I’m sitting in an extremely busy airport, assaulted with the scent of Cinnabon, three hours early for my two-and-a-half-hour flight. So what is there to do? I could play Terra Battle, that sounds good. Oh wait, my boarding pass is on my phone, and my battery is terrible. If I do that, I might not be able to even get on the plane in the first place. I can write this article, sure, but not everyone is willing to lug around a laptop like me. And this is a gaming laptop, so the battery life is for shit anyway; it’ll die just before boarding. If only there was something that I could play games on that I wouldn’t have to worry about if the battery ran out. Why aren’t things like that relevant anymore?
While I might be exaggerating a bit, it is a real issue. In a world becoming ever-more tied to our phones, I have to wonder the wisdom in pushing mobile gaming as a “handheld replacement.” I mean, to be fair, there are some good mobile games (though none are great, but I’ll get to that later) that could easily pass a two or three hour flight. But there is one limiting thing about that — your phone has one battery, that it has to use all day. If you blow 3 quarters of your battery trying to get through a morning flight, you are in pretty dire straights for the rest of your day. And god help you if you have a layover.
Of course, having a handheld console on you solves this problem. And naturally, I have two, because I’m a crazy person. If your battery dies WHO CARES? It’s just a game, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a vital use for a Vita.
Even beyond the typical battery issues of mobile gaming, the experience it can offer is extremely limiting. Mobile games are meant to chew up bite-size chunks of time; usually in 3-5 minute bursts. And unless you’re a crazy person, you’ll probably get bored of doing the same thing over and over, just to pass the time. On the other hand, I can sink another 15 hours into Persona 4: Golden and not even notice. As a rule, handheld games usually have much more care and time put into them; in other words, they usually fall under a more traditional definition of “game.” They have an actual plot, varied methods of gameplay, and expect you to sink a decent amount of time into beating it. I touched on this in my Ouya editorial a few months ago. There is simply a dearth of engaging experiences in the mobile space, with no incentive for developers to try to provide them. Those few that do attempt it are usually lost in the deluge of free-to-play games on their respective mobile stores, just another voice at the shouting match.
I’m not trying to say that mobile games are bad as a rule, nor am I suggesting that mobile games can never be as engaging as, say, Freedom Wars. But it’s not there yet, and battery technology makes relying on your phone as a means of entertainment a fairly risky move. So please, stop saying handheld is dead. There is no reason for it to go anywhere, except everywhere.