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Portable game systems — an idea past its prime?

One weird thing about having a long-running blog is that you end up making embarrassing proclamations in the past, such as not really understanding the appeal of tablets. When the iPad came on the scene, I *really* didn’t get it, but gradually over the years I’ve come to appreciate these portable computers.

Still, my all-in-one phone servers my purpose for most stuff. While I don’t miss having to lug around sixteen different devices for various purposes, I have been re-examining the appeal of single-purpose gadgets in the modern era. Not too long ago I got an iPod Classic and enjoyed only putting music on that, and now I’m wondering if it might be the same for games.

Portable gaming seems to be on the rise, especially with tablets and the Nintendo Switch all over the place. Recently, Steam unveiled the Steam Deck as a portable computer that supposedly can play most of its titles. Again, I don’t understand the appeal of THAT — especially without a mouse and keyboard to interact with most of the games that I do play — but hey, I’m sure it’ll make someone happy.

I’ve taken an odd fascination with the Playdate, though, as a kid of polar opposite to the Steam Deck. This upcoming device is a small, cute Gameboy-looking retro-styled device that is bringing gaming back to the monochrome era. Sometimes simplicity can bring out great gameplay, so I get that.

It’s a bit on the pricey side — $179 — and that’s hard to justify for a device that’s nothing but monochrome gaming. But it will include 24 indie titles specifically made for it, so that does make up some of that cost. I do like the preview so far, but it might have to be a Christmas buy if anything.

Another portable option that I’ve considered is something to handle game emulation for older 8-bit and 16-bit systems. The RG350 sounds like the go-to standard for this sort of thing, and I do start salivating when I think about the potential for putting my whole NES, SNES, and Genesis collections on a single device.

I haven’t taken the plunge yet, but I do like the thought of going back to portable game consoles that only did this one thing — and did it well.

6 thoughts on “Portable game systems — an idea past its prime?

  1. I have been playing a lot of Pokemon Red on a Gameboy Advance (the old flip open model) lately. I’ve had an absolute blast with it. I haven’t decided whether I will next play Let’s Go Evee on the Switch or try to track down one of the six or so later Pokemon Games for the Gameboy that I could be playing.

    I will say that I prefer gaming on the little Gameboy to my bulky Switch, and either of those to my phone. There is something off about most Android games to me. They just don’t seem to really suck me in. The ones that do are mainly ports of old console games (FFIV is great for example).

    Pokemon Go is a major exception, but that is doing something really new and different in my mind. It’s like the first tentative steps towards a new style of MMO set in the real world. I recently found out about another similar game to PoGO but with more of a RPG vibe, but I haven’t tried it yet.

  2. I both love the idea of the Steam deck and have no idea how I’d be able to play my favorite games on such a device. The aversion to controllers makes it really impractical but taking my PC games everywhere is incredibly lucrative. A laptop seems like a great middle-ground but I’ve never liked them. I threw in a reservation in the heat of the moment but maybe I jumped the gun.

  3. If handhelds were to leave because of phones, then physical consoles should be all but forgotten because of PCs. But instead they’ve hit all-time record sales. Sometimes having a device that does one thing well is still a good thing.

    That being said, I HATE playing games on handheld/mobile. If I’m on the go, I don’t have time to stare at a device, and if I’m at home I’d rather be on the couch, looking at a big screen. Stop liking things I hate! 😛

  4. I don’t know if I’ll be an early adopter of the SteamDeck (might wait for their second round, with bugfixes found by the first) but I’m optimistic about it. I really like my SteamLink (got it when they liquidated inventory), and I had been pessimistic about that. I originally was like “but I like my PC and mouse/keyboard”, but it turned out the ability to play on the couch is nice and comfy, and plenty of games support controllers (it’s highlighted on the store pages too).

    Especially during quarantine, I’m happy to spend more time away from my PC. The idea of SteamDeck seems more attractive to me now than it probably would’ve in 2019.

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