The 3DS is out and the Vita is really starting to ramp up the hype as we close in on its release. In the midst of all this, I personally really find it hard to care. Although the general consensus seems to be that Apple and smart phones at large are the reason this new generation of dedicated portable gaming machines will struggle to find a place, its not the reason I am feeling ambivalent at best towards this new hardware. I don't even own an i-phone, and quite honestly, nothing I have seen on a phone has excited me as a gamer. I look at the app store and, admittedly, with a very reductionist view I think; "Ok, so you monetized newgrounds/kongregate and put it on my phone. Super". I have no qualms about paying fairly substantial amounts of money for a quality game. I'm sure there are 99c apps out there that would entertain me for just as long as the latest big budget retail release, but would it have been genuinely thrilling to me or would I have been killing time and putting up with touch screen controls for games that really don't suit it?
Anyway thats not the point, the core of my problem with handhelds now lies with the fact they are chasing consoles. Yes, its very impressive to see such high quality images on a small device, but I can't get past the fact that I'm just playing a slightly worse version of a console game. This was a pretty big reason why I liked the DS much more than the PSP. The PSP was the first handheld to illustrate to me what I didn't like about where handheld gaming was going. On the DS and the GBA before it I was getting SotN style 2D Castlevanias, Tactics style Final Fantasies, Super Metroid style Metroid games. Lots of new games in 2D that no one else was really making. It was like someone made a direct console successor or add-on to the Snes. Even with smaller downloadable games on consoles finding a market, no one was really making these kinds of games with the quality they put behind a big franchise. So I really appreciated handhelds for that. Comparing this to my experience with the PSP, I found it just didn't add up. The games were technologically better, but still inferior in graphics, sound, scope and control to games I had on a console. The battery was worse than the DS, the loading times were longer. I felt this horsepower arms race was not a good direction for handhelds. Sony seem to be really pushing console parity with the Vita, I can't think of a bigger turn off.
But thats the way of things, of course graphics improve. It's just not necessarily what I want. I realise that I am in the minority and I am looking for different things from a handheld than most. The Vita was recently announced to have a bunch of console ports on it and a 4 hour battery life. That does nothing for me. Touch controls really don't change things all that much, its a novelty at first but I really don't feel like its a new experience separate from something I could play on a stationary platform. I realised that with the DS. To a lesser extent, the same goes for the 3DS's 3D functionality.
In summation, less and less big name 2D games are being made, the handhelds used to be a great place to find them, thats going away, I don't like that. At recent events for both handhelds a bunch of games were announced, but its telling that the thing I remain most excited for is Aliens Infestation on the DS. read