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Ethos and Riddles talk about video games...
            Can you handle it?
by Ethos

Handheld Gaming Part 3 – The Future (Ethos)

Sunday, February 6th, 2011

So here we are. About 15 years of my handheld gaming life summed up in two articles, and now I must talk about the two fairly-recently announced new generation of portable handhelds.

Well, kinda portable. The 3DS is severely strapped down by its extremely short battery life, and the NGP is even bigger than the biggest model of the current PSP. As I briefly touched on in Part 2, one of the reasons I love the Go is that it’s actually portable to me. When I borrowed a regular PSP to play Birth By Sleep, it was far more noticeable in my pockets and just more of a pain to bring around with me.

It’s true that I haven’t been having extended play sessions on my current DS out of my home for a while, but that doesn’t mean that I want to feel like I have to conserve every time I open the lid on my 3DS.

It's probably not a good sign that I'm most excited for NGP's interface...

On the other hand, I like the idea of the NGP having 3G capabilities, and trophies on the go sound wonderful to me. Also, the trackpad on the back of the system might just be a great solution to a touch screen without having to cover up your vision of the action. I suppose I didn’t get excited from the press conference because of the size, design, and no software that entices me in the least.

I adore the Uncharted games, but that is a series that I boot up on a massive TV and play-through in as few sittings as possible. Even with NGP’s crazy horsepower, Uncharted on the system doesn’t sell me. Especially when the preview included gyro sensor movement as part of the gameplay…

But there’s lots to still see on that system, so I have no firm stance yet, but let’s move onto a release that looms much closer.

The 3DS impressed many when it was first shown off in grand style at E3 2010, and since then, there mostly has only been bad news for fans. The return of (barely improved) friend codes, a delayed release for the (potentially improved) eShop, region locking confirmed, and of course a really shitty battery.

The difference for me with the 3DS and the DSfat release is the software. There wasn’t a single thing about the DS that enticed me. With the 3DS, a new Paper Mario game alone is enough to get me excited. Kingdom Hearts has lost my love over the years, but I’m willing to pay attention if Dumber Name is as good as Birth By Sleep. I already explained my excitement for the new Pilot Wings game, and that’s not to mention the remakes of two of my favourite games I’ve ever played, Ocarina of Time and Star Fox 64.

The DS interface gets better, but it's relative.

Perhaps these titles don’t excite everybody, but those 4 (and a half) pieces of software are enough for me to know that I’ll buy this system before the inevitable redesign. But the 3DS is a nice looking piece of hardware, so I expect its new version will come closer to SP’s 2 years after the GBA launch as opposed to the DS Lite’s 18 months after the original monstrosity.

Add that to my need for a new DS anyway as now both my shoulder buttons are busted, the 3DS is a no-brainer.

That being said, I’m not hand-over-heels for the thing either. If Pilot Wings wasn’t a launch title, then I wouldn’t even consider buying it day one, and as it stands, I’m still on the fence. I’m particularly broke, and StarCraft II, Pokémon Black and White, and the Team Ico collection are all easily higher on my priority list.

The fact is that Nintendo has a great track record for software on their handhelds, and I’m very pleased with the DS brand overall. I have my PS3 for a great online experience, and I’ve never imported a game in my life, so the only hitch for me is the console’s battery life.

The fact is that Nintendo’s home console really isn’t much of a console at all. Excepting the phenomenal Super Mario Galaxy games, there isn’t too much going for that system and its unorthodox controller. Nintendo’s DS line has its share of gimmicks, but the truth is that it is the better place for a traditional gamer experience. The NGP, however, has the somewhat bizarre problem of having a completely wonderful counterpart system, and thus the portable feels a little redundant.

But who knows? Maybe this is the generation that will see Sony claim the section of my heart reserved for handheld gaming. But as it stands, the only software that has my attention is on the DS. Plus, it’ll be nice to finally be able to play the DS games I have that require the shoulder buttons.

Handheld Gaming Part 2 – The Present (Ethos)

Friday, February 4th, 2011

Despite my incredibly fond memories of my big ol’ ugly ol’ beautiful ol’ tank Gameboy, my interest in handhelds wavered for a bit. I was into the announcement of the GBA, but I just kinda stopped caring. I had recently found the world of RPGs that weren’t Pokémon, and consoles that weren’t the N64, so the GBA wasn’t at the forefront of my mind. In fact, I don’t think I even got one until it was semi-late in its lifecycle.

Mine ended up breaking, but not this bad.

Flash ahead to the announcement of the DS and I cared even less. The thing was hideous, it had two screens for some reason, and there was no software I remotely cared about. Mario 64 DS without an analog stick? Definitely not interested. But soon there was more and more software that caught my eye until I started my now long-time practice of buying games before buying the console (Mario and Luigi was the culprit this time).

I knew the DSfat design was just too awful for Nintendo to keep. While redesigns were still in-style for Nintendo, I had a feeling that the first would come sooner rather than later, and I was right. My patience paid off and I got a DSlite on launch day.

But the purchase went from being a pleasant way to have RPGs on the go and turned into a full-fledged revitalization of my love for handhelds.

While I can’t exactly pinpoint it, the changed seemed to start around the time I got both New Super Mario Bros. and Tetris DS. The former was fun, but more importantly convinced Pogo to buy a system. The latter would prove to be the best version of the classic game ever made, and would make for many, many exciting wireless multiplayer matches.

But losing to Pogo in Tetris, and winning half the time in Mario multiplayer wasn’t the end result of my increased playtime. Now I had software all over the place. Mario Kart, The World Ends With You, Etrian Odyssey, Phantom Hourglass, Pokémon Diamond, Dragon Quest remakes, and even half-decent Kingdom Hearts games. The list goes on and on too.

I love my little PSP Fail

The software was only just more impressive than the places I took the thing. It was always stuffed in my inside jacket pocket for a quick whatever of whatever on public transit, or something to distract myself while eating on my lunch break from work. What if I was at my girlfriend-at-the-time’s house and didn’t want to sleep just yet? My DS with headphones was there for me. Long car rides, lazy nights inside, a cure for insomnia. Not having my DS on me made me feel more naked than forgetting my phone.

Sure, the DS has its share of Nintendo-itis. Friend codes, unintuitive online functionality and store interfaces, and a completely pointless microphone. But despite its faults, and despite its barely-worth-mentioning Wii counterpart, the DS is neck-in-neck with the PS2 for best console ever released in my opinion.

And so my excitement for the DS spilled over to my love for franchises that couldn’t exist on it. It was finally time to get a PSP. And in probably my most ridiculed public move of all time: a bought a (reduced price) PSP Go.

Let me get the necessary disclaimer out of the way. The PSP Go is an utter failure. It has sold like trash, and it is not well-supported in the least. There is a lot of software that I am unable to have because of this irrefutably sour venture from Sony.

That being said, I do not regret the purchase. I love the design. I used the PSP3000 design for a number of hours while playing Birth By Sleep, and while it is definitely a good design, I prefer the design of the Go. It fits way better into my gaming pockets, and generally just feels less clunky.

While my love for the PSP hasn’t matched that of the DS, it has helped to solidify my return to handheld gaming. Despite the DS’ decent RPG showing, the PSP has also done a better job of fulfilling my RPG cravings that are so rarely satisfied on the console.

Plus, I can’t take my PS3 to the can with me.

So my present state as a handheld gamer doesn’t hold the same wide-eyed nostalgia as my introduction to gaming, but if nothing else it has helped me realize my lifestyle as a gamer. Games are never too far away, and I like it like that. The future of handhelds currently has me wary (the lack of portability of one and the redundancy of the other), but that’s another article for another day. Semi-specifically, either tomorrow, Sunday, or Monday.

Handheld Gaming Part 1 – The Past (Ethos)

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011

This will likely be the only part in this series that sees large similarities between Riddles and myself.

My gaming experience also started in the handheld space, and actually stayed there a lot longer than Riddles before transitioning into a console. My mother is a lovely woman, but she seemed really opposed to video games in our house. She didn’t think they were the devil’s work or anything, but she did seem to lack a basic understanding of their legitimacy.

So ugly and so beautiful all at once.

Luckily she eventually caved and let me have a Gameboy if I bought it with my own money. To her delight, I still played outside after purchasing it. And to my delight, video games were the best fucking things in existence.

Also, let me clarify. When I say I bought a Gameboy, I mean I bought a Gameboy. A big, fat, grey, yellow-screened Gameboy. Out of all my systems, that is probably my most beloved. I see it now – dilapidated, missing its screen cover – and memories come rushing back. I don’t think I’ve had nostalgia tied to a physical system as opposed to particular games in any other instance.

But even so, I have strong memories of my games as well. My first ever video game was Kirby’s Dream Land. Played the crap out of that. Then I got Jungle Book. Played the crap out of that. I remember loving it, but I have no idea if it was actually good. It was only my second video game, I was around 8 years old, and it got stolen.

Yes, one day my house got broken in to. They took some jewelry, Canadian $2 bills (they had just gone out of print – we have $2 coins now – so I guess they had future worth), and my Gameboy games. Or some of them. And they didn’t take the Gameboy. Which is particularly strange because it was in the same case as the games. Maybe the thief already owned a Gameboy?

In any case, I mourned the loss of Jungle Book, but not for long because I soon got the two games that would largely define my time with that system. Donkey Kong Land and Super Mario Land. Back in those days I hadn’t discovered RPGs yet. There was no way to level-grind my way to victory. I had to increase my skill.

And did I ever. I had nothing else to do. I was a child. I went to school, played outside, and played Gameboy. I was so fucking good at Donkey Kong and Mario Land, you have no idea. In fact, Gameboy Ethan could kick Current Ethan’s ass when it comes to gaming skill. My siblings and I even played Mario Land so much that the case broke and we were just left with the actual chip that we would have to maneuver into the system for about 20 minutes before it would work. The point is that those were the only two games I needed.

Me and this game are one. I even know some of the music on piano.

Until Pokémon happened. Then there was no turning back. I strangely don’t associate my fatty Gameboy years with Pokémon so much, but I played Blue, Yellow, and Silver to death on that thing. The seed for my love of RPGs had been planted.

But not only did I play the hell out a bunch of games on that old thing, but it even survived a Canadian Winter. Yes, after I had an N64 and GBA that could play Gameboy games, I didn’t have the need for my Gameboy anymore and it somehow got forgotten in my backyard that was strangely large for a city. We found it the following spring and it worked fine. What a fucking tank.

My Gameboy definitely begun, solidified, shaped, and nurtured my love for video games. Because of my age, because of the state of the industry, and my relative inexperience with games, I can’t imagine I’ll ever own a system like that again. I have very fond memories of getting lost in a select few games -dare I say it – before the internet was commonplace.

Anyway, that’s all I have to say about that. I suppose I could talk about my time with my GBA, but that was unexceptional to me. I played it. I liked Minish Cap, kinda. But the system has the worst Pokémon games of the series, and I was diving more into console games then. And I suppose I could say that I am grateful for progress. Mario and Kirby didn’t have save systems, and you couldn’t even walk backwards in a level in Mario. Once the screen scrolled, you were fucked.

Look forward to our Part 2s in the coming days!