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

Handheld Gaming Part 3: The Future of Nintendo and the 3DS

Wednesday, February 9th, 2011

Wow, alright. So. Apparently I had a lot to say about the NGP. I did kinda see that coming, but I was helpless to stop it. As you can see, I’ve opted to split my final article into two. I’ve yet to talk at length about Nintendo’s impending 3DS – and that’s about to change.

Without question, 3DS carrys on Nintendo’s trend of gimmick-based systems. Dual screens, motion controls, and now 3D graphics are the hot new tech this time around. But here’s the interesting thing about Nintendo and 3D: they’ve met before. Oh yes.

This was admittedly before my time, but I’ve done ample research on the subject: Nintendo’s Virtual Boy system, released in 1995, was, in fact, the first system to feature 3D graphics. Sure, it bombed, and was phased out within a year – but it broke the ice. It’s a funny thing to consider, but in a way, the 3DS is a sort of redemption for them and their failed 3D venture.

They’ve Wanted 3D for a Long Time

Since the failure of the Virtual Boy, though, Nintendo’s experiments with 3D didn’t cease, they merely became covert. Much of this was revealed some months ago in an edition of Iwata Asks. For example, The Game Boy Advance SP was capable of displaying 3D graphics. In an excerpt from the blog: “Making three-dimensional images that can be seen by the naked eye requires a special liquid crystal, so we tested it out by putting it in the Game Boy Advance SP. But the resolution of LCD was low then, so it didn’t look that great and it never made it to being a product.”

Perhaps even more bizarrely, it seems the GameCube was capable of displaying stereoscopic 3D. According to Iwata, “The liquid crystal for it was still expensive. Simply put, Nintendo GameCube could display 3D images if you attached a special LCD, but that special liquid crystal was really expensive back then.”

Luigi’s Mansion even ran in 3D. Crazy, right? So, I suppose the point I’m trying to make is that Nintendo has waited a long time for the opportunity to pull off this 3D nonsense. The technology is finally here. Let’s hope they’re chock-full of ideas to deliver on, eh?

What does Nintendo Plan to Do with the 3DS

Honestly? I think Nintendo is fine with merely maintaining the status quo. They have a huge install base with the current DS Lite and DSi, and many of those people will buy a 3DS – if not immediately, than in time. Unlike Sony and the NGP, Nintendo doesn’t have any need to alter its gameplan. It’s not a terribly dynamic prospect, truth be told.

One thing to keep in mind is that 3D gimmicks aside, it’s high time Nintendo released a new, more advanced handheld anyway. Typically, they don’t wait this long for an upgrade – there were only three-year gaps between the GameBoy Color, GameBoy Advance, and the DS. But since the release of the DS in 2004, it’s been seven years since we’ve seen a successor. And no, the DSi does not count.

So, what about it, then

Truthfully, I’d like to try out the 3DS, and see what it’s like. See if I enjoy the 3D, see if I enjoy the feel of the system. As of right now, it’s hard for me to be awfully excited for it, since I haven’t been particularly attached to Nintendo or its handheld devices or some years. It looks like more Nintendo, and that’s not a bad thing – it just doesn’t particularly excite me.

But, that being said, I haven’t written the thing off. Because there is one thing that does excite me: the prospect of an Ocarina of Time remake. Call me ridiculous, but it’s reason enough for me to consider a 3DS  purchase. Oh, and Game Boy Color and Advance games available for download? That’s pretty awesome as well. What if they remade some of those in 3D? Ooohh…

How About that Battery Life?

Oh, yeah, the battery life sucks. I mean, come on. 3-5 hours? That doesn’t sound very portable, Nintendo.

And that’s that. We’re officially running over-schedule, but Portable Gaming Week has been officially concluded. We do hope you enjoyed it.

~Riddles

Handheld Gaming Part 3: The Future of Sony and the NGP (Riddles)

Tuesday, February 8th, 2011

Alright, so we’re a day late, but a dollar short? I think not. Because if all indications are correct, I’m about to pound out a fairly monstrous article to close out this extended Handheld Gaming Week.

My first two articles, if you haven’t read them, were very casual in nature – rather than attempt in-depth dissections of the past and present states of the portable gaming industry, I decided to merely recall my personal experiences with each. Now, though, I plan to take the groundwork I’ve laid with those two blurbs and leverage into a fairly even look at the upcoming next-generation handhelds from the two big players, Nintendo and Sony.

So, in other words, today I’m here to talk about Sony’s Next-Generation Portable. Buckle in, gents and ladies.

The PSP2 – Ah, the Next-Generation Portable

So I gave Sony first in line today. FAVORITISM?! I don’t know. Not really, at least when it comes to handhelds. I owned a PSP-2000 for a time. I was rather fond of the device, but truth be told, I barely played the thing. We went over this in my previous article, but the only PSP game I ever finished was Crisis Core, which was the game I bought the system for. But my own experiences aside, the PSP may have occasionally struggled in the realm of software support, and it occasionally lost its way – as evidenced by ventures such as the PSPGo – but one thing must be said: it was the first handheld to edge out a share of a market long-dominated by Nintendo and its many GameBoys. And that, alone, is a great feat.

Six years later, its successor is revealed to the world in the form of “NGP,” which you all should know, acronyms Next-Generation Portable – Sony’s working name for the device. It’s big, it’s beautiful, and it looks like it could breathe new life into Sony’s handheld brand – if they do things right.

Uncharted, on the Tiny Screen?

Let’s start by discussing something we can all relate to: Uncharted. There’s an Uncharted game (now simply called “Uncharted” as a working title) oming to the NGP. You can watch a demo for it right here:

Looks beautiful, doesn’t it? Of course we can’t get the full effect by looking at a video of the screen, but even still, it’s easy to conclude that this thing can produce graphics nearly on-par with PS3 quality.

On first glance, the touch-screen controls don’t look terribly appealing. Sliding my grubby finger across the screen where all the action is taking place seems bothersome. It also seems messy; those screens had better be resilient. But, I suppose we’ve had to put up with the same shit on Nintendo DS for some time. And also, I’ll admit it looked less offensive in some areas than others – being able to tap the ledge you want Drake to grab while climbing actually seems fairly intuitive.

Oh yeah, and there’s gyroscope controls as well. Actually, it’s the same sixaxis technology that’s in every PS3 controller, but never utilized. If you recall, the original Uncharted – which was released fairly early in the PS3’s life – utilized sixaxis controls for mechanics like bomb-tossing and tightrope balancing. Both were pretty awful, and sixaxis support was promptly canned for Uncharted 2. But hey, as unappealing as I’m making it sound, remember: gyro controls just might work better on a portable system, where the screen is right in between your hands. The vine-swinging segment made it look super-clunky, but I have to admit, it looked pretty slick for the sniper sequence.

Rear trackpads? Well, if nothing else, they’re an interesting alternative to a second screen. I’m really not sure how I feel about rubbing my fingers back and forth just to shimmy up a vine, though. Of all the NGPs features, it’s actually what intrigues me the least – but, I’ve only seen them on display in the above demo, so perhaps my mind will be changed in time.

And it’s not – no, it’s not – 3D enabled. Can you believe it? Yeah, it seems a little fishy to me as well. Sony’s pushing 3D hard for both the PS3 and their line of Bravia TVs – I mean, shit, did you catch any of their presentation at CES this year? I’d applaud them for not pushing the gimmick for NGP just yet, but mark my words: there will be a 3D-enabled NGP within a year after its initial release.

Tangent aside, I think at this point we can agree: The NGP looks slick. It’s clearly an amazing piece of technology, packing a punch never seen before in a handheld device. It has a revamped menu system, forgoing the Xcross Media Bar for a new, touch-based layout. It has a screen that’s four times the resolution of the original PSP. It has front and back cameras, it has dual-analog sticks (AT LAST) it even has 3G connectivity. Yeah, that’s right. It’s an impressive device. But that’s not enough to tell the whole story.

So Yeah, What’s Sony’s Plan for This Thing?

Good question. Here’s a key difference between Nintendo and Sony when it comes to this next-gen handheld race: Nintendo has success they can sit upon, the PSP needs to change its game up if S to stay relevant. And, it seems like Sony is trying to do just that – a certain Eurogamer article reveals what Sony’s overarching strategy for NGP might be.

In the article, they quote an anonymous source who reportedly attended a presentation for the NGP that Sony hosted at their headquarters in London. According to their source, “NGP is a developer’s dream – Sony is finally doing the things developers have been crying out for for years.”

Generous words, to be sure. Reportedly, the NGPs dev kits are far easier to utilize than the PS3s. “A PS3 dev station can take three hours to set-up. This looks like it will take under 20 mins,” quoth the nameless Eurogamer source.  ”It just makes everything easier – they’ve really thought about it this time.”

Interesting. Glad to see Sony got that monkey off of its back. But here’s the big one: according to the source, the kits are optimized to allow for cross-platform development between NGP and PS3.

“Any shaders for PS3 stuff will just work,” said Eurogamer’s source. “We won’t have to rewrite. What would have taken two-to-three months before looks like it could take just one-to-two weeks now. The architecture is obviously different, but it’s the same development environment.”

Cross-platform development, eh? What sort of fruits could that yield? Well, according to the source, Sony envisions “some kind of interactivity between the two versions with NGP-only extras.”

Hm. Doesn’t that sound familiar?

Well,  it does to me. Do you remember the days of GBA-to-GameCube connectivity? You bought an overpriced cable from Nintendo, plugged your GBA into your ‘Cube, and either used it as a controller, unlocked goodies, or activated some type of meta-game feature. (Like the Tingle thing in Wind Waker! Where’d he’d like give hints and drop bombs and stuff.) If you remember, games like The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures required GBAs as controllers, and would utilize both screens during gameplay. Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles did the same thing. It was a neat concept, but it wasn’t right for its time – to properly play such games, you needed at least two players in the same room with GameBoys and cables. And to get the most out of them, you needed four. A steep price of admission.

But in this day-and-age of internet connectivity, that sort of console-to-handheld compatibility could potentially take off, and make a sound argument for the necessity of an NGP. Imagine playing Dead Space 3 with the NGP as your controller – Isaac’s menu screen, text logs, and video logs could all occupy the screen of the NGP, potentially making for an extremely refined and intuitive heads-up display. Imagine picking up an audio log in BioShock Infinite, then listening to it through headphones plugged into your NGP. Imagine selecting and assigning plasmids by simply tapping  your NGPs screen. There’s a lot of possibilities there, and I hope Sony sees that.

But there’s so much more that could be done with PS3-to-NGP connectivity – imagine PSN games such as the recent HD Prince of Persia titles, playable either on your NGP or PS3. This could easily hold true for all PSN games – have DeathSpank both at home, and on the go. With synchronized trophies, since the NGP is confirmed to have trophy support. And cloud saving as well, to easily carry saves across both platforms.

PS3 games could ship with NGP-only extras on the discs, accessible by connecting the two systems. For example, you could access a special NGP game mode, or some demos, or a perhaps a portion of the game’s online feature suite, or hell – maybe the whole damn game, just so you can have it on-the-go as well.

“But hold on,” you say. “This sounds like it could cheapen the NGP software brand name.” Well, yes. But that’s assuming Sony even plans to focus on an NGP software brand name, and I don’t think they’re going to. NGP games will be sold in stores, but the physical medium will be flash cartridges. That’s right, no more UMDs. In essence, Sony is doing something rather devious with the NGP: they’re continuing their push towards an all-digital format, but they’re selling it as a physical medium. According to the Eurogamer source, all developers at Sony’s london event were told that “All games at launch available on flash would also be on PSN.”

See, Ethos? You should have just waited for this!

Also, for the sake of pure speculation, let’s cross our fingers and hope that when the NGP is released, Sony will finally give fans what they’ve been clamoring for, and start releasing PS2 classics over PSN. 3DS will have a virtual console store for GBA games, and Sony needs to follow suit. All I know is that Final Fantasy X on a portable sounds pretty damn sweet. And so does Xenosaga. And Dragon Quest VIII. And lots of other I could surely come up with.

The Grand, Sweeping Point

Much of this is yet to be seen, I know, but with the assumed focus on PS3-to-NGP compatibility, it seems that Sony is aiming the handheld squarely at their own userbase of PS3 owners. Which, if you think about it, isn’t a bad strategy. It’s kinda taking a page from Nintendo’s book in a way, and as we’ve already established it could work. If Sony sees this to its potential, and offers real rewards and useful features to PS3 owners who adopt an NGP, they could see great success. However, they do have….

Some Potential Obstacles to Overcome

Yeah, that. There are some things we don’t know about the NGP yet; some questions that need answering.

1. The Price Point – Yeah, this is honestly the biggest one. The 3DS costs $250. The NGP needs to stay around the $300 range, but I’m going to guess it’ll end up being around $350. For Sony’s sake, it better not cost any more.

2. Backwards Compatibility – it’s a bigger deal on handhelds, because while it’s practical enough to have two consoles plugged in, it makes no sense to carry around two portables. It’s safe enough to assume that any games released over PSN will be transferable, but what about all those god-damned UMD exclusives? Apparently Sony told Gigazine (via Adriansaang) that they’re working with third-party developers to bring more UMD games to the PSN store. They went on to say that they also plan to re-release PSP games on the NGP’s card-based format. However, there has been no further elaboration on the subject.

3. 3G Connectivity: Paid or Included? – it really needs to be included. Or, at the very least, make it part of a PSN+ subscription. Like a $10 addendum to the current PSN+ fee. My point is, don’t charge gamers an extra $30 per month for 3G connectivity. That would suck.

4. Cloud Saving – It’s gotta have cloud saving. If Sony really wants to market this thing as the PS3 owner’s companion, then Ethan’s gotta be able to carry his DeathSpank save from PS3 to NGP seamlessly. Sony hasn’t denied the prospect of cloud saving, but they haven’t confirmed it either. I’m 95% certain it will be included. If its not, it will have a decidedly negative effect on my desire to purchase the system.

Conclusion

I think the NGP could be a fantastic handheld. If they make it a valuable and useful device to a PS3 owner, offered at a reasonable price, then I’ll buy one. Truth be told, I’ll probably wait for the inevitable second iteration – which I predict will feature 3D. I just hope they don’t split the physical and downloadable games apart; I hope to be able to play all PSN games on the NGP, and I hope it has cloud saves. I hope all games released on flashcards see release over PSN. If they don’t establish a brand consistency between the two machines, Sony’s presence in the handheld market risks becoming irrelevant. They have an opportunity here to extend the reach of the PlayStation brand in some fantastic ways. Let’s see if they can capitalize on it.


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 (Riddles)

Friday, February 4th, 2011

Welcome to another uneventful Friday night. True to form, I’m here in my cold apartment all by myself on my single day off for the week.

Wow, that sounded awfully fucking depressing. Let’s try it again, eh?

Welcome to another Friday night, Riddlethosians! I finally have a day off from work, and true to form, I’ve spent it in utter, blissful relaxtion. Lots of Dead Space 2, and lots of just plain nothing. Just the way I like it. And now? It’s time for a little Riddlethosing.

It’s part 2 of my three-part handheld-history-feature-thingy. If you haven’t read part 1, then just scroll down a little. Or don’t, it’s not like you need it to comprehend the following text wall.

To summarize, in part 1, both Ethan and myself talked about the past generations of handhelds, up to and including Nintendo’s original beast of a Game Boy. At the outset, our stories are similar – as young children, handhelds system were our initial window into the wonderful, beautiful world of interactive entertainment. From there, though, the similarities are practically non-existent. I’ll explain.

Straight fugly, dood.

I vaguely remember when the original DS was released. At the time, I don’t believe I was playing many handheld games. During those particular years of my life, I was in Vegetative RPG Mode. What that means is I spent hours a day, every day, playing console RPGs and nothing but. Suffice to say I wasn’t too interested in a dual-screened handheld. Also, I thought it looked ugly as shit. Also, it irked me how many games tried to engineer their titles so they, too, had a “DS” acronym. (If I see a similar trend begin with 3DS, I will turn into a serial killer. Dream Drop Distance had better be the first and last. Like I didn’t already have enough reasons not to buy another Kingdom Hearts spinoff.)

But, while I was fairly “meh” on the concept of the DS, it also came out around a time in my life when I had a lot of a very special, certain thing: money. I was making money for the first time, and I was still living at my parents’ house. (I was only maybe 16, y’see.) So, when the DS Lite came out, looking all sexy with its sleeker design and lower price tag, I figured: why the hell not?

Unlike Ethan, though, I didn’t exactly fall in love with the system. I played it – don’t get me wrong. For the first year or so, I actually played on it quite often. But if I’m to be truthful, most of what I played on it were GBA games. And most of those were Final Fantasy games. (This was around the time when Squeenix was re-releasing all of their 2D Final Fantasys for the handheld.) I played Final Fantasys I-V on the DS, as well as The Minish Cap. I think I had Mario 64 and Mario Kart, but I didn’t care much for either of those. I got Final Fantasy III DS for Christmas, and played quite a bit of that.

The first game I actually beat for the system was The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass. And I loved that game. Far and away the best time I ever had with the DS. I bought Chrono Trigger, and played some of that. Didn’t beat it. I bought Dragon Quest IV DS, played 15 minutes of it, then proceeded to quite literally forget that I owned the game. I think I also bought Final Fantasy IV DS and never played it once.

*goes to check shelf*

I really did love this game.Yep, Final Fantasy IV DS is definitely on that shelf. And I definitely never played it. Also, my copies of Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks are both missing. Oh yeah, I never beat Spirit Tracks. Dunno why. Beat the first dungeon and never played again.

But let’s veer off the subject of the DS for a moment. I also owned a PSP-2000 for a time. With similar results. I bought the system for Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII. I played, finished, and loved Crisis Core. And then I never finished a game for the system again. Even after Shawn Cooper was nice enough to hack it for me, giving me access to countless classic ROMs.

So yeah. If you haven’t pieced it together by now, I’m not much for handheld games these days. I guess handheld gaming, for me, doesn’t quite define the “gaming experience.” I like relaxing on my couch in a properly-lit room, playing games on my 42″ HDTV. The truth is that I don’t have as much time to play games as I used to, and when I do get the opportunity, I’d much rather be playing, say, Dead Space 2 than Patapon or some grindy JRPG throwback.

And that’s another point I should make: handhelds are a place where more traditional genres and gameplay styles are preserved. And I appreciate this. However, I don’t actually care much for 2D platformers, old-school JRPGS, puzzle games, or the like. At least, not enough to where I’d choose to play them over something else. There’s always a console game I could be playing. I mean, hell, the Metal Gear games have been sitting in my collection unplayed for years. Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne remains unfinished, as does Infamous, Folklore, Ninja Gaiden 1 and 2, Metroid Prime 3… you catch my drift.

“But what about your on-the-go gaming needs, Riddles?”

This one, too.Well, I don’t really have them. You see, Ethan lives in a real city with public transportation. He also has a life outside of his abode. I have neither of these things. I drive everywhere, and I spend the vast majority of my time either at work, or at home. When I’m driving, I can’t play handhelds. When I’m working, I can’t play handhelds. And when I’m home, well, I’ve got my PS3, 360 and Wii to fulfill my gaming desires.

So, I guess it’s fair enough to ask the question: what can Nintendo and Sony do to get people like me more interested in their handhelds? Or is that even something they should worry about? Hell, with games like Uncharted coming to NGP, maybe that’ll be the system that gets me back in the handheld scene. But that begs the question: if it’s essentially a handheld PS3 game then… why is it even on a handheld?

There shall be further discussion. For now, I’d like to note the fact that you (presumably)  just read 1000 words about how I don’t play games. Don’t you feel cheated? You should. Regardless, part three is coming up, and that’s where we get to the good stuff. Opinions and predictions about the upcoming 3DS and NGP will abound. Be there. In the meantime, if any of what I just said struck a chord with you, please: comment below!

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!

Handheld Gaming Part 1 – The Past (Riddles)

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011

Yep, you didn’t expect it, (hell I didn’t) but we’ve got another theme week going here at Riddlethos. Flying by the seat our pants just a little, and apparently I wasn’t deemed worthy of a Best of Lord Riddles or whatever, but regardless, things are moving – and that’s the important thing. Movement. Forward movement, preferably.

As the banner clearly implies, we’re talking about portables this week. Portable gaming systems, to be precise; from the halcyon days of Nintendo’s giant grey brick to the current rumblings of 3DSs and NGPs and whatnot. I sorta just came up with the idea, made the banner, and ploughed ahead without consulting Ethan – which I know means that it’s up to *me* to ensure this week doesn’t go to shit. Something of a tall order. Especially since I don’t actually know a whole lot about portable systems.

Okay, well, I know about them. But, as anyone with even a passing familiarity with my gaming habits knows, I’m really not a portable gamer. There are multiple reasons for this, many of which I’ll be discussing in the next installment of this three-part series, which deals with the current generation of portable gaming hardware. For now, though, we’re going to take a look into the past – a past, in which my gaming habits were merely formulating.

Because,  you see: ironically enough, my life with videogames begins with handheld systems. My first meaningful introduction to videogames was through the GameBoy Color. A yellow GameBoy Color that actually belonged to my younger brother. The memories of this time period are somewhat vague. I was probably around 10 years old, meaning my brother would have been 6. My six-year-old brother would – in what appears to  have been destiny – play The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening DX. I would mostly watch him. I’d never seen anything like it – and y’know what? I really didn’t care much for it. I couldn’t grasp the concept. I knew nothing about videogames, I thought they were all about senseless killing and violence, and that they made people stupid. (That’s what my parents had told me, at least.)

Even still, that’s what inspired me to buy a Game Boy Advance. I vaguely remember buying one off eBay or something for dirt-cheap. An original, wide model; not the sexy SPs (which were brand new at the time, if I recall.) The first game I bought or it? Spider-Man: somethingsomethingbasedonthemovie. Somewhat embarassing to admit, although by my memory, that game was awesome. I played the living fuck out of it. Pure side-scrolling beat-em-up awesomeness, miles better than its 3D console counterparts (which I ended up playing at a later date). It’s weird to remember a time when I’d literally play and replay games dozens upon dozens of times, but back then, that’s what I did.

Oh, the memories.

After Spider-Man came the similar Wolverine game, which I also played the shit out of. And then – then came EA’s Lord of the Rings games for the handheld. Yes, it was a movie-based game from EA – but in a major difference from their inferior console counterparts, the GBA games played like a Tolkien-set version of Blizzard’s Diablo games. Isometric viewpoints, simple point-and-mash combat, multiple characters to choose from, tons of loot to pick up, spells to throw around, stats to upgrade; to put it simply, the games were awesome. I spent countless – countless – hours with these games. Countless playthroughs as every different character, for both The Two Towers and The Return of the King. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was the beginning of my longtime affinity for RPGs, which has characterized much of my life as a gamer.

Shortly afterwards, I bought my first gaming console – the GameCube. That took up most of my gaming time, especially at first – but a few months down the road, after my first, fateful playthrough of Ocarina of Time, my interest in the  handheld was quickly revitalized for the sake of Zelda. In rapid succession, I played through Oracle of Seasons and Oracle of Ages. Shortly after came Link’s Awakening and the GBA release of A Link to the Past. Ocarina of Time was what catalyzed my love for the Zelda series; but it was on the Game Boy that I gained true appreciation for the series – and, for higher-concept gaming in general.

And if I’m to be honest, that more or less chronicles my time with the past generations of handhelds. Not very prolific, yet ironically, they were the most formative years of my gaming habits. Honestly, I appreciate the fact that even though I started when 3D graphics were standard, 2D platforming was still my introduction to gaming. It’s also, perhaps, a testament to one of portable gaming’s most valuable features, even today: it is the reason 2D gaming still lives. Sure, we might be seeing a bit of a 2D revolution right now, with games like Kirby’s Epic Yarn, Donkey Kong, and the upcoming Mortal Kombat. But, handhelds are why 2D has been preserved all these years, so such a revolution could be possible.

Well, I’ve spoken my piece. Ethan should soon follow suit, and the I’ll be back in a day or two with comments and insight on the current generation of handhelds – the DS and its various incarnations, the PSP and its various incarnations, and maybe even a little about the iPhone/iPod Touch – and its notable “first incarnation.”

Have any fond memories of portable gaming you’d like to share? Any comments of any kind? Sound off below.

~Riddles