June 16, 2021

Handhelds Vs. Home Consoles: It Takes All Sorts.

FIIIIIIIIGHT… oh wait, no, the opposite of that…

So there’s supposedly a new handheld Tekken game in the works.

Actually, I quite like handheld Tekken. I’m not exactly steeped in the whole hardcore edge of fighting games and prefer to dip in and out as and when it suits me, a few fights in between other things here and there. There’s something for me that’s rather gratifying about a little bit of a brawl here and there, even if I’m likely never to find myself suddenly competing in some world stage tournament against people who have invested ten hours a day every day for a year. I am quite at peace with that. It doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy dabbling here and there.

I was called out recently for comparing Capcom’s upcoming Vita brawler Soul Sacrifice to FROM Software’s mammoth epic Dark Souls. Not because I compared them and their visual aesthetic similarities, but because I suggested that perhaps Soul Sacrifice is the sort of short-burst immediate gratification game that works on a handheld. When a Vita and a 3DS at full-pelt can’t hold charges for too long, you come to terms with the limitations of the hardware and, namely, the nature of the different markets. “But you can just suspend a game on Vita! You can dip in and out when you want!” – it’s a reasonable argument on the surface, but it also fundamentally misses a few important factors for me. In order to demonstrate my point, I’m going to use two very different games – Dark Souls, because I still have a deep thing for the game, and Resident Evil: Revelations.

Dark Souls, for me, is the epitome of a home console game. It’s a massive epic, a deep and complex game which demands attention and precision accuracy. Dark Souls is far from an ugly game, and so in a sense I’m partly playing for the visual embrace that it gives me on a high-definition screen (especially when said screen is my refurbished 48-inch plasma!), and partly because I really enjoy the precision detailing and the mechanics that demand true spatial awareness and a mastery of controller and environment. I’ve tried to think of a Dark Souls scaled down for the Vita, and it just doesn’t come naturally to my mind. Not that I don’t think the Vita or the 3DS could be capable of such things; no doubt they both have the power under the hood to deliver experiences of that magnitude and make them extremely pretty to boot. However, it’s the size of the screens. I find myself thinking about the awareness, the spatial precision often required by the games on such tiny little displays. Squinting at a screen isn’t really my favourite thing in the world so I can’t quite naturally come to terms with this whole train of thought that a Vita could do Dark Souls. No doubt it CAN do it. No-one is debating that modern technology is possible in making such things a reality. However, just because you can do it, it doesn’t mean you should do it. There’s too much about the idea that just doesn’t quite work. I can’t believe I’d be nearly as immersed in the game world if I was on a handheld, in changing light and shade on a car journey, with the world changing around me. The world outside thrives on distraction, diverting attention at times away. Dark Souls would punish you brutally for any slip in your attention span. Hence I can’t quite see something as huge as Dark Souls on a handheld. The nature of how and where many of us use our handhelds precludes that genre of game from thriving in its midst.

Then there’s Resident Evil: Revelations, which is almost the entire flipside of the argument. I loved Revelations. I enjoyed the short bursts of the single-player campaign, the episodic nature of it all, the brash lunacy of it. But more than that, I loved the thrill of the Raid Mode. Bite-sized missions, challenges and tasks that test your skill but don’t test your patience at the same time. The immediacy and the immediate gratification of the game works brilliantly on the 3DS, perhaps the best attempt that anyone might have dared to hope for. Of course, there are problems with it on a handheld – the game isn’t exactly scary, for example. That’s kind of fine when the wit and humour is still there, when the missions and tasks are over quite quickly and leave you to ponder for a moment or two on rewards and/or the plot. However, the upcoming HD remake for the PS3, X-Box 360, PC and Wii-U still gives me cause for concern. You see, when I have a game in my PC, or my Wii-U, I sit down sometimes for an hour and sometimes for several hours and get into the game, get into the zone and the atmosphere and the splendour of it all. Resident Evil: Revelations was not designed originally for a home console. It was designed for the 3DS. So it’s not going to have that deep slant of Resident Evil 4, or the long and twisted parts of Resident Evil 6 (I skip over Resident Evil 5 for many reasons). It will feel a little short I guess, a little too quick and choppy. By same token, the Raid Mode works in the same way; short challenges. Except I don’t have to worry about a charge on a home console. I like a challenge on my home console and I like that challenge to take a bit of time – the huge fights in Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate show us that Capcom totally understand that this is not only doable but incredibly fun and rewarding, but I can’t see them redesigning the whole Raid Mode – or the game, for that matter – to flow any differently from the 3DS original. I can’t see it quite working as well on a home console because it’s whole design ethos at heart was to be a mobile game, a game for short bursts of fun and madness.

Some may find it odd that I segregate the two markets in such a manner but I suppose that’s largely because I expect different things from different machines. I have my handhelds. I also have my home consoles, and generally speaking, I like them to be separate. Some people take Grandia with them on journeys but to me it seems blasphemous to do so; the same deal with Vagrant Story. They were designed to be enjoyed for hours on end, and get you truly suckered into them with deep and complex mechanics. I suppose the flipside can be pointed out with Silent Hill: Origins. On the PSP, it was alright. The moment it hit the PS2, it was very apparent that it wasn’t exactly going to end well. The game wasn’t upscaled right and the whole design of the game didn’t quite gel in the same way that previous titles like Silent Hill 3 and Silent Hill: The Room could muster.

But most importantly the reason I segregate is because I actually really enjoy the variety.

We all know the Vita is a potent bit of handheld kit. However, this doesn’t preclude that it gets PS3 ports. It will have its own games, its own variations on themes designed around a more immediate and forgiving handheld device. On a screen where the finer details really are kind of lost for the most part, there’s an aesthetic argument here as well; blowing up Silent Hill: Origins to the PS2 and a big 32-inch widescreen TV was frankly quite ugly but similarly, a game like Silent Hill 2 where the little details kind of matter would see such details lost, as it squeezes the image down into such a small space. And it so happens that I think there’s no reason for either situation to be necessary in a modern industry. I don’t see the point of scaling down a big-screen game for a little handheld, and similarly I don’t understand the need to take a successful game like Revelations and upscale it for home console audiences. Something about it feels wrong.

I like Dark Souls and there’s little doubt I’m going to adore the frankly barking, gory and twisted Soul Sacrifice. But I am aware that aside a visual comparison, they are two very different games made for two very different markets, where different things sell to different people. Take a look at some of the best-selling 3DS games – Super Mario 3D Land and Mario Kart 7. Both are well designed for the machine and its strengths. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D sold a lot less. A lot, to be sure, but over the last year I sort of fell out of love with it. It’s not that it’s not still a fabulous, brilliant, amazing game. Nor is it that you can’t save at will, which was always an option in the original. It’s… dare I say it, it just somehow feels a bit small. I’d do filthy and nasty things to see it on a Wii-U, upscaled perfectly and touched up in the same way The Wind Waker is being touched up for a release later this year. There’s something about it on a 3DS that seems a little mean.

I like my Monster Hunter’s and my Dark Souls and my Infinite Undiscovery‘s to stay on my big screen. And I happen to like my quick-fix stuff like Tekken and Mario Kart and the like on my handhelds. I like that two different markets can make the best possible use of their strengths by exploiting the others weaknesses in certain areas, and that’s fantastic. This is not an argument for less games on Vita and 3DS, nor for less on the home console market (that may come next week however!). It’s an argument for making the best damned use of the technology at hand. The Nintendo 3DS and its touchscreen are fantastic for puzzlers and short-burst adventures. I love that. The Vita, no doubt, will shine in terms of fighting games. It’s got the right feel for that sort of thing, and I can’t wait to see how they take that potential forward with things like Soul Sacrifice. Each home console has its own exclusives and pros and cons as well. Use the strengths of a machine and you’ll reap the rewards.

As much as the industry wants to convince us that homogenising the two markets would be good for us, I think it would still end up being pretty divided and therefore a total waste of money to try and please everyone on every machine. The way we use these machines is very different. A home console and a handheld gaming device are worlds apart in terms of design, power, aesthetic and how they are used from day to day, if they get used every day at all. By that very nature, the games that you will find succeeding – and failing – on these machines will be games that make the best and worse uses not just of the hardware but the ideal of how we use them. I use my handheld machines when being driven to the hospital for a check-up, or as my neighbour takes me shopping. 30-50 minute trips. I personally find the idea of using my 3DS in a waiting room quite rude, but that’s a very personal viewpoint. If I have to suspend a game and end up waiting two hours in a waiting room only to find my machine has managed to radically deplete its battery (a serious problem at times!), then there’s nothing for the return home. I want to turn it off and conserve the battery. Which means games for me need to adhere to that kind of ethos; suspending the game temporarily whilst draining battery power just doesn’t fly with me any more.

And I’m sure people will try. I love that people will want to try. And I love that they want to prove people like me wrong. But ultimately there will always be compromises when it comes to handhelds, because their very being is short-term fun. The days of Golden Sun on the Game Boy Advance are long gone, because battery life is just so much shorter now. Even then, most of us thought it would have been more awesome on the Gamecube. Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow had regular save points. It was also bright and breezy and a lot of fun and would last ages because there was a lot to do, and collect, and that could be done in short bursts. But games that work on home consoles benefit for their depth, their detail and their staying power.

And I don’t get why we’d want both markets to be the same. Both are so different that they can co-exist, they always have done. Trying to bring them together can only result in a messy and complicated crash that is probably going to seriously hurt someone in the long run. It just doesn’t seem necessary. If the Vita is so getting trounced, then perhaps it does need to take a look at the 3DS. Similarly, perhaps Nintendo need to look at the PS3 this year, and it’s myriad list of exciting exclusives. Things can change and companies can learn.

But I’m sort of not looking forward to Resident Evil: Revelations HD. I’d love Capcom to prove me wrong. But after Resident Evil 6? It’s going to take more than a prettier game to really make the series shine once more. And that’s where the problem will be. If it’s just a straight-port… it’s probably just not going to be worth the money they spent on it. It’s already a successful game on the machine it was designed for. Why spend more money on something which has the risk of making it… well… worse?

The industry has such ideas. Such ideas cost money. And if there’s one thing Capcom, Square-Enix and EA have been saying lately is they can’t make enough of it. My response? Perhaps ditching the stupid ideas and ports might help. A lot of money… wasted on a game that will likely end up lost on that particular market. I doubt FROM Software are thinking of a handheld Dark Souls. They probably already feel, as some like me already do, that it’s a lot of money for likely very little return. The series works best on a home console. Perhaps there’s a lesson in there. Know your market, and pitch properly. Or just save your time and money.

Who knows? That time and money might go into other projects and they all suddenly become good as a result.

That would be nice!


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3 thoughts on “Handhelds Vs. Home Consoles: It Takes All Sorts.

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