I’m going to do something different and speak directly for a minute. The more I hear about Ninento’s 3DS, the more hyped I get about it. Not only is it capable of a 3D depth of field effect without any need for special glasses (a feature with implications that go beyond the relm of gaming), but now you can upload the games you have for it onto an internal hardrive, thus reducing the need to carry your easily losable and bulky cartilages.
These are all really neat features, but they will all come to nothing if Nintendo forgets a fundamental rule for portable consoles, a rule that full sized consoles simply do not have. That rule is this: the foundation of a good portable console is practicality. A portable console is under different pressures than their full sized counterparts, they must be small enough to fit in your pocket, durable enough to survive rigorous activity and moisture (pockets are very bumpy and humid places), and have a battery life that necessitates infrequent recharging during long trips (a wall socket is not always available).
I’m sure that you all remember why Nintendo regularly beat out the other portable consoles during the days of the Game Boy. The Game Boy was not the only portable console on the market, or even the most powerful. The original Game Boy could run for 10-14 hours on 4 AA Batteries, long enough for a car trip from Winchester VA to Ocean City MD and back. In comparison, Sega’s Game Gear. With its backlit screen, more ergonomically friendly control set up, and more powerful hardware, could run for 6 hours on 6 AA batteries. The Game Boy regularly beat out the competition by being cheaper to own and run (AAs cost money).
Fast forward to this current generation, we now have rechargeable batteries built into the consoles themselves. Now battery life is measured on how long the console can go before needing a charge rather than on how many batteries it needs in a day. Battery life is just as important today as it was way back when as it is part of the consoles overall practicality.
All this news about the 3DS has gotten my excited. But when I remember my experience with the PSP, my enthusiasm drains a little bit. You see, I got the PSP when it first came out. I was excited about all of the possibilities then as well. This was a portable console that could also play movie, music, and even look at digital pictures. This was a console that offered something to just about everyone. It had an analogue stick, an analogue stick, and played using something called a UMD, combining the durability of cartilages with the data storage of disks.
Then I started playing with it for a while and noticed a few fatal flaws with the design. For one thing, all of the games that I had for it needed to install updates before running, this is not a big problem for the PS3 since you could do other things while it’s doing that, but for a portable console, the last thing you want to happen is to put in a brand new game for a big trip only to discover that the game is not ready to be played when you needed it. For another, all the games that I had for the PSP suffered from terrible loading times, I ended up getting 4 games for it (only one was any good, Popolocrois was an underappreciated gem) and all of them suffered from the same problem, loading time where nothing was happening, draining precious battery life.
But ignore everything I just said in the last paragraph because the real deal breaker is coming up right now. After some time, I came to an important realization, I could put the PSP to sleep, but I could not turn it off. When I didn’t need it, the battery was being drained so that when I did need it, the PSP would need recharging before it could be used. In short, the PSP was impractical, so I decided to not waste any more of my time or money on it. To this day, it baffles me to find that the PSP is still around.
With the success of the PSP (the PSP lags far behind the DS in terms of sales, but far ahead of its full sized cousins), my concern is that companies will forget the harsh lessons of failed systems like the Gizmondo and start cramming feature after feature into their portable consoles without any regard to important things like battery life. The 3DS has got me excited, but it could easily turn out to be a major disappointment, let us hope Nintendo remembers why the Game Boy cornered the portable console market for so long.