Portable Gaming


I may not be a mobile and portable gaming expert, but I can tell you that I probably have more hands on experience than most people. Since the beginning of the year, I've been plowing much of my blog advertising revenue into mobile gaming so I can really grok the whole space better. Last night I finally picked up a Gameboy Micro and pretty much completed my collection for the year. (Well, I shouldn't say that too quickly, there's still the Linux-based GP2X and the GPS enabled Gizmondo, but both are incredibly niche devices so I doubt I'll be buying either.) I decided to take the pic above and give some general thoughts.

First is about the Gameboy Micro. It's pretty damn amazing, I have to say. The physical size is the same as the Nokia 6680, but it's a little lighter. The screen is definitely tiny - tinier than most cell phone screens laid on the side, actually - but because of its 240x160 pixel resolution and incredible brightness, it looks just incredible. If only Nokia had gone sideways with their N-Gage! Because it's more compact, it has the effect of making the somewhat pixellated GBA Games really look totally modern and new. I questioned the screen size when I first saw the news of the micro, but the brightness and resolution make a *huge* difference. This will be my main GBA game machine from now on as it's actually more comfortable to play on than the GBA SP or the DS because it's so lightweight.

I've actually completely pimped the micro out with a 512MB RAM cartridge (so I don't have to swap all those carts you see) and a Play-yan for MP3 Audio and MP4 Video (This makes the micro like a little tiny Sony PSP in many ways). Again, everyone knows what a Nintendo Fan Boy I've become, so I've got all my Mario Games loaded up on it, as well as my Tetris and my Advance Wars and now it's just a killer game machine. Surprisingly, the video via the Play-Yan actually looks and sounds great as well. It takes no time to convert a video via Quicktime to MP4 and the playback is smooth and good looking.

My thoughts about the other platforms are pretty simple - and I've written about them before. I think the PSP desperately needs some killer games. I got Burnout Legends the other day and that's really fun, but all the rest of the games except for Lumines are amazingly boring. And because the PSP is really something you stick in your backpack and not in your pocket, I haven't done much to load the device up with media, since I can easily have an audio player in my bag as well. That said, I *love* the browser on the PSP with v2.0 of the firmware (one PSP you see above is v1.5 to run emulated games, the other has the v2.0 for the browser support). I try to keep it handy and charged when I'm at home so I an grab it relax on the couch and read my feeds. (Who am I kididing, the PSP browser is great for browsing in the john, actually...). But even with great media and networking support, until Sony gets some really compelling games out there, the platform is going to suffer.

Well, I say that, but did you know that they've sold something like 9 million UMD movies so far!?! That really surprises me as I haven't bought a single one. I'd rather buy a DVD and rip it to a Memory Stick rather than waste money on that sort of one-use-only media, but wow, I guess I'm alone on that one. I really think this shows how much demand there is for portable video. The screen is obviously the big draw here, and makes watching movies pleasurable, rather than annoying. However I think a video version of iTunes would be huge for all portable platforms - from the Gameboy Micro to mobile phones to the PSP.

I never play with my Zodiac any more, I have to say. Though it's my favorite device in terms of physical design, the native games are horrible, and the v1.5 PSP plays my homebrew ROMs a lot better. Every once in a while I think it'll be a decent Web Tablet since I have a WiFi SD Card for it, but it's just too slow and buggy, and the resolution isn't nearly as good as it could be. There's definitley reasons TapWave is out of business, sorry to say.

The N-Gage is also not something I pick up much any more. I also have the original N-Gage that's not in the picture, but most of the time they stay in my bag. I pulled it out the other day to play with the new N-Gage Arena, and still have a desire to finish up Lara Croft in Tomb Raider, but with the Gameboy Micro in my life, I doubt I'll be doing much besides finishing up Super Mario 3 and Super Mario World. Supposedly, there's going to be an announcement from Nokia about the next gen N-Gage in October. That should be interesting to see - I'm still waiting for Nokia to slap "N-Gage Enabled" logos on phones like they do with their XPress Imaging and XPress Audio banners.

The Nintendo DS is probably the king of all portable gaming platforms right now actually. I wish it was more comfortable to hold, and that the screens were bigger, etc. But it really doesn't matter because Nintendo has complete mastery over the casual gaming style of play with it's incredibly innovative games such as Nintendogs and ZooKeeper. Mike and I were hanging out the other night and I brought along my DSes and we ended up playing multi-player ZooKeeper for a loooong time. We also tried playing Burnout Legends on our PSPs as well, but it just wasn't nearly as fun. It's just a fact, Nintendo knows how to make incredible portable games that are easy to pick up and really fun to play.

I think that Nintendo is crazy if it doesn't go the Sega Mobile route and start porting their Gameboy Color and Gameboy Advance catalog to mobile phones. The Micro shows just how well the GBA games port to small screens - if they created a mobile phone tomorrow, it'd be one of the best selling phones in the world. The catalog of GBA games numbers in the thousands, and many, many of them are super compelling - make them downloadable or syncable and the GameboyPhone would be the must have device. I've written this before, but yesterday I picked up a few more used GBA games at Gamestop along with my micro and I was astounded to see that their market price was nearly as much as new GBA games. Unlike the Gamecube games in the corner which are being cut down in price to below $10, the GBA games were all at least $12 and usually a lot more. It's incredible.

Whew! I'm going to have to start liquidating some of this pile eventually, but I'm definitely going to keep a lot of it as well. My son is going to love me in about a year or so when he starts to really get into video games, no? :-)


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