Opinion: The End of the Mobile Console Era

Is today's announcement that Nintendo is formally stepping into the mobile games market an indirect admission that the age of handheld consoles have come to an end? Do consoles like the 3DS and Vita still have a place in a world flooded by smart devices? We could be looking at the end of an era here.


For decades, even when Nintendo was suffering major financial losses during the GameCube era, the company could always rely on handheld consoles like the Game Boy Advance and the DS to help keep it afloat. For a long while, it enjoyed a relative monopoly, with occasional competition rivals like the short-lived Sega Game Gear, or opponents like the Sony PSP and Vita. Despite the competition, Nintendo's handhelds remained on top, thanks to an expansive and excellent game library, an ever shrinking body (which went a step too far with the Game Boy Micro), and features like double screens and a stylus interface.

However, the meteoric rise of smartphones and tablets has robbed handhelds of much of their appeal. Not even gimmicks like glasses-free stereoscopic 3D technology appears to be enough to stem the rising mobile tide, demonstrated with the release of the 2DS, which appears to be marketed towards children. Nintendo seemed to finally come to terms with that fact today when it announced a partnership with DeNA to develop games featuring iconic characters for smart devices, PC and Nintendo systems.

As of right now, neither Nintendo nor DeNA are interested in porting previously released games onto mobile systems. Both would rather create all-new games that fully take advantage of mobile and PC platforms. But who knows? If the partnership is successful, who is to say there won't be mobile ports of Nintendo classics someday, opening the door to even more possibilities.

It's a mobile device world, and the idea of stuffing a handheld gaming console into your bag alongside your smartphone and tablet has become almost ridiculous. At last year's PlayStation Experience, presenters had to outright tell everyone that the Vita hadn't been forgotten. But even if you manage to remember your handheld, why would you want carry it around when you already have a powerful smartphone or tablet? Graphical capabilities on recent devices can match or surpass any handheld. Old Final Fantasy games have been ported over to mobile, along with a host of similar classic RPGs, and it seems like it's just a matter of time before the 3D games make the same jump.

Sony Xperia phones and tablets can stream games from a PlayStation 4 and can pair with a DualShock 4 controller. A number of PlayStation Portable games have already been ported to mobile, so why not a few Vita games too? Or, at the very least, there should be PlayStation Now support on mobile devices. It's just a question of whether or not Sony wants to keep its games exclusive to its own devices. A world of opportunity awaits if Sony releases an app that allows non-Xperia users to access PlayStation Now or streaming from the PS4.

On a different front, Nvidia is actively porting PC games like Half-Life 2, Crysis 3, and The Witcher 2 to Android, optimized for Shield devices. This is in addition to building Nvidia Grid, its own streaming service. When you take into account what's possible on mobile devices right now, and the ongoing battle to win over buyers, handheld gaming consoles start to look as antiquated as.the original monochrome Game Boy.

We're at the end of an era. But just like any other endangered species, handheld consoles don't know they're dying out yet. Features like cross-buy, cross-play, game exclusives, and gimmicks like Amiibo support might buy a few more years, but the writing is on the wall. Handheld consoles aren't nearly as impressive as they used to be, and they'll probably never attain that status again. Right now, it's a matter of how well companies can adapt to the rising tide of mobile devices, or if they'll simply let their handheld libraries go the way of the dodo.

Managing Editor
From The Chatty
  • reply
    March 17, 2015 2:00 PM

    Steven Wong posted a new article, Opinion: The End of the Mobile Console Era

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      March 17, 2015 2:46 PM

      I've never owned a handheld but I just assumed that they're making mobile games for the money. They already milk all their characters for every last dollar they can, skipping out on the mobile market seems like they're letting the opportunity pass.

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      March 17, 2015 4:22 PM

      I don't know man.

      Are we going to see a return to the days of the Game Boy? Of course not. But I think the type of person who carry around a GBA or DS in 2004 would still carry around a 4DS in 2016, regardless of what their phone can do.

      And you didn't really touch on the whole input side of things. 3DS has the analog pad and the d-pad, plus the face and shoulder buttons. Those make it a much more capable system for complex games. Anybody looking for a deeper experience, especially something that requires reflexes, doesn't have many other places to go than the Vita or 3DS.

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        March 18, 2015 6:44 AM

        This^^^. I don't agree with this opinion piece. And I certainly don't want to play games on my phone because it doesn't have analog sticks or buttons. And to me that whole 'playing ps4 games on your sony phone' thing looks silly. So I can't lug around a portable device, but I can lug around my controller to hook it up to my phone? Really? I take my vita with me everywhere, and don't feel ridiculous about it at all.

        Also, and I don't want to sound elitist or anything, but personally I like handhelds because they make me feel like part of an awesome group of people, whereas phones just seem more casual to me (because most people I see playing games on them are playing card games, or candy crush). But when I see a fellow vita gamer, I go over, we chat, and it's cool. Don't want portables to go away. Ever.

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        March 18, 2015 6:51 AM

        Yeah, I have yet to find any mobile game to be nearly as compelling as similar 3DS/Vita games, and the controls are a big part of that.

        Even something as mundane as a Final Fantasy game on my phone feels much, much worse with the stupid soft d-pad nonsense.

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      March 17, 2015 4:33 PM

      I don't believe this would be possible, if anything Nintendo might end up making their own Android fork and figure out how to get the physical mess of buttons on a phone working.

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      March 17, 2015 5:00 PM

      When you take into account what's possible on mobile devices right now, and the ongoing battle to win over buyers, handheld gaming consoles start to look as antiquated as.the original monochrome Game Boy.

      I think this is going to extend to console gaming as well. The need for specialized hardware to play games has been greatly eroded. Whoever comes up with a way to bridge communities across unrelated devices will do the most damage.

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      March 17, 2015 9:39 PM

      Only place I really see handhelds having a place is with children. I don't want to give my kid something with a cell radio and most tablets frankly aren't built well enough to withstand a young one's abuse. I like the closed ecosystem they provide.

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        March 18, 2015 7:06 AM

        Even handhelds are full of non-game stuff now though. My girls use their 3DS more for YouTube than actual games.

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      March 18, 2015 7:52 AM

      The problem is you won't get controller centric games on mobile until there is a standardized device for that kind of input that has a significant install base- and then when that's the case it's functionally the same as a "mobile console" only more modular like pc. This idea that handheld doesn't know it's dead is kind of silly. they fill a niche that doesn't exist in mobile currently. While the Vita isn't doing particularly well what it does right now with indie games could well migrate over to phones or whatever if effort is put into standardized input but Nintendo is doing well and has an exclusive software advantage that still sets it apart whatever type of device they migrate to.

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      March 18, 2015 10:39 AM

      "why would you want carry it around when you already have a powerful smartphone or tablet? Graphical capabilities on recent devices can match or surpass any handheld." - Cause playing any complicated game on my tablet or smart phone is playing ass. Its an exercise in futility and it can never compare to a dedicate device to caters to one simple thing. Bar none.

      That being said, I'm not opposed to technological advances, but I would never give up my handheld. I have much fun with all the games and experiences I have on it.

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      March 18, 2015 11:25 AM

      My hope is that we're moving toward a console generation that is a combination of home and portable. I would pay top $ for a console the size of a vita that can connect to your TV and play games with sexy graphics, but if you have to leave the home you just disconnect it and keep playing on the go.

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        March 18, 2015 12:50 PM

        "If you have to leave the home"

        As if. There's nothing beyond these walls!

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