[Editorial Tuesday] Portable Gaming vs Console Gaming

Everyone loves to play games, but do you leave them at home, or do you take them with you? Some choose to enjoy rich, cinematic gaming experiences in the quiet of their own home theaters. Others are more than happy to get in a few quick matches on the bus or train. Rumor has it that there are even some twisted souls who happen to do both! Preposterous!

Whichever method of gaming you happen to choose, whether it’s portable or on a home console, there are advantages and disadvantages to both. Do you know them? Have you always been curious to know what were the best options that you’d never tried? We’ll explore the reasons behind why we game, where, and when by looking at the diverse options for portable versus console gaming.

Traditional Console Gaming

Console gaming got its meager beginnings in 1972, with the release of Magnavox’s home electronics gaming device the Magnavox Odyssey. It was the very first game console that could be connected to a television set, which would become the standard method for home consoles which we obviously still use to this day. Console gaming then began to slowly gain traction until it exploded with the Atari 2600 in 1977. After the video game industry crash of 1983, home consoles would then become the household staple with the release of the original NES.

Throughout their existence, game consoles have been the driving force for the games industry as a whole. Gradually phasing out the once booming arcade scene in the US, they’ve replaced how we play games and are even affecting how we consume all forms of media and entertainment. The Playstation 2 became the fastest console to sell over 100 million units, mainly due in part to the fact that it was the most advanced DVD player consumers could get for the same investment. Since then, streaming and television features have become a part of future iterations of these devices.

As these machines have evolved, so has their role in the living room and as the centerpiece of home theaters. Boasting 1080p (1920x1080) display capabilities for all games, and now further advancing to 4K (3840x2160), today’s modern game consoles are the most convenient powerhouses that you can enjoy gaming on. Stationary, out of reach but within sight, and always synced to your controller, they provide the link between your thumbs and the spectacle taking place on your screen.

The majority of all games that you can buy through retail channels are traditional console releases. Retailers always have the latest game releases on the top selling consoles front and center, making it convenient to shop. With increased computing power, online ecosystems for each platform’s stores are usually within a click of the menu, putting more titles within reach. Downloading a purchase in the background while you play another game has become so routine we rarely think of it, but this is a luxury that has come through evolution. Yes, consoles have the most diverse assortments of media consumption that you can find in the living room.

Handheld Gaming Devices

The Gameboy, for a great many kids growing up, was their first taste of handheld gaming. In 1989, it outclassed the competing Atari Lynx and the later released Sega Game Gear with its vast library of compelling games. It was a very simple sell, and quite attractive if you wanted something fun aside from your console at home. Comparing the original Game Boy to the NES controller that was out at the time, the inputs and button layouts were nearly identical. This factor made it pretty simple for gamers to familiarize themselves with how the games played. However, due to the massive drop in computing power and hardware differences, the only games were in black and white on a monochrome screen. To gain a perspective of differences, the Game Boy display had a resolution of 160x144 where as the NES displayed games at 256x240 in full color.

These devices naturally evolved and improved dramatically. The Game Boy Color added color to games, but it wasn’t until the Game Boy Advanced SP that a backlit screen made it possible to see what was going on on the screen in any environment. All the while, the Game Boy libraries were growing alongside Nintendo’s console mainstays. Spin-offs of Mario and other iconic Nintendo characters were released alongside original games like Pokemon. No matter what you wanted to play, handhelds seemed to have you covered.

However, it wasn’t until the release of the Playstation Portable that handheld gaming really started to close the gap with home consoles. Full fledged franchises that were heavily graphics-intensive released on the device, and in presentation it was closer to the leading Playstation 2 than it was to the competing Nintendo DS. The downside, however, was that with only one analog stick and a reduced number of shoulder buttons, it was impossible to completely recreate the home console experience for advanced games, graphics aside.

This is a problem that has plagued handhelds since their conception, and ultimately lies at the core of portable versus console gaming. No device has simply been created to match a 1 to 1 controller specification, allowing for gamers to play the most advanced games they’re used to. All the titles were simplified in not only graphics, but commands as well. With the current PS Vita, the gap has been closed, but improved graphics can’t make up for the familiar feel of a controller in your hands.

The Time & Place Matters

The crucial factor for determining whether you game portably or at home has everything to do with the individual themselves. You typically see children and young adults playing handheld and portable games. Why? Well, when you think that an adult is usually outside of their home working, it makes sense. Even the most lenient boss will frown at idly gaming, unless you’re in an industry where it’s expected.

The most common place to use a handheld would be on a lengthy commute via bus or train. In heavily metropolitan areas such as places like New York City and Tokyo, it’s common to see individuals of all ages immersing themselves before a long grind. Although there have been cases where gaming while driving has been the cause of accidents, in general, those cases are rare. If you’re driving yourself to and from work, it’s just not a good idea to have a handheld nearby, or at least attempting to use it!

The biggest deterrent to handheld gaming hasn’t in fact been due to gamers wanting the same complex, demanding games found at home. It has been quite the opposite. As mobile phones have advanced, so too have the games on them. While it’s much more common to see people sitting around playing Candy Crush Saga or Tetris, more advanced alternatives do exist. But where almost everyone carries their cell phone with them, having another device dedicated to gaming is just cumbersome. You have more opportunities to check your phone than to switch on a gaming device, and it draws much less attention to yourself. If you’re already settling for a lesser experience than you can achieve at home on your console, you might as well take the more convenient option.

And that is perfectly fine. Quite honestly, if you were to focus as hard as you would in trying play a handheld game as you would a more complicated console game, you’d probably land in some trouble. The advantage of handhelds is that you can use them on a commute or in a public setting. Getting too engrossed in anything can lead to trouble, especially outside. Many have had their devices snatched away due to carelessness. That’s another drawback of having your prized gaming device with you. Not every device has cloud saves either, so if your handheld gets swiped, you could be out hundreds of hours of grind time. Granted, the reverse could also be true, that your home console is stolen when your handheld is safe with you. You’d have to be mega unlucky to lose both in the same day though!

Rise of the Hybrid

Remote Play from the Playstation 3 to PS Vita was pretty revolutionary. It set the tone for where gamers had always wanted things to go, being free to play their favorite games on the go, and to continue when they returned, and vice versa. More advanced options such as game streaming from one’s desktop PC became an option through the Nvidia Shield, but that required a hefty setup and management of a PC, not to mention costly. Arguably it was and still is the best setup, but even still, it’s not seamless.

With the release of the Nintendo Wii U, gamers got a glimpse of Nintendo’s vision for the future. A separate game controller with a built in screen capable of letting you forgo the television and monitor with a home console, a first for gaming. However, the distance you could travel was tragically short. You could barely be out of the room before the Gamepad lost signal to the console, forcing you to return. All these shortcomings were leading towards a head, though, in the Nintendo Switch.

The Switch is, for all intents and purposes, a dream come true for both handheld gamers and home console users alike. It has multiple configurations for gaming. A docked mode allows it to run games at higher resolution on your TV, and a portable mode allows you to continue playing on the go. The system obviously has the same library of games, but even has the addition of digital titles throughout Nintendo’s history available. If you do find yourself in the right setting, you can even setup the Switch on a stand and play it without holding the entire device.

Having options like this is a first for gaming, and only time will tell if it is successful enough to become a growing trend. It has worked out for Nintendo though, so far. The Switch has outmatched all their projections and is currently their fastest selling console. Whether that trend will continue upwards to match the success of the Nintendo Wii is for the future to reveal.


Final Thoughts

The biggest downside to portable devices, even a home console like the Switch, is that you will always find a more powerful device back at home. Systems like the PS4 Pro and upcoming Xbox One X deliver 4K 60fps gameplay to your television, an experience that cannot be matched without extreme hardware. Everyone loves having more options in gaming. Being able to switch things up by gaming in a new environment is fun, but having the ability to return to your inner sanctum just cannot be beat. Ultimately, the experience you can take with you is going to differ drastically on a handheld than it would on a powerful home console, but they are both with their own merits.

Do you have any favorite handheld games and systems? Got an interesting story of a road trip that was made more fun thank to Game Boy? Still playing Pokemon Go? Let us know in the comments!

Hercule SSJ

Writer

Author: Hercule SSJ

What happens when you give a Crunchyroll trial to a former Toonami kid who hasn't watched anime since Cowboy Bebop got dubbed? You get Hercule SSJ. Thanks to that, he's spent the last two years catching up on dozens of shows and manga he's neglected over the years. Has probably watched 60% of all harem ecchi in existence. Currently seeking series to fill the void left by Konosuba and One-Punch Man. Accepts NisiOisiN quotes as payment.

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