With the God of War III hype machine about to hit full throttle, we’ve found ourselves considering the very separate merits of home and handheld consoles.
For all the advancements and leaps forward the handheld games industry has made over the last three years, the outstanding-looking God of War III is a profoundly humbling reminder of just how big the gap between home and handheld experiences really is.
But then, ask yourself this: How many new genres has the home console realm given birth to over the last year? Waggle versions of established licenses don’t count. Got an answer? Is it one? Two, maybe?
Handheld games may be shallow in comparison to the likes of God of War III or even Mario Galaxy, but what handheld games lack in depth they compensate for with endless reinvention.
Every month, a compelling new franchise, if not a compelling new genre (or hybrid genre), is born on a handheld. Games such as Cubixx, Zwirn or Globulos Party (all announced or due in February/March) are nigh on impossible to fit into a genre box more descriptive than “casual.”
The saturation of sequels and genre mash-ups (hello Uncharted with jetpacks, otherwise known as Dark Void) just aren’t the lay of the land in the handheld industry. The reduced scope of handheld titles allows good designers to fully realize their original vision in a single release, thus removing the necessity to release a new version one year later with shinier rocks, a new weapon or two, a multiplayer mode and a number appended to the title.
The drastically reduced investment it takes to make a handheld game means that developers don’t need to bet the farm on a license in order to ensure a healthy return. This leaves developers able to invest time and money into finding a new game to make use of the genius new gameplay mechanic they just dreamt up, rather than cajole them into shoehorning it into a new version of Fieldrunners or Flight Control.
Unencumbered by the terrifying financial ramifications that face big-budget home console games, the handheld games industry is a uniquely fertile place for raw creativity to sprout.
As much a proving ground for hungry young talent as a place of avenue for beleaguered designers tired of plugging genre holes, the handheld games industry is a place of unabashed experimentation. The trade off, of course, is that Zen Bound is nowhere near as much fun to play as Half-Life 2 or Ocarina of Time. Innovation or depth – what makes the better game?
It’s ultimately a case of apples and oranges, but it’s worth noting how much more freedom the mobile and handheld games industry allows its creative minds.
Your mobile phone may not offer anything that comes close to the minotaur-slaying charms that Kratos is about to serve up, but the astonishing breadth of reinvention and apparent lack of sequel-itis in the handheld space arguably does more to explore the endless possibilities of interactive entertainment than home consoles do.
Then again, we can’t wait to play the PSN version of God of War III on PSP 4 in the year 2025. Damn you to Hades, God of War III – we almost had a point there.
Pocket Gamer is Europe’s leading source of news, opinion and reviews on mobile and handheld gaming.