Everyone knows what the GameBoy is. I had one as a kid, while late in its life cycle, I received one for my 7th birthday in 1996. I was introduced to Tetris and Galaga and was hooked. I sadly couldn’t play it much because my parents couldn’t afford the batteries for it often and rechargeable AA batteries were very expensive back then. It was one of the first generations of handhelds along with the Atari Lynx and Sega Game Gear. I never owned those two systems, but it was the start of something I will always love and cherish: Handhelds.
In 2003 I remember Sony announcing the PSP at a press event and went insane for it. I actually pre-ordered the system and put all of my allowance down on it for 6 months, I even did some extra stuff for my parents for more cash so I could pick up Ridge Racer with it. I owned a DS at the time, but I wasn’t too impressed with it. The PSP looked futuristic and there is still yet to be a handheld that looks as sleek as it. It had powerful hardware, a sleek screen, and multimedia features that no other handheld had at the time. This was also the pre-smartphone era so it was out of this world at the time. I loved my PSP and still play it to this day. I owned nearly every model available and modded the crap out of it. When the Vita was announced in 2011 I nearly lost it then too, but that’s when Sony started to lose me and I still feel disappointed with the Vita to this day.
They got the hardware down pat outside of the useless touch features, dual analog sticks, more power, I couldn’t be happier, but something else happened. The marketing was poorly done and the Vita only saw a great run for maybe three years. Around 2015 the system started dying and lost all first party support. The system turned into an “indie machine” and outside of larger Japanese releases and ports the system stopped seeing most regular releases in 2017. What happened? The first two years were strong and steady and it just died. Was it the ever growing market of smartphones? I personally don’t think that is what caused the demise of the Vita. The 3DS was still running strong at the time with huge blockbuster releases and strong sales. What I think happened was the loss of first party support.
We saw a couple of first party titles on the system like Uncharted, Killzone, and LittleBigPlanet, and Tearaway, but where was the rest? Where were the unique IPs that kept Sony systems rolling? I feel if they had kept going the Vita would still be strong to this day. While the slow death of the 3DS is clearly obvious and has anything but an official discontinuation announcement from Nintendo, the Switch is our last bastion of handheld greatness. The Switch Lite is exactly what this world needed. Sure, the regular Switch is portable, but it’s heavy, sometimes too big, and just doesn’t feel like the best portable system.
Now hear me out, let’s think about what a handheld system consisted of. A small unit packed with the best features of consoles. Great controls, some multimedia features, internet access, and best of all, fantastic games that made that system unique and stand out. The Switch has all of this. The Switch has some of the best video games ever created both first party and third. Think about that. The Switch could literally be the best handheld system ever created and it’s because Nintendo wasn’t afraid to do what Sony kept boasting about.
Sony touted the PSP and Vita as portable consoles, but never actually treated them as such. Constantly pushing and implying that portable games should be in bite sized chunks, much shorter simpler games when most gamers would spend hours on their systems. Not everyone only has 30 minutes on a bus or short car ride, some of us just like sitting on the couch or laying in our bed comfortable, away from the TV and family, playing our handhelds for hours. I did this with my GameBoy Advance SP, PSP, Vita, and so on. Some of my fondest gaming memories are on handhelds. So why was Sony so afraid to commit outside of paper?
Nintendo went all out and gave us both. A console and a handheld, and at the time of release it seemed like a silly concept. If I wanted a console I’d buy one and If I wanted a handheld I’d buy that, but why not have a choice? More people who own Switch’s now play more in handheld format than TV mode. It’s simple, convenient, and you can pull the system out whenever you have some spare time. Nintendo also treats all games like console games, we have a sleep mode on these systems for a reason. Even the PSP 15 years ago had a sleep mode so the bite sized gaming never made sense to me. I feel this was Sony’s biggest mistake going in. If you have this powerful new hardware with features no other handheld had at the time, like a sleep mode, insist that games are made like consoles. We got some games that seemed similar to a console version, but that didn’t exactly exist on PSP. Most of those games were all bite sized smaller versions of their console counterparts. It changed a little on the Vita thanks to indie developers, but it never fully took off. I feel Sony focused too much on hardware (did we really need a 3G Vita?) and not enough on the longevity of the system.
The Switch Lite feels like a true handheld system that isn’t ashamed of being a console. It’s truly the next generation of handheld gaming, and it hasn’t been crushed by the smartphone industry. So that theory is clearly not the reason the 3DS and Vita are dead. We can get handheld experiences on our cell phones in bite sized chunks, we now truly want our home consoles on the go more than ever. The Switch Lite isn’t as clunky as the original model, but feels bigger than a handheld and isn’t ashamed of it. The system feels light, sleek, has fantastic buttons, and feels like a true next generation handheld. We get full blown console experiences on this thing. While it’s taken a step back on online features such as no media streaming or internet browsing, we get a total focus on games. Another thing Nintendo did right was not using proprietary expansion cards like Sony did. This was a huge blow to Sony especially on the Vita. Many people refused to buy their systems because of this reason and it didn’t stave off pirating at all.
To conclude, the Switch is the true next generation of portable gaming, not the Vita. Sony bragged about having a portable console but never once treated it as such. Nintendo took a huge risk and received an insane amount of criticism when they announced the Switch like they do with every system they put out. In the end, it’s paid off and has proven that handheld systems are not dead and the smartphone industry hasn’t killed it. It’s the strongest it’s been since the heydays of the original DS selling out everywhere and nearly every gamer these days owning one. It’s surpassed the lifetime sales of the Xbox One even showing this is clearly what people want. So, if Sony does decide to jump back in the market they need to make a console hybrid and I feel they could knock it out of the park and even do a better job than Nintendo. Their systems are insanely unique and feature rich, but they need to back the system like a console and go all in.