Over the past several years I've heard many games journos herald the end of portable gaming, stating that mobile was the wave of the future and, with a smart phone in your pocket, who needs a dedicated gaming device as well?
Keeping in mind that I've only been at this smart phone gaming for a week, I'd like to go on the record as saying that I couldn't disagree more. Yes, mobile gaming is on the rise and is absolutely here to stay but, when it comes to gaming on the go, nothing I've played compares to the experiences offered by Sony or Nintendo's portable devices.
I'm probably underselling my mobile experience by quite a bit. I've got more than a few Minis on my PSP that started out as mobile games and a dozen apps on my Nook that began life on iOS or Android phones. While this is my first smart phone gaming experience, I've been playing mobile games for years.
Call me old fashioned, but my first reservation when it comes to mobile games is the controls. This argument isn't new, but it's certainly the most obvious when you give up two analog sticks and a slew of buttons to control your games with taps and swipes. Obvious examples of when this works well for mobile gaming is Angry Birds or Cut the Rope, or RTS games that require little more than selecting units and pushing a single button to make stuff happen. But if you've sunk a handful of hours into any of those games, you start to see the heart of the problem: They don't offer much in the way of substance.
To be fair, you don't need much substance in instances when mobile gaming is ideal. If you're waiting in line for a few minutes, of course it's fine to slide your finger across the screen a dozen times and be done with it. It provides a (sometimes fantastic) distraction without being complex enough to require any sort of time commitment. But if you're looking for anything with variety or depth, I've yet to find much on the mobile platform that I could really sink my teeth into.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that there is a time and a place for mobile gaming, and I can't imagine those instances being in place of whipping out one of my portable consoles. We'll ignore the fact that portable consoles are now evolving into multimedia juggernauts that let you watch Netflix, listen to music, keeping up with your favorite social media, shoot videos, etc. Other than making calls, the machines do pretty much everything you can do with a modern smart phone. Going the other direction, though, smart phones simply cannot offer gaming that compares to the portable platform. Looking at this from only a gaming perspective, if I'm going on a trip, a long car ride or kicking back for a couple of hours, I'm not going to play Fruit Ninja in lieu of the more fleshed-out experiences offered by the Vita or 3DS.
Some complain that the majority of portable games aren't suited to pick up and play sessions. I'd argue that that isn't what portable gaming is for anymore. I'm not sure that's what it was ever for, actually. The market has evolved and, if that's what you're looking for, then mobile is absolutely the way to go. But while there are also plenty of quick-fix games available on portable consoles, what I look for in these devices is something that will give me a console experience in the palm of my hands. If I'm going to be away from my TV for a few days and really want to get in some gaming, Pumpkin vs. Monsters, while adorable, just isn't going to cut it. There are some more meaty mobile options out there but, again, the small screen, touch controls and lack of depth are simply no substitute for what portable consoles offer.
So, yeah, I'm super late to the party on this one. But after shying away from a decent phone for all of these years while constantly hearing about how mobile gaming will be the death of portable devices, I was expecting to be impressed by what mobile had to offer. Again, these games are good fun and serve their purpose well. I just don't think that purpose goes anywhere near replacing portable consoles. Not by a long shot.
Infinite Ammo is a weekly column by Ryan Winslett about video games, the industry that make them and the people who play them. He can be stalked via his blog at staticechoes.com and followed on Twitter @RyanWinslett.