A Gameboy, a lunchbox of batteries, and a wonky wall charger. That was how it all started. I won’t wax nostalgic for the aesthetics of playing these old non backlit beasts. Just wanted to explain how I was exposed to portable gaming. It was okay. I mean it was better than nothing. Above all else it was mine. No sharing, no living room TV time. I could do it while listening to other things or being in the same room as others while just enjoying a shared silence and two different activities.
That’s the small immediate selection that comes to mind from my childhood. These games were very aware of their limitations. They worked within what they had. I mean I’d say they are fun. Just I also watch documentaries. I used to tape them actually, like a 6 part study on Australia is a solid way to waste a day off. So your milage might vary with these old relics from the earliest days of the expansionist period of handheld gaming. Nintendo was quick to try and normalize portable gaming to just standard gaming with clever adaptors to get the games to TV. Typically just a Gameboy without a screen that slides into a system.
That sounded the beginning of the end. The Plymouth Rock for Portable Home Gaming. Leading to the biggest two changes for games on the go. Happening in one system life, well counting the revision of it. The Gameboy Advance brought almost console quality gaming to your pocket. Then the Gameboy Advanced SP added a backlit screen and rechargable battery built in.
This also marks when console ports started really making a push to the handheld systems. Before the GBA you had special portable versions of games like Super Mario Bros DX or Donkey Kong. These games had not only extra stages and features in them. Some that never show up again outside of these versions. They are built around the limitations of the system. Taking screen size and brightness in consideration.
Even custom screens and color pallets for the Super Gameboy in a few cases. Gameboy Advance had a player you could screw onto the bottom of the GameCube. I never messed with it much outside of Pokemon titles, to be fair. Not to say it didn’t have good games. The GBA had some great ones. A few are among the best games ever to be completely honest. Just here is where we start seeing underpowered full ports crop up as well as bad resolution NES games and cumbersome SNES remakes and ports. Piled with games trying way to hard to go above the system’s punching weight. It was a difficult system to get into full price. Virtual Console and Emulation prices are way more manageable. Now this is not meant to be a run down on all portable gaming so let’s lump DS/DSi/3DS all in one block as well, it’s basically the same thing slowly getting better.
These guys here rocked. Touch screen, online capabilities, and most importantly a two screen set up that required thought to program for. So the games didn’t feel like a weak imitation of something better. They were a specifically crafted experience. One marred with SLEEP MODE. Yes Sleep, Standby, Power Saver whatever you want to call it, it changed everything. It gave people the chance to suspend a game mid playthrough. Sure the GBA SP had an awkward way to use it with some games. Just now it’s completely built in. The reason that this is bad, it takes away the pick up and play style games that I expect from mobile titles. Now we had full length games, not capable of being on TVs with the focus on two screen/touch screen set up which caused me to have to split my purchases. That said I did focus a lot on the 3DS which I mostly played at home and plugged into the wall. Not to portable if the games take such a time sink you have to keep your system either on a life support power cable or suspend your fun until you get back to a charger, but you better hurry or everything is gone.
That light is responsible for so many panic attacks and sadly relationship endangering arguments. The bulk of the titles lost that replayable, restartable, just give more minutes nature that it started at. Even the Pokemon titles got more involved in every aspect. No more grinding out a few battles on the bus. Mario games got more involved. Having to backtrack for certain items to find a secret door leading to a red coin exit warp to world ★-1. This is when they started to feel less like portable games and more like just other games. A problem the Switch doubled down on. By being a home Console that can use the TV or it’s own built in screen you would expect the portability to be a perk, not something specifically designed for from the start of every single game. Like they would remove the home console ability of it and still make games designed for both? Like all those controllers and add ons would magically no longer work for half the people who own a Switch so they start getting phased out.
Nobody wanted this Nintendo. Atleast nobody who matters. What you’ve done is doomed the Switch to a date of two deaths. The Switch Lite won’t use fancy or flick heavy gyro controls and the Switch classic won’t use touch screen games as a selling point. Not to mention additional controller types or Joy Con models. This just makes the Switch a system you can play portably not a portable system. Plus with no signs of anything different in the up coming years we are left with *Shudder shudder* phone games. These had a chance to be great. Snake, Brickout, Tetris, and solid actual games. Doodle Jump and Angry Birds come to mind. That is before Zynga stepped up.
Yes as soon as your mom got a smartphone they had to shove all those nasty little Facebook games on there. Bringing in the dark age of Microtransactions. This was a point of not going back for phone games. I’m not saying there aren’t perfect mobile games that are pick up put down gems. Lots of the KairoSoft games fit in that category. Just the overwhelmingly large amount of ad filed, microtransaction based time wasters make finding anything time consuming at the best if you are sticking to free games. Or frustratingly disheartening when you keep tossing 5 bux around. So what’s the big deal here? Well it’s like Saturday Morning Cartoons, no one really noticed when they left. Sure lots of cartoons are still around. Some even the same tone and quality as the classics, but that’s still not the same. Finding them is now a chore and when you do find one it almost feels obligatory to enjoy it.
It’s no surprise we are much more busy than anyone in the 90s could have guessed. So sneaking in a few minutes of fun is important for even the least worked of us. Because something somewhere is beeping or chiming or calling for your attention. So a little game or distraction that doesn’t demand your time. A game that doesn’t require a bunch of extra leg work to get into, or most importantly a game that stays fun and simple so you can just relax and zone out. That’s what we need more of. Not everything needs to be complicated. Sometimes you just want some toast and butter. A little bit of Breakout and Tetris. We all love flashy vibrant bombastic adventures, but when waiting in line I’d be more relaxed with a simple top down dungeon crawl with a checkpoint halfway through. I guess we can wait and see if demand turns around. Until then just try and take some downtime, some real downtime away from the annoyances of your modern life.