Handheld gaming occupies a special place in my heart. No, it’s not just because my first console that was mine was a handheld (the Sega Game Gear, actually). It’s not just my deep love for Pokemon (though that helps). It’s not even my fond memories of playing Final Fantasy Tactics Advance at stop lights while working as a delivery driver (probably not super safe, don’t recommend it). Handhelds fit the way I game that consoles hooked up to a TV and PCs just can’t match (though my laptop certainly tries).
I am a big fan of not only sitting in my living room. Late at night (well, before I had a little girl – I’m actually sleeping on a rather nice futon on the living room floor these days) I like to lie down and wind down with some chill games. If it’s nice out, it can be a good time to play something out on the front deck. And we certainly shouldn’t forget the bathroom (after all, that’s time you’re not getting back). I think it’s pretty obvious that a proper console cannot fill all of those gaming locations (well, maybe the WiiU, but the WiiU being the best home-only handheld ever made is an essay for a different time), but a handheld has an easy time of it.
I couldn’t tell you why, but handhelds seem to receive a lot of attention when it comes to re-releasing old titles yet again. The GBA saw an impressive wave of SNES era games being re-issued for the (fairly) similar hardware. The non-stop flood of PSX games onto PSN has been lovely as a PSP owner (maybe someday a Vita, but we’re not quite there yet – I’m far more interested in a GP2X first). And the Virtual Console on the 3DS has had some rock solid titles come out (the bonus games from being an ambassador doesn’t hurt either). Sure, I could emulate a lot of those titles and play them on TV, but I generally like buying good games when it’s an option.
Mostly in the same vein as the classic re-issues, I can play older games on a handheld without considering dropping $70+ on an upscaler. I hate to say it, but my Dreamcast, Saturn, PS2, and Gamecube are not looking too hot plugged into an HD TV. Sure, I can live with the poor graphics, drop the money on an upscaler, or dig out the CRT that my wife really wishes I would get rid of. Or I can just go play some really good games on a handheld. Many of them feature pixel art/sprite work that is designed for the resolution of the system. That’s pretty hard to beat (knowing your resolution and designing for it exactly? Yes, please).
Most important of all, though, is the design philosophy that informs handheld games. Even before having a daughter that takes up a huge chunk of my time, I valued gaming experiences that were clean, fun, and got straight to the point. Sure, I love my 80 hour RPGs (or at least I used to, when sinking that kind of time was a real option), but my favorite RPGs fall in the sub 20 hours range (and tend to have better and less repetitive gameplay for it).
Handheld titles tend to be designed with the idea of playing for 15 to 30 minutes (maybe an hour) and then stopping. You can always choose to play longer, but it stays in those convenient segments (on that note, I just picked up Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, and I’m loving the short and tightly designed missions). Consoles (especially my beloved RPG genre) tend to make choices around the idea that players will be sitting down for 2+ hours. That’s fine, and you can do some really cool stuff when you have that kind of time to play with, but as a married dad, I have other people that also want my time and attention, and I’m not going to make them wait for the millionth cutscene (looking at you, every PSX RPG).
I love consoles, I love PC. But if I have to make a choice, it’s an easy one: handhelds all the way.