Let’s be blunt, despite having been out for less than a year the Nintendo Switch has completely revolutionised handheld gaming. Its set a mark that nothing has been able to ever come close too but, that doesn’t mean that what came before it isn’t just as important as the Switch itself. Handheld gaming has always been an incredibly prominent part of my life, as someone who was lucky enough to travel a lot as a youth I spent a lot of my time playing handheld games, mostly the Nintendo DS (its interesting how Nintendo really conquered the handheld console market from the get-go but that’s another article in itself). There were so many games that I wanted to play all the time but because I was away so much I had to find an alternative. Take The Legend Of Zelda Twilight Princess, A fantastic game but because of the limited time I had to play on my Wii, I decided id fill the void by playing The Legend of Zelda Phantom Hourglass. This Handheld iteration of the infamous Zelda games meant I was able to have all the puzzle fun of Zelda but without being confined to my living room strapped in with the motion controls. So in celebration of the switches upcoming year anniversary I figured id take a trip down memory lane and look at the best handheld iterations of famous franchises.
Kicking it off with The Legend Of Zelda Phantom Hourglass, I mentioned it earlier because it’s the best example of how to make a huge franchise like Zelda into a handheld masterpiece. The Phantom Hourglass utilizes all of what makes the DS unique and creates an innovative and more importantly grand adventure of a game. Phantom Hourglass sees you once again get put into the Cel-Shaded world of Wind Waker, your aim is to rescue your friend Tetra from the clutches of Gannon. Which you’ll do by sailing around various islands, completing dungeons and defeating bosses. Its a truly different Zelda Experience but not one that comprises the core experience. Now the great thing about Zelda games, especially Twilight Princess, is the use of exploration. To which Phantom Hourglass has an alternative too, sailing. Sailing round every island on the map and discovering treasure, puzzles and of course dungeons to further the quest is immensely fun. By Drawing a path on the touchscreen, you guide a hip through treacherous waters protecting it as it swims giving you a completely immersive way of travelling around that rivalled Twilight Princesses open world. In fact, there was plenty of solutions to match Twilight Princesses innovation, from stealth based dungeons, touch screen puzzles, using the DS’s Microphone to solve puzzles and using treasure maps to uncover hidden treasure. Phantom Hourglass not only utilized every aspect of the DS but it did so in such a way that it made it a unique experience to play and one that didn’t just feel like a cash in on the DS to jump on the popular Zelda Bandwagon. It should be mentioned as well that its successor Spirit Tracks only furthered that feeling of innovation with a new train system, musical windpipes and a huge expansive world. Both Zelda DS games took extra care to make sure that they stood
2008 saw the release of the biggest game of the noughties, GTA IV. It’s sales skyrocketing above anything seen before, so much so that nothing like this would happen again until 7 years later when Rockstar Studios released it’s sequel GTA V. So if you take into account the fact that in 2008 the DS was in its prime and Rockstar Studios realised they had a missed opportunity on their hands. GTA IV was selling like hotcakes and they’ve still not been able to release a GTA game on one of the biggest platforms going. So, to combat that, still in the hype from GTA IV, Rockstar came up with a solution, take GTA back to its roots. The very first entries to the franchise were all top down open world games which were obviously much easier to process, its simple graphics and limitless potential made it a perfect fit for the DS and thus GTA Chinatown Wars was born.
Chinatown Wars sees you play through a usual GTA story, completing gang missions for different kingpins, delivering drugs and just going on all round killing rampages. GTA Chinatown Wars really took advantage of the DS’s capabilities by implementing a series of seamless minigames to complete certain tasks in the game. You want to get a Molotov cocktail? Drive to a petrol station and perfectly aim the pump into a glass bottle and fill it up. Want to earn some extra money? Go and buy a scratch card and scratch it off with the touchscreen. It’s a surprisingly fun alternative to the relative seriousness of GTA IV. But the point is Chinatown Wars took the entire world of Liberty City and placed inside the confines of the DS and put a lot of extra love and care into the fact that this was a handheld version.
Those are just big examples but they’re not the only standout games, a few weeks ago i did an article on the Ratchet and Clank Spinoffs of which Secret Agent Clank appeared another perfect example of how to conquer the portable market when in the midst of a home console success. Jak and Daxter, Daxter had his own self-titled game after the success of Jak on the PS3 and Burnout released a few PSP/DS games in the prime of its console life.
The point of this series is to answer the question “where are they now?”, most of the time the answer to that question is speculation. Drawing from statistics or passing dev comments but for this, we have a concrete answer. Handheld iterations of games like GTA are no more and frankly, they will probably remain that way forever. Handheld games were substitutes for the home console experience, due to the limited processing power games had to be made on a smaller scale. Back in 2008, it was unfathomable to think you could run Twilight Princess on a DS because the DS wasn’t capable of running something that powerful. But the switch is powerful enough to run that now, the switch is so powerful that it can run full home console experiences like Breadth of the wild completely on the go. There is now no need for a company to make a separate handheld experience to match the home console one because the switch can just handle the home console experience itself. Its possible that with the 3DS around you may get the odd 3rd party handheld port but within a year or two as we reach the end of the 3DS’s life cycle I see no future for specialised handheld version of games, while its evident that the processing limitations inspired creative solutions to the problems of porting a game to a handheld. It’s no longer a worry for developers as they can just put out the game in all markets, handheld included, and not have to worry about missing an important platform. It’s a bittersweet conclusion because it means we won’t get anymore obscure gems like Phantom Hourglass anytime soon but we do get to play Breadth Of The Wild on a plane, so I guess that’s a success?
Are there any games you’d like to see a handheld iteration of now? Or are you just looking to play your favourite franchises on the Switch? Let us know in the comments below!