Never having unwrapped a real puppy for Christmas, the allure of a handheld gaming device has mesmerized generations. A quarter of a century ago, the Nintendo Game Boy Colour became the must-have gadget, enchanting living rooms with classics like Pokemon, Super Mario Land, and Tetris. Fast forward to today, and the handheld gaming market is experiencing a renaissance, challenging the notion that smartphones and Candy Crush have permanently overshadowed dedicated portable consoles.
The icon that started it all, the Game Boy, sold almost 120 million units, solidifying its place as one of the most successful gaming consoles in history. Now, its legacy lives on through modern iterations, with the retro Super Pocket and others loaded with 90s classics vying for attention this festive season.
In the evolving landscape of portable gaming, Nintendo’s Switch stands out as a trendsetter. Despite being nearly seven years since its launch, the Switch continues to soar, surpassing 130 million units sold last month. Exclusive titles like Legend Of Zelda: Tears Of The Kingdom and Super Mario Wonder have contributed to its ongoing success. The hybrid nature of the Switch, allowing players to use it both as a portable device and a home console, sparked inspiration in the gaming industry.
Valve’s Steam Deck, released last year, is a testament to the influence of the Switch. This portable gaming device enables players to take high-quality games on the go, much like its Nintendo counterpart. The success of these devices has given rise to a new wave of handheld gaming gadgets, including the recently released Steam Deck OLED, boasting an improved screen, battery life, and a lighter build, perfect for gaming on the move.
The handheld revolution doesn’t stop with Nintendo and Valve. Competitors like the Asus ROG Ally (£499) and Lenovo Legion Go (£699) have entered the arena, challenging the traditional notion of what constitutes a “handheld” device. Engineers describe this as the beginning of a new gaming handheld category, blurring the lines between living room consoles and on-the-go gaming.
In contrast to the pocketable Game Boys of the past, these modern handhelds offer a more substantial gaming experience. The Deck OLED, for instance, with its 7.4-inch display and advanced features, represents the evolution of portable gaming. Engineers describe it as “the product we wish we could have shipped a couple of years ago,” highlighting the advancements in technology that have made such products more readily available.
According to industry experts, these devices have successfully “removed the compromises” associated with portable and phone gaming, such as simple graphics and intrusive advertisements. Developers are actively bringing popular games to handheld platforms, catering to the growing demand for a seamless transition between home and portable gaming.
Advocates for cloud gaming believe in minimizing “friction” for players to meet their gaming needs seamlessly. The rise of services like Google’s Stadia and Antstream, offering a vast library of games accessible across various devices, indicates a shift towards a more flexible and inclusive gaming experience.
Major console makers are not lagging behind. Sony’s £200 PlayStation Portal, available for Christmas, allows players to stream their games seamlessly from the console to the handheld device. Meanwhile, Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass, akin to Netflix for gaming, continues to broaden its accessibility, enabling subscribers to stream a diverse library of games on various devices.
Those behind the scenes emphasize the changing expectations of gamers. “People expect that accessibility with movies, music,” they say. “The idea we treat games differently is a fallacy.” Services like Antstream, offering over 1,400 retro titles across multiple platforms, demonstrate the growing demand for gaming accessibility, even for classic titles.
As the holiday season approaches, the handheld gaming market is undoubtedly in the spotlight. Whether it’s the nostalgia-inducing Super Pocket or the cutting-edge Deck OLED, these devices are redefining portable gaming and carving a niche in the ever-expanding landscape of gaming gadgets. With technological advancements and a shift towards inclusivity, the resurgence of handheld gaming consoles is a testament to the enduring appeal of gaming on the go.