Tuesday, January 3, 2012

3DSuccess! A Tale of Two Handhelds

Today, Nintendo announced that the 3DS cleared 4 million units in the US in 2011. Last week, I bought Grand Theft Auto III for my iPhone.

These facts are completely unrelated. And yet, one has me thinking about the other.

My last dedicated handheld gaming system was Nintendo’s Game Boy, a constant companion for me throughout most of grade school and then again (in color!) during a brief hospital stay in the late ’90s. The controls were rudimentary by today’s standards: just two main buttons and a directional pad—essentially an NES controller fused onto a tiny screen, packaged in a unit that was as heavy as it was greedy for AA batteries. I kept it in a zippered pouch made for the device and big enough to hold 10 games. It was black around the sides with a neon green top and bottom. It had a shoulder strap. I was very uncool.

My iPhone 4S holds more than 10 games. I just counted them—including GTA3, I currently have 26 installed and ready to go. (I’m counting my beloved IF app Frotz as just one game.) The device is super lightweight, and its batteries recharge nightly. I don’t have to carry it around in a bright green purse, and I can play a discreet round of Drop7 on MUNI without feeling utterly self-conscious about my gaming habit. I am still uncool, but I fake it alright.

But despite the convenience and technological marvel of smartphone gaming, I still miss having a dedicated handheld. It’s good fun messing around with a nostalgia title like GTA3, but running around a game world like Liberty City with my own thumbs in my face just isn’t as satisfying an experience as when the controller and screen are separate entities. (Although it’s worth noting the fact that GTA3’s left "analog" control brilliantly centers wherever your thumb lands near the lower left corner of the touchscreen. It’s a nice improvement.) And while I do adore innovative touchscreen-specific titles like Cut the Rope, the amount of time I can spend pressing fingers into a stationary object before repetitive stress sets in is just not as long as I’d like it to be.

So congratulations, Nintendo. You’ve had some bumps along the road, but I’m glad that when the titles are there, there’s still a market for devices like the 3DS.

And as long as we’re on the topic, I’m standing by to receive my review unit. Call me!
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