game sound turned off) etc. etc. I also play it at home when, like the article says, I want to curl up on the couch and lay still while I play. Portable gaming is a bit like reading a book, a more solitary, relaxing experience than console or PC gaming. Not that I never play multi-player with my DS. My wife also has a DS and we play games head to head or in co-op from time to time using the DS's wireless connection.

I'm glad to see portable gaming breaking into the mainstream. I think everyone would enjoy at least one genre of portable game if not more if they would just give playing on a DS or PSP a chance.

I've never really gotten the draw to handheld gaming. If I'm in my home, I'll just play on my PC or one of my consoles, if I'm out in public, I'm with my friends or doing something. You people ride a lot of buses and trains or something?

handheld games will never be as good or as fun to play as console games are. but the PSP is prety close. the ds is so far behind and nintendo is far behind too. handhelds only provide fun when you are in a car or on a plane or a train. the psp is the only handheld that i play at home because it is fun and is so close to playing a console...

 

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